Dulce Maria Scott
Sylvia, who would come to be defined in American mainstream circles, as “one whose life affords an illustration of the possibilities of our country — of what may be accomplished here by one who is willing to put forth effort and who is of ambition…” (J.H. Beers & Co., 1912, p. 1609) was born in the island of São Jorge Azores in 1840, and attended “common” schools, while working in his father’s farm until his departure to America. An elder brother, who had come to New England on a whaling trip, upon returning home spoke of the fortunes that could be had in the American shores. The two brothers then set out together to the “Promised Land” as passengers “on the schooner ‘Silver Cloud,’ of New London, bound for Boston” (J.H. Beers & Co., 1912, p. 1609).
“The life of Mr. Sylvia is worthy of emulation, bringing with it, as it has, not only success in business, but the respect of the entire community in which it has been passed. Truly Mr. Sylvia is a self-made man. His only assets on leaving his native land were the desire, will and ambition to accomplish something, and two dollars in money [that his mother had saved]. Thus equipped, with a stout heart and resolute purpose, he has become a man among men. (J.H. Beers & Co., 1912, p. 1609)”
In 1871, the 800 or so Portuguese of New Bedford formed their own parish, but, lacking a church building, they continued to worship at St. Mary’s, the Irish church that had been built in 1820. In 1874, they broke ground for their own church — Saint John the Baptist, the oldest Portuguese church in North America. The Church building was completed in 1875 and inaugurated shortly after the feast of Saint John the Baptist, and hence the Church’s name (Pease, 1918, p. 295). [Today, due to a lack of parishioners and funding, Saint John the Baptist has been shut down and the parish united with Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Carvalho, 2014)].
Sylvia is said to have been a great benefactor throughout his life and, true to form, upon his death on November 17, 1920, he left a substantial bequest towards the payment of Monte Pio’s mortgage, as well as smaller bequests to charitable organizations and several Portuguese churches. After retiring from all business activity in 1912, Sylvia lived the remainder of his life with his stepson — his late wife’s youngest son, John W. Frazier — in the south end of New Bedford, and both the Frazier family members and an extensive number of relatives, descendants of Antone’s siblings, were bequeathed noteworthy amounts of money and property (see New Bedford Times, November 17 and November 20, 1920).
An examination of official City Documents for the remainder of the 19th century shows that Antone Sylvia’s election to political office at the end of 1874 was the exception rather than the rule for Portuguese Americans. Although several other Portuguese families became highly prominent in the business and civic life of the city during the 19th and early 20th centuries,
New Bedford Times. (20 November 1920). “Sylvia Bequests to Charities and Many Relatives.”