Flores, where Frank Freitas I was from, was named for the wildflowers that blanketed the island at the time of its discovery. It is the most densely rugged of the Azores, with many tall peaks and deep ravines, steep cliffs, waterfalls, and lakes. The island is the westernmost part of Europe and lies 1,380 miles west of Lisbon and 2,235 miles east of the United States. Corvo, the small island just to the north, was long considered an islet of Flores and at one time the pair was probably a single island.

Flores has a total land area of about fifty-five square miles, making it slightly larger than the city of San Francisco. The island rises abruptly from the water and slopes steeply toward a mountainous and heavily forested center, leaving only the perimeter — less than half of the total land area — flat enough for settlement and agriculture. Almost seventy percent of the island is higher than a thousand feet above seal level.

All of the dozen or so villages are located along the coast, as are the island’s two towns, Lajes and Santa Cruz, which together account for most of Flores’ population. The interior of the island, now a nature preserve, is dominated by many tall peaks, including Morro Alto, which, at nearly three thousand feet, is the island’s tallest; it also contains the Lake District, a region of seven shallow, flat-floored crater lakes. These were created when steam eruptions beneath the surface caused magma to come into contact with groundwater, forming volcanoes where no cone was created. Instead, the ejected rock and magma formed low rims around the craters, which gradually filled with rainwater.

Though Flores was discovered around 1452, settlers didn’t arrive until a few years later and they didn’t stay long. Permanent settlement did not begin until 1504. The town of Lajes was established in 1515 and Santa Cruz, which would become the island’s principal town, was established thirty years later. By 1600, when the northern coastal parish of Ponta Delgada was established, the island’s population had reached thirteen hundred.

Over time a small economy grew up around repairing and trading with ships that accidentally arrived at the island; by the 1700s, this became more formalized as western ships began to make the Azores a regular stop. Though the Azores’ primary port is Horta, on the island of Faial — one of the few spots in the archipelago where the steep, jagged coastline allows for a safe harbor — ships would anchor a few miles off Flores and send boats to shore to trade and purchase supplies.

This trade, combined with the export of meat, fruit, and vegetables to the other islands, led to a growing economy. The island’s population increased accordingly, reaching a peak of 10,000 in the mid-1800s. In the ensuing century and a half, Flores’ population gradually dropped to the current level of about 4,500.

For the most part, however, the island has been and remains a subsistence agricultural community, providing food for its own residents. The mainstays of the island’s early diet have remained the same through the centuries: yams, potatoes, corn, and other vegetables, fish, meat, soup, and bread. Modernization came to the island in the 1950s with port improvements, construction of an airport, and, in the 1960s, a French meteorological observatory. But the observatory is gone now, and today the economy centers on cattle raising and dairy and tourism, with the fishing industry providing just enough for island residents and visitors.

Mark Twain visited the Azores in 1867 as part of a world tour, sending dispatches to newspapers in California and New York. These were collected and published in 1869 as The Innocents Abroad, the book that earned him an international reputation. Ten days after leaving New York, Twain and his fellow passengers aboard the steamship Quaker City were awakened before dawn to cast their eyes on the first piece of land they had seen since their departure.

The island in sight was Flores. It seemed only a mountain of mud standing up out of the dull mists of the sea. But as we bore down upon it, the sun came out and made it a beautiful picture — a mass of green farms and meadows that swelled up to a height of fifteen hundred feet, and mingled its upper outlines with the clouds. It was ribbed with sharp, steep ridges, and cloven with narrow canyons, and here and there on the heights, rocky upheavals shaped themselves into mimic battlements and castles; and out of rifted clouds came broad shafts of sunlight, that painted summit and slope and glen with bands of fire, and left belts of somber shade between. It was the aurora borealis of the frozen pole exiled to a summer land!

We skirted around two-thirds of the island, four miles from shore, and all the opera glasses in the ship were called into requisition to settle disputes as to whether mossy spots on the uplands were groves of trees or groves of weeds, or whether the white villages down by the sea were really villages or only the clustering tombstones of cemeteries. Finally we stood to sea and bore away for San Miguel, and Flores shortly became a dome of mud again and sank down among the mists and disappeared. But to many a seasick passenger it was good to see the green hills again, and all were more cheerful after this episode than anybody could have expected them to be, considering how sinfully early they had gotten up.

Freitas on Flores

The island of Flores features several streets named for men named Freitas. Santa Cruz has one named for Senator Andre de Freitas. Lajes, meanwhile, has one for Dr. José de Freitas Pimentel and another for Ángelo de Freitas Henriques.



  • A History of the Azores, Volume V, James H. Guill, Golden Shield Publications, Tulare, Calif., 1993.
  • And Yet They Come: Portuguese Immigration from the Azores to the United States, Jerry R. Williams, Center for Migration Studies, New York, 1982.
  • Azoreans to California: A History of Migration and Settlement, Robert L. Santos, Alley-Cass Publications, Denair, Calif., 1995.
  • Azores, David Sayers, Bradt, 2010.