Tuesday, April 1, 2014

John Earl

Born: August 16, 1836, Visalia, California, according to newspaper reports
Died: February 23, 1921, San Francisco, California
(California Death Index at Ancestry.com)

Union Navy

The Association to commemorate the Chinese serving in the American Civil War has a San Francisco Chronicle, November 5, 1920, article about Earl. There is additional research questioning Earl’s service in the Union Navy.

Earl was aboard the S.S. Great Northern when she sailed from Honolulu on March 16, 1917. Earl arrived in San Francisco on March 20. His final destination was Watsonville.
which was enumerated January 22 and 23. At age 84, he resided in Los Angeles, California at 325 Apoblosa Street where Ying Hom was the head of the household. Earl’s father was born in China and his mother in Mexico. The San Francisco Chronicle article said Earl’s “mother was a half-caste Mexican”. A widower, Earl’s occupation was cook on a steamship.

From the port in Papeete, Tahiti, Earl departed on the R.M.S. Marama, June 26, 1920. On July 8, he landed in San Francisco. The passenger list recorded his address as “140 Bridges Street, Watsonville”. In the 1920 census, there was a family at 140 Bridge Street, Watsonville: Portuguese emigrants, in 1910, Jo. Jorike and his wife Mary, and their California-born daughter, Amelia. The census enumeration was in January, so it’s possible this family moved and was replaced by one of Earl’s children. Or, maybe Earl had an out-of-date address.

In the following San Jose Mercury Herald article

Earl was found in the 1920 U.S. Federal Census. Earl said he served on the Bear but did not say when. The photograph, below, is a detail of the crew of the Bear, taken in Summer 1895. The entire image is at the United States Coast Guard website. In the San Francisco Chronicle article, Earl said he left the Navy in 1870 and a year later served on the Bear.

San Jose Mercury Herald
May 6, 1917
Farragut's Cabin-boy Has Wanderlust at 81
by Maude C. Pilkington

Could a great kaleidoscope with its shifting scenes of chameleonic colorings be held up to the gaze of the world it would be but crude in hue and rough in outline compared with the life of John Earl, American citizen, born of Chinese parents, civil war veteran and pensioner, survivor of several shipwrecks, 81 years old and lately cook on the American bark, “Baluga” plying between Australia and San Francisco.

I found him at the home of his daughter yesterday in Watsonville, romping and playing with his two grandchildren to whom he is devoted and one glance at the trio established firmly the impression that the devotion was mutual. And when I shook his hand and was favored with his winning smile and greeting I knew that wherever he might be that cheery smile was fatal to any feeling but that of friendship.

Immediately I launched my ship of inquiry and prepared to cruise with him for an hour or two through the seas of his memory.

Enjoys a Joke.

“You’ve have been going to sea for a long, long time, I understand.” An amused expression danced across his countenance and his eyes twinkled, “Not ver’ long,” he said, “only 70 years!” And he said it so naively that my laughter mingled with his over this little joke.

“You are an American citizen,” I said. He nodded and then added, “Chinese back-born, but I have never been to China. I like not very much to go there, I like California much better.”

A Life of Adventure.

He was born in Visalia, Cal., 1836. At the age of 11 the craving to see strange places, to sniff the fragrance of the tropics, to feel the biting cold of the north, to cruise about islands lying somnolent in the burning sun and girdled by blue waters, to mingle with people of different customs, could no longer be stifled and he ran away to San Francisco where he shipped as cabin boy on the “John Wade,” bound for Boston.

Although he knew it not then, nor even now, something of the same spirit must have possessed him that always prompted John Muir to give his address as “Earth-Planet, Universe.”

It was a glorious voyage, that first one, and even yet, though many have been more adventurous, the memory of it brings to his face a happy expression.

Young as he then was, he undoubtedly possessed the same genius for making friends, for upon arriving in Boston the captain took him home with him to Salem, “because,” he told me, ”he seemed to take a fancy to me.”

For several years he stayed in Salem and attended school. “It’s ver’ funny how I then get my name of John Earl,” he said with a chuckle. “My schoolmaster say I such a little fellow he give me a great big name.” John loves a joke and fun above everything else.

Ships on Old Ironsides.

And continuing he told of the outbreak of the civil war and his eagerness to serve his country. The captain’s family did not want him to go, so one night he slipped away from them and shipped as cabin boy to Admiral Farragut on “Old Ironsides.” He was ten years with the admiral to whom he was devoted and whose memory he now lovingly cherishes. One of his duties during the Battle of Mobile Bay was to carry powder from the magazines below to the gunners as they needed it, and he compared the old manner of fighting with our modern methods, adding that the boats then could be shot through many times and still not sink, which was at least something in their favor.

The compass of time represented in his life is startling. At times he seemed like a hollow voice out of the past, yet there he sat, very alert, smilingly chatting about events which are but dimly engraved o our country’s escutcheon, and the marks of which have almost disappeared under the salving influence of time.

Captured by Privateer.

In 1870 he shipped from New York to San Francisco on “The Commonwealth.” Off the coast of South America a confederate privateer was encountered, and he, along with the rest of the crew, was taken prisoner and their ship burned. All hands, except the captain, whose wife was with him were put in irons and held on an island. They were told they must join the southern navy and when they refused were put in double irons where they were kept for three weeks. Eventually word of their predicament reached the American consul at Brazil and he sent a steamer to take them off and eventually the were returned to New York.

Again he shipped for San Francisco on the “Lancashire,” and in due time reached his destination. For a number of years he cruised up and down the Pacific coast on lumber schooners coming often into San Francisco where he met and married Wina Hov, a missionary from China. “But,” he added sadly, “she is now dead 26 years.”

His Religion.

I next spoke to him of his religion. His face brightened again and he said, “Oh, I have no particular religion. Just everything square and fair. If you buy a thing you pay for it,” and I understood that in his philosophy was included the same idea of a dualism which Emerson contends exists in every element and phase of life.

For four years John Earl was wardroom steward on the U.S. Revenue Cutter “Bear.” One winter he stayed at the government station at Point Barrows, the most northerly point in Alaska. Then he was off to London and Belfast and Queenstown and back again to Philadelphia. Then off to Cape Good Hope to get cargo of tea; wrecked on St. Helena where is Napoleon’s tomb and where a forced stay of three months was made, then on to London.

Next the insatiable goddess of unrest beckoned him South America. Outside Valparaiso a French ship was run down and his boat was taken into Basagera and all hands paid off. “Just the carpenter and cook and a couple of the boys stay on the ship,” he told me. “One day he put up the sails and start for ’Frisco, for we want to come home. But they send a ship after us and take us back,” and he chuckled over the reminiscence of this adventure.

Stevenson had a favorite expression which occurred to me as I chatted with John Earl, which was “I am convinced that to maintain oneself on this earth is not a hardship, but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely.” The little man sitting before me, vigorous and alert, neatly dressed, looking for 30 years younger than he is, allied this statement.

We talked of the European war and he said he would like to join the navy if he was 10 years younger. “I no like that kaiser; if he win we have only one king and one God!” he said. “We must not let him win, we must try very best we can.”

Changing the subject, I asked: “How do you like Watsonville?” “It is too lonesome,” he said over twice as if to emphasize the statement. “I like big town and want to go back to city, but my daughter want me not to go. I like California, sure; it’s the best place in the world. But I like the water; I feel better there.”

Pining for the Seas.

That he is chafing under the necessity of remaining on shore even a little while is not hidden by his jocund manner. Only last summer he visited his daughter and when he could no longer resist the call of the sea, shipped as cook on the “Baluga,” going to Newcastle, thence to Chile, where the vessel was loaded with saltpeter. “About 100 miles out of Honolulu on the return passage the captain got sick so we put into Honolulu,” he said. “I get little sick, too, so I come home.”

He then reiterated an amusing experience with the custom house officials in Honolulu. They were new, he explained and did not know him. “So,” he continued, “they tell me I must get a passport. I say, ‘what is that?’ And they say, “you must go to the captain,’ so I say, ‘All right.’ On the barkentine Discovery I was with him 30 years ago and when he see me he say, “Why, hello John Earl, you getting’ be pretty ole man now! Where you want go?’ ‘I want go home and they won’t give me certificate!’ ‘Sure,’ he say, ‘you go down steamer office and say you citizen!’ Oh, I had lots of fun all right, better than a picnic.

There is nothing of the mystery of the Orient about him, except perhaps when he turns to speak to his daughter in their own language or to pat his grandchildren on the head as he whispers some terms of Celestial endearment.

He has always been temperate and would vote tomorrow for a dry town. Surely here is a life that is entitles to high respect, for in it have been contained elements which make it worthy: Service to country, service to mankind an service to God. And long may your course yet be, John Earl, and these moments which hold so much of the future because they contain so much of the past, be happy to the very last.

The Seattle Star
August 17, 1917

Saginaw Daily News
August 20, 1917
With Farragut at Battle of Mobile
John Earl, of Watsonville, Cal., who was born in Visalia, Cal., Aug. 16, 1836, which makes him 81 years of age, and one of the oldest pioneers on the west.

In 1863 served as cabin boy for Admiral David G. Farragut on the "Old Ironsides," and was abroad [sic] that vessel during the battle of Mobile Bay. Later he served on other United States vessels.

He is now spending his last days on his farm near Watsonville.

Tacoma Times
August 27, 1917
With Farragut at Battle of Mobile
John Earl, of Watsonville, Cal., who was born in Visalia, Cal., Aug. 16, 1836, which makes him 81 years of age, and one of the oldest pioneers on the west.

Grand Forks Herald
(North Dakota)
February 24, 1921
Chinese Veteran of Civil War Is Dead
San Francisco, Feb. 23.–The body of John Earl, 84 years old Chinese, credited with having served with Admiral Farragut at Mobile Bay, was found today huddled in a corner in a cheap lodging house with indications that starvation caused his death.

Records show Earl had been a Confederate prisoner. Earl had been a cook on revenue cutters. Age incapacitated him and after his funds were gone, he sought squalid lodgings and lay down to die, police said.

Earl is profiled in the National Park Service book, Asians and Pacific Islanders and the Civil War.

(Next post: North & South)

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