During World War II, men from Jamaica and other countries came to the U.S. to work on farms. The location of this photo from the Library of Congress is unknown. (Library of Congress)
In an Elkhart Truth article from June 8, 1943, a story chronicles the arrival of 18 men from Jamaica to New Paris. The reason they came to this area was to work at the Dwiggins and Sons alfalfa farm. The company, which ground alfalfa into meal for farm animals, was facing a labor problem before the Jamaicans arrived due to many of its workers fighting in World War II. The men were hired as laborers loading alfalfa onto trucks in the field, and unloading them into dehydrators and choppers back at the mill.
This piece of our county’s history is a small example of a much larger movement that took place throughout the country in order to keep food production during World War II going.
During World War II, the Farm Security Administration (FSA), first established as a New Deal program to assist rural poverty, looked to other nations to employ men to work on farms across the country. We all remember the stories of women entering the workforce as men were fighting in Europe or the Pacific, but there were still some jobs that people believed were too hard for women at the time. Farm work was one of those types of jobs. The U.S. government recognized that with many men being sent off to fight, farming and food production would suffer. They knew they needed to act in order to keep fueling the war effort by producing food and products for the nation.
To solve this problem, the FSA reached agreements with neighboring countries to send men to the United States to work on farms — in total, about 300,000 workers from Canada, Mexico, Barbados and Jamaica came to the United States and were sent to farms all across the county.
The men were required to work eight to 10 hours a day and would be paid overtime for all hours over 40 hours per week. The men, per their contracts, would be paid a minimum wage of $3 a day, but Dwiggins indicated they would be paid more than that. Other than being paid for their work, they were provided a number of benefits. They were provided housing by converting an apple butter plant into barracks that became known as the “Jamaican Ranch.” They also received food and any medical care they required.
Another interesting detail is that in their contracts, the Jamaican workers were required to send $1 of their earnings per day to the Jamaican government. They would send their wages to their families, which would then be turned in to their national government.
The “Jamaican Ranch” is a really interesting footnote in our community’s past that teaches us a new facet of World War II history on the home front. In school we all heard about “Rosie the Riverter” and the large waves of women working in factories, as well as the community drives to collect metal, but the national effort to bring in men from other countries is a largely unknown and fascinating piece of history. Not only did they work, but they shared their cultures with us. Imagine the undocumented stories and interactions that would have taken place in New Paris in 1943 between two groups of people that may not have known much about each other.