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Pico Island History

After cattle had been put ashore in Pico island around 1460, settlers started to arrive after natives of northern Portugal landed from Terceira and Graciosa.

Pico’s first Captain or Donee was Alvaro de Ornelas. Ornelas never took effective possession of the island so it was incorporated in the captaincy of Faial. Pico soon had its first town called Lajes followed by Sao Roque in 1542. The population initially concentrated on growing wheat and, to a limited extent, “woad” a dye-yielding plant exported to Flanders, the latter through the influence of the neighboring island of Faial. These activities were soon joined by wine production and fishing.

This was followed by centuries in which the island lived practically at the margin of history, a situation which was interrupted by important volcanic eruptions in the 18th century. In 1723 Madalena was raised to the status of a town, confirming its economic importance as the port ensuring connections with Faial and as the place of residence of the owners of the large vineyards in the area which by then was already producing wine for commercial purposes. By way of hard work the lava beds were turned into orchards and vineyards.

The “verdelho” wine of Pico enjoyed international fame for over two hundred years. It was highly appreciated in a number of countries, namely, England, America, and Russia, where it reached the table of the Czars. The oidium attack, in the middle of the l9th century, destroyed the vines. Recovery has been slow and based on the use of new shoots. The presence of American whalers in the waters of the Azores from the end of the 18th century introduced a new activity in Pico: whaling, which for years represented an important source of wealth for the island.