The Cape Verde archipelago off the coast of Senegal has a long history and a long association with Nantucket. It was once a major hub of the transatlantic slave trade, which contributed to its mixed European and African heritage. Cape Verdeans and Nantucketers first laid eyes on each other during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Whaling ships from America stopped at the Cape Verde islands for supplies and, very often, to augment their crews. Surviving crew lists document this common practice.
A fraction of those crewmen found their way back to Nantucket and became part of the Nantucket community. However, the most significant arrival of Cape Verdeans on Nantucket occurred in the early twentieth century when Cape Verdean immigrants looking for better lives arrived in New Bedford and were drawn to Nantucket to work in the large-scale commercial cranberry bogs.
As they became established, Cape Verdeans found homes close to Nantucket’s waterfront and in the vicinity of Five Corners. They were a community of hard-working, industrious people, soon looking beyond the bogs and taking on all manner of employment, some eventually starting their own businesses. Their Cape Verdean traditions taught them to offer help to anyone in need within and beyond their families and neighborhood. Music, celebration, and keeping a large pot of jagacida on the stove to feed all who dropped by were characteristic of their heritage.
Despite their generous nature, Cape Verdean Nantucketers experienced discrimination, both subtle and explicit, based on their skin color and foreign origin.
While diminished in numbers from early days, today’s Nantucket Cape Verdean community contributes significantly to education, health care, government, business, and the trades, while their music and cuisine nourish everyone in their orbit. They are a microcosm of the best of Nantucket’s community spirit, subtly proud of their Cape Verdean heritage.
Banner image: James L. Stanfield, National Geographic, June 1970