Arrival & Workways
Nantucket whaleships on outward bound voyages stopped at the Cape Verdean islands of Brava and Fogo to recruit men to their crews. Some of these crewmen came all the way back to Nantucket, settled on-island, and found wives in Nantucket’s African American community. Cape Verdean Michael Douglass, married whaling captain Absalom Boston’s sister-in-law Mary in 1811.
After 1850 Cape Verdean men continued to go whaling on New Bedford ships, but for nearly fifty years few came to Nantucket. Cape Verdean presence on Nantucket resumed in 1906 when the Burgess Cranberry Company turned Gibb’s Swamp on the north side of the Milestone Road into the largest commercial bog in the world. By 1910 over a hundred Cape Verdean men, women, and children were planting and harvesting cranberries there.
Cranberry cultivation on Nantucket became mechanized, and the number of Cape Verdean workers declined, augmented for a few weeks each autumn by berry pickers who came from the mainland. In the meantime, some Cape Verdean families on Nantucket had found other employment as shellfishermen, gardeners, carpenters, caretakers, cooks, and domestics.
Cape Verdeans, even those of Jewish heritage, are culturally and religiously Portuguese Catholics. They observe the church calendar with traditional festas and maintain family altars in their homes. On the altars they place photos in memory of deceased relatives. These personal altars are often arranged with photos, prayer cards, and other religious artifacts.
The Cape Verde Islands were uninhabited when discovered by the Portuguese. Their human population today reflects a rainbow of ancestors: Portuguese, Italians, Jews from Morocco and Gibraltar, Black Africans from the Guinea Coast and Angola. Culturally and religiously different from most African Americans, Cape Verdeans have striven to maintain their separate identity in the United States.
While Cape Verdean culture was rich and its role in the Nantucket community strong, it was not always given the full respect it deserved. Often Cape Verdeans were relegated to second class status. For instance, no matter how devout in their faith, Cape Verdeans were not allowed to have their wedding ceremonies in the church, but were forced to have them in the rectory. The 1928 wedding of Maria (Mary) Gebeau Roderiques and Josefino Lopes Cabral (photo on left top) was an example of this treatment. It was not until the 1950s that this form of discrimination began to change. One generation later, the wedding of the couple’s daughter Norma Cabral to Albert Teixeira (photo on left) took place in St. Mary, Our Lady of the Isle Church.
Members of the Cape Verdean community now hold prominent positions in the Nantucket community.