Ritta DeFreitas

Madeira’s Central Illinois Exiles

In the mid-1800s, hundreds of Portuguese residents on the island of Madeira, off the coast of Morocco, converted to Presbyterianism. This created conflicts with their Catholic neighbors, so they set out to build a safer community in the English Protestant colony of Trinidad. They soon began looking for a less tropical location where they could live more independently. Central Illinoisans, especially in Springfield and Jacksonville, offered them a new home.

Among the Madeira exiles in Springfield was young seamstress Ritta de Silva. In 1856, she married Francisco (Frank) DeFreitas, a painter and fellow Portuguese Protestant. One of Ritta’s clients were the Lincolns and she appears to have grown close to the future First Family—borrowing money and receiving two items from their home when they moved to Washington. Ritta and her fellow exiles carved out homes for themselves in Central Illinois and many of their descendants remain here today.


Object label:

Lincoln’s Shaving Mirror

Abraham Lincoln’s shaving mirror, given to DeFreitas when the Lincolns moved to Washington.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

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