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John Abrams, Vice-Consul of Portugal in New York 1771-1779 Photo courtesy of the Grand Lodge of the State of New York

by Tomás Andrews


John Abrams the first Vice-Consul of Portugal in New York


With the appointment of John Abrams for the position of Vice-Consul in 1791, Portugal was amongst the first European nations to establish consular represen-tatives with the newly independent United States. Apart from various samples of official correspondence found in the National Archives of Portugal, Torre do Tombo, little is known about the personal life of John Abrams in New York City.  However, the celebrations for the anniversary year of 2016 have given us signifi-cant impetus to conduct further research into the life of John Abrams. Hence, this paper will serve as a summary of our findings. However, while using the Jefferson Papers as a significant point of departure, the investigating carried out thus far is merely a work in progress.

The Jefferson Papers

The Founders Online website proved instrumental in locating information on ear-ly Portuguese and American diplomatic history.
The Jefferson Papers project includes not only the letters Jefferson wrote but also those he received. Held by the National Archives and Records Administration, this collection contains a letter written by Ignatius Palyart to Thomas Jefferson dated 5 October, 1790. It states [Palyart] “has received a commission from the Queen appointing him Consul General to the United S1tates for Portugal; asks instructions for having his appointment acknowledged.”   
The same collection contains a document entitled Appointments of Vice-Consuls for Portugal dated 26 April, 1791-6 July, 1791 which reads “Commissions by Ig-natius Palyart, Consul General for Portugal, appointing the following Vice-Con-suls: under date of 26 Apr. 1791, James Barry for Maryland and Virginia, John Abrams for New York State, Francis James Ver Cnocke for S2 outh Carolina; under date of 6 July 1791, Richard Codman for Massachusetts.”
These two sources identify Ignatius Palyart as Consul-General of Portugal in Phi-ladelphia and the appointment of John Abrams as Vice-Consul of Portugal to New York.


Longworth’s American Almanac, New York Register and City Directory

It is probably no coincidence that it is just two years after the end of the Revolu-tionary War that the first city directories in the United States begin to appear. It might be argued that directories began to be published not just because they were practical reference tools, but also because the citizens of the new country desired to identify themselves, by name: this seems especial3 ly relevant in New York City, post the British evacuation in November, 1783 .  Names of consular officials and representatives of foreign countries were also listed in the directories under a section dedicated to government officials.
John Abrams features in the directories dating 1791 through 1799 serving as confirmation of his position as Vice-Consul for New York. His address is first listed in the 1796 directory as “19 Broad Street, store, Old Slip”. In the 1798 directory his address is simply referred to as “Merchant 178 do”. In the 1799 directory, the line reads “Merchant, Portuguese Consul, 58 Pearl”. In several edi-tions, John Abrams is also listed as Grand Secretary for the Grand Lodge of the State of New York under the section dedicated to Masonic Lodge Officials. In the 1800 directory, Abrams’ spouse is suddenly listed as a widow, giving us a fair idea of the date of his death. From 1800 there ceases to exist a Vice-Consul appointed by Portugal, upon which Joakim Monteiro is the next to be listed in 1806 under the titles Vice-Consul for Eastern States. The New York Register and City Directories provide fundamental facts concerning Abr4ams’ addresses, titles, profession and year of death. See annex for sample entries .  

1.     “To Thomas Jefferson from Ignatius Palyart, 5 October 1790,” Founders Online, National Archives ( [last update: 2015-12-30]). Source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 17, 6 July–3 November 1790, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965, p. 571.
2.     “Appointments of Vice-Consuls for Portugal, 26 April 1791–6 July 1791,” Fou-nders Online, National Archives ( [last update: 2015-12-30]). Source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 20, 1 April–4 August 1791, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982, p. 262.


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by Paulo A. Pereira

Deputy Mayor of Mineola


A brief survey of the Portuguese in New York

New York City is undoubtedly many things. It is a city of business, entertain-ment, and sports. It is a city of art, fashion, and music. It is a city of skyscrapers, parks, and water. But, perhaps, first and foremost New York City is a city of im-migrants. New York City began its rich history as a city of immigrants and, as she approaches her 400th anniversary, immigration continues to shape “the capital of the world”.
Since 1965, nearly one third of the millions of immigrants legally entering the United States have done so through New York City. Many of those have remained in the great metropolis. In earlier migrations the numbers were even larger. Appro-ximately 70% of the Irish-German (1840-1860) and Southern-Eastern European (1890-1924) immigrants entered through New York. Of course, millions remained in New York, namely New York City, to populate, build, shape, and be shaped by the city of immigrants. (Pencak xiii)  
The groups that came to New York by the hundreds of thousands and even millions such as the Irish, the Germans, the Italians, and the Jews have long esta-blished their place in New York City history. They were the builders, the creators, the inventors, the leaders, the policemen, and the businessmen who made this piece of land, with little natural value, into the greatest city on earth. However, groups of immigrants that came over in smaller numbers have also helped to shape New York City. One such group is the Portuguese.
Although, as an ethnic group, the Portuguese represent a very small percentage of the population of the United States as a whole and of New York City in particu-lar, they have woven themselves into the fabric of the American experience, since the earliest days of discovery and colonization.
Portuguese explorers were instrumental in the discovery and exploration of many parts of the New World, including North America. There exist claims, open to discussion, that the Portuguese preempted Columbus’ discovery of the New World and were also the first to reach mainland America (Pap 3-5). Regardless, what is certain is that the Portuguese whether on their own or in the service of the Spanish crown were instrumental in shaping early American history.
The first non-native settler of Manhattan was in fact Joao Rodrigues ( Juan Ro-driguez). Born in modern day Dominican Republic the son of a Portuguese sailor and an African mother, Rodrigues is considered the first immigrant in New York. Today, a stretch of Broadway in Washington Heights is named in his honor. One can argue that the first Non-native American to settle in New York City was in fact a Portuguese. The first documented instance of a full Portuguese settler in the co-lonies in the 17th century was that of Mathias de Sousa who arrived in Maryland in 1634. Like most of the early Portuguese settlers he was probably a Jew. (Pap 9) In New York City (New Amsterdam until 1664) a French Jesuit missionary named Father Isaac Jogues wrote that at least one person of Portuguese descent lived among the 400 or 500 settlers as early as 1643. One day, entering a house near the fort, Jogues came upon a Portuguese Catholic woman who was married to a Dutch ensign. According to Leo Pap, there was probably more than just this one Portu-guese settler as indicated by the old marriage records of the Dutch Church. (Pap 9)  
The first substantial number of Portuguese settlers did not arrive until 1654. A group of 23 Sephardic Jews (name for Portuguese and Spanish Jews) arrived in New Amsterdam from Recife, Brazil. They had gone to Brazil to flee the perse-cution of Jews in Portugal. At the time Recife was under Dutch control. In 1654 Portugal regained control of the city and the Jews were once again forced to flee. In addition to this initial group subsequent groups of Sephardic Jews migrated to New Amsterdam (New York) until the middle of the 18th century.
This first group of Jewish settlers, although not welcome completely with open arms by the Dutch, lost no time in establishing itself in its new home. They foun-ded a congregation, Shearith Israel, and in 1655 petitioned the city for the right to establish a Jewish cemetery. (Pap 10) A small part of that cemetery, near modern day Chatham Square, still exists today. A second cemetery was established at West 11th street, near Sixth Avenue. Some of the old gravestones with Portuguese na-mes have been preserved.
Although culturally the Portuguese Jews were considerably different from the later waves of Portuguese immigrants, they nonetheless represent Portuguese in-fluence in early colonial New York. If nothing else Portuguese names such as Ro-drigues Marques, Nunes Fernandes, Pinheiro, Mendes Seixas, DeSilva, and others found in wills filed with the Surrogates Office of the County of New York between 1665 and 1796 are proof of a Portuguese presence in New York City from the very beginning. The earliest accounts of the congregation at Shearith Israel (now the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue) were recorded in the Portuguese language and, early on, all Jews in New York City were known as the “Portuguese Nation”. (Pap 10-11) Further proof of a Portuguese presence in early New York was the esta-blishment of a Portuguese Consulate in New York City in 1791. John Abrams was named of vice-consul and served until his death in 1799. Additionally, many of the early events in American history, from the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution were sealed with a toast of Portuguese Madeira wine. Although Portuguese presence and influence was evident in the early colonial period we do not see Portuguese settlers, of any significance, mentioned again until the middle of the 19th century.
One more way in which the Portuguese are eternally tied to New York City is in the name of one of the city’s boroughs, Queens. The borough of Queens is named in honor of Catherine of Braganca, Infanta of Portugal and Queen of England. She married the newly restored Charles II of England in 1662. Along with a wife, Charles obtained a large dowry and Portugal received much needed protection from the Spanish. In 1664 New Netherlands and along with it, New Amsterdam, was handed over to the English. James, the brother of the king and a Roman Ca-tholic, saw it fitting to name much of the western portion of Long Island in honor of his Roman Catholic sister-in-law and thus Queens County was born. Although an attempt to have a statue of Catherine prominently displayed at Hunters Point ultimately failed, it is important to note nonetheless that most diverse county in the world is named in honor of a Portuguese princess.

New York City was experiencing tremendous growth in the mid-19th century.

Apart from the Jews that had been in New York since the time of the Dutch, a small number of Portuguese Catholics could now be found living in New York City, starting with the time around the War of 1812. Timothy Dwight, president of Yale, found some Portuguese Catholics living in the city during his travels (1812-1813) and thought enough of it to make mention of it in his Travels in New En-gland and New York. By 1860 official census figures recorded a total of 140 people of Portuguese birth, 106 males and 34 females, living in New York City. They even founded a Portuguese military (militia) group in 1859. Furthermore, during the Civil war one New York regiment contained a small company of Portuguese and Spanish soldiers. (Pap 23) By 1920 there were approximately 1,845 Portuguese living in New York City.
About 230,000 Portuguese came to America during the period of the Great Mi-gration (1880-1924) most settling in New England and California. Some of those that settled in New England would later come to New York and New Jersey in search of jobs. Not all of the Portuguese immigrants during this time were Roman Catholic. A few thousand Protestants left Portugal because of religious persecution but most came largely out of economic necessity. Like other “new” immigrants, the Portuguese also fell victim to anti-Catholic feelings of the 1890’s. They were resented by businessmen because of their inclination to join unions. Some of the ‘old’ immigrants resented them because they were taking jobs. (Olson 214-215)
Due to restrictive U.S. immigration policy, namely the National Origins Act of 1924, and events in Portugal, immigration from Portugal to the United States slowed to a trickle from 1914 to 1958. After 1924, Portugal was limited to a mere 440 visas per annum. In the 1930’s, The Great Depression and the rise of the “Es-tado Novo” under fascist dictator Antonio Salazar in Portugal certainly aggravated the situation. In 1940 there were 4,580 foreign born Portuguese residents of New York State, with nearly as many claiming birth in the United States to Portuguese ancestry. Of these foreign born immigrants approximately 1,000 lived in Brooklyn and another 1,000 in Manhattan. About 500 residents lived in Queens and about 400 in the Bronx. (Pap 87)
The Portuguese in Manhattan clustered, as some still do today, around Bleecker and Varick Streets. In Brooklyn, the small pocket of Portuguese immi-grants centered around Court and Columbia Streets. In Queens the Portuguese community, which grew considerably in the 1960’s and 1970’s was centered in Ja-maica and Queens Village. In the Bronx, the small number of Portuguese residents lived around the St. Anthony’s mission. There still exist to this day Portuguese social clubs in Brooklyn and Queens. The club in Manhattan closed a decade ago as the community dwindled.
World War II and economic recovery did not ease the restrictions on immi-gration. In 1957 there was a catastrophic volcanic explosion on the island of Faial in the Azores. The United States Congress passed the Azorean Refugee Acts of 1958 and 1960 which made possible the immigration of significant numbers of Azoreans to the United States. While most opted for New England and Canada some did settle in New York City. (Avendano 159)
With the sweeping immigration legislation passed by President John-son in 1965, in the shadows of the Statue of Liberty, many of the restrictions and national origins quotas were lifted and once again the doors to immigration were opened. The Portuguese responded with an increased and steady flow of im-migrants that continued through the early 1980’s. Entry policy became based on family relationships so that if one family member was a U.S. citizen he/she could ‘call” over the entire family without numerical limits. With renewed legislation and restrictions imposed by the Reagan administration in 1986, Portuguese immigra-tion slowed once again. Clandestine immigration from Portugal has always been a constant, but those numbers are difficult to ascertain.
After 1965, New York City was no longer the favored destination for most Portuguese immigrants settling in New York State. They chose, instead, to settle in growing concentrations of Portuguese immigrants in Newark, New Jersey and Mineola, Long Island. Many of the immigrants that had chosen to originally settle in New York City moved to the suburbs just as the Italians and the Irish had done. This is also true of the Portuguese community in Jamaica, where the community continues to dwindle as many make the move to Nassau or Suffolk counties.
The latest figures put the number of residents of Portuguese ancestry living in New York State at approximately 50,000. The 1990 census claimed 12,648 people of Portuguese ancestry living in New York City. The census broke down the popu-lation at that time as follows: 3,311 living in Manhattan, 4,886 living in Queens, 1,177 living in the Bronx, 2,461 living in Brooklyn, and 813 on Staten Island. (1990 U.S. Census) Those numbers have likely decreased in the last two decades as many have traded the metropolis for the suburbs.
The number of Portuguese immigrants choosing to become naturalized Ame-rican citizens has risen dramatically in recent years. This is especially true in the suburban communities on Long Island. It is a further indication that they have chosen to make their lives in the United States. In turn this increase in naturalized citizens of Portuguese descent has led to a greater political role. The Portuguese--American community has become a voice to be reckoned with in local elections as demonstrated by the election of a Portuguese-American as mayor of the Incor-porated Village of Mineola in March of 2003, the first such victory in all of New York State. Jack Martins would go on to be elected to the New York State Senate in 2010 where he continues to serve. In 2008, Paulo Pereira, born in Veiros (Estar-reja), was elected to the Mineola Village Board as a trustee. He continues to serve as Deputy Mayor after having been reelected in 2016 to his 5th term.
Although the Portuguese did not have the influence and the impact on New York City as the Germans, the Irish, or the Italians did, they certainly have carved out their own little piece of New York City history. In a way New York City can also be called a Portuguese city.

Baganha, Maria I. B. Portuguese Emigration to the United States, 1820-1930. New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1990.
Daniels, Roger. Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life. New York: HarperCollins, 1990.
Cuddy, Dennis L., ed. Contemporary American Immigration: Interpretive Essays. Fausto Avendano “Portuguese Immigration into the United States”, pp. 155-172. The Immigration Heritage of Ame-rica Series, Cecyle S. Neidle, ed. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982.
Olson, James Stuart. The Ethnic Dimension in American History. New York: St. Martin’s Press 1979. Pap, Leo. The Portuguese-Americans. Cecile S. Neidle, ed. The Immigration Heritage of America Series. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1981.