Frank Souza

Contributed by: Carol Lackey


A prosperous and well-known rancher of the San Joaquin, Frank F. Souza has been active in development work in Merced County since November, 1888, and during that interval of time has built up a reputation as a sweet potato grower and shipper. Starting among the very earliest in sweet potato culture, he is now one of the largest shippers of that product in the valley, and his trademark on a shipment, "Frank Souza," carries weight to the trade wherever found, as to quality and evenness of product. A native of Caveira, Flores, Azores Islands, he was born September 21, 1869, the only son in a family of nine children born to his parents, Juan F. and Catherina(Souza) Mendoza, who lived and died in their native land, the mother in 1922, aged eighty years, and the father in September, 1925, aged eighty-three years. They were farmers, successful and well-to-do, and highly thought of by their many friends.

Frank F. received his education in the schools of his native isles; reared on the home farm, he saw but few opportunities ahead and decided to start for the New World, boarding the vessel Sarah, a three-master. After a voyage of twenty-one days, he reached Boston on May 22, 1886, with seven dollars and a half in his pocket, and took a job at New London, Conn., on ships and fishing smacks, at twenty dollars per month, working two seasons on the water. The inspiration received when he first saw Old Glory floating in the breeze on the Massachusetts shore, never left the immigrant lad, and his one object was to work and save, so that he could take advantage of the opportunities he felt sure awaited him in his adopted land. To this end he spent one and one-half years in New London, saving what he could of his wages, and also sending some home to the dear ones left behind; he was ambitious to succeed, and knew the only path for him lay through hard work and self-denial.

Late in 1888, with funds enough to make a start up the ladder, he came west to California, and on reaching here, went to work on the Chowchilla; later becoming foreman on a ranch for Joe King of Merced. After reaching this State he found so many named Mendoza that it was difficult to receive any mail; so he took the name of Souza from his mother's family, and has ever since been known as Frank F. Souza. For the next five years he worked and saved, and in the meantime made several small investments which proved good, and he was soon able to start in business for himself, on twenty acres in the Buhach Colony. Over twenty-four years ago he made his first shipment, 240 sacks of sweet potatoes, to J. D. Martinez, a San Francisco broker, which brought him $105. He has steadily carried on the business since, and in 1923 was the heaviest of any shipper in the district, as shown by the books of December of that year. He does most of his loading at Keyes and Fergus, dealing in fruits and sweet potatoes in the territory from Turiock to Merced, his brand finding a ready market, and known as dependable all over the State. In 1915, at the P. P. I. E. in San Francisco, he received the gold medal for sweet potatoes of the San Joaquin Valley.

The marriage of Mr. Souza, occurring at Martinez, Contra Costa County, on June 1, 1896, united him with Mary Frietas, born at Al-amo, that county, and daughter of the late Joseph Frietas, a Forty-niner and gold miner in early days in California. Six children have blessed their union: Catherine, deceased; Rosa, Mrs. Arthur Brill, who has one son; John; Frank; Joseph; and Antone, deceased. Mr. Souza is the owner of 130 acres of choice farming land in the Merced-Atwater district. Besides his profitable shipping business he is interested in real estate in Atwater. A progressive man in every respect, he received his citizenship papers in Merced, from Judge Fred Ostrander, and has always been a true patriot to the land which has proved so kind to him, doing all in his power to bring even greater advancement to his section of the country. He is a stockholder in the Merced Security Savings Bank.
Fraternally, he is a member of the Odd Fellows, both Lodge and Encampment, and is Past President of both the U. P. E. C. and the I. D. E. S. Societies. For over twelve years he served as school trustee in the Buhach district, helping to further the cause of education; and he is a member of the Buhach Catholic Church, and donated one-half acre of land to the Immaculate Conception Church.

Source: Book of Azore Immigrants