#52 Ancestors- The Day Brava Lost Its Men

Teotônio quickly made his way to Ma Culinha’s house next door with a telegram in his hands. It had already been months since her husband, Joao Arcanja, boarded the schooner, Mathilde, with no word until that day, January 2, 1944. Joao Maria Nunes sent the telegram from the United States notifying everyone that the Mathilde still hadn’t reached its destination. Her worst fears were realized. As word spread from Cham de Sousa to every corner of the tiny island, Ma Culinha mourned the death of her husband and the island mourned the deaths of many of its bravest souls.

The island was in the grips of some of the worst years of drought and famine. Most of the world was focused on WWII and shipments of goods from the United States had come to a halt. A group of 51 men decided to take a chance and make the voyage across the Atlantic to America. It was the only hope for hundreds of families who were starving to death. Some of these men were American citizens who were answering the call to serve in the military for the United States. They were willing to risk their lives in an old schooner if it meant survival for their families.

No one knows exactly what happened to the Mathilde after it set sail from the port of Feijão d’Agu. There are stories that the ship was already in such disrepair that it started taking on water as soon as it set off. Others claim that the ship was seen somewhere off the the islands of the Caribbean. Lost ships were nothing new, unfortunately, in Brava’s history but this was especially brutal because these men were some of the islands best and brightest. They were mariners, merchants, island administrators, husbands, fathers, brothers and sons.

Ma Culinha was my great- grand aunt – my great-grandmother, Bibi’s, sister. The two sisters supported each other as they were now both widowed with children. My grandmother was already an adult but Ma Culinha’s 5 children were still very young. Her youngest daughter was born shortly after her husband’s ship disappeared.

The story of the Mathilde has been documented in terms of the toll it took on Brava’s population but it was something else to read the account of the telegram from America being opened in my great grand aunt’s home in the book by Artur Viera; Mathilde, Viagem do Distino (Mathilde, Voyage with Destiny). I imagine that Bibi was there when the telegram arrived at Ma Culinha’s house as she lived next door. I knew the both of them, grew up with them, and never really knew the grief that they had to endure.

I had heard the story of Ma Culinha’s husband but it wasn’t something that was really talked about much. Our family had survived the drought and made its way to America. Their children’s children were living the American Dream and thoughts of starvation and death was something we never fathomed. What happened to those men was nearly forgotten to us if it weren’t for the efforts of people like Mr Vieira to ensure they weren’t forgotten.

Today, the names of these men are listed on a memorial located near the chapel at the port in Feijão d’Agu.

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The Mathilde was constructed in São Vicente and purchased by Abel and Daniel Ramos (Silva) from the town of Cova de Rodella.

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Captaining this voyage was was Henrique Duarte Rosa, also known as Henrique de Lola, from Lem and Antonio Faria Balla, known as Toi de Nino.

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Domingos Jose da Silva, known as Senhor Ramos, a business man from Cova Rodella, sold each passenger their ticket, along with three of his sons, Daniel, Abel and Jose, who accompanied him on the ship.

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Artur Viera includes a list of the passengers of Mathilde in his book. What I like about his book is that he uses the nicknames of these men along with who their family is. It seems to give life to the names on the pages and makes them real. Many of the names actually identify who their ancestors are. For example, Aurelio de Maria Vitoria, is Aurelio son of Maria, daughter of Victoria.

Abel Silva- married to Natinha Aurora, from Cova Rodella
Antonio Faria Balla (Toi de Nino) – married to Anna daughter of Mr. Carlos,
from Santa Barbara
Antonio de Lelo (Totoi)- married to Candida Henrique Quilota, from Cova
Rodella
Antonio de Niche- single, from Vinagre
Armando Anahory Azevedo- married to Jovina, from Nova Sintra
Augusto Nina Lepéu- single, from Cova Rodella
Aurélio Maria Chico- married to Lotinha, from Cachaço
Aurelio de Maria Vitoria- single, from Tras de Cova
Avelino Lopes – married to Eugenia de Jalca, from Nossa Senhora do Monte
Basilio Bicha, from Nova Sintra
Belmiro Libana- single, from São Pedro Lém
Daniel Silva- married to Laura Madalena, from Cova Rodella
Domingos Jose Silva, married to Dominga, from Cova Rodella
Francisco Anahory Azevedo-single, from Nova Sintra
Guilherme de Bita- single, from Lem
Henrique de Anna Carolina- widower, from Lomba Cumprido
Henrique Duarte da Rosa- married to Benvinda, from Lem
Jack Manuel Cochila- single, from Nova Sintra
Djila- from Cova de Joanna
Joao Arcanja- married to Carolina (Ma Culinha), from Cham de Sousa
Joao Henrique Silva- married to Maria Dominga, Cova de Joanna
Joao de Julia- married to Pequena Marcelino, from Cova Rodella
Joao de Sao Pedro, from Lem
Joazinho Julia de Laia- single, from Cova Rodella
Joaquim Henrique Velinha- single, from Vinagre
Joaquim Joao Sena – married to Alés Teofilo, from Nossa Senhora do Monte
Joaquim Nunes- from Mato Grande
Jose Djedjedja- from Pai Luis
Jose Faria Balla- from Santa Barbara
Jose Henrique Silva- single, from Cova de Joanna
Jose Joao Fernandes- married to Bibi Henrique Quilota, from C. De Joanna
Jose Silva- Cova Rodella
Laurindo Teixeira Balla- from Nova Sintra
Mano Gelina- single, from Campo Baixo
Mano Mariquinha Frisina- single, Lomba Cumprido
Manuel Mundinho- married to Rosinha Maria de Nana, from Paùl
Manuel Joao Fernandes – married to Aida de Cheta, Nossa Senhora do
Monte
Mario (the ship cook)- from Boa Vista
Nando Julia Nonó- single, from Mato Riba
Napoleão Julio Silva- single, Cova de Joanna
Nuno Palmira- married to Bai, Cova Rodella
Paulo Joao Fernandes- single, from Clara Goncalves
Pedro (ship cook)- from Boa Vista
Rapazinho nha Nacia, married to Bibi Rosinha, from Tapume
Raul Rodrigues-son of Marcellino Rodrigues, from Fogo
Roberto Baina (Boboy, born in the US), single, Nossa Senhora do Monte
Silvestre Pires-Nossa Senhora do Monte
Tchany de Djudja- married to Junina, daughter of Mr Ramos
Tómas Faria Balla – married to Alice de Mina Pulutcha, from Vinagre
Zeca de Manuel Lai- married to Bia nha Tancha, Cova de Rodella
* third captain only known by the surname Rodrigues.

Joao Arcanja and Ma Culinha’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren live in and around Massachusetts today as do many of the descendants of these brave men. I would love to hear their stories. If anyone knows of them, please feel free to comment or message me directly.

-Viera, Artur, Mathilde, Viagem do Destino, 2nd Edition, 1995

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9 Comments on “#52 Ancestors- The Day Brava Lost Its Men

  1. Dear Anna,

    Thanks much for being flexible about rescheduling our next talk.

    Oh my, what a moving post this latest blog post is. Your indefatigable energy in researching your family’s history is well matched by your writing skills. I always look forward to your new posts . . . and, now, to our next conversation on Tuesday at 10 am.

    All best,

    Alma

    Alma Gottlieb ajgottli@gmail.com

  2. Pingback: 52 Ancestors Challenge: Week 10 Recap | No Story Too Small

    • Hi Daniel- it’s such a sad story especially when they were close relatives. I don’t want any of these people to be forgotten. Do you have pictures of him? Many of my ancestors were from Cova Rodella.

  3. I was very excited to find your blog the other day! What a well written post! with photos, too!!! 🙂
    My grandfather was Manuel aka Abel Silva and my great grandfather Domingos aka Ramos Silva. Like you mentioned, the loss of the Mathilde was never discussed much by mom’s family either. I knew the story to a degree but not the details. Such a sad story – so many young men and so families losing multiple members at once. Around ’94 or so I had asked my grandmother some more about it, and she didn’t want to tell me much because she still found it upsetting, even after 50 years.

    To find out that someone had written a book on the Mathilde’s fateful voyage is amazing to me! Since finding this post I’ve been scouring the internet trying to find a copy of Mr. Vieira’s book but have been unsuccessful so far. I’ve yet to try some libraries so I haven’t given up hope yet. Anyway, thank you so much for this post!!!

  4. Been looking for this book since My Girlfriends family members lost their life on this Voyage The DaSilva’s Her fathers brother and Her Fathers Father and uncles were loss on the Matilde….

    • Wayne, I recently found the book (in Portuguese) at the New Bedford Library – Casa da Saudade Branch (which you can borrow through an interlibrary loan if you’re not in New Bedford but have a card with a participating library). I’ve requested it, and I’m hoping to be able to read it with help from my mom (who is also a Silva – she lost her father, grandfather, and most of her uncles on the voyage, too. I wonder if your girlfriend and my mom are cousins. ?) I did see some copies of the book online once, but I always hesitate ordering online from a website I’m unfamiliar with.

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