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.]



I Cherish My Ancestors’ Sugar Plantation Contracts

One of my most treasured items is something I never thought to ever see.I met Susan Nunes online years ago. We learned that we shared the same de Braga ancestry and began comparing notes, photographs, and documents.

Susan had something in her possession that I thought was long ago lost. It was a copy of my Great Great Grandparents, Jozimas de Braga and Maria da Conceicao de Mello’s Sugar Plantation Contracts.

Unless you do research in Hawaii, you don’t know how rare it is to find a sugar plantation contract. The contract was signed before an individual left their homeland. In my Great Great Grandparent’s case, that was the Azores Islands. They kept that contract with them at all times. It was proof that they were working for a sugar plantation legally.

Once the terms of the contract had been met, the sugar plantation representative signed it and dated it. That showed that the person listed on the contract and completed the terms within.  They were released from the contract and could then go work wherever they chose.

While sugar plantations may have had copies of these documents, they were not kept. Those that survive today are small in number and are usually in the possession of a descendant of the laborer.

Though the contract doesn’t really tell me anything new about my ancestors, it helps me imagine the life they lead and the decisions they made. For instance, both Jozimas and Maria were under contract.  That tells me they were probably very poor.  Most likely peasants.  The family needed both parents to work in order to survive.

Can you imagine hearing about this far off land called Hawaii that had the promise of jobs and education for your children and deciding to pick up roots, leave your family behind, board a ship, and break all ties with the past? My ancestors hadn’t even heard of Hawaii before they signed their contracts. Life must have been pretty harsh back on Sao Miguel Island for them to take such a risk.

You can understand why finding a contract would be very rare.  My ancestors carried them with them from the Azores Islands to Kauai, Hawaii in 1882.  They moved around the island to various plantations.  Around 1906, they moved to Oakland, California.  Later they moved to Spreckels, California, and then back to Oakland around 1920.  The document was then passed down three generations and finally to me.  The documents have seen more places than I have!

These contracts is very special to me. Every time I look at it, I am reminded of the sacrifices my ancestors made.  And, I thank my cousin for holding on to the document and sharing it with me.

These are the sugar plantation contracts for Jozimas de Braga and Maria da Conceical (de Mello) de Braga:

Here is an example of the English translation of the original Portuguese language sugar plantation contract:  Sugar Plantation Contract Example