Only occasionally, and then usually by chance, does one discover the name of one of those many nondescript “unknowns” whose very existence is a fact lost to time and history over the long centuries of the Portuguese Diaspora. Thus the import of the “recoveries” (as announced in my title) of two men living in eighteenth-century Philadelphia (a “gentleman” from Madeira and a Roman Catholic painter-glazier), a colorful bartender in mid-nineteenth-century New Orleans, and a bevy of sea-faring folk in New York in the 1880s.
The names of the two Portuguese residents of Philadelphia at the time of their deaths, in 1766 and 1777, respectively, and a sense of the kind of lives they lived, can be gleaned from their relatively meager, if tantalizingly suggestive, obituaries. The earlier of these obituaries appears in the Pennsylvania Gazette for September 4, 1766:
On Tuesday, 26th ult. (August), departed this life Seignior Joseph Joachim De Ornellas Evasconcellos de Figuera, a young Portuguese gentleman of good family in the Island of Madeira, who had resided in this city about seven years, during which time his conduct was so approved and his manners so engaging that, perhaps, few funerals have been attended by so many friends, who sincerely regretted the loss of the deceased. As he had no relations in this country, six of his intimates appeared as mourners, and other six bore his pall to the Romish Church in this city, where he was decently interred.[i]
The second of the two obituaries recovered here appears in the Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser on January 24, 1776:
On Sunday last was interred in the Roman Catholic churchyard in this city the remains of Emanuel Holmes, painter and glazier, of the district of Southwark, a Portuguese by birth, yet he loved liberty; for the defence of which he joined one of the companies of riflemen of this county, and constantly exercised with them. A foreigner almost a stranger, without relations (except his wife and children) without dependents, extensive connections or acquaintance, and although esteemed an honest man, not eminent as a tradesman, yet his remains were attended to the churchyard, not only by the company in which he associated, but also by as great a number of other respectable citizens and people of his neighborhood as ever attended a funeral in that populous district; such is the respect shown to those who declare themselves willing to step forward in defence of liberty, a respect, which wealth cannot purchase nor flattery bestow.[ii]
When the American Catholic Historical Researches journal reprinted the Holmes obituary, it expatiated on the fact that Holmes had been a member of a company of riflemen: “This description makes it probable that Emanuel Holmes was the first Associator of Philadelphia who died and, therefore, in the intensity of public feeling at the time, his interment was made the occasion of a public manifestation of all classes of the honor due to all who had like this foreign born Catholic, taken up arms in defense of the rights and liberties of his adopted country.”[iii]
Joining Joseph Joachim De Ornellas Evasconcellos de Figuera and Emanuel Holmes on the list of “recoveries” is Louis D’Jose. In New Orleans, a city with a Portuguese population large enough to support both a mutual benevolent association and, a few years later, a synagogue, Louis D’Jose was known to most people only as “Joe Portuguese,” a celebrated local character who in the last year of his life (as it turned out) was written up in the New Orleans Daily Picayune:
Anyone who knows New Orleans knows Taylor’s, of the Merchants’ Exchange, and everyone who knows Taylor’s Merchants’ Exchange, knows Joe-Portuguese Joe-Joe, the bar-keeper, whose language, like his punch, is composed of various ingredients; such as his vernacular, his broken English, and grammatical Choctaw. Joe’s ambition to “shine,” is bounded within narrow limits indeed. It does not extend beyond the sphere of his bar-the scene of his daily occupation, where he practices with the most unremitting industry, and with an air of self-importance such as the erudite Sir Humphrey Davy never assumed; when engaged in the most scientific experiments in his chemical laboratory. But Joe, so far from seeking information which does not pertain to his immediate calling, rejects every advance which is made to increase his knowledge, either by colloquy or otherwise.
Ask him about the probable fate of McLeod, and he will tell you he does not keep that liquor, but informs you that he has got some excellent orgeat. Inquire of him if it be his opinion that President Tyler will veto the bank bill, and he replies that it makes no difference, for bank bills are us better than specie, and then flies off at a tangent to pass an eulogium on his prime London porter. In fact, Joe is a “strict constructionist” of the old adage, that “every man should mind his own business.” He therefore leaves McLeod and the war question to be discussed by statesmen in petticoats and “soldiers in peace,” and the fate of the bank bill to be speculated upon by politicians in a small way and men of limited means, while he manages to find full employment for his time, and occupation for his mind, in the dispensation of creature comforts to his various customers.
He is generally urbane and polite, but once “travel out of the record,” ask him any question that does not immediately bear on his business, and you at once ruffle his temper, and may count on an abrupt reply, no matter how courteous the tone in which it may have been put.
The following scene will illustrate our position:
“Jo, Joe, Jowaw, my dear fellow, Jowaw,” said a lisping blackleg, yesterday, disguised in the dress of a gentleman, and affecting the foppery of a dandy.
“Yes, sir,” said Joe, seizing an empty tumbler in his left hand by the base and making it perform a summersol in his hand-“what you take, sir?”
“Make me a fiscal agent, Jowaw,” said the cozening coxcomb.
Now Joe, not being a gentleman of such diversified information as Michael, of the American, was ignorant of what a fiscal agent means, either in the political sense or as a beverage, though the “poker”-man was “running a saw” on him, and abruptly replied in his own peculiar disjointed method of giving expression to his ideas-“O, d—n, me no got no fiscal agent; if you want him, go Curns-he agent for dem works. What you take, sir?” said Joe to a customer, from whom he anticipated more money and less querulous trouble.
“Jo-Joe-Jowaw,” said the dandy, “you are an infernally ignorant brute,” and he sloped.[iv]
[i] Quoted in “Catholic Historical Notes,” American Catholic Historical Researches (Apr. 1901), 18: 91. The examples of Joseph Joachim De Ornellas Evasconcellos de Figuera and Emanuel Holmes can be used to counter LeGrand Cannon’s prejudice in the creation of Joe Felipe, the “Portygee” blacksmith who is cast as villain in Look to the Mountain (1942). This is especially remarkable in that Cannon’s novel about pioneering life in the New Hampshire Grants in seventeenth-century colonial America, was accepted by historians as “a transcript from the American past executed” with “sincerity, clarity, and delicacy” (Allan Nevins, “The Atmosphere of the 1700s,” Saturday Review [Nov. 7, 1942], 25:8).
[ii] “Emanuel Holmes, a Portuguese Catholic of Philadelphia. ‘Loved Liberty’ and Joined the Association in its Defense. His Burial in St. Mary’s Graveyard in 1776. A Demonstration of Respect to a Defender of the Rights of America,” quoted in the American Catholic Historical Researches 1887 (Oct. 1900), 17: 156.
[iii] “Emanuel Holmes,” 156.
[iv] “Portuguese Joe: A Fiscal Agent,” Times Picayune (Aug. 8, 1841), p. 2.