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Flores Island History

The discovery date of the islands of Flores and Corvo is a controversial issue. One thing that is certain is that they were discovered after the other seven islands of the Azores. It is said that Flores was sighted in 1452 by Diogo de Teive and his son. Initially called Sao Tomas or Santa lria, its name was soon changed to Flores (literally translating to “Flowers”) on account of the abundance of wild flowers that covered the whole island. The seeds of these wildflowers were possibly brought from Florida, in the United States, on the feathers of migratory birds. The initial settlement is attributed to Flemish Wilhem van der Haagen (Guilherme da Silveira, as he was known to the Portuguese), who left Flores after a few years and settled on the island of Sao Jorge. This was no doubt due to the remoteness of Flores and the lack of regular shipping connections that would allow the export to Flanders of the sough-after dye-yielding plant called woad. He was followed in the 16th century by farmers from various regions of continental Portugal who began to plough fields and produce wheat, barley, maize, vegetables, archil (a lichen used in dyeing) and woad. During that period the settlements of Lajes and Santa Cruz received town charters.

Far removed from other Islands of the archipelago and with few export goods, the island of Flores was almost completely isolated for centuries, a situation only broken by rare visits of ships that took on water and bought provisions there. Occasionally cargo boats from Faial and Terceira came to fetch sperm whale oil, honey, cedar wood, butter, lemons, oranges, smoked meats and, at times, ceramics from the local potters. In exchange traders left wool and linen clothes and other goods. This isolation did not prevent the island from the sacking by English privateers in 1587, nor did it prevent other pirates from attacking and pillaging it, including one who according to tradition, took refuge in the “Enxareus” grotto.

American whaling ships frequented the waters of the Azores from the middle of the 18th century to the end of the 19th century. They hunted sperm whales and recruited sailors and harpooners from among the population. Many of these recruits later became the captains of sailing vessels, including the outstanding “Wanderer” which sailed until 1924 and was considered the most beautiful American whaler.

The development of agriculture and stock-breeding, improvement of the port facilities, construction of an airport, and the presence of a French satellite tracking station, are recent events that have opened new horizons for progress on the island.

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