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Settlement of Sal - Origin of Santa Maria

Slaves from Boa Vista

Slaves from nearby Boa Vista Island established the first settlement on Sal. But this was not to be a significant village until the late 17th century when the demand for salt and livestock intensified because of slaving activity on the West African coast. Basic commodities and manufactured goods would be traded in Ilha do Sal for salt which could be carried for ballast in the holds of the ships. At the end of the 18th century, the Dutch geographer, Dapper, wrote that he located a settlement of some 72 sailors in what is today the Village of Santa Maria supporting itself by extracting salt which was then used for salting goat meat and turtle meat. Dapper reports that there were large numbers of turtles nesting on nearby beaches.

During this same period, an English adventurer named Dampier arrived in Santa Maria. He describes the village he found on the south coast of the island as having a half dozen inhabitants living "miserably" but who managed to scratch out a livelihood by exchanging goat skins or a few sacks of salt to trade for used clothing with the occasional ship which dropped anchor in the bay.

Historically, the colonial authorities paid little attention to Ilha do Sal and many of the other outer islands until well into the 20th century. A family's survival depended on good fortune, resourcefulness and a readiness to seize whatever opportunities passed by in order to live from day to day.