Joanna Fortes Lima Gomes



Joana Fortes-Lima Gomes
1886 (?)-1961

Joanna, my great-grandmother, was born in Rabil or Boa Ventura on the island of Boa Vista, Cape Verde. I’m actually not sure when she was born exactly but it was between 1876 and 1887. On my grandfather’s baptismal record, she listed her parents as Luis Antonio Lima and Camilla Fortes Lima. I was able to find records from Boa Vista but could not find ther actual baptismal record. She was supposedly 75 when she died in 1961, born in 1886 according to her obituary but her headstone reads that she was born in 1876! If she was actually born in 1886, the Luis and Camilla could not have been her parents since Luis died in 1882 at the age of 56 and Camilla would have been well into her 50’s. The eldest child, Palmira, did have two daughters, Augusta and Antonia, born in 1886 and 1889. Their father was a seminary student. I can see, if Joana was actually “Augusta”, that she could have been sent away because of the shame of being a priest’s child. But I also found a record for a child of Luis and Camilla’s born in 1876 named Querina with no further trace of her,at least not in Boa Vista. Joanna was a very common name at the time and Luis’ sister, Camilla’s sister and a niece were named Joana. My great-grandmother may have been given that name as a nickname.

According to family stories, Joanna was brought to the island of Brava when she was a young child by one of the islands richest residents, presumably to serve as his criada, or house slave. While slavery had been outlawed in Cape Verde since the mid 19th century it was still common practice to have criada’s well into the 20th century. She was described as being dark skinned with bone-straight hair, looking very “Indian”. It wasn’t until very recently that I had even seen a picture of her.

She lived in Cova de Joana until 1916, when she boarded a packet ship to New Bedford, Massachusetts. She had two children by then, Daniel and Raimundo, my grandfather. She had to leave them behind with the intention of sending for them as soon as she could. Within two years she had been able to save enough to send for them but only Daniel made the trip. According to the passenger list, he traveled at the age of 5 with his father, Mercelino Rodrigues, to New Bedford. Raimundo had been left under the care of a woman who had no children of her own and refused to send him to America. He was only two at the time. He eventually arrived in the US by 1959.

Joana met and married an older widower, Manuel Monteiro Gomes from Fogo, on December 18, 1920 in New Bedford, MA. He already had 6 sons and 2 daughters from his previous marriage to Philomena Dias Pena, who had passed away between 1917 and 1920. Manuel and Joana had twins, Edwin and Benvinda, December 14,1921. They lived on Old Onset Rd, until Manuel died in 1942 and Joana in 1961.

Joana was known to be a real firecracker, spending many times at local dances with younger people – giving them a run for their money, apparently. When she was working at the cranberry bogs or picking blueberries and strawberries at local farms, as had most Cape Verdeans living in the Cape had, she was the life of the party, playing cards, telling stories or dancing it up on the weekends.

She died on December 14, 1961 at Tobey Hospital in Wareham, MA after a long battle with Congestive Heart Failure and Diabetes. My cousin Dorothy, Joana’s granddaughter, remembered her very well and even recalled that Joana loved peanut brittle so much that she was actually buried with some at St Patrick’s Cemetary in Wareham.

No doubt, Joana is probably dancing around in heaven, laughing, playing cards and enjoying her peanut brittle.