Marian Perreira da Estrella Camara
1872 – 1942
Essay by Carolyn J. (Camara) Montgomery
My writing this biography of my paternal grandmother is important as it portrays the circumstances of many Portuguese immigrant families who came to America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Often the husband would come first and find work to save money for the rest of his family to join him. Many were poor and their future looked better than what would have been had they stayed in their native country.
Marian Perreira da Estrella was the daughter of Joaquin Perreira Pacheco and Libona Carolina (?). She was born on March 15, 1872, on the island of Sao Miguel, in the village of Sao Vincente, Acores. She had a brother, Marion, and a sister, Constance.
She married Jacinto (Jesse) Camara and had a daughter Mary Peters in 1895, a son Jose P. in 1899, and a son Manuel Peters in 1902.
Jacinto immigrated to the United States in 1903 through the port of Boston. In 1905 Marian came to the United States with her three children and settled in Tiverton and then Little Compton. A daughter, Mary Peters DeLuz was born in 1907, followed by Jacinto, Jr., in 1908, and a daughter, Georgianna Peters, in 1910.
Marian/Marion and Jacinto worked hard to raise the large family. However, illness came to the family and Jacinto, Jr., died in 1914, followed by Jacinto, Sr., in 1915, Mary Peters in 1916, Jose P., in 1917 and Mary DeLuz in 1921, all from tuberculosis. They are buried in Notre Dame Cemetery in Fall River, Mass. They are in unmarked graves. Apparently, Marian did not have the resources to erect monuments. She is buried there with a marker.
This left the family without any income. Manuel Peters at the age of 11-12 had to go to work on Red Top Farm to help support the family. He had to leave school at this time. They lived in a small house in “Tuxedo Park” which was on land now occupied by Sandy Waite’s home on West Main Road.
Marian took whatever work she could when the children were old enough; she took in laundry done by hand, and worked as a midwife. She never learned to speak English; times were difficult. She could not write so when she received mail from her family in the Acores, she went to Theresa Cordeiro, who lived on Swamp Road, and she would read it to her and most probably write a return to her family.
She never returned to her homeland. Many years later when her son visited the island of her birth, he discovered there was land still in her name given to her by her parents when she married. It had a small house connected to several sheds and a dirt floor. Through the Portuguese Consulate, the land was released to distant relatives of her family.
My memories of her are still vivid which gives me pleasure to recall. I remember her homemade root beer which was put in jars and stored in the basement. There was nothing better than to have a glass of that with some homemade sweet bread. She always had a few chickens which gave her eggs and Sunday dinner. She made elderberry and grape jelly which was always tasty on a piece of homemade bread which she cooked on a wood stove. A small outhouse was in the back yard which we occasionally had the “pleasure” of using.
She often babysat us when my parents were both working and we were out of school. I remember that when my parents went to the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, she came to our home to take care of us. Sometimes we would sleep at her house if mother and dad were going out with friends for the evening.
There was a “Tea Man” that came by occasionally. He sold everything from needles and thread to kitchen tools, and miscellaneous other household goods. Occasionally a fish man would come by peddling a fresh catch and Wilbur’s Store would deliver twice weekly.
My grandmother, whom we called “Vavo”, kept busy with crocheting edges on handkerchiefs; rugs made of strips of cloth scraps, and making sweet bread. I still have handkerchiefs she made and gave as birthday presents. Bed linens and dish towels were made from bleached grain bags and pieced together. When her son Manuel built their home in the early ’20s (now at 175 West Main Road), she lived the rest of her life in this house. She died at home on March 2, 1942. She was survived by her son Manuel Peters, daughter Georgianna Higgins, and three granddaughters, Carolyn, Barbara, and Jane.
She left the legacy that with hard work and perseverance everything is possible.
Carolyn J. (Camara) Montgomery
March 31, 2020
Exhibit Text from 2020 Special Exhibition
Marian Perreira da Estrella grew up on the island of St. Michaels in the Azores. There were few opportunities. Marian never learned to read or write. She married Jacinto (Jesse) Camara and had three children. In 1903 Jesse immigrated to the United States and left Marian and the children behind. They waited two years for Jesse to work and save so that they could join him, first in Tiverton and later in Little Compton. They had three more children.
Between 1914 and 1921, tuberculosis ravaged the family, killing Jesse and four of the children. Marian buried them in a Catholic cemetery in Fall River but could not afford gravestones. Without Jesse’s income, Marian, who never learned English, did whatever work she could find, taking in laundry and working as a midwife for the growing Portuguese community. Marian’s 11-year-old son Manuel left school and began working at Red Top Farm to help support his mother and sister. They lived in “Tuxedo Park” a collection of small houses for laborers on West Main Road. Marian longed for her family in the Azores. She never had the opportunity to visit home.