George Raposa was interviewed by Mary Giles on May 14, 1976. He spoke of his family, his farm, and his childhood.
My grandfather came from Portugal in about 1873, with the idea of the ‘New World,’ but it was hard for his wife to get used to it, so he returned to Portugal. A few years later, they decided to have the rest of the family come in, one by one as they could get the finances for their passage, so my older uncle, Benjamin, came through – and he looked for work at the Kerr Mills and stayed there a while. Then the government (Portugal) started to get people together to serve in the Army, and my father, at the age of 17, didn’t like the idea, so he thought he would jump ship and go on his own.
He came through on a ship, on top of the boiler, with a couple of pieces of bread, and he landed in Providence in the middle of February in a snowstorm without heavy clothes or anything. He just got off at the docks and headed down the first highway he saw. He ended up past East Providence on to the next little town. It was dark and he saw a light, so he went and knocked at this door, and a man come to the door and asked him what he wanted, and he couldn’t speak English, he just looked up at him, and his wife from the back said, ‘Walter, let that young man in, he’s cold, can’t you see.’ So she let my father in and she got him a hot meal, dried his clothes for him and tried to communicate with him as best she could, when she found out that he was ‘green’ and could not speak English, and she thought that something should be done for him, so next morning they put him to work.
So he ended up working with Mr. Walter Anthony on the farm. But finally he got fed up with that; he thought he’d had enough, no pay, no money. He was given $1.25 a month and his keep, so one Sunday morning he happened to come in contact with someone else who was Portuguese who could speak (Portuguese), who worked on the next farm, and the fellow asked him if he wanted to go to Fall River, so he said he did, and so they jumped the bus, or whatever transportation there was at that time, and he finally found a family that was from Portugal. From there, he went to work for Lizzie Borden’s father and he worked there. My oldest uncle eventually was made foreman and worked there for a while. Lizzie Borden’s father had a tremendous farm in Fall River, right in the Blossom Road area. He owned all those properties out there. My father worked there for a while until he got itchy footed again, and then he headed for California. So he went there and did a little ranching. He had a cousin out there, he did a little ranching and cowboying and whatever. He must have been about 19 then. He stayed there until he was about 23 years old, and he came back and he met my mother. She worked at the Alden Mills; I think they were at the time, in Fall River. Then they got married and you could never keep him inside. He was an outside man. He finally traveled the country until he got out in Westport and started looking for a farm. He came across a farm that they called the old Joe Lawton place that my brother still owns today. My grandfather had bought it years prior when he came over.
No, my grandmother didn’t like it. She couldn’t get used to the relationship. She got lonesome. That’s really what it was. We never got it straight from her because she was a very quiet person that said very little. The lonesomness was enough to hint to my grandfather that she just couldn’t take it.
So, my father bought that place and started raising a family. He did go into poultry, but he had trouble with the foxes and a lot of stuff, so he bought himself a gun and he learned how to use a shotgun, and every time he’d fire it, he’d go down on his fanny. He gave that up and quit raising chickens, and he thought he’d go into market gardening, which he was quite successful in. For animals then, he had a calf, which he raised to a cow, and then he bought himself a bull and went on from there, one thing at a time, until he got himself quite a herd. He then went into the milk industry and he raised his own feed. That follows, with feed and cattle they take care of themselves that way. Where’s there cattle, there’s got to be feed. My mother took care of the home garden and so after a while, the farm got small. He had three boys then, my brothers Manuel, Benjamin and John. Finally, he moved up just about a mile and half into the old Mason Gifford place. It was a farm that was bordering the Mason Gifford place, that’s down where my brother lives, where the homestead is now. It was three-quarters of a mile back, down a lane, and we moved everything up and bought the surrounding property. So from there, he expanded in every direction and went heavily into market gardening. He raised his early crops such as peas, beans, spinach, and later would come the tomatoes, lettuce, turnips and other table foods. We packed them into boxes and barrels, and he had a big express wagon and a horse by the name of Bill. He’d get up at two o’clock and take them (the vegetables) to Fall River or New Bedford, and he’d have them in the stores before they would open, then he’d be back by 8:00 in the morning, and he’d be ready for another load, or to do some more planting or some more plowing.
As for farm equipment, well, our first plow was a wooden share plow, old fashioned, made by the John Deere people. Then you had the hand cultivators, small harrows that you followed the horse with. It was single horse equipment. And then finally he got a mowing machine, but there were so many rocks around the place that it was hard to mow.
Let’s go back. We had a big family. The family kept growing, his (the grandfather), and ours. Our uncles used to come from Fall River and help us with mowing, hand mowing with scythes, and they used to bring barrels of cider down and barrels of beer. It would be like a caravan. Friday night they’d come through, five and six horses with their wagons with their families. They didn’t farm in Fall River; they were mill people. They all worked in the mills. And we had a grand time. We had some beautiful orchards then, and we all spread out under the trees in the shade. The summers were balmy, and we’d all sleep outside, have campfires, play games and everyone knew how to play an instrument, and there was a wonderful life then, now that I think of it. The harvesting used to be done in two weekends. We’d try to get a long holiday in when we were harvesting hay. Sometimes it would be oats. That was all stored in stacks and mows and under ‘Dutch Caps’ outside.
Then my father decided that he needed a car, so in 1917, he bought the first little ‘Tin Lizzie’ from Frank Pettey – a little runabout. We sold the body to Taber, Elliot Taber’s brother, and we had Oscar Palmer, a neighbor, make us a body for our wagon, our little Ford. Oscar Palmer is in the hospital now; he’s very sick. He’s in his 90’s, quite elderly. He is a grand man.
Then, from there we started buying all the properties around us. Old Frank Perry lived above us, but he had land close by. His daughter, Beatrice, married a Cabral and he died in 1918 during the influenza epidemic and left her with two or three children, and she wanted to sell the land, so we bought all the land from her. It’s near Andrew Perry’s land. So we bought all the property right up as far as the road. It split the old Perry estate in half. We really did have to dig in and make land by hand. It was so rocky we had to drill and blast and cart stones by hand. (This farm is on the West side of the Main Road about a mile South of the Central Village pump).
We carted the stones down into swamps and we made many acres of land. We went way down into the Mase Gifford place and we made three good sized lots, giving us about 35 – 40 acres more, so that it added to about 70 acres of tillable soil to the whole farm. We went heavily into dairy farming, and then we began to buy heavier tools and get away from horses and plowing by hand. I was the last one that plowed by hand there, but as far as the boys were concerned, they worked as men since the age of seven. At seven years old, I milked seven cows. We all had our share of work to do. We had our own cows to take care of.
We named them all and we had a lot of fun doing it, although we had a lot of work to do. It was work from sunrise to sunset. In the evening, we were just worn out. I’d be sitting at the table trying to eat, and my face would be falling into my plate, and my mother would wash me and put me to bed, at seven years old, and older.
By sunrise, we’d be out betting the cattle together. They slept out in the summertime, and we used to have to bring them in. Some you’d have to take and tie them and feed them, because you’d give them a bucket of grain and while they were eating the grain, you could get the milk, but as soon as they got through eating, they’d walk away, so you had to work fast. And then, we went into only dairy farming. Our best years were during the First World War, then we made money. That was when a barrel of cabbage was $12 to $13, a bushel of tomatoes, $12 to $13, a bushel of shell beans were $12 to $13 and it was all good tax free money.
My mother used to get as many eggs as she could together and they sold eggs up to 12 cents a piece. A neighbor by the name of John Costa, used to come and pick them in these galvanized buckets and he’d take them in to Fall River and bring her the money. In Fall River, they would be $2 a dozen, much more than they are now. That was during World War I.
Milk was 13 to 14 cents. That’s what it costs today, that’s what the farmer gets a quart. Then, you could buy a cow for $35 to $40. If she was a bad cow, and she gave good milk, and she was a kicker or hard to handle, $18 to $19, give ‘em what you wanted for the cow, you couldn’t get rid of her. Many a time, my father and I would come back with a cow that you couldn’t touch, so nervous and so wicked that she wouldn’t let you touch her. Well, my father would. He’d finally break her in, and he’d handle her. My father was a good farmer. He knew his land, he knew his cattle, and he gave us one of the greatest experiences in our lives. We were never allowed to ask questions, but we could watch him and learn generously of what he was doing by watching him do it. He always told us what he wanted us to do. He gave the orders and he just gave them once, and you did it. He expected it. He never asked, ‘Have you done it?’ because he knew we had.
When he’d leave and go somewhere, if he had some other business to attend to, at the breakfast table, orders were issued to each one, and when he came back, he never had to ask ‘Did you do?’ He’s issue the orders knowing that it would be done, and if it wasn’t done, it was up to us to tell him why, and that’s what he expected from us.
So that was our pioneering times.
We went to school. My first school was there at Macomber’s Corner on Adamsville Road, a one-room school. And I was the janitor. I must have been about eight going on nine. We used to have to go down to the back of the back farm to get water to drink, and the outhouse was outside. The woodshed was in the middle, and the girls’ room was on one side and the boys’ room on the other. And if we were not good, we used to have old Mr. Raynolds come by and take care of use with his little switch. My Reynolds was a farmer from Westport, and he used to do a lot of walking around doing a lot of different things, and he was available when needed. He was the milkman; he’d cart the milk and he’d take the milk into the city. In the wintertime, he’d have the big sleigh, and in the summer time he’d have the low bed wagon.
We sold our milk in Fall River. We had a fellow by the name of Joe Dunsway come up and pick up our milk. It finally became the Fall River Dairy. We started with 8-quart cans, then 12-quart cans and then 40-quart kegs.
I can remember vividly of our highways, when there were only three cars in Westport, and the highways were not macadamized at all. We sold a lot of rock; we carried a lot of rock to stone crushers when they first started. The only macadamized road was Sanford Road, half way. The other roads were dirt roads with grass growing in between because they would be horse trails. The Main Road was a dirt road. Oh yes! When I was a boy, sure many a toenail I lot stubbing my toes on the rocks. And, I can remember working with it, and watching the roads being macadamized. It started before the war (World War I), and it went on continuously until finally we got most of the main highways macadamized.
We used to go down through the Point and over to Horseneck Beach to pick up seaweed for the land. We used to use it as manure.
My oldest brother got married; he went on his own and all the others got a little fed up with the farm, and everybody began to leave slowly. I was the only one that stayed on the farm until I was 21.
Some went to California, some went to New York, and they just decided to split. They’d just had enough of the farm. It was slow living for them and they were looking for excitement. There were no services (Army, Navy, etc.) calling for inductions of any kind. That was in the height of Depression; that was in the last 20s and early 30s.
I left when I was 21 and I went on my own. I went over to the Herbie Hitt place across from the Fireside (Drift Road). He had two places there, and I hired both of them and I went into business for myself. So I did some farming there and then, I went into the dairy. I bought a dairy and I went peddling my own milk ‘til I’d just had enough of it, then I went working for the government.
I was married in 1932, that was during the Depression, at the height of the Depression, yes, it was when I had the Hitt Farm. Agnes, my wife, wasn’t much for the farm, but she did what she could and right away we went into a lot of children, five children. In those days, that was a lot of children. She (Agnes) never went to Normal School. She was a brain all the way through. She ended up in Herrick’s Institute, which was a college-type of school, same as Bentley’s or Campbells now. She was a very brilliant woman, always was and still is, and now I’ve pretty well completed what you wanted to know about the farm.
When we were young, we made up our own games, for fun and diversion, when there was nothing else to do. We had such little time to play. We’d have target practice; we’d make our own bow and arrows, and we’d do quite well at it, and once in a while, we’d get enough money together and we’d get ourselves a little air rifle or a’22.’ I can remember that with a Stevens’ rifle, I could light a match from 30 paces or unscrew the top of a sparkplug. I used it well, and I could pick up anything that I could see with my eyes.
In the wintertime, we’d make up our own rigging with barrel staves and make our own skis. We’d make our own snowshoes. Snow in those days used to go up to three and four feet, and get crusty at the top from the variation of weather, and we used to have our little baseball team. My father was a great football player, so that he used to play with the Westport team. The farmers would get together on the threshing floor of Abraham’s Potter’s barn. We used to have some pretty good games in there and they were quite rough at times. Then, we used to take the body off an express wagon, take the front off, put a wheel on it (to steer), and we’d go down Handy Hill down to Hixes Bridge. In the wintertime, we’d have toboggan sleds that we’d made. My father wouldn’t buy anything, he was too cheap, and he had money to burn. He’d say, ‘You want something, make it.’
I think of you as a mechanical genius.
He (the father) made us mechanics. When you desire something and you have seen it made, you imitate it. I went to ___________ in Baltimore and I studied engineering and heating, and I had ___________ was quite beneficial to me.
_________last years, I have served in a consulting capacity. I can ________ people and they consult me when they need help in air ________________ masonry, electrical work, and I’ve been quite successful at it, and I like it enough so that retirement gives me more time to do what I want to do. I’m doing a lot of home gardening; jut to keep me busy and limber. I don’t want to be stagnant.
George, when you were a child, did you feel completely at home in this community?
Yes, in most instances I would, depending on where I was and who I was among. You were accepted. I dare say that the older generation was accepted by the younger generation, which would be my generation; they wanted to expel you or send you away. There was always conflict of some kind, and it would always end up that you were a foreigner, Black, Portuguese or whatever. You had these little things that kept you always on your guard, in some ways, always that lump in your throat, that you get when you were not accepted because you loved them all, but you weren’t being loved.
Children are cruel, and we used to have snowball fights, and we’d have the girls making snowballs for us in big pans, and once in a while you’d get a black eye because someone would put a stone or some coal in it. So there was rivalry. There were the Central Villagers, the North Westporters, the South Westporters and the Westport Pointers. We had teams. I had one of the best teams. We called them the ‘Win-em-alls.’ We played baseball, basketball and volleyball.
In school, I was shuffled around to different schools, from the Macomber School to the Milton E. Earle School, that was just built, there were 12 grades there. From there, I went to the Westport Point School, and from there to the Brownell School. Then from there, I went to the North Westport School, which they called the Junior High School then. I liked school. I could do two grades at a time. Once you showed interest, they would help you any time. My relations in school were very good. I learned a lot and I was great in English, History, Math and spelling, four subjects, which has been quite beneficial to me. From there, I’ve picked up a lot, but I had to drop away (from school) because the older boys were getting sort of light footed and uneasy, and so I had to come home and help take care of the farm with my dad and the younger ones (after 8th grade), and then I went through and got my high school diploma later, and I didn’t have much time for studies after that, only for night classes and little things, I could indulge in. I wanted to be a doctor. I took three years of animal husbandry. I was married already and there was no money and there were children. I couldn’t stop and spend money on myself, couldn’t afford the luxury.