From the April 11, 1930 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

The name Manuel Silvia being a common one, the subject of this sketch is specifically designated to avoid confusion. Mr. Silvia is worthy of more than passing mention as having lived in the up-Island section longer than any other Portuguese citizen, and while he was not the first to locate west of the Chilmark-West Tisbury line, only one had come before him, and the death of his predecessor long before made Mr. Silvia a pioneer in a manner of speaking.

Moreover, Mr. Silvia is, so far as is known, the last living resident of the Vineyard who has owned and operated a kaolin pit, an industry that once flourished along Cape Higgon valley, which has long since been abandoned.

Born on the island of St. George, Azores, Mr. Silvia went to work as a youth in one of the island shoemaking shops which at that time supplied the heavy work shoes worn by the inhabitants. At that time, more perhaps than in later years, the people of the Azores turned toward the United States and found conditions to their liking. Many of these men shipped out from the islands on the whaleships of New Bedford and Edgartown, and it was in this manner that Mr. Silvia left his home.

Competing the voyage, he was landed on the shores of this country, a stranger indeed, but he was not long without employment, for friends directed him to Oak Bluffs where already numerous Portuguese had settled, and here he resumed his shoemaking and harness-repairing.

At that time the late Prof. Nathaniel Shaler was living and conducting the present Seven Gates Farm. Vastly different in size and aspect from the present select summer colony, the farm was chiefly pasture over which roamed great bands of sheep that grazed among the deserted old farm houses. There was considerable cultivating done, however, and a number of Portuguese farm hands were constantly employed. Business becoming poor in Oak Bluffs, Mr. Silvia obtained employment on the Shaler estate and it was there that he spent the early days of his married life.

When Mr. Silvia purchased a home of his own, he moved across the line into Chilmark, locating on Tea Lane. His home was a farm, upon which was one of the few low, old fashioned houses in the community.

This was at the time when the china clay experimental plant was built and operated at the old brickyard on Roaring Brook, and a number of men was employed there, including Mr. Silvia. It was there that he became known for his abnormal strength, and the story has been told of his carrying a heavy man who had been injured for half a mile without assistance.

When the plant was closed, he returned to his farm and there he worked the land and went out to day labor all about the community. On the trap scows, where the heavy work of driving the great spiles was all done by hand, his great strength and knowledge of the business made him a valuable man, always sought when such work was to be done. Few indeed could compete with Manuel Silvia.

During these years, while his family was growing up, he became acquainted and made a place for himself in the community. Always ready to help in sickness or time of need, offering the hospitality of his house to all who passed that way, Mr Silvia was a man who was respected by his neighbors and generally popular with all who knew him.

His farm lay along in the same valley where clay had been dug for generations and with his knowledge gained from working for others, he had no difficulty in locating the clay and equipping himself for the work of mining it out.

The rue in locating kaolin clay, as commonly practiced in that locality, was to bore with a long drill. This drilling was done on the lower slope of a hill ending in a swamp, it having been discovered that in such places the vein lay closest to the surface.

In some of the pits that he opened Mr. Silvia did all of the work below ground himself, removing a vessel-load of cay from the pit. The amount of work involved in such an undertaking can scarcely be imagined by anyone unfamiliar with the process.

Those days passed also. The market for Vineyard clay was supplied from other sources. One by one the families moved away from Cape Higgon and Mr. Silvia’s family, grown to maturity, scattered. Several years ago he and his wife left also, leaving the farm to return to the big estate, now much larger, where they spent the early days of their married life.

Here on Seven Gates Farm, Mr. Silvia is now employed. He does not have to work as hard as he did when younger, and life is much more pleasant.

Many a man has lived his life without succeeding so far in gaining the goodwill of his associates, and Mr. Silvia, still strong and vigorous after nearly three-quarters of a century of toil, lives on, as always, at peace with the world and adding to the vast circle of the friends who respect his uprightness and good citizenship.

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox