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Antonio Ferreira Tavares: From Bretanha to the Hawaiian Senate

By John Miranda Raposo

In the last quarter of the 19th century, the Azorean Archipelago had more mouths to feed than it could possibly support. The vast majority of the inhabitants were landless peasants in a near state of serfdom, free, but virtually tied to the land they worked, with little chance of a better life. Those fortunate enough to own their own land had too many children to feed and the division of inherited fields and farm land left each heir with a postage- sized remnant with which to stave off starvation.

The siren song from America filled many an Azorean's heart with a prayer and a dream for survival. Hawaii needed cheap labor for the sugarcane plantations. In 1893 the native monarchy had been overthrown and the islands were shortly thereafter annexed to the United States. The American missionaries and plantation owners became the new masters and needed a labor force to provide them with the produce from the plantations that allowed them to live in the comfort of their grand manor houses.

Between 1878 and 1899 12,780 Portuguese men, women and children, mostly from the Azores and Madeira, found their way on 21 ships to Hawaii as contract laborers. They obligated themselves to serve the master for 96 months for wages of $10.00 per month, lodging, rations and medical care. Many later left for the mainland, primarily for California, and ony a fraction remained to become a part of the Hawaiian social fabric.

In 1880 the population of Bretanha was about 3,046 souls and immigrating to Hawaii must have been a viable route of escape, or the least of all evils facing António Tavares Ferreira and his wife Maria José. He was the son of José Tavares Ferreira and Ana de Jesus Carvalho, the grandson of Manuel Tavares Medeiros, Sebastiana do Espírito Santo, João Carvalho and Antónia Francisca, all from Bretanha, and his ancestry can be traced back to the 18th century. Maria José was the daughter of a foundling, João José and his wife Ana Ricarda Leocádia, and maternal grandson of Manuel Oliveira Medeiros and Leocádia de Jesus. His maternal lineage can be traced back to Rodrigo Álvares, one of Bretanha's earliest settlers. They were married on 16 October 1875; he was already 45 years old and the bride was 36 years old.

In the 1900 Federal census, the widowed Maria José was quite revealing. She was then living with her son António, his wife Julia and their first child, Lily. She told the decennial enumerator that she had emigrated to Hawaii in 1881 and had lived from that time in the district of Makawao on the island of Maui. She had given birth to eight children, five of whom were still living in 1900. In 1881 there had been only two ships taking Azorean contract laborers to the Hawaiian islands: the High Flyer, with 351 passengers and the Suffolk with 475 men, women and children. In the 1910 census she was living with her daughter Maria José, her husband John Ponte and their five children; in the 1930 census Maria José had departed from the world stage. Of the eight children born to António Ferreira Tavares and Maria José, five can be identified, four of whom lived on to adulthood. Maria José, named for her mother, married a fellow Azorean-American. Joseph Marques Tavares and his family are recorded for posterity on page 78 in Portuguese Hawaiian Momories (1930), a photo-biographical memoir compiled by Joaquim Francisco de Freitas. One of his sons was a member of the Santo António Society and another was a member of the Lusitana Society. These were bennevolent mutual aid societies, early forms of life-insurance, which were established by Portuguese immigrant communities throughout the United States.

Portuguese Hawaiian Memories also captures the family of João Estevão Tavares, the last of the tribe, and the only child of António Ferreira Tavares and Maria José to have been born in Hawaii. It is interesting to note that he managed to secure a place for himself in the civil service, first as a postal clerk and later as postmaster.

Their oldest brother António Ferreira Tavares, appears in a magnificent photograph on page 104 and looks very much the the prosperous patrician, attorney, businessman and landowner that he was. His first wife, Julia Akana, appears to have been born of an indiginous father and an anglo mother. Her parents lived with her husband even after she had died and he had remarried. His second wife, Mathilde de Silva, just three years older than her oldest step-child, was born in Hawaii of Madeiran parents. In the 1900 census, António Ferreira Tavares declared himself a farmer. In the 1910 cenus he was a lawyer and the manager of a trust. In the 1920 cenus he was a lawyer. The bald statistics are deceiving and do not tell the full story. He was elected to four consecutive four-year terms to the House of Representatives of the territory of Hawaii beginning in 1911. Beginning in 1923 he was elected to four consecutive two-year terms to the territorial Senate. One can only hope that a loving God gave Maria José, whom the decenial enumerator noted was illiterate, the grace of of living long enough to see her son beome a power in Hawaiian politics. Her grandson would achieve much more.

Cyrus Nils Tavares, like his father before him, began his career as a lawyer both in private and public practice. He served as a Deputy Attorney General of Hawaii from 1927 to 1934. During the war years her served as Special Deputy Attorney General of Hawaii for War Matters and from 1942 to 1943 served as Assistant Attorney General. From 1944 to 1947 he served as Attorney General of Hawaii. In 1950 he was a delegate to the Hawaii State Constitutional Convention and was chairman of the Statehood Commission which culminated with the admission of Hawaii as the fiftieth state of the American union. In 1960 President Dwight David Eisenhower appointed Cyrus Nils Tavares a Judge to the United States Court for the Ninth District where he served as chief judge. From April 1972 until his death on 3 August 1976 he assumed senior status as a semi-retired federal judge. He did not forget his humble origins and was a founding member of the legal aid society, providing legal services to the poor. The Judge C. Nils Tavares Award is presented anually to an outstanding local, sate or federal law enforcement agency.

One cannot help wondering what António Ferreira Tavares and Maria Jose imagined fortune had in store for them 1881 when they left Bretanha behind forever and began their long odessy as indentured servants, to a land where a son would become a Senator and that their grandson a federal judge


1 - António Tavares Ferreira was born in 1830 in Bretanha and died before 1900. He married Maria José, daughter of João José da Câmara and Ana Ricarda Leocadia on 16 Oct 1867 in Bretanha. She was born on 31 Aug 1839 in Bretanha where she was baptized on 22 Sep 1839.

They had the following children:

2 - Maria was born in Feb 1876 in Bretanha where she died on 31 May 1877.
2 - Maria José who follows.
2 - António Ferreira Tavares §2
2 - José Marques Tavares §3
2 - John Estevão Tavares was born in 1886 in Makawao. In the 1930 cenus he reported having been a postal clerk and postmaster for three years, a farmer and businessman.He married Leonora Fernandes daughter of António Fernandes and Helena Augusta. She was born in 1888 in Paia.

They had the following children all born in Makawao:

3 - Evelyn Tavares was born in 1907.
3 - Dorothy Tavares was born in 1909.
3 - Leo Tavares was born in 1910.
3 - Rosa Tavares was born in 1912.
3 - Clement Tavares was born in 1913.
3 - Benjamin Tavares was born in 1914.
3 - Lucinda Tavares was born in 1916.
3 - Clotilde Tavares was born in 1917.
3 - Paulino Tavares was born in 1920.
3 - Josephine Tavares was born in 1921.
3 - Eugene Tavares was born in 1923.
3 - Magdalena Tavares was born in 1928.


2 - Maria José (§1 N°2) was born on 8 Dec 1878 in Bretanha. She married John de Pontes, son of John de Pontes. He was born in 1873.

They had the following children in Hawaii:

3 - Maria do Rosário Pontes was born in 1897.
3 - Maria José Pontes was born in 1898.
3 - José Pontes was born in 1900.
3 - John Pontes was born in 1902.
3 - Luis Pontes was born in 1906.


2 - António Ferreira Tavares (§1 N°2) was born on 11 Apr 1875 in Bretanha. He immigrated to Hawaii in 1881 and became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1890 at the Honolulu Federal District Court. He was elected to four consecutive terms to the Territorial House of Representatives (1911-1918) and to four terms to the Senate (1923-1929); he was a lawyer and businessman and a large landowner. In the 1930 census he reported having lived in Paia for 48 years. He married (1) Julia Akana daughter of Tong Akana and Hannah Hubble. She was born in Makawao, and died around 1918.

They had the following children:

3 - Lily Tavares was born in 1900.
3 - Antone Tavares was born in 1901.
3 - Cyrus Nils Tavares who follows.
3 - Julia Tavares was born in 1905.
3 - Emma Rose Tavares was born in 1907.
3 - Hannah Tavares was born in 1909.
3 - Frederick Tavares was born in 1914.
3 - Edna Ruth Tavares was born in 1916.

António Ferreira Tavares married (2) Mathilde Silva, daughter of John Freitas Silva and Carlota Vieira. She was born in 1897 in Hawi, Hawaii.

They had the following children:

3 - Ernest Tavares.
3 - William Tavares was born in 1922.
3 - Carl Tavares was born in 1924.

3 - Cyrus Nils Tavares was born on 12 Apr 1902 in Pakalani, Maui and died on 3 Aug 1976. He was graduated from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and served as Deputy Attorney General of the Territory of Hawaii from 1927, Attorney General of Hawaii:1944-1947. He was a delegate to tge Hawaii State Constitutional Convention (1950) and was Chairman of the Hawaii Statehood Commission. He was appointed a judge to the United States District Court by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and confirmed by the Senate: 21 Sept 1961. Chief Judge: 1960-1961; Senior Status: 1972-1976. He married Unita Gillett of Douglas, Michigan.

They had the following children:

4 - Shirley Ann Tavares .


2 - José Marques Tavares (§1 N°2)) was born in 1872 in Bretanha. In 1930 he had been living in Makawao for 47 years and was a farmer and rancher. He married Ludovina Franco, daughter of Manuel Franco Grillo and Francisca de Jesus. She was born in 1877 in Machico, Madeira.

They had the following children in Makawao:

3 - Manuel Tavares
3 - José Tavares
3 - Sérgio Tavares was born in 1896.
3 - Antone Tavares was born in 1898.
3 - Helena Tavares was born in 1902.
3 - Flora Tavares was born in 1903.
3 - Frank Tavares was born in 1905.
3 - Charles Tavares was born in 1907.
3 - Jacinto Tavares was born in 1908.
3 - Louis Tavares was born in 1910..
3 - Rose Tavares was born in 1913.
3 - Margarida Tavares was born in 1915.
3 - Benjamin Tavares was born in 1917.
3 - João Tavares
3 - Maria Tavares

copyright 2006 Melody Lassalle - All Rights Reserved