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:
AA00016037:00079


This item is only available as the following downloads:


Full Text







Merchant, J. T.; Gamboa Post Office, Gamboa, C.Z.



Arrived on Isthmus 1910. Start work over torow point as
Drill helper around Star Drill. Supervisor Mr Brondy General
Foreman Mr. Hill. Foreman Mr. Young. and Hand Drill Foreman
Mr. Taff. in 1911. Myself and five others was ask to get out
about half a dozen holes for the morning, about six o'clock
that night rain was pouring down. The Hill slide, causing one
death in few days, and I was nook down cause me much suffering
for about 10 days. and last of two jgw teeth, that was my first
accident, I undergo serval others. But in 1913 at Corzal in a
powder gan, in care of Mr Robert. we had a big blow up causing
many death. I came very near to it. but by CGod help I am one
among ourvie. In 1914 my pardener got kill while myself and
him was .working at May-Flowers Spilway on nightehief, around
a rain, That job was run by a color American by the name of Jim
Morgan and Mr. Smith a white American. I was working on one
slide of the Bucket while the other man was on the other, and as
soon we give the signal the crainman lift. But some thing
happen, on my mate got kill right then, we send him off by a
engin.

Living Condition
In those days, we use to pay 3 cent for loaf of bread.
one'pint of cream 12-13 cent. one blue shirt 40 cent. one
working pants 1l.19 up. one quart of said oil 16d. BlueA
black surge $1.80 per yards up. Dress shirts 1.O10 up.

Wages was very low it range from 10d to 20/ an hour. Hos-
pital was free. and ress house, those days we use to get rain
most of the time. we goes to in and out in rain and woovk work
through rain, well in 1913 one Sunday morning when the Dike was
to brake luse, I was present to see the water timely passing
from Corzal Cut in to May-Flowers, Many of I.C.C. ofical was
present then. it was said President Willeon was to send it off
by tuching a -butten. Well on all U.S.A. Curancey is found four
words, In God we Trust.

Colonel Gorthell with his staff of workers and with the
help of God, has precent to U.S.A. one of the world's greatest
aceavement, and that is the Pan-ma Canal. In looking back at
those days it was, In God we trust


J. T. MERCHANT




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Merchant, J. T.; Gamboa Post Office, Gamboa, C.Z.
Arrived on Isthmus 1910. Start work over torow point as
Drill helper around Star Drill. Supervisor Mr Brondy General
Foreman Mr. Hill. Foreman Mr. Young. and Hand Drill Foreman
Mr. Taff. in 1911. Myself and five others was ask to get out
about half a dozen holes for the morning, about six o'clock
that night rain was pouring down. The Hill slide, causing one
death in few days, and I was nook down cause me much suffering
for about 10 days. and last of two jgw teeth, that was my first
accident, I undergo serval others. But in 1913 at Corzal in a
powder gan, in care of Mr Robert. we had a big blow up causing
many death. I came very near to it. but by CGod help I am one
among ourvie. In 1914 my pardener got kill while myself and
him was .working at May-Flowers Spilway on nightehief, around
a rain, That job was run by a color American by the name of Jim
Morgan and Mr. Smith a white American. I was working on one
slide of the Bucket while the other man was on the other, and as
soon we give the signal the crainman lift. But some thing
happen, on my mate got kill right then, we send him off by a
engin.
Living Condition
In those days, we use to pay 3 cent for loaf of bread.
one'pint of cream 12-13 cent. one blue shirt 40 cent. one
working pants 1l.19 up. one quart of said oil 16d. BlueA
black surge $1.80 per yards up. Dress shirts 1.O10 up.
Wages was very low it range from 10d to 20/ an hour. Hos-
pital was free. and ress house, those days we use to get rain
most of the time. we goes to in and out in rain and woovk work
through rain, well in 1913 one Sunday morning when the Dike was
to brake luse, I was present to see the water timely passing
from Corzal Cut in to May-Flowers, Many of I.C.C. ofical was
present then. it was said President Willeon was to send it off
by tuching a -butten. Well on all U.S.A. Curancey is found four
words, In God we Trust.
Colonel Gorthell with his staff of workers and with the
help of God, has precent to U.S.A. one of the world's greatest
aceavement, and that is the Pan-ma Canal. In looking back at
those days it was, In God we trust
J. T. MERCHANT


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