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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Diversity At the Heart of SD

Hello history seekers. My apologies for getting behind in posts, but I’ve been dealing with “day job” demands with the added stress of these times when “day jobs” are on slipperier ground. At any rate, at this time when diversity and immigration continue to be points of argument among some, I present one prominent example of the values of both.

The ad below is from page 4 of The San Diego Union’s issue of March 16, 1881:

A check of the paper for most of the 1880s shows the same ad running pretty regularly. Ah Quin was born in 1848, the son of farmers in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong. He learned to speak both Chinese and English in missionary schools in his homeland, but in 1868, at a time of political and economic turmoil in China, his parents sent him to the United States. He settled first in San Francisco, but over the next few years moved to Santa Barbara and even spent some time in Alaska, working at the usual entry-level jobs like cook and houseboy. But he also continued to pursue educational opportunities at mission schools while learning about merchandising from an uncle.

Ah Quin came to San Diego in 1878 and would spend the rest of his life there. His store was a prime spot for imported goods of all kinds, as indicated by the ad, as well as a communications center (“Intelligence Office” means a telegraph office).

While his business was in the heart of an emerging Chinatown, his customer base included the whole city. An item in the Union on Christmas Eve 1881, offering readers suggestions on places to shop for “candies, toys, dolls and all sorts of quaint and funny things” for “the little folks,” advised that “Mrs, Cohen, Messrs. Schiller, Schneider, Raffi, Wolfsheimer, Roberts, Beers and Ah Quinn have them in the greatest abundance.”

In addition to running a store, Quinn used his contacts in both the Chinese community and the general business community as a labor broker, recruiting Chinese railroad workers whose labor served to connect San Diego to the rest of the state and ultimately, the nation.

After the railroad was completed Quin also got involved in real estate, “often leasing his properties in places like Mission Valley and Bonita to fellow Chinese so they could grow vegetables to sell at market,” according to an article in the San Diego Downtown News in 2014. That article noted the opening of an exhibition at the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum to mark the 100th anniversary of Quin’s death.

In a lecture at the opening ceremony, historian Murray Lee said “There is no other person in the early history of the Chinese in San Diego, California who is more deserving of being included among the founding fathers of the city, along with the likes of Alonzo Horton and George Marston, than Ah Quin.”

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers, the San Diego History Center and the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum.

Snapshot of An Earlier Pandemic

Excerpts from the book, City of San Diego and San Diego County: The Birthplace of California, by Clarence Alan McGrew, published in 1922.

“With other cities of the nation San Diego paid heavy toll in the influenza epidemics, the malignancy of that disease coming close to San Diegans in the fall of 1918, when quarantine regulations were enforced here in an effort to curb the spread of the trouble. One quarantine was in force from October 14 to November 9, during which period the churches, schools and theatres of the city were kept closed. Masks of gauze were prescribed December 6 of that year, and stores were kept closed from December 6 to December 9 in an effort to prevent crowds from gathering in any place, the doctors having concluded that in this way some good would be accomplished. From December 10 to December 24 more liberal quarantine regulations were in force.

“The schools, closed because of the influenza epidemic, were reopened again January 6, 1919.”

“In this period [in National City] a hospital was operated [by the local Red Cross branch] in several buildings on the high school grounds, and the local doctors, already rushed by private cares, rendered praiseworthy service. Once a month for twenty-seven months an automobile loaded to the top with such things as men in a hospital enjoy was sent to Camp Kearny.”

 

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Fighting Off the Blues

As we all struggle to deal with issues of social distancing amid having to maintain lives and livelihoods, our household has been doing a lot of communicating by mail–electronic and paper. I was reminded of a historical San Diego County resident who inadvertently provided some advice on the value of “virtual” communication over a century ago..

Eliza Sikes, who lived in the farmhouse I wrote about in an April post, was writing a letter in October of 1881 to her friend Martha Oaks, who lived in northern California. Eliza had gone through a traumatic time. That April, she’d lost Zenas, her husband of 27 years. He’d died in surgery after being kicked in the leg by horse twice over the previous year. His recovery from the first kick had been difficult and the second kick caused a fatal infection.

Since that time Eliza had been dealing with the loss of her life partner while also trying to maintain the family farm with the help of her grown children.

The Sikes and the Oaks had mutual friends and family on farms at both ends of California and Eliza chatted about various acquaintances in her letter, also talking about the presence of game and the weather (“Geese are coming in a little, a good indication for rain.”). Just before closing her letter she wrote this:

“Rest assured your letters are always welcome, being very lonesome. Thought a chat with a friend even on paper might help drive the blues away.”

It was interesting to re-read those words in the context of our current situation. A chat with a distant friend or relative, even on paper or even electronically, can help. Our household can vouch for that.

I was also intrigued by her reference to “the blues.” I turned to an old hardback book I got at a used book sale decades ago, The Father of the Blues, by W.C. Handy. Handy was the composer of some of the first professionally published blues songs, including “Memphis Blues” and “Saint Louis Blues.” Those songs were originally published in 1912 and 1914, respectively, but in his book Handy traces the origins of the blues to folk music he heard growing up as the child of former slaves in Alabama. In his youth in the 1880s and 1890s, working as an itinerant musician, he wrote of the influence of the music he heard sung and played by farm field hands, railroad workers and others in rural and urban areas across the country.

Whether Eliza Sikes had heard such music or not, she understood the same feelings that Handy did when he wrote that “Suffering and hard luck were the midwives that birthed these songs. The blues were conceived in aching hearts.”

Sources for this post:

Section on the Sikes household from Sikes Adobe Farmhouse and Landscape Historic Structures Report, written by Stephen Van Wormer and Susan Walter, published in 2008.

Father of the Blues, by W.C. Handy, published in 1957.

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Broadcasting: A Word Evolves, As We Do

Digging into history can reveal a lot about how life evolves, right down to the words we speak. When most of us hear the word “broadcast,” we undoubtedly think of radio, t.v. or (trying to keep ahead of the curve here) podcasted electronic programming. I certainly did.

But some of you readers may recall a post I did last fall about the aftermath of a windstorm in the Poway Valley in January of 1896. I quoted from a newspaper account that reported “Several barns and other outbuildings were overturned or scattered broadcast…”

That use of the word led me to Merriam Webster and the discovery of another, older definition of “broadcast,” which is “to scatter or sow (seed or something similar) over a broad area….”

Sure enough, a check back at other issues of the Poway Progress newspaper bore out that definition. For example, an 1894 column about how to resurface a road with gravel advised that “the broken stone should be spread broadcast with shovels to insure a thorough mixing….”

I also found that historical usage in a book by Kumeyaay scholar Michael Connolly Miskwish in his 2006 book, Sycuan: Our People. Our Culture. Our History. In describing the agricultural society of the original indigenous residents of San Diego County before the coming of Europeans, Miskwish notes that a “traditional harvest practice” included “the burning of the fields after harvest, and then hand-broadcast reseeding.”

Food for thought, you might say.

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