Overseas Province of São Tomé and Príncipe
Província Ultramarina de São Tomé e Príncipe
Portuguese São Tomé and Príncipe
|Status||Colony; Overseas province |
of the Portuguese Empire
|Capital||São Tomé (Santo António 1753–1852)|
|Head of state|
|Afonso V of Portugal|
|Francisco da Costa Gomes|
• 1755 (first)
|Lopo de Sousa Coutinho|
• 1974–75 (last)
|António Elísio Capelo Pires Veloso|
• End of Portuguese Empire
|12 July 1975|
|Currency||São Tomé and Príncipe escudo|
|ISO 3166 code||ST|
|Today part of||São Tomé and Príncipe|
The Portuguese explorers João de Santarém and Pêro Escobar discovered the islands around 1470, which they found uninhabited. The São Tomé island was named by the Portuguese in honor of Saint Thomas, as they discovered the island on his feast day, while the Príncipe island (Prince's island) was named in honor of Afonso, Prince of Portugal, his father's favorite.
The first attempt of settlement in the islands began in 1485, when the Portuguese Crown granted to João de Paiva the São Tomé island. However, this attempt was not successful, because the settlers were unable to produce food in the specific conditions and climate that the islands offered, and because of the tropical diseases that affected the settlers. It was only in 1493 when King John II of Portugal nominated Álvaro Caminha as captain-major of São Tomé island, that the first successful settlement was established. Among these Portuguese settlers, there was a significant portion of criminals and orphans, as well as Jewish children taken from their parents to ensure that they were raised as Christians. Settlement of the Príncipe island was initiated in 1500.
In the following years, the Portuguese settlers started to import large numbers of slaves from mainland Africa to cultivate the rich volcanic soil of São Tomé island with highly profitable sugar cane. By the middle of the 16th century São Tomé generated enormous wealth to Portugal when it became the world's largest producer of sugar.
In the first decade of the 17th century, the competition of sugar plantations from the Portuguese colony of Brazil and the frequent slave revolts that occurred in the island, begun to slowly hurt the sugar crop cultivation, This meant the decline of the sugar production, and the shifting of the local economy towards the slave trade, who remained mostly in the hands of the local mestiço population. The geographical location of the islands made them a crucial trading post of the transatlantic slave trade, as they served as an assembly point of the slaves brought from the Gulf of Guinea and the Kingdom of Kongo and destined to the Americas.
In 1753, because of the frequent attacks by pirates and corsairs, the capital of the São Tomé island was transferred to Santo António on Príncipe, and the islands started being ruled as a single colony, with only one Governor. It was only in 1852 when the capital was transferred back to São Tomé island.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the Portuguese introduced coffee and cocoa in extensive large-scale plantations called roças, thus giving a great boost to the economy. The coffee production cycle ended in the late 19th century, when it was replaced by cocoa as the islands' main production. São Tomé and Príncipe then became a major global cocoa production area for several generations, and in the first decades of the 20th century, it was frequently the world's annual number one cocoa producer.
In 1972, a nationalist political party of Marxist ideology, the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe (MLSTP), was created by exiles in Equatorial Guinea with the intent of creating an independent nation. The Carnation Revolution in 1974 ended the Estado Novo dictatorship in Portugal and initiated a process of decolonization of the Portuguese colonies in Africa. On 12 July 1975, the new Portuguese regime granted independence to São Tomé and Príncipe.