52 Ancestors Week 35: Were Theodoro and Maria Educated?

52 Ancestors Week 35: Were Theodoro and Maria Educated?

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This week’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks theme is schooling.  I’ve written quite a bit about this topic this year.  This time I would like to answer the question as to whether my Azorean great grandparents, Theodoro and Maria (de Braga) Pacheco Smith, had any schooling in Hawaii?

Schooling For Children was Part of the Sugar Plantation Contract

Under the sugar plantation contract system of the 1880s, laborers who signed a contract were given certain benefits.  How these benefits were meted out were left entirely up to each individual plantation owner.

One benefit listed on the Portuguese sugar plantation contract was the guarantee of education for the signatory’s children.  Although this was guaranteed as part of the contract, it’s iffy as to how this was carried out at each plantation.  There was supposed to be some sort of school at or near each plantation.  However, in those early years, schools had not been built.  Many classes were held outdoors.  At some plantation, no schooling was offered at all.

Did the teacher who provided this instruction have to be a real teacher?  I am not sure.  In 1900, the Garden Island Newspaper made a big deal about newly certified teachers.  But, in the early years, I’m going to guess it was a sort of rough and tumble system.  If they didn’t care if the doctors had credentials, then I’m pretty sure that anyone could be hired to teach in those first decades.

School was Secondary to the Needs of the Plantation

School bell (Source: Pixabay.com/Public Domain)
School bell (Source: Pixabay.com/Public Domain)

School was scheduled around the needs of the plantation.  Child labor was very much in use in Hawaii even after it became a territory.  Children played a role in keeping the fields rodent free, they helped with the harvest, and they performed other duties.  Because of this, there might be days or weeks where there was no school all.  If it was harvest time, all able hands were needed to bring in the sugar cane crop.

While the missionaries who came to Hawaii after the 1830s were hell bent on educating Native Hawaiians so that they could read the Bible, it doesn’t appear that the same fervency extended to the immigrant children who came in droves from the Azores, Madeira, and other parts of the world.

As I understand it, there was no system to verify whether schooling took place in the 1880s.  Nor was their any standard requirements across schools for what would be taught.  If someone knows otherwise, drop me a line.  I’d like to understand this better.

How Did Parents Feel About Schooling?

In addition to the problems of availability and whether children were needed to work on the plantation, parents may have prevented their children from going to school.  Educating girls in the 1880s was still very much against social norms. There was a requirement that plantations provide an avenue for education, but education was not mandatory at that time. Some parents saw no benefit in educating their children.  Some saw it as a benefit but only felt it necessary for their oldest child who would help their parents transition between two worlds.  Still others allowed for boys to go to school, but saw no reason for girls to go since they would be married off as soon as they were ready.

There might have been other issues at play.  Parents who worked for the plantation 10 hours a day needed someone to tend to the younger children while they were away.  Remember, women signed labor contracts, too.  My great great grandmother, Maria (de Mello) de Braga was a sugar plantation contract laborer.

If the mother was pregnant or just gave birth, the children would have to take up the chores that needed to be done.  And, in the sad event that a parent died or became incapacitated, the children would have to take over the mother or father role, while others might be needed to work for pay to keep food on the table.

So What About My Great Grandparents?

My Pacheco ancestors went to the Kilauea Sugar Plantation upon arrival in Hawaii in 1882.  The Kilauea School was founded that same year 1882.  It served the Kilauea Sugar Plantation community.  This is the current building which was constructed in 1922.

Kilauea Kauai School
This school in Kilauea was not built until after my ancestors were adults. (Source: Wikipedia/Public Domain)

Both Maria and Theodoro were 6 years old when they arrived on Hawaii’s shores in 1882.  They were of the right age.

Knowing this, I could probably say that Theodoro Pacheco had the opportunity to go to school.  The building was there when he arrived or soon after.

The de Braga’s went to the Kealia Sugar Plantation. I am not sure if there was school there in 1882.

My only real source of information is the U.S. Federal Census.  Let’s look at what I found in the census.

  • In 1900, the census asks if the person could read, write, speak English, and speak Hawaiian.  Theodoro could read and write, but he could not speak English or Hawaiian.  The answer to all skills was no for Maria.
  • In 1910, the census asks if the person could speak English and whether they could read or write.  Both Theodoro and Maria claim yes to all three.  I am skeptical.  I supposed I could believe that Theodoro and Maria had picked up some English along the way. I’m more doubtful that sometime in her 20s with 5 young children and her husband slowly deteriorating from leprosy that Maria had time to sit down to learn to her letters.
  • In 1920, the census asks if the person could read and write, if they could speak English, and what their mother tongue was.  Theodoro passed away in 1914, so I’ve learned everything I can about him.  Maria’s information still holds.  The census says she knew English and could read and write.  Her mother tongue was Portuguese as is expected.
  • In 1930, the census asks if the person could read and write (asked as one question) and whether they could speak English.  Again, the answer is yes to both questions for Maria.

My Conclusion About Their Education Level

A classroom 1875 (Source:  Wikipedia/Public Domain)
Did my great grandparents attend a classroom like this one from 1875? (Source: Wikipedia/Public Domain)

I think I can assume that because a school was available and because the information is consistent in the census that Theodoro had some education.  He had the ability to read and write prior to 1900 when he was 24 years old.  He probably could speak a little English, though it wouldn’t have been necessary on the plantation or in Oakland where he lived and worked in the Portuguese community.

I have to rethink my assumptions about Maria.  Did she get some schooling?  If so, the answers given in the 1900 census are wrong.  Since we don’t know who gave the answers, we can’t assume that they knew these things about my great grandmother.

There is another scenario that I have not fully thought through.  Well, lying is one of them, but we’ll put that aside for now.  There is the possibility that in order to make their new identities as Mr. and Mrs. Smith more realistic, Theodoro and Maria learned basic English and Maria was taught enough reading and writing to make do for their voyage.  They were trying to blend in during their escape, after all.  I can’t imagine how you make a family with 4 small children and a mother who is 9 months pregnant look less conspicuous, but it is something to consider.

I guess I can’t derive much from what I’ve learned from the census.  Unless I see Theodoro or Maria signature on a document, I’m left with no real evidence about their schooling.  I can only surmise that they had a little. If the census answers are correct, my great grandparents were far more literate than I realized.




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