Virginia de Freitas
wife of Alfred Sheppard

My great-grandmother

24 January 1862 - 21 September 1936

The Register of Births in the Town of Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, for the Year 1862

The entry for Virginia de Freitas is second from the bottom of the page

My great-grandmother Virginia de Freitas was born at 15 A Sussex Street, Port of Spain, on 24 January 1862.  Her parents were Sebastien (Sebastião) and Maria de Freitas née Cairus.* 

Records  indicate that Sebastião had arrived in Trinidad from Madeira 16 years earlier with his family when he was just an eleven year-old boy.  His father was António F. de Freitas and his mother was Maria de Jesus d'Abreu.

According to Trinidadian historian, Dr. Jo-Anne S. Ferreira:

"The first group of 197 refugees traveled on the ship William, from Glasgow, having arrived in Port-of-Spain (the capital of Trinidad) on September 16, 1846, just 4 months after the arrival of the first Madeiran immigrants. More than two thousand left Madeira for Trinidad, St. Kitts, Antigua and St. Vincent. In Trinidad, also mostly Catholic at the time, but where freedom of worship and religious tolerance were recognised, the Church of Scotland, small but growing, welcomed them. However, they could not escape their compatriots - they faced other Madeirans who had previously settled in Trinidad and had to deal with the same prejudices they thought they had left behind in Madeira.

Like their impoverished compatriots who had come in search of a better life, many Presbyterian refugees arrived in Trinidad in a state of destitution. After experiencing difficulties in finding employment - some having been forced to work under contract upon their arrival - Presbyterians were also able to take on a new life by starting small businesses."

"In Trinidad, after being helped and welcomed by the community of the Greyfriars Church on Frederick Street in Port-of-Spain, they built their own church in 1854 under the leadership of Reverend Henrique Vieira. The church was called the "Scottish Church of St. Anne" (because of its location on the corner of St. Ann/St. Anne Street, now Charlotte Street, and Oxford Street). It was generally identified as the “Portuguese Church” because the Portuguese language and Portuguese Bibles and hymns were still in use 27 years after the arrival of the first refugees."

 

It is recorded that our Sebastião and his father Antonio were among these earliest Portuguese Presbyterian refugees in Trinidad who, despite their poverty, contributed to the building fund of St. Anns's Church of ScotlandOn Virginia's birth record in the Trinidad registry, her father's  occupation is "Labourer".  The record shows that he registered the birth himself on 30 January, 1861.  As the informant, Sebastien, then 26 years old,  was required to sign his name. Since he could not write, he put "X" next to his name, which was witnessed by William Henry Cazabon.  Family stories relate that Virginia's mother Maria was a Portuguese/English interpreter for the Courts, though that has not yet been proven. 

We have been told by our elders that our great-grandfather, Alfred Sheppard, was looking for a church to go to when he arrived in Trinidad. One of his colleagues told him about the Presbyterian church Greyfriars.   He went there but was not accepted because he was non-conformist. Somebody else told him to try the Free Church of Scotland, which was not so "stuffy".  This he did, and was warmly accepted into their fold.  It was there that he met Sebastien and Maria's daughter Virginia de Freitas, and it was there that they became man and wife.  Virginia was nineteen years old when she tied the knot with 26 year old Alfred Sheppard from Sussex on 25 June 1881.  Thus started her life as a the wife of a policeman, which was no doubt fraught with many moments of worry for his safety.

Virginia's father died on 24 February, 1916, when he was 81 years old.  Her husband Alfred passed away the following year, leaving her a widow at fifty-five years old.  They had been married for thirty-six years, and had known the anguish of burying three of their children.   Virginia lived to be 74 years old and died at her home in Shine Street, Port of Spain on 21 September 1936. 

 

Virginia and her husband Sergeant Major Alfred Sheppard

with Virginia's elderly father, Sebastien de Freitas.

 They all traveled from Trinidad to England where they visited the Sheppard family in Wem, Shropshire.    

* The de Freitas surname originates in Portugal. 

The names of Virginia's parents are recorded in the Registers of Trinidad as Sebastien, and her surname as Cairus.  However, we sometimes find clerical spelling errors made at the time of registration, and we wonder about the accuracy of the surname Cairus, as it is not a recognizable Portuguese name.  Could it be that the clerk entering the data in the registry misunderstood "de Caires" and wrote, "Carius"?  We have also seen her father's name recorded as Sebastiano, Sebastien and Sebastian (the anglicized version).