Early Labor Day

In a few weeks we’ll be commemorating Labor Day, so here a little in advance is a reminder of the upcoming holiday. However, it’s also a reminder that, in a sense, every day is labor day. People are working every day to make a living and, in the process, making our world function. It’s also a reminder of the diversity of our workforce and our world down through history, as illustrated in a snapshot of one San Diego County farm 160 years ago.

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.”

Some readers might recognize the name of Ephraim Morse. 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 1906 obituary for Morse noted that the his farming venture with Smith “cultivated about a hundred acres of land and kept about 3,000 sheep and 100 head of cattle.”

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.

I can show you similar census lists from the mid-1800s through the early 1900s. Like a 1900 U.S. Census for the household of Henry Fenton listing some 18 people working at occupations from monthly laborers  to cowboys, teamsters and cooks, their places of origin ranging from Indiana to Mexico to China.

When you work for a living, every day is Labor Day.

Sources for this post included the aforementioned United States Censuses and the article, Indian Labor in San Diego County: 1850-1900, by Richard Carrico and Florence Shipek, from the website kumeyaay.com .

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