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ISTH'lIhIN IJ:STOC ICAL SOCIETY
COMPETITION *FQr THE BEST TF.UE STORIES
OF LIFE AND WOR(.K CO THE 1STHh-4S OF FAINAlA
DUPING TH CO1'NUTEUCTION CF THE PANAMA CANAL
This material is "the property of the lathmian
Historical Society and may .not be reproduced
without the permission of the Society.
Rn 1963, as the 50th anniversary of the opening of the
Panama Canal drew near, the Isthmian Historical Society decided
to make a collection of stories of personal experiences of non-
U.S. citizens during Construction Days by means of a contest.
This..contest was 'publicized in local newspapers, by notices in
the food packages given to Disability Relief recipients, and in
newspapers in the Caribbean area.
The following letter was sent to a total of 15 newspapers
in Jamaica, Barbados, British Honduras, Trinidad, Antigua, St.
Vincent, St. Lucia, and Grenada:
"The Isthmian Historical Society is trying to collect the
personal experiences and viewpoints of those -West Indians who
served in the labor force that dug the Panama Canal. Very
little has been written by them or about them. Soon it will be
too late to obtain personal accounts. In the hope of making..a
permanent record of their experiences during the construction
of the Canal, our Society is sponsoring a competition for the
best true stories of life and. work on the Isthmus of Panama
during the construction years. It would be much appreciated if
you would assist us in publicizing our completion. I am en-
closing a separate sheet with the information for this."
The information sheet: "The Isthmian Historical Society
announces a competition for the-best true stories of life and
work on the Isthmus of Panama during the construction of the
Panama Canal. The competition is open to West Indians and other
non-U.S. citizens who were on the Isthmus prior to 1915.
Entries may be handwritten but must be-legible. Anyone who
is infirm may have his story written for him by someone else,
but in this case It must be stated on the entry- that it has been
written for him in his own words by someone else. Give name,
address, year arrived in Panama, where employed there, and type
of work done.
All entries must be in the mail by November 1, 1963. The
winners will be announced in December. All entries become the
property of the Isthmian Historical Society. First prize will
be: $50 (U.S.); second prize: $30 (U.S.); third prize: "$20
Brief notices of the contest were placed in several thou-
sand food packages ("Food for Peace" packages have been dis-
tributed monthly by the Panama Canal Company-Canal Zone Govern-
ment). These notices read:
"COMPETITION -- For West Indians & other non-U.S. citizens
who worked on the Isthmus before 1915. For the best true
stories of life & work on the Isthmus during the Canal construc-
tion there will be awarded prizes 1st PRIZE: $50; ....
Give year arrived in Panama, kind of work & where, name &
address. Write of interesting5 experiences & people, living &
working conditions, etc.. ....
The majority of the contest entries were handwritten. In
some cases the handwriting was difficult to read. In making
copies of the entries, it occasionally was necessary to omit an
undecipherable word, leaving a blank space to indicate the
omission. Although an effort was made to reproduce the letters
exactly as they were written, it is probable that there are
errors. However, they will detract little fromethese Old Timers
wanted to say. Wbn
It should be remembered that these letters were written by
individuals who labored on the Isthmus prior to 1915. They are
no longer young. Some are handicapped by the infirmities of
age: failing eyesight, unsteady and arthritic hands that find
it laborious to form words and sentences, and minds that know
what they want to say but communicate it imperfectly. Generally,
unfamiliar spellings need only to be sounded and their meaning
becomes clear. In cases where the entrants wrote as they speak,
there may be dropped"H"Ss so that "has" is written "as" Other
features of West Indian speech will be noted. As spoken lang-
uage, there is no English more colorful. Mr. Albert Banister's
interesting letter is a good example.
The Society is most grateful for all the entries and we-
regret that there could not be a prize for everyone.
futh C. Stuhl
ft x \
Peters, Albert; let prize; born Nassau, Bahamas; arrived 1906.
Martin, George H.; 2nd prize; Barbados; 1909.
Suazo, Alfonso; 3rd prize; Honduras; 1902.
Alexander, Arnold N.; ?; 1909.
Alleyne, Herbert; ?; 1908.
Allick, Helon I.; Trinidad; 1913.
Archbold, Hendrix H.; Old Providence, Colombia;
Ashby,. James; 7; 1909.
Austin, -Harrigan; ?; 1905.0
Banister, Albert; St. Lucia; 1914?
Beckford, Reginald; Colon.
Beckles, Wesley; ?; 1913.
BelIrave, Allan C.; ?; 1905.
Berisford, G. Mitchell; Barbados; 1909.
I Booth, Charles; ?
I' Bowen," Samuel N.;
I Boyce, Clemen6 C.;
I Bramble, Manley;
2 Brewster, Joseph;
Brown, Lessep C.;
, Burton, Eutace; ?
Cadogan, 'Samuel; ?
Carr, Handel; ?; 19
Chambers, Robert T.;
Chase, Leonard A.; 7
Citronello, St. Justo
Clarke, Aaron; ?; 1
Clarke, Amos E.; Pan
Clarke, Samuel; ?;
De la Ros
tE ' .
I Finn, Enos Augustus; ?; 1905.
fForde, Rufus Edward; Trinidad; 1910.
Fox, Joseph H.; ?; 1910.
/v Garcia, Francisco; Panama.
7- Gard, Joseph H.; Barbados; 1906.
S Garner, John; Barbados; 1908.
i George, Augustus; 7; 1911/
Gittens, Thomas B.; Barbados; 1905.
Green, Prince George; ?; 1909?
Harnais, Bertrand Emilien; ?; 1905.
.f Headdey, Mrs. Albertha; ?
i Hermon, Peter; Barbados; 1905.
i Hibbert, Isaiah N.; 7; 1911.
(Hodges, George; ?; 1906.
? Holder, Everton M.; ?; 1905.
I Holligan, John A.; Barbadds; 1906.
1 Hughes, Joseph Theophilus; 7; 1906.
Hunt, Clifford; ?; 1906.
2.Hussey, Brandt; Jamaica; 1909.
,:.James, Frederick; Antigua; 1907.
1 Joseph, Jacob; Antigua; 1909.
-' Kavanagh, Lancelot A.; Jamaica; 1905.
5 Lawson, Daniel T.; Jamaica; 1906.
i Leacook, Joseph; Barbados; 1906.
LeCurrieux,- Jules E.; Barbados; 1906.
< Lewis, James A.; Antigua; 1906.
J Lucas, Rufus C.; Jamaica; 1913.
/ Lunche, Ange Julienne; Martinique; 1906.
V?7 McDonald, Philip; Grenada; 1908.
/ McEnnis, Luther; ?; 1904.
2 McKenzie, Z. H.; Jamaica; 1906.
Mark, John Thomas; ?; 1907.
/ Marshall, Joshua; 7; 1909.
/. Martineau, E. W.; Grenada; 1912.
S/ Maynard, Manassah; 7; 1905.
/ Merchant, J. T.; 7; 1910.
1 Mitchell, Alfred; Jamaica; 1904.
Moore, John A.; ?; 1914.
/ Morgan, George !I.; Jamaica; 1906.
Morgan, John; ?; 1912.
Moses, Charles; St. Lucia; 1904.
i Paily, Henry; ?; 1905.
?Parkinson, Constantine; Pahama.
/Parks, Amos; Barbados; 1914.
Peters, George; Dominica, B.W.I.; 1908.
Phillips, Arthur E.; ?; 1912.
Plummer, Enrique; Gorgona.
Prescod, John F.; Darbados; 1906,
Richards, John Altyman; Jamaica; 1914.
Riley, T. H.; 7; 1909.
Robinson, Samuel A.; ?
Rodrigues, Nicolas; ?
'Rouse, Joseph; 7; 1905.
Ruis, Obdulio; 7; 1910.
Sailsman, Philip Millerd; Jamaica; 1910.
St. John, Olifford; Barbados; 1905.
Sanchez, Silvero; 7; 1908.
Simmons, Edgar Llewellyn; Barbados; 1908.
Smith, Samuel A.; Jamaica; 1912.
Smith, James F.; 7; 1906.
Thomas, Charles M.; St. Lucia; 1913.
,Thomas,-Donald M.; ?
Thomas, Fitz H.; Barbados; 1905.
Walsome, Jeremiah; Bluefields, Nicaragua; 1895 or 1896.
Webb, Samuel; St. Vincent; 1907.
Weeks, Castilla M.; 7; 1906.
West, Alonzo F.; ?; 1912.
Wheatley, Simeon T.; ?; 1907.
White, Edward Adolphus; Jamaica; 1911.
'Williams, James A.; Jamaica; 1910.
Bodega storehouse or ztorcrcom.
Brass, brass check a piece of brass bearing an identification
Deads bodies, dead persons.
Disability Relief retiree Most of the non-U.S. citizens who
worked during the construction years were not eligible
for U.S. Government pensions. The U.S. Congress would
not appropriate funds for this purpose but eventually
did provide for a system of relief payments for those
disabled while employed. This in practice means that
those old workers not eligible for a regular pension
became eligible for the disability relief payments by
signing a statement at the time of their retirement
saying that they had become disabled. As of June,
1964, the maximum monthly payment was 55:..and many.:..; -
Gold & Silver "Gold" designated American (or, generally, white)
employees; "Silver" designated non-Americans (or,
generally, colored employees).
Land license For a number of years the Canal Zone authorities
permitted employees and fntiredeemployees to use cer-
tain unused lands for residence and/or cultivation.
A license was issued for each piece of land so nued
and it was common to refer to the land itself as a
Scarfle, scuffle scaffold.
Torra, toara, etc. Toro Foint.
Austin: p.2 The doctors & nurses perhaps lacked tropical
experience but were qualified in their professions.
p.3 "railroad tiles" ties.
p.4 "gates" gates of the canal locks.
Banisters "Colored Americans, etc." Actually, it was felt
that to bring large numbers of American Negro laborers
to Panama would create a labor problem in the southern
p.3 "mangro" mangrove.
p.5 --"Castro" not Castro, of course, but the govern-
ment of that day.
Lfords "Bottle" Bottle Alley in Colon.
p.6 "disadvantage" should be "advantage."
p.10 "Frank" Harry A. Franck, author of ZONE
POLICEIMAN 88 and other books.
isfords servicee" service (toilet).
p.3 "johncrows" buzzards.
michael: "lions" "tigers" the only lion in Panama is the
puma or mountain lion; there are no tigers but the
ocelot and jaguar are both often called "tiger"
"blackfever" blackwater fever.
rke, A. E.S "Dorothy Looking Batch" Dorothy Luchenbach.
dley: "mongosse" mongoose, but there are none in Panama.
sey; "Silver City" renamed Rainbow City.
es: "mould" earth.
tin: "br6tts" breadths. The commissary book consisted of
a continuous length of paper, aocordian folded, marked
off in coupons. When an item was purchased the amount
of paper equivalent to the price was torn from the
p.6 "goosyana gly" from Spanish "gusano", worm.
p.7 "Backro" white people.
tineau: p.5 "repartration" repatriation.
imons: p.6 "20 States Building" New York office of the
p.8 "killing lillies" hyacinth control, to keep
floating vegetation out of the Canal channel where it
could foul ships' propellors.
"wait for the ship crew..." a ship approaching
the locks throws a line to a rowboat, this carries it
to the side of the lock where the towing mule cable is
fastened to it to be pulled aboard the ship.
Weeks: "grass barber" grass cutter.