Thursday, January 25, 2018

Vera Cruz VII

Yesterday I wrote about the ill-fated barkentine, Vera Cruz VII, which wrecked on Portsmouth Island in 1903. The Vera Cruz carried 22 crew members and 399 black Portuguese passengers from the Cape Verde Islands.  A reader left a comment, including this observation: "It is any anyone's guess as to where they were headed."

Actually, the passengers were on their way to New Bedford, Massachusetts. The following information is gleaned from Shipwrecks of Ocracoke Island by Sonny Williamson:

Although Captain Julius M. Fernandez, "a notorious smuggler, not only of dutiable goods but of men whom the laws of this country would prevent from landing," claimed he was seeking fresh water, "many believe he was trying to land his passengers in a secluded area, in an attempt to avoid customs and immigration officials."

Captain Fernandez reportedly "left the country, without being caught, in a sperm oil barrel aboard a New Bedford whaler."

The passengers had left the Cape Verde Islands because of famine and hunger. The New Bern Weekly Journal of August 4, 1903 reported that "the situation on the island of St. Thiago is particularly distressing. Old and decrepit people drop dead in the street and babies die of starvation...." 

The passengers were transported first to New Bern, North Carolina, and from there to New Bedford.

On October 23, 1903, the New Bern Daily Journal reported that, "A.B. Dawson, who went to New Bedford, Mass last week to secure Portuguese laborers for persons here returned with them yesterday on the steamer Ocracoke. There were 106 in the number, 12 or 15 of them being women. It will be remembered that these Portuguese are the same who were brought here last spring from the wreck of the Barkentine Vera Cruz VII near Ocracoke and later taken to New Bedford for which place they were bound when the wreck occurred." The workers were praised for being "industrious, honest and faithful."

In 2011, Penny Akahloun, a retired American diplomat who served in the U.S. Foreign Service for forty-three years, (see contacted me after reading about the wreck of the Vera Cruz VII.

Penny Akahloun & Philip Howard, 2011

Penny's grandfather was one of the Portuguese passengers from the Cape Verde Islands, bound for New Bedford, Massachusetts. Penny was so impressed with the hospitality of the Portsmouth Islanders (who fed and sheltered the survivors) that she made the trip to Ocracoke for the 2011 spring meeting of Friends of Portsmouth Island, where she spoke about her research and emotional connection with Portsmouth. She wanted to visit the village whose people, in 1903, went out of their way to care for her grandfather and other shipwreck victims from a foreign country.

Penny has written a book about her personal and professional journey, The Magic of Dreams: An American Diplomat's Journey.

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is about Old Christmas in Rodanthe. You can read it here:   

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:01 AM

    Penny's story is wonderful. It is important to know about our ancestors and the path that leads to us.