Letters from Isthmian Canal construction workers

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Material Information

Title:
Letters from Isthmian Canal construction workers Contest solicitation, overview and entry requirements
Series Title:
Isthmian Historical Society competition for the best true stories of life and work on the Isthmus of Panama during the construction of the Panama Canal
Physical Description:
Mixed Material
Language:
English
Spanish
Donor:
Afro-Antillean Museum ( donor )
Publisher:
Isthmian Historical Society
Place of Publication:
Panama

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Panama Canal

Notes

Scope and Content:
The Contest: In 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 competition. I am enclosing 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 (U.S.)…” Brief notices of the contest were placed in several thousand food packages ("Food for Peace" packages have been distributed monthly by the Panama Canal Company-Canal Zone Government). 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 construction there will be awarded prizes: 1st PRIZE: $50; … Give year arrived in Panama, kind of work & where, name & address. Write of interesting experiences & people, living & working conditions, etc… The Entries: 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 from what these Old Timers wanted to say. 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, unsteadv 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"8s so that "has" is written "as". Other features of West Indian speech will be noted. As spoken language, 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. Ruth C. Stuhl Competition Editor

Record Information

Source Institution:
Afro-Antillean Museum
Holding Location:
Afro-Antillean Museum
Rights Management:
All rights reserved by the source institution.
System ID:
AA00016037:00015


This item is only available as the following downloads:


Full Text







Berisford, G. Mitchell; Estefeta Chorrillo, Aptdo 6104,
Panama, R.P.


I am giving to you at this time thanking God for the
opportunity to do same. Dear Sir I am giving you the truth
of my experience during the time of my employ in the Canal
Zone Sir I came to the soil of Panama from Barbados
landed in Cristobal docks on the 21st of April 1909 between
1 to 2 pm with the last trip of the S.S. Solent I was taken
care of in the Cristobal camps then my first work was at
Mindie railroad working with Mr. Busby the foreman, acting
as water boy at 7 cents per hour for a period of time then
my elder brother took me to tavanilla section where he seek
a Job for me in the mess kitchen pealing potatoes but I could
not stand the smell of the vearias pots they give me bad
feelings so I had to leave and went on the dump as yard's
boy carrying reports to the Engineers, but a pair of shoes
could not last me longer than two weeks on the accent of the
thick mud and water so I had to leave that job. then return
back to Colon and gotted work on the docks working ship
side. After many months I came in contack with a friend and
he took me to a foreman in the timber yard, of Cristobal and I
work there as water boy. One day one of the workmen was hew-
ing out a timber to a certain size so he left it and went to
the sirvice, so boys all over put down my bucket with the
water took the adds which he was cutting the timber with and
start to finish what he leave off and I did the job so clean
and perfect when the man came from the sirvice he saw me
standing a distant from the timber he open his eyes wide
saying who who trouble my work, using funney words and it is
done better than if I did it, but I never knew that the fore-
man was watching me through his office window, so neither of
the men would say any thing but the foreman came out of the
office and told him this boy did it and he did a better job
than you- too. So the foreman turn to me and said if you ean
get an adds to buy bring one tomorrow and throw that bucket
away you are a good little workman he ask me where I learn
t.o use an adds and I told him my elder brother use an adds
and I told him my elder brother taught me in Barbados. And
from then I started at the carpenter's trade, from 7 cents
to 13 cents and I work then for.a period of time. Then I
went to Toropoint and work with Mister Hearns building the
brake water bridge working in front of the pile driver hand-
ling piles one day Mr. Hearns came over to where I was work-
ing talking to the Engineer resting his hand on the top of
the pile forget and give the Engineeb the singnel to drive
not remembering his hand was on top of the pile and the hammer
came down and cut his fingers off. He drop to the floor and
we the men pick him up with other white men and rush him to









Berisford, G. M. p.2


the Hospital all he could of done is to call for olgirets
chewing them in his mouth packs after packs before he could
reach the hospital. Then a few days after that Mr. Hutchen
the pile foreman drop over board inter the sea and he was a
very ougly man which he said so of himself when rise from
the water raising his head up his workmen started to laugh
seeing how ougly he was, when he gotted to himself he went
to the subforeman a coulard man name Herbert telling him you
laugh at me in the water because I am ougly. If you dident
had so many starving little children home I would of fire
you and give you a bad clearance; go Ita to work you prior
gie. Then I went and work with Mr. Patohet carpenter fore-
man in New Cristobal working on the school and other build-
ings one day on Commisary book iskuse he went and gotted
our books place them in his back pocket and would not give
us; 4 oclook he took them home and sitting around the dinner
table his wife saw them in his back pocket she ask him if
those are the poor men books and he said yes fand she said to
him get up at once and go to the train station and give those
poor men their books most of them live in Panama and their
poor wifes and children is waiting on them for a bread, and
you come home sitting down to table to eat and the poor men
need their books you don't eat here until those poor men
get their books, he had to go.the train station and give
every man our books before the train pulls off; the maid
let us know what had happen on monday when we came back to
work. Then I .transfer to Mr. Merther, another carpenter
foreman after a-time transfer to Mr. Gump, finishing the
schools Then lay off and I went with Mr. Spearman working
on pair 4. Leave there and went over to Old Cristobal with
him and remove the Dutch concrete building from one side of
the street over to the other side about over 300 hundred
feet away from where it was. It was one of the most exper-
anoe jobs you could over see, on rollers and timbers with
turn buckle people from all parts of the isthmas came to
witness even from Balboa Hights. When finish we all trans-
fer back to Panama. Went at Gamboa build up Gamboa Commisary,
Club house, schools, and dispensary, there where I gotted a
another fame by regulating the slate board at the school. I
was recommend to a raise from some officials came down from
Balboa Hights. When Gamboa was finish transfer back to
Balboa on the school where I was left in charge of the fin-
ishing by ir'. Spearman the foreman my last work there was
putting up the letters naming Balboa High School. Then Mr.
Handson working foreman under Mr. Spearman, I went with him
to Ancon and there I work on the Clubhouse one day I gotted
my Commisary book, 10.00 and my wife came for it to spend,










Berisford, G. M. p.3


she went to the Commisary and bau6ht cake and ice cream and
went home gotted her friends and had a spree over me, when I
went home the evening I saw the ion cream dishes what they
use and the crumbs of cake all over the table, not a crumb
leave for me, pots cold, stove cold, and no dinner, and she
was away, hungry killing me and nothing to eat, great ex-
pearance, I had to make a devoroe on her. Later I was call
to the office for a transfer to Ancon section carpenter for
the.quarters, I work with many foreman there Mr. Cloud,
Mr. Roberson, Mr. Moris, Mr. Danaby, went back with Mr. Oorri-
gan and Mr. Corrigan there with him I gotted my retirement,
November the last day (1957) with a great regret of a send
off so I have to thank God for my spear life though many
days I had to stuff paper in my dinner bag to make it look
like lunch because my wages was very small. At that time I
was only working for small wages 7 cents 10, -139 16% an
so on many days I had to take lunch from the other men who
was getting more than me, and in those days I work almost the
lines through, the most of men lives was at Colebra, Empire,
Mattaohin, and Gatune, the flesh of men flew in the air like
birds many days johnorows feed on the bowels of men around
the jongles around 1914 when the water was let into the
Locks from the spillway it was a great holiday and a celle-
bracion for the work men white and block.--Then-we-the-
collord men compose a song about General Gothels, it goes
like this ) Gothels, Gothels His name shall ever call, He
was the principft contructure who oame from the States
Me Clinolef and Marshal who build the gates, there are seven-
ty five feet high, no man could never denied, so the water
display, from the mouth of spillway through the locks and
dam ......... Last but not leace, in 1941 to 1945 working
day and night suporting the War II I was awarded with a
certificate from Major General U.S. Army Governor as veteran
Pardon me (I forgot) workIng at old Cristobal with Mr. Spear-
man I felt from the top of an elevator 65 feet high, damaging
with cuts on my left leg, a fractured risk and a cut on my
chin and three eight penney nails inter my hip from my nail
bag which I had around my waist. I was rush to Colon
Hospital by Mrl Hanson car, because the ambalanoe took too
long to reach the job. That happen around 1928 to 1929. So
my dear Sir I have plenty to thank God for that my life is
still speared to see this day I have plenty to thank the
Ameridans for. I have to say you all are blessed people
a nation which God bless, and to you Sir I hope through my
rough toils and my experances of the Panama Canal work that
the Lord may send us a blessing for our hard toiling, and
that you may see fit to give me one of your prizes. May God
bless America you and your family. Remaining your
pationate servent always BERISFORD / G. MITCHELL
retiree war vetterant




Full Text
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Berisford, G. Mitchell; Estefeta Chorrillo, Aptdo 6104,
Panama, R.P.
I am giving to you at this time thanking God for the
opportunity to do same. Dear Sir I am giving you the truth
of my experience during the time of my employ in the Canal
Zone Sir I came to the soil of Panama from Barbados
landed in Cristobal docks on the 21st of April 1909 between
1 to 2 pm with the last trip of the S.S. Solent I was taken
care of in the Cristobal camps then my first work was at
Mindie railroad working with Mr. Busby the foreman, acting
as water boy at 7 cents per hour for a period of time then
my elder brother took me to tavanilla section where he seek
a Job for me in the mess kitchen pealing potatoes but I could
not stand the smell of the vearias pots they give me bad
feelings so I had to leave and went on the dump as yard's
boy carrying reports to the Engineers, but a pair of shoes
could not last me longer than two weeks on the accent of the
thick mud and water so I had to leave that job. then return
back to Colon and gotted work on the docks working ship
side. After many months I came in contack with a friend and
he took me to a foreman in the timber yard, of Cristobal and I
work there as water boy. One day one of the workmen was hew-
ing out a timber to a certain size so he left it and went to
the sirvice, so boys all over put down my bucket with the
water took the adds which he was cutting the timber with and
start to finish what he leave off and I did the job so clean
and perfect when the man came from the sirvice he saw me
standing a distant from the timber he open his eyes wide
saying who who trouble my work, using funney words and it is
done better than if I did it, but I never knew that the fore-
man was watching me through his office window, so neither of
the men would say any thing but the foreman came out of the
office and told him this boy did it and he did a better job
than you- too. So the foreman turn to me and said if you ean
get an adds to buy bring one tomorrow and throw that bucket
away you are a good little workman he ask me where I learn
t.o use an adds and I told him my elder brother use an adds
and I told him my elder brother taught me in Barbados. And
from then I started at the carpenter's trade, from 7 cents
to 13 cents and I work then for.a period of time. Then I
went to Toropoint and work with Mister Hearns building the
brake water bridge working in front of the pile driver hand-
ling piles one day Mr. Hearns came over to where I was work-
ing talking to the Engineer resting his hand on the top of
the pile forget and give the Engineeb the singnel to drive
not remembering his hand was on top of the pile and the hammer
came down and cut his fingers off. He drop to the floor and
we the men pick him up with other white men and rush him to
2 image0063.jpg
Berisford, G. M. p.2
the Hospital all he could of done is to call for olgirets
chewing them in his mouth packs after packs before he could
reach the hospital. Then a few days after that Mr. Hutchen
the pile foreman drop over board inter the sea and he was a
very ougly man which he said so of himself when rise from
the water raising his head up his workmen started to laugh
seeing how ougly he was, when he gotted to himself he went
to the subforeman a coulard man name Herbert telling him you
laugh at me in the water because I am ougly. If you dident
had so many starving little children home I would of fire
you and give you a bad clearance; go Ita to work you prior
gie. Then I went and work with Mr. Patohet carpenter fore-
man in New Cristobal working on the school and other build-
ings one day on Commisary book iskuse he went and gotted
our books place them in his back pocket and would not give
us; 4 oclook he took them home and sitting around the dinner
table his wife saw them in his back pocket she ask him if
those are the poor men books and he said yes fand she said to
him get up at once and go to the train station and give those
poor men their books most of them live in Panama and their
poor wifes and children is waiting on them for a bread, and
you come home sitting down to table to eat and the poor men
need their books you don't eat here until those poor men
get their books, he had to go.the train station and give
every man our books before the train pulls off; the maid
let us know what had happen on monday when we came back to
work. Then I .transfer to Mr. Merther, another carpenter
foreman after a-time transfer to Mr. Gump, finishing the
schools Then lay off and I went with Mr. Spearman working
on pair 4. Leave there and went over to Old Cristobal with
him and remove the Dutch concrete building from one side of
the street over to the other side about over 300 hundred
feet away from where it was. It was one of the most exper-
anoe jobs you could over see, on rollers and timbers with
turn buckle people from all parts of the isthmas came to
witness even from Balboa Hights. When finish we all trans-
fer back to Panama. Went at Gamboa build up Gamboa Commisary,
Club house, schools, and dispensary, there where I gotted a
another fame by regulating the slate board at the school. I
was recommend to a raise from some officials came down from
Balboa Hights. When Gamboa was finish transfer back to
Balboa on the school where I was left in charge of the fin-
ishing by ir'. Spearman the foreman my last work there was
putting up the letters naming Balboa High School. Then Mr.
Handson working foreman under Mr. Spearman, I went with him
to Ancon and there I work on the Clubhouse one day I gotted
my Commisary book, 10.00 and my wife came for it to spend,
3 image0064.jpg
Berisford, G. M. p.3
she went to the Commisary and bau6ht cake and ice cream and
went home gotted her friends and had a spree over me, when I
went home the evening I saw the ion cream dishes what they
use and the crumbs of cake all over the table, not a crumb
leave for me, pots cold, stove cold, and no dinner, and she
was away, hungry killing me and nothing to eat, great ex-
pearance, I had to make a devoroe on her. Later I was call
to the office for a transfer to Ancon section carpenter for
the.quarters, I work with many foreman there Mr. Cloud,
Mr. Roberson, Mr. Moris, Mr. Danaby, went back with Mr. Oorri-
gan and Mr. Corrigan there with him I gotted my retirement,
November the last day (1957) with a great regret of a send
off so I have to thank God for my spear life though many
days I had to stuff paper in my dinner bag to make it look
like lunch because my wages was very small. At that time I
was only working for small wages 7 cents 10, -139 16% an
so on many days I had to take lunch from the other men who
was getting more than me, and in those days I work almost the
lines through, the most of men lives was at Colebra, Empire,
Mattaohin, and Gatune, the flesh of men flew in the air like
birds many days johnorows feed on the bowels of men around
the jongles around 1914 when the water was let into the
Locks from the spillway it was a great holiday and a celle-
bracion for the work men white and block.--Then-we-the-
collord men compose a song about General Gothels, it goes
like this ) Gothels, Gothels His name shall ever call, He
was the principft contructure who oame from the States
Me Clinolef and Marshal who build the gates, there are seven-
ty five feet high, no man could never denied, so the water
display, from the mouth of spillway through the locks and
dam ......... Last but not leace, in 1941 to 1945 working
day and night suporting the War II I was awarded with a
certificate from Major General U.S. Army Governor as veteran
Pardon me (I forgot) workIng at old Cristobal with Mr. Spear-
man I felt from the top of an elevator 65 feet high, damaging
with cuts on my left leg, a fractured risk and a cut on my
chin and three eight penney nails inter my hip from my nail
bag which I had around my waist. I was rush to Colon
Hospital by Mrl Hanson car, because the ambalanoe took too
long to reach the job. That happen around 1928 to 1929. So
my dear Sir I have plenty to thank God for that my life is
still speared to see this day I have plenty to thank the
Ameridans for. I have to say you all are blessed people
a nation which God bless, and to you Sir I hope through my
rough toils and my experances of the Panama Canal work that
the Lord may send us a blessing for our hard toiling, and
that you may see fit to give me one of your prizes. May God
bless America you and your family. Remaining your
pationate servent always BERISFORD / G. MITCHELL
retiree war vetterant


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