The Portuguese discovery of the islands that form the western group probably took place sometime in 1452. It is believed that Diogo de Teive was the navigator responsible for the finding of this “far away” land. The name Flores (Flowers) is believed to be associated to the abundance of natural flowers that the island showcased as soon as the 1470s. It was not an easy task to try and populated the island. Actually, the geographical uniqueness of the Western Group is mirrored in its political structure, because unlike the other islands, Flores and Corvo constituted a single fiefdom that King Afonso V handed in 1453 to his uncle D. Afonso, Duke of Bragança and Count of Barcelos.
The first efforts to settle Flores were also carried out by the Flemish, namely by Willem van der Haghen, who had initially settled on the island of São Jorge and then tried to settle on a land located further to the west around 1480. Whether it was the disappointment with the island’s economic potential or its isolation from the rest of the archipelago, the truth is that the experience failed and the Flemish returned to São Jorge. The island of Flores was abandoned for many years, and there is only evidence of a successful settlement in 1508 thanks to the efforts of the Fonseca family. Despite the late settlement, there was a sustained demographic growth. Lajes das Flores was granted a town charter in 1515, with Santa Cruz das Flores obtaining it in 1548. From the late 16th century, the activity of the Mascarenhas will further boost the demographic development of Flores.
In a similar fashion to the rest of the archipelago, the economy was based on cereals for about two centuries, as well as on sheep breeding, the production of cloth and fishing.
During the 16th and the 17th centuries, the island lived in tranquillity and isolation, a condition that was threatened by the frequent and unwelcomed visits of privateers. As Europe’s westernmost point, Flores had a highly relevant tactical position and functioned as a strategic location for the logistic support that the Crown provided to ships arriving from the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Consequently the island was closely watched by privateers and pirates, whilst they quietly awaited the passing of Spanish galleons filled with precious metals from the Americas and Portuguese carracks from the East.
In the 19th century, Lord Alfred Tennyson perpetuated in the poem The Revenge this bygone time of sea adventures and pillages. “At Flores in the Azores Sir Richard Grenville lay” opens the description of the heroic defeat, at the hands of the Spanish fleet, of the ship captained by Sir Richard Grenville, an English privateer. By the mid 18th century, Flores became a safe harbour for the English and North-American whaling fleets, looking for supplies and sailors. This external influence required the construction of bases for the hunting of sperm whales at Lajes das Flores and Santa Cruz das Flores. There are still vestiges of these premises, which were then built for the extraction of oil from the whales.
The opening of the airport in 1972 and the construction of modern ports led to a greater integration of the Western Group in the Azores Archipelago. The services sector now supports the island’s economy, employing about 60% of the local workforce, with tourism playing an increasingly larger role.