Sympathy Saturday: Manuel Fratis

On 20 February 1865, on the island of São Miguel in the Azores, a little boy who came to be known as Manuel Fratis was born. His parents were Lewis Fratis and his wife, Rosa Minnise. Lewis and Rosa were coming out of some of the worst years the Azores, a Portuguese possession, had ever seen. First there was Portugal’s civil war in the 1820s and then famine in the 1850s.

It’s during this time that you find a rise in Portuguese immigration, just like the rise of Irish immigration during their famine in the 1840s. To the best of my knowledge, Lewis and Rosa were not among the immigrants to America.

Manuel married Rosaline Rapose around 1894 in the Azores, soon beginning their own family with the birth of son Manuel Junior the next year.

Meanwhile in America, Ashtabula, Ohio had recently become the busiest port on the Great Lakes, sending out iron ore and coal on Lake Erie and the recently completed Pittsburgh, Youngstown, and Ashtabula Railroad. The city experienced a thirty-year boom, attracting immigrants from around the world including Manuel Fratis and his growing family. However, he was leaving behind the twin sister of his infant daughter, Dorothy.

The first time we find Manuel in America is in the 1902 Ashtabula city directory. His brother Anthony was already there.

1902 Ashtabula City Directory showing Manuel and Rosa Fratis. Notice the different spelling (Frates) and brother Antonio (Anthony) living across the street.
1902 Ashtabula City Directory showing Manuel and Rosa Fratis. Notice the different spelling (Frates) and brother Antonio (Anthony) living across the street.

Manuel worked on the docks in Ashtabula’s harbor district. Unloading ships of iron ore and reloading them with coal was hard work, often taking 150 men to unload a ship.  Thousands of immigrants flocked to the harbor, competing aggressively and often violently for work.  Ashtabula had earned a rough reputation as a port city and was considered, along with Calcutta and Shanghai, one of the three roughest ports in the world.  The district was filled with bars and brothels.

Postcard picturing the harbor, 1906.
Postcard picturing the harbor, 1906.

It was not an easy place to be. But Manuel had to support his family that now included eight children by 1910. He never spoke any English or not enough to do business on his own, anyway. This was a time just before the First World War when immigrants were expected to assimilate quickly into society, like they were in the mid-19th century and a good bit like many expect today. The immigrant who does not learn enough English to get by can easily be taken advantage of and mocked as dumb and unpatriotic. But English is not an easy language to learn.

Manuel’s life was not easy and it was short. Manuel worked hard at a dangerous job to support his family, while Rosa stayed home to take care of the kids. Their oldest son, Manuel Junior, is found at the Boy’s Industrial School in Hocking in 1910. It was a reform school for juvenile offenders. Home life must have been stressful and difficult.

Then in the summer of 1911, Manuel noticed tumors on his neck. Two months later on Saturday, September 16, he was dead of liver and stomach cancer. He had gone to bed Friday night and never woke up. Rosa found him still in the bed. He was only 46.

Manuel's death certificate
Manuel’s death certificate