Reportedly, the first Portuguese in Hawai’i were sailors that came on the Eleanora in 1790. It is believed the first Portuguese nationals to live in the Hawaiian kingdom sailed through on whalers, as early as 1794, and jumped ship.
The first recorded Portuguese visitor was John Elliot de Castro, who sailed to Hawaiʻi in 1814. During his days in Hawaiʻi he became a retainer of King Kamehameha I, serving as his personal physician and as member of the royal court.
For 50 years after these early visitors arrived, Portuguese sailors came ashore alone or in small groups, jumping ship to enjoy Hawaiian life and turning their backs on the rough life aboard whalers and other vessels.
The reciprocity treaty in 1875 between the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi and the United States opened the US sugar market to Hawaiʻi and greatly increased the demand for workers.
Jacinto Pereira (also known as Jason Perry,) a Portuguese citizen and owner of a dry goods store in Honolulu, suggested in 1876 that Hawaiʻi’s government look for sugar labor from Madeira where farmers were succumbing to a severe economic depression fostered by a blight that decimated vineyards and the wine industry.
São Miguel in the eastern Azores was also chosen as a source of labor. In 1878, the first Portuguese immigrant laborers to Honolulu arrived on the German ship Priscilla. At least one hundred men, women and children arrived to work on the sugar plantations. That year marked the beginning of the mass migration of Portuguese to Hawaiiʻ, which continued until the end of the century.
John Ignacio Silva was born at Ponta Delgada, São Miguel, Azores, Portugal on October 15, 1868, son of Jose Ignacio and Angelica de Jesus (Gomes) Silva.
He reportedly came to the Islands in the early-1880s and began his business career as clerk in store of PA Dias, Kapaʻau, Kohala, 1885-86; clerk, A Enos & Co, Wailuku, Maui, 1887-90; salesman, Gonsalves & Co, on Island of Maui, 1890-93; travelling photographer, Gonsalves and Silva, Honolulu, 1893-94. (Siddall)
He moved to Kauai; the local paper noted, “Copartnership. The undersigned having bought out the general merchandise business of M. Gonsalves, jr., ʻEleʻele, Kauai, will carry on the business under the name of Frias & Silva. Jose De Frias, JI Silva” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, June 21, 1894) He bought out Frias in 1896; beginning in 1901, he was for many years the postmaster at ʻEleʻele.
He expanded; “JI Silva, the pioneer merchant of ʻEleʻele, has three flourishing establishments, the main, big store being at ʻEleʻele, with branches located at Homestead and at Hanapepe.”
“He formerly had branches at Koloa and Kalihiwai, but on account of the tremendous growth of his ʻEleʻele and other enterprises near home, found that he had not time to properly look after his distant establishments, so closed them up.”
“At ʻEleʻele Mr. Silva carries a very large and complete stock of general merchandise. He has his ‘drummers’ on the road and maintains a very complete auto truck delivery service to great distances.”
“Mr. Silva is general manager of his stores. AM Souza is manager of ʻEleʻele store, John G Abreu of Homestead store, and MR Jardin of the establishment in Hanapepe. Mrs Silva is postmistress at ʻEleʻele, while Mr. Silva is acting postmaster at Homestead.” (The Garden Island, December 22, 1914)
For a short while he was in politics; “Silva knows the political situation of Kauai so well that whatever he says in matters political, will be accepted as final.”
“Silva, while a member of the house of representatives, of the legislature of 1907, was called by his colleagues the ‘red salt’ representative from Kauai. This was due to his presentation to each member of the house of a small bag of red salt, brought from his place at ʻEleʻele.” (The Garden Island, September 8, 1914)
His operation was a success, “A little further on, ’round the corner, we discovered the ʻEleʻele Store, Kauai’s ‘Temple of Fashion,’ the largest private commercial house on Kauai, and which is owned by Hon JI Silva.”
“The nature of the proprietor of this very prosperous looking institution is evidence by the fact that he is the only manager to use the gasoline truck for delivery purposes on the island – having recently purchased a Buick from the Kauai Garage Co.”
“It required but a very short interview with the genial manager to acquaint us with the secret of his success. Up to date window dressing is a feature of this attractive store which enjoys a large patronage from the surrounding community.” (The Garden Island, July 25, 1911)
All seemed to go well; until, “Notice is hereby given that John I. Silva, doing a general merchandise business at ʻEleʻele, Island of Kauai, Territory of Hawaiʻi, under the name of ‘ʻEleʻele Store,’ has this day assigned all of his property – to the undersigned for the benefit of his creditors.”
“All creditors of the above named John I. Silva and all persons having claims against him will present same, duly authenticated and with proper vouchers, if any exist, to the undersigned, at said ʻEleʻele Store, within sixty (60) days from the date thereof, otherwise they will be forever barred. Dated March 17th, 1922. Theo H Davies & Company, Ltd, Assignee for the benefit of the creditors of John I. Silva. (The Garden Island, March 21, 1922)