Sunday, September 20, 2015


Here is a bit of little known history about my hometown of New Paris, Indiana.  Text taken from an article in the Elkhart Truth here.  I think that nearly all of us New Parisians know about Dwiggins Alfalfa, but likely were not aware of this story.


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.

One group that worked in New Paris entered the country by way of New Orleans May 1, 1943. They were then sent to an old CCC camp in Brownstown, Ind., while they awaited job assignments. When they reached New Paris and the Dwiggins farm, John Dwiggins reportedly said the men were excited to work on a contract that was set to expire on Sept. 1, but could have been extended.

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.


The SIck One said...

The picture shows everyone tastefully dressed, no blue jeans.

hoosierdaddy said...

Dwiggins had a dress code :-)

Reality Check said...

Get a life Sick One.

Bizzy Brain said...

On reunion weekend, I drove by Grandpa and Grandma's old house on Jefferson Street, turned left, then left again on the alley behind their house. Drove to, I guess it's called Market Street, and turned right. The downtown has not changed since my first memory of it back in the late 40's, in other words, I saw the same downtown that the Jamaicans saw in 1943.

DES said...

Bizzy - you likely remember that the Jefferson house is where we lived for many years, from before I started school until the 10th grade, when we moved to the Eldridge house on CR 142. Sam used the garage for Aschliman Hatchery, and we converted it back into a garage. There was no heat in the upstairs, so Kay and I always made a mad dash to our bedrooms in the wintertime!!

Bizzy Brain said...

I remember that house well when you lived in it, and remember staying overnight there. The railroad track was a block away and there were rumblings and shakings at different times of the day and night as the engines switched cars. Loved it as a kid. Also remember playing on the front porch and listening to your records, one in particular comes to mind, sounded like "oom ah gah wah, oom ah gah wah." Can't remember what I had for breakfast, but remember that. Lol! And linking of pinky fingers and reciting in unison, "Touch blue and your wish will come true." Did not know you lived there that many years.

DES said...

BB - funny! Maybe it was "weema wappa, weema wappa" In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight. Living a block from the railroad was interesting, and amazingly one gets used to the noise. Dick Van Diepenbos and I used to play in the coal piles, and had great fun playing "baseball" pitching coal pieces and hitting with a broom stick. Got mighty grimy!!! The trains still pulled cabooses and both the engineers and the caboose men would sometimes throw candy if we were close by. We also had fun having the train squashing coins on the tracks. We even jumped some slow moving cars and rode for a bit, but never too far.

annebocci said...

John Dwiggins was my grandfather. He married Ethel. They had Patricia Dwiggins McAtee. I was born in Indiana.

Douglas E said...

Anne - thanks for dropping here and adding a comment - interesting! I still remember the great smell of alfalfa when the wind came out of the east.