52 Ancestors: Women Worked on Hawaii’s Sugar Plantations, Too

This is the fifth entry in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge. The theme is Ploughing Through.  I wonder how many researchers with Portuguese Hawaiian ancestry realize that their female ancestors were under contract, too?  My great great grandmother was one of those women.

debraga documents 029 debragamariamellosugarcontract497crop

This is the original sugar plantation contract that my great great grandmother, Maria da Conceicao (de Mello) de Braga signed before leaving for Hawaii.  The original has been in the hands of the Bonita descendants for many decades.

The contract gives us some details about the sugar plantation system.  Maria and her husband, Jozima de Braga, would be on the ship the SS Monarch in 1882 with their children.  It says that she would be employed as a laborer in agriculture.  She would be given shelter, food, and medical care.  Her children would get schooling, though agriculture work was also a part of their lives.

Maria would work out in the cane field hoeing rows most likely.  In exchange for working 10 hour days, 6 days a week, she earned $5 a month.  Her husband, Jozimas, got $9 a month for similar work.

Jozimas and Maria were sent over to the Kealia Sugar Plantation on Kauai.  The work was difficult.  Maria was 37 years old when she signed this contract.  She also had 3 children to worry about who were ages 8, 6, and 3 years old.  I wonder if she had help or took the youngest into the field with her (many women took their babies with them).  Perhaps the older ones kept watch over the younger.

The couple completed their contracts 19 Jun 1885.  A 3 year stint.  I am not sure how long they stayed on the Kealia plantation.  They were living on the Kilauea Sugar Plantation by the 1890s.  Maria’s health was fading.  She died in 1903 in Kilauea at the age of 58.

There are no photos of Maria that I know of.  Her tombstone and the contract above are the only records of her small contribution to Hawaii’s sugar plantation history.

Braga tombstone Kilauea Catholic Cemetery






An Example of Sugar Plantation Employee Records

Several years ago, I contacted the Hawaiian Sugar Plantation Association to see if there were records for the Kilauea Sugar Plantation as well as others on Kauai that were of interest to me.  At that time, the records were still held by the Association.

I found that they had no records for Kilauea and scant few for the rest of Kauai.  They were willing to check some names for me, so I sent them a reasonably short list.  All they could find was one document from the Kekaha Sugar Plantation with Augusto Clemente’s name.

I know that other researchers like myself would love to find employment records from the sugar plantation that their ancestor worked for.  The sad reality is that most of the records don’t exist anymore.   Hawaii was late to the game for preserving sugar plantation records. I believe it was the 1980s when the project was begun.  By that time, plantations had come and gone and records had been toss out, destroyed, or changed hands so many times the trail was hard to find.  The association did an amazing job preserving what they found.  Most of these records will be more of historical value rather than of value to the family genealogist trying to find out if Great Grandpa really worked at such and such plantation.

The document I received was three pages long.  I’ve decided only to scan the first page.  The second pages just have hash marks denoting if a worker worked on a certain day of the month.

This is the document that I have in my files (Sorry about the quality, I had to use my camera as it was so large).  The document is from July 1900.

hawaii wage shee_20131005_1783DSCN2432

The columns say: BAL. CR., a handwritten word that looks like “Sugar”,  Cash Adv., Sundries, RICE, Deposits, Total Deductions, NAMES.  I have no idea why rice is in all Caps (the emphasis is theirs not mine).  Page two has RATE  and then a column for every day of the week.  The third page completes the days of the month, then DAYS, WAGES, CASH, BAL. DR.  BAL CR.

We can derive a couple of things from this sheet.  One, the workers were allowed to take out cash advances from their wages.  Two, they had to pay the plantation for certain things shown in the rice and sundries column.  We know what their pay rate was, how many days of the month they worked, and so forth.  The money they owed the plantation would be subtracted from what they earned before they got their monthly pay.

You can see that the identifying information is vague.  Some people only have a first name.  Unless your ancestor had an usual name, like Augusto Clemente, or you know exactly where they worked and when, it will be difficult to determine if you have the right person.    It would be a nice document to have in your collection, but it isn’t going to provide much information about your people.

[Note:  Augusto Clemente is not my ancestor.  But, he connects to my tree a couple of times including via my great aunt, Minnie (Ventura) Pacheco Smith.]



Carolina (Freitas) Pacheco’s Individual Summary

Carolina’s family was from Kilauea just like my Pacheco’s.  She married my grandfather’s cousin, Manoel Pacheco, in Kilauea in 1914.  A couple of years later they moved their family to King City.  I don’t know much about Carolina except that she was said to make the best pancakes.  I guess something like that sticks with a child.

Name:    Carolina “Carrie” FREITAS-213
Sex:    Female
Father:    John de FREITAS-560 (1866-1937)
Mother:    Maria GONSALVES CARDOZO-522 (1869-1948)

Individual Facts
Birth    8 Mar 1898    HI21–22
Residence    1910 (about age 12)    Kilauea (Hanalei), Kauai Co., HI
Residence    1940 (about age 42)    516 Vanderhurst, King City, Monterey Co., CA
Living    31 Mar 1952 (age 54)    King City, Monterey Co., CA
Death    27 Apr 1967 (age 69)    King City, Monterey Co., CA
Burial        King City Cemetery, Monterey Co., CA
Education        4 years of schooling

1. Manuel A. “Pushking” PACHECO-211 (1892-1970)
Marriage    6 Sep 1914 (age 16)    Kilauea (Hanalei), Kauai Co., HI
9 Children