#52 Ancestors – Ancestor #3 – Finding Avelino

I can still remember the day when my uncle announced he was naming his new son “Avelino” after his grandfather. I was twelve and I remember imagining the years of torment my new cousin was going to have to endure. Avelino!?! Why?!? Why would my uncle name his only son AVELINO? Why not James? And who was this grandfather? I didn’t know anything about him.

My uncle reminded me of a picture I had seen a thousand times of a young couple in a frame in my grandmother’s living room.

Avelino Barbosa Rodrigues and Maria Coelho Rodrigues

This started my search for Avelino. My great-grandmother, Bibi, didn’t speak much about her husband in all the time I knew her. Except for a few stories here and there, we really didn’t know much about this man who my little cousin was named after, except that Avelino was born in the town of Pai Luis (Father Luis) in the parish of Sao João Baptista in 1900 and died in Waterbury, CT in 1929.


On the 25 of August, 1901, in the chapel of Santo Antonio in the parish of Sao Joao Baptista, a boy named Avelino, born in the city of Pai Luis on October 27, 1900, was baptized. He was the legitimate son of Rufino Rodrigues and Isabel Barboza. He was the paternal grandson of Jose Rodrigues and Guilhermina da Graca and the maternal grandson of Arsenio Barboza and Henriqueta Coelho. His godfather was Joao Antonio Alfama, a married merchant who lived in Povoacão, São João Baptista. His god mother was Maria Goncalves, a single woman from the town of Fundo. His godfather’s signature is at the bottom of the certificate.

On the upper left corner, there’s a notation under my great-great grandparents names. It refers to this record being extracted on 9/2/1917. I believe my great grandfather might have needed his baptism record which would have served as his only means of identity because he was coming to America. My great-great grandfather, Rufino, was a mariner and traveling back and forth between America and Brava. Rufino was living with his brothers, Manuel and Benjamin in Providence where they would have mingled with my great-grandmother’s father, Antonio Coelho. Bibi had told me that their fathers were friends and arranged their marriage.

My great grandfather’s time in America isn’t very clear. He was living in New Britain, CT for a time where he, his brother, Arthur, and cousin, Ernest, ran a store. Toward the end of 1922, after exchanging a few letters and pictures, he arrived in Brava with a white wedding dress complete with a veil and white shoes to marry my great-grandmother. They were married December 31, 1922


Bibi told me the story about the day Avelino left for America on the schooner Volante just a few months after they were married. I can’t recall whether she said the ship left from the port of Furna or Feijão d’Agu but I do remember how she sounded as she described watching the ship disappear over the horizon. It was the last time she saw him.

The Volante arrived in New Bedford on May 18, 1923. My great grandfather is listed as a crew member of the schooner. It says that he had shipped out of New Bedford in October, 1922, that he was 22 years old, a seamen, could read and was about 5’7″ and 140 lbs.


Immigration of Cape Verdeans to America pretty much came to a halt around this time due to legislation on immigration. Avelino never went back to Brava and Bibi and my grandmother couldn’t come here as easily. In 1924, Avelino and his brother, Arthur, moved from New Britain to Waterbury. In 1925 he started work at the Chase Metal Works, a brass factory in the heart of Waterbury. The money he made from his work was sent to Brava along with building materials to build a home for his family in Cham de Sousa.

Our family home in Cham de Sousa

I believe it was meant to be a two story, “sobrado” style home. But before the house was finished, Avelino was killed in an accident at the factory.


Avelino Rodick (Rodrigues), 29, of 189 Orange street was almost instantly killed yesterday afternoon at 3:45 o’clock at the Chase Metal Works. Rodick was squirting water from a hose into a revolving tumbling barrel when the hose caught on a nearby barrel and dragged the worker between the barrel and it’s foundation. Rodick was knocked unconscious and died shortly afterward, according to the coroner, John T. Monsani, who investigated.
The man’s left chest was thoroughly crushed. The body was removed to the Lunny funeral parlor on Central Avenue, from which place it will be removed to his home this morning. The funeral will take place Wednesday morning from the home to the Church of the Immaculate Conception, where a mass will be celebrated at 9 o’clock. Burial will be in Calvary cemetery.
Mr Rodick is survived by his wife, Maria; a daughter, Rosinha, his parents, Mr and Mrs Rufino Rodick; a brother, Arthur of Waterbury; a brother and sister at the Cape Verdi islands. He has lived in the city for the past five years and was employed at the Chase plant for four years

Some years ago I had a chance to meet a cousin who was Avelino’s step nephew and lived in the same home when Avelino died. He told me he remembered Avelino leaving for work, as usual, that morning only to return a few minutes later. He watched him go to his room and pick up a small picture of my grandmother, look at it for a while and placed it in his coat pocket. My cousin remembered this because he always felt like my great-grandfather had a feeling that something was going to happen and wanted to see his daughter’s face one more time.

85 years, 1 daughter, 6 grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren, 25 great-great-grandchildren and 3 great-great-great grandchildren later I wanted to tell Avelino’s story. It was the house he built that gave shelter to our family for two generations before they finally came to America in the 1960’s. The money that was paid from the accident at Chase Metal Works was what sustained our family during some tough times in Brava. We never met him but his life affected ours in unimaginable ways.

I began searching for Avelino in earnest when I lived for a short time in Waterbury after graduate school in 1998. I spent hours in the library looking for an obituary unsuccessfully. I was living the same city but could never find anything to tell me what happened to him. It wasn’t until ancestry.com came a long a couple of years ago that I found one index entry for Avelino’s grave marker showing that he had died in 1929, something I didn’t actually know before. I contacted the Waterbury clerks office where they explained that records that old were in storage and not as easily accessible and would take a while find. I contacted all the cemeteries in Waterbury that would have had burials around 1929. It took a while but was finally given information on when he was buried but they had no information on why he died. I contacted all the churches that would have been in service at the time only to be told that all the records were transferred to the archdiocese of Hartford. The archivist there told me that they had no records dating back to 1929 for any churches that would have served the Portuguese community of Waterbury. So, on a whim, I contacted the very same library I had spent many hours at nearly 15 years prior. I explained to the librarian what I had been through trying to find my great-grandfather and she immediately found a city directory showing where he worked.

The next day, I received an email with the article above explaining, finally, what happened to Avelino. I cried as I read what had happened to him the day he was killed.

None of Avelino’s direct descendants had ever visited his grave. So on a trip back home from Massachusetts one day, I took a different route back to DC that went right through Waterbury. I drove to Calvary Cemetery to visit Avelino.

On a small hill under a tree I found his simple gravestone.


And I said, “Thank you”.

I wish I can go back to the day I complained about my uncle naming my cousin, Avelino. I understand now why he wanted to honor him by passing his name down to his only son.


Hidden History of Cabo Verde???

I came across an interesting passage in a book called “Corografia Cabo-Verdiana, ou Descripcão Geografico-Historica” (Chelmecki, 1841) where the author, very matter of factly, stated that there was a tradition in Cape Verde that the island of Santiago was inhabited by Jalofs (Wolof) at the time of its discovery. Using the word “discover” usually implies “previously unknown”. But the islands were referred to by ancient writers, including Ptolomy, as Hesperedes or Gorgades. Ancient maps depict the island group off the coast of Africa well before the traditional “discovery” date of 1460 (even this date is debatable) by Italians under the Portuguese flag… But I’ll save that argument for another day. So it seems to me the more accurate description of the Portuguese arrival on the archipelago is “settlement” versus “discovery”.

The history of the Wolof people is said to have begun around the 12th or 13th centuries, when they migrated west to present day Senegal from Mali after the fall of the Ghanaian Empire in the 11th century. Their oral histories tell of their Fulbe ethnic origins. The distance between present day Mali and Senegal is roughly 700 miles. The distance between the coast of Senegal and Santiago is less than 405 miles. And we are to believe that they could travel over 700 miles by land but not 400 miles by sea? The volcano in Fogo is an historically active volcano with periodic eruptions. The eruption, smoke and ash would have reached the coast of West Africa. Yet we are to believe no one knew of their existence? Except for the Arabs who are said to have traveled thousands of miles to procure salt from the island of Sal. And the Ancient Greeks and Phoenicians traveled thousands of miles, and who wrote about visiting these islands and told stories of the “women of Gorgades” (this is also supposed to have been the home of Medusa).
The Chinese may have even visited the island of Santo Antão and left writing depicting their travels. 20140224-231036.jpg

But somehow, the idea that people from the African continent traveling and settling there seems unfathomable according to many contemporary historians. Hmmm…

The Portuguese dealt with many insurrections of enslaved Africans during colonialism. On the island is Santiago it is said that many enslaved people escaped slavery and took refuge inland where the Portuguese didn’t occupy. They became known as “Badius” or vagabonds. It is also said that many “rebelados” or rebellious people were spread around to the other islands to lessen the danger of further insurrections. Chelmecki mentions that prior to the volcanic eruption of 1680 when masses of people from Fogo fled to Brava, there were about 200 descendants of “rebelados” living in Brava. Hmmm…

Aside from brief mentions in a few older books not much proof exists today that these Jalof/Wolof people were inhabitants of Santiago in 1460. Today there are many Cape Verdeans who are proud to call themselves Badius from the interior parts of Santiago. They may be the only group of Cape Verdeans who can claim to have fought colonial rule before our eventual independence in 1975. It would be interesting to have people with ancestry from this island have DNA testing to see if they resemble other Cape Verdeans who, on average, show to be 50/50 African and European. If there are people who show to be 100% African, would that prove that there were native people prior to colonization? Maybe, maybe not. But it would definitely add to the conversation of “what is a Cape Verdean?”.

Cape Verde, the Duke of Arveiro and The Tavora Affair

Sometime after 1781, Galvao, a young man from the island of Santo Antao, Cape Verde, ran away from slavery to Lisbon where he worked for a member of the royal court. This “fidalgo” or nobleman, happened to ask him one day where he came from. Galvao, innocently, told him of the conditions he had escaped from in Santo Antão. Presumably, he would have told him of hunger, poverty, and the brutality of enslavement on the island. Immediately, the fidalgo made his way to the palace of Queen Isabel I, who had succeeded her father, King Jose I upon his death. He told her of the conditions on the island of Santo Antao and the enslaved people who he knew belonged to the Duke of Arveiro, Dom Jose de Mascarenhas.

Queen Isabel had for some time been attempting to correct all the sins of her father, King Jose I and his cohort, Sebastiao Carvalho, the Marquis do Pombal. Carvalho served in the position equivalent to the Prime Minister for the King and began to amass enough power to get rid of any elements of the Portuguese kingdom he saw as a threat. This included diminishing the power of the aristocratic families of the time and the Jesuit priests. Carvalho was successful in exiling the priests from Portugal while taking the power and influence of such families as the Tavora’s and Arveiro’s. The Marquis was also effective in leading Portugal after one of its worst natural disasters, the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. His loyalty was to the King and he would destroy anyone who would threaten his sovereignty. It wasn’t very long before the King and Marquis created enemies within the kingdom.

King Jose was known to have kept a mistress, who happened to be the wife of the Marquis Dom Luiz Bernardo, a member of the Tavora family. The Marquis was said to have sought he help of the Jesuits and the Duke of Arveiro to kill King Jose. The conspiracy to kill the king included his parents and younger brother, Jose Maria, as well. The attempt to kill the King while riding back from a rendezvous with his mistress failed and all the conspirators and their families were arrested and condemned to death. The Duke of Arveiro and most members of the Tavora family were killed in the most gruesome ways, possibly to instill fear among and of the King’s other enemies, while others managed to escape Portugal to places like Cape Verde. Salt was poured on the lands belonging to these families so that nothing would ever grow there again.

When Isabel took the throne in 1777, one of the first things she did was to recall the Jesuits and appointed Dom Jose Maria de Mello, the Confessor of the Royal Conscience. By 1781, she had declared the innocence of all the individuals, living or dead, involved in the conspiracy to kill the King. Shortly after, the Queen went insane.

The account of Galvao, says that the nobleman he worked for “sought the conscience” of the Queen. It may have been Dom Jose Maria de Mello, himself, who had the ear of the Queen as the Royal Confessor. When the queen learned of Galvao and enslaved people in Santo Antao, owned by the Duke of Arveiro, she immediately declared their freedom. Galvao, who had unknowingly had a hand in the freedom of hundreds of people, returned to Santo Antao and his family a free man.

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