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:
AA00016037:00033


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Full Text







Clarke, Amos E.; House No. 5061 #R.6; 64 Central Avenue;
Colon, R.P.

I Amos E. Clarke, a native and citizen of the Republic
of Panama, also a i48 yoors employee, up to June 30, 1954,
desire to tell the story of my experience and service in the
Isthmanian Canal Commission. I use this term, because this
was its first name. I do thank God for the sparing of my
life to see the past and the present.

I'm also.thankful to the U.S. Government for such kind
consideration for the old-timers. My first experience was on
May 4, 1904, when I heard the first whistle blast out to start
work. Some of the old french workers and other nationalities
such as Jamaican and a few native, danced and jumped about"2
feet high when they understood that the American Government
were incharge of the new undertaking. This took place at Bas
Matachin (proper Bajo Matachin). The name of this place was
change later to as Gorgona Mechanical Division which was head-
quarters for all mechanical undertaking of the Panama Canal.
On May 4, 1904 about 7%45 A.M. men, including French, Jamaicans
and a few natives were taken on to work with machetes to out
down bushes and jungles around the French materials.

White and Oolored Americans were the first to start
cutting down jungles and bushes. They came from the States
with blue jungarees and khaki pants, and wore derby hats on
their heads. In those days they were no restaurant. Two
colored women carried trays on their heads with hot coffee,
bread and butter, to the w.ork-place in the morning time, price
10i U.S. currency. The name of these two Jamaican women, one
Marian Cunningson and one Caroline Lowe. These women have
died long-ago. :rs. Caroline Lowe, live 110 years. -Mrs.
marian Cuhningson live 75 years. In 1905 large number of
West Indlan, Greek, ltali:ns and Spain Spaniards were con-
tracted to work for the Panama Canal. Chiefly west indians,
Barbadians. Over 36 thour..nd men were employed during con-
struction days.

During the construction days more than 75 trains a day
moving up and down, dragging ledgerwood cars, with rocks and
canal excavated dirt. It was something marvelous to see these
trains moving (speeding) up and down to places to be fill in
for further usage. Wages in those days were not very high.
The highest pay for White and Colored American was from $65.00
to $75.00 per month (U.S. Cu.). 'West Indians were paid 10O
per hour (U.S. C.), Italians, Greeks and Spaniards 20% per.hr.








Clarke, A. E. p.2


(U.S. Cy). Limited time of work in those days was 10 hours.
Wages were paid in "Gold Coin." The natives did not care much
to work for the Canal, no allians were employed. Sanitation
played a great p:.rt for the construction of the Canal. Men
carried oil cans on their backs with connected hose, spraying
mosquito oil throughout the swamps and jungles, killing millions
of mosquitoes daily. ;:talaria fever was raging in those days,
many of the employees died from same. But the good masterpiece
of the U.S. sanitation prevented further sickness of malaria
from spreading. Hundreds of men died from dynamite explosion.
In 1908, 22 tons of dynamite was at Bas Obispo Cut and went
off at 1145 A.;-. blowing to pieces over 300 men. Their
instral and flesh could be seen hanging on the faraway trees.
It was something terrible and awful to-look at. The explosion
was heard and smoke could be seen 3 miles away from where I
was living in Matachin. The shock of the blast knocked offed
glasses from tables and shelves in many homes, and some fell
to floor in their homes.

I personally worked for 18 yrs. as artisan "A" and 30 yrs.
as Canal Sea ?Man (in other words deckhands). I made-5,330
transit through the Canal as sea m .n. It was a very tough
time working through the Canal. My first trip was on the
"Dorothy Looking Batch" and my last trip was on the -"SS MoCor-
mack."

I would like to mention something about the first launch
that was owned by one Ir. Hoscoe Seawall, its named was
"Spikeedee." He took me with him in the same launch, in 1908
up the Chagres river to Santa Cruz, to interpret Spanish to
English. They were three anchors, two large and one small.
The two large ones are now at Cristobal in front the terminal
building. The other small one, I know nothing of its where-
abouts. They wel e a.lso some of the "Old Spanish Cannon Balls"
which were taken from Sxnxt Santa Cruz and Porto Bello. Some
are now in front the Police station at Cristobal and other
places. The ruins of the Old Acient Spanish Church in Santa
Cruz can yet be seen. The Indian natives at Santa Cruz told
us r.any things about the Spanish anchors which there there at
that time. They told us that the anchors were brought from the
Atlantic on r-ft through the Chagres river by 12 men up to
Santa Cruz. They s.id also the men were draggingthe anchor
up an incline, and suddenly they fell from down the incline,
and the anchors fell upon top of them and kill six men. And
that these anchors were nuppcwd to go to the Pacific end by
the order of Vasco Nuney de Balboa, through the Old Panama
road or trail. But they got discourage and did not go any









Clarke, A. E. p.3


further. Here ends the story about the anchors, as far.

(Something more of the past)
In 1907, about 8:15 A.:A. the people in iMatachin heard a
buzzing in the air, everybody's eyes were looking up to see
what it was all about. Some thought it was judgement coming
from God upon the land, so they began to pray. But it was
nothing like that it w'rs the first airoplate, that had
ascended from Corozal, by a German mechanic or pilot, that
flew to Gorgona and returned back to Corozal. It xxCx was the
greatest fun in my life to see some of the old people was in
frantic about this peculiar scene. When they understood it
was an air-o-plane, they began to laugh at their own selves.
Here ends this tory of the air-o-plane experience.


(Story of teamsters)
Large American hornets and mules were used in the construc-
tion days for hauling trucks and fire-wagons. Teamsters were
white and colored. This ends the stories of some of.my
experience. Thanking you for a reward...


AMOS E. CLARKE
old-timer




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Clarke, Amos E.; House No. 5061 #R.6; 64 Central Avenue;
Colon, R.P.
I Amos E. Clarke, a native and citizen of the Republic
of Panama, also a i48 yoors employee, up to June 30, 1954,
desire to tell the story of my experience and service in the
Isthmanian Canal Commission. I use this term, because this
was its first name. I do thank God for the sparing of my
life to see the past and the present.
I'm also.thankful to the U.S. Government for such kind
consideration for the old-timers. My first experience was on
May 4, 1904, when I heard the first whistle blast out to start
work. Some of the old french workers and other nationalities
such as Jamaican and a few native, danced and jumped about"2
feet high when they understood that the American Government
were incharge of the new undertaking. This took place at Bas
Matachin (proper Bajo Matachin). The name of this place was
change later to as Gorgona Mechanical Division which was head-
quarters for all mechanical undertaking of the Panama Canal.
On May 4, 1904 about 7%45 A.M. men, including French, Jamaicans
and a few natives were taken on to work with machetes to out
down bushes and jungles around the French materials.
White and Oolored Americans were the first to start
cutting down jungles and bushes. They came from the States
with blue jungarees and khaki pants, and wore derby hats on
their heads. In those days they were no restaurant. Two
colored women carried trays on their heads with hot coffee,
bread and butter, to the w.ork-place in the morning time, price
10i U.S. currency. The name of these two Jamaican women, one
Marian Cunningson and one Caroline Lowe. These women have
died long-ago. :rs. Caroline Lowe, live 110 years. -Mrs.
marian Cuhningson live 75 years. In 1905 large number of
West Indlan, Greek, ltali:ns and Spain Spaniards were con-
tracted to work for the Panama Canal. Chiefly west indians,
Barbadians. Over 36 thour..nd men were employed during con-
struction days.
During the construction days more than 75 trains a day
moving up and down, dragging ledgerwood cars, with rocks and
canal excavated dirt. It was something marvelous to see these
trains moving (speeding) up and down to places to be fill in
for further usage. Wages in those days were not very high.
The highest pay for White and Colored American was from $65.00
to $75.00 per month (U.S. Cu.). 'West Indians were paid 10O
per hour (U.S. C.), Italians, Greeks and Spaniards 20% per.hr.
2 image0097.jpg
Clarke, A. E. p.2
(U.S. Cy). Limited time of work in those days was 10 hours.
Wages were paid in "Gold Coin." The natives did not care much
to work for the Canal, no allians were employed. Sanitation
played a great p:.rt for the construction of the Canal. Men
carried oil cans on their backs with connected hose, spraying
mosquito oil throughout the swamps and jungles, killing millions
of mosquitoes daily. ;:talaria fever was raging in those days,
many of the employees died from same. But the good masterpiece
of the U.S. sanitation prevented further sickness of malaria
from spreading. Hundreds of men died from dynamite explosion.
In 1908, 22 tons of dynamite was at Bas Obispo Cut and went
off at 1145 A.;-. blowing to pieces over 300 men. Their
instral and flesh could be seen hanging on the faraway trees.
It was something terrible and awful to-look at. The explosion
was heard and smoke could be seen 3 miles away from where I
was living in Matachin. The shock of the blast knocked offed
glasses from tables and shelves in many homes, and some fell
to floor in their homes.
I personally worked for 18 yrs. as artisan "A" and 30 yrs.
as Canal Sea ?Man (in other words deckhands). I made-5,330
transit through the Canal as sea m .n. It was a very tough
time working through the Canal. My first trip was on the
"Dorothy Looking Batch" and my last trip was on the -"SS MoCor-
mack."
I would like to mention something about the first launch
that was owned by one Ir. Hoscoe Seawall, its named was
"Spikeedee." He took me with him in the same launch, in 1908
up the Chagres river to Santa Cruz, to interpret Spanish to
English. They were three anchors, two large and one small.
The two large ones are now at Cristobal in front the terminal
building. The other small one, I know nothing of its where-
abouts. They wel e a.lso some of the "Old Spanish Cannon Balls"
which were taken from Sxnxt Santa Cruz and Porto Bello. Some
are now in front the Police station at Cristobal and other
places. The ruins of the Old Acient Spanish Church in Santa
Cruz can yet be seen. The Indian natives at Santa Cruz told
us r.any things about the Spanish anchors which there there at
that time. They told us that the anchors were brought from the
Atlantic on r-ft through the Chagres river by 12 men up to
Santa Cruz. They s.id also the men were draggingthe anchor
up an incline, and suddenly they fell from down the incline,
and the anchors fell upon top of them and kill six men. And
that these anchors were nuppcwd to go to the Pacific end by
the order of Vasco Nuney de Balboa, through the Old Panama
road or trail. But they got discourage and did not go any
3 image0098.jpg
Clarke, A. E. p.3
further. Here ends the story about the anchors, as far.
(Something more of the past)
In 1907, about 8:15 A.:A. the people in iMatachin heard a
buzzing in the air, everybody's eyes were looking up to see
what it was all about. Some thought it was judgement coming
from God upon the land, so they began to pray. But it was
nothing like that it w'rs the first airoplate, that had
ascended from Corozal, by a German mechanic or pilot, that
flew to Gorgona and returned back to Corozal. It xxCx was the
greatest fun in my life to see some of the old people was in
frantic about this peculiar scene. When they understood it
was an air-o-plane, they began to laugh at their own selves.
Here ends this tory of the air-o-plane experience.
(Story of teamsters)
Large American hornets and mules were used in the construc-
tion days for hauling trucks and fire-wagons. Teamsters were
white and colored. This ends the stories of some of.my
experience. Thanking you for a reward...
AMOS E. CLARKE
old-timer


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