One of my goals in researching and writing about history is to illuminate the lives of ordinary working people whose role in building and shaping our world can be overlooked.
So I started out looking for one of those ordinary people for a blog post subject. And I tried one of my best sources: census data. I’ve pointed out in past posts what a wealth of info you can find in census records.
In this particular case, I hit a brick wall. So far, I haven’t been able to find this particular person. But in looking for someone I thought might be a relative, but wasn’t, I stumbled across some more insights.
Below is a portion of a page from the 1860 United States Census for Agua Caliente Township in San Diego County. It shows the names, occupations and birthplaces of one particular farm household in Agua Caliente when the census was taken in July of 1860:
At the head of the list of names are two men who are obviously the proprietors of the farm, Joseph Smith and Ephraim W. Morse. Each is 40 years old and each lists his occupation as “Farmer.”
When I first saw this page, the name of Mr. Morse sounded very familiar. He turned out to be a major figure in San Diego history.
After coming west from his native Massachusetts during the Gold Rush, Morse moved from northern California to San Diego County in 1850. He made a name for himself as a retail merchant, banker, and realtor in the city of San Diego. From the 1860s to the end of his life he served at various times as a judge and a city and county treasurer. He also helped promote the coming of railroads and an early water project, the San Diego Flume Company.
A very extensive obituary in the January 26, 1906 San Diego Union focused on Morse’s business and political work in the city but also noted that in 1859 Morse “engaged in the sheep business …in partnership with Joseph Smith. They cultivated about a hundred acres of land and kept about 3,000 sheep and 100 head of cattle. In 1861 he returned to Old San Diego and resumed mercantile business….”
How do you manage 3,100 head of livestock on a hundred-acre ranch? With a lot of help, as shown by the other nine names listed below Smith and Morse on that farm household.
First comes Daniel Hatfield, 35 years old, a native of New York State.
Then there’s Alexander McLaughlin, also 35 and originally from Ireland.
Following McLauglin comes another Irishman, 25-year-old Robert Caffel.
Hatfield, McLaughlin and Caffel list their occupations as “Monthly Labor.”
Next on the list is Anthony Dutch, 30 years old and a native of Germany. His occupation is “Shepherd.”
The remaining five farmhands are listed as monthly laborers. They are listed only by their first names, and for them, unlike their other housemates, the box indicating “color” has been checked. It’s marked “Ind” for Indian. All are born in California:
Jose is 22 years old.
Diego is 21.
Soriaco is 20.
Geronimo is 40.
Pedro is 30.
Sources for this post included the 1860 United States Census, historic San Diego County newspapers and the book, History of San Diego: 1542-1908, by William E. Smythe.
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