DASILVA, dit Portugais, NICOLAS (practically the only one of the family to sign Dassilva), master mason and stone-cutter, masonry contractor at Quebec; b. 1698 in Canada, son of Pedro Dasilva of Lisbon, Portugal, and Jeanne Greslon La Violette; m. 12 April 1722 at Quebec Élisabeth Laisné by whom he had 13 children, and 8 Jan. 1759 at Quebec Marie-Gabrielle La Roche, a widow; d. 4 May 1761 at Quebec.
Nicolas Dasilva was the 15th and last child born to a Portuguese farmer in the seigneury of Beauport. Like the sons of many other poor farmers, Nicolas became a mason’s apprentice in his adolescence. Since masonry work was looked upon as mean and servile, the terms offered to apprentices to attract them were generous. Admission to apprenticeship was easy and the master usually provided all living costs.
Nicolas and his brother Dominique became master masons but their brothers in Quebec did not rise above the level of carters and day-labourers. Though his master was the architect and builder Jean-Baptiste Maillou, dit Desmoulins, it is unlikely that Nicolas received more than a mason’s and stone-cutter’s training. After five years’ apprenticeship, Nicolas hired himself out to the mason Jacques Danguel Lamarche in 1720. By the late 1720s Dasilva was hiring his own journeymen.
Dasilva was a small contractor who specialized in the construction of private dwellings. He built houses in Quebec for Guillaume Dupont (1728), Pierre Chanmazart (1729), Michel Berthier (1735), Guillaume Estèbe* (1752), and Joseph Charest (1757). When in 1751 Dasilva contracted to build the Estèbe house, which still stands on Rue Saint-Pierre, he was in partnership with René Paquet and Pierre Delestre, dit Beaujour. Delestre was evidently Dasilva’s associate and friend for the rest of the 1750s. He and, it seems, the noted builder Dominique Janson, dit Lapalme, witnessed Dasilva’s marriage contract in 1759.
The early poverty or ill health of Dasilva’s family is suggested by the death of seven of his 13 children before the age of four – more than double the average death rate for infants in New France. Dasilva was, it appears, unable to write more than his name and yet he rose to the rank of an independent contractor who owned his own home on Rue du Sault-au-Matelot. A complaint by one of his tenants in 1735 suggests that he was a grasping man by nature. At the end of his life Dasilva was styled “master masonry builder” of Quebec.
ANQ, Greffe de R.-C. Barolet, 12 mars 1732; 13, 17 juin 1735; 21 juill., 2 nov. 1738; 17 juill., 31 oct. 1742; 16 avril, 27 déc. 1747; Greffe de Louis Chambalon, 26 nov. 1715; Greffe de J.-É. Dubreuil, 22 oct. 1720; 7 avril 1722; 2 mai 1724; 1er mars, 10 juin, 1er déc. 1726; 15 févr., 18 oct., 17 nov. 1728; 21 févr., 17, 27 mars, 11 déc. 1729; 24 mai 1730; 15 avril 1731; Greffe d’Henry Hiché, 30 avril, 18 juin 1731; Greffe de J.-C. Panet, 7 sept. 1757, 7 janv. 1759; NF, Coll. de pièces jud. et not., 1195, 1955, 3783, 4026. Recensement de Québec, 1716 (Beaudet), 26. “Recensement de Québec, 1744” (APQ Rapport), 92. P.-V. Charland, “Notre-Dame de Québec: le nécrologe de la crypte,” BRH, XX (1914), 238. P.-G. Roy, Inv. jug. et délib., 1717–1760, III, 268.