Thursday, January 04, 2007


Los Corsos - an explanation

Visitors to my favourite discussion group Corsicalista (see link above left) will have noted that it gets a surprising number of visitors from the Caribbean and South and Central America – many of them concerned with genealogical research.

The truth is that there are more people in this region who are of Corsican descent than there are in Corsica itself. As I understand it, this is how it happened…

At the beginning of the 19th Century, there was a sprinkling of Corsican sailors, smugglers and traders plying their trade in the Caribbean, but in 1815, the King of Spain issued a decree encouraging Catholics from countries other than Spain to live and work in Spain’s politically vulnerable colonies in the west. As far as Corsicans were concerned, the offer couldn’t have come at a better time: drought and crop-disease had ravaged their farms and the 1848 revolution in France had contributed to a feeling of great instability and uncertainty.

The deal was this: foreigners would be allowed to go and live in the Spanish colonies - like Venezuela and Puerto Rico - provided they swore loyalty to the Spanish Crown and converted to the Catholic Faith. After five years, they could become naturalised Spanish subjects. Corsicans, with little affection for their own political masters and who were already Catholics, applied in a steady stream. Hundreds applied in the 1830s; by the 1850s the stream had become a torrent.

Nobody knows exactly how many Corsicans emigrated to Puerto Rico in the first half of the 19th century, but we do know where they went and what they did when they got there. While the Spanish settlers colonised the low-lying coastal areas, the Corsicans headed for the mountainous south west. According to Wikipedia, the most popular towns were Adjuntas, Lares, Utuado, Ponce, Coamo, Yauco, Guayanilla and Guánica.

They thrived there, particularly in Yauco, and over the coming years involved themselves in the coffee, sugar cane and tobacco industries. But it was in the coffee industry where they really made their mark. By the 1860s, Corsican families dominated Puerto Rica’s coffee industry, owning seven out of ten plantations. More about the Corsicans in Puerto Rico’s coffee industry in Corsica Isula ( Some successful plantation owners came back once they had made their fortunes, especially in Cap Corse where they built large “American style” houses. Many of these houses are still standing today.

If you want to know more about Los Corsos, take a look at the latest edition of U Bullitinu, the newsletter of and Corsica Isula. Its editor, Mac McKeone (mac @, assures me that he’ll send you the latest and future issues if you’re interested.

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