By David Wayne Crosbie Girvan
Emigration: Jamaica to Panama
Early Twentieth Century
Emigration from Jamaica to Panama
The economic boom created by the construction of the Panama Canal during the early 1900s attracted thousands of foreigners to this tropical isthmus. The mammoth undertaking of this strategic waterway was started in 1904 by the United States of America under a controversial contractual agreement which granted the Northern Powerhouse a portion of land known as the Canal Zone. Although the Canal was completed in 1914, it remained under the control of the United States until December 31, 1999.
The Panama Canal had a major impact on the lives of those who immigrated to Panama from Jamaica and from other countries. Family traditions and culture were left behind in search of the mighty U.S. dollar. There was a tremendous demand for labour, not only during construction, and later, the operation and maintenance of the Canal, but also for the all the associated services and infrastructure such as health care, financial, security (the U.S. military and other socio-economic services. Over 25,000 workers died during construction of the Canal from malaria as well as from accidents.
Among the thousands of Jamaicans immigrating to Panama were my paternal grandparents, Herbert George Crosbie (car mechanic) and Marie Louise Crosbie, nee Wilson, (seamstress). It is believed that they first arrived in 1915, returned to Jamaica a short time later for the birth of my Dad, and then immigrated in 1917. They came after the completion of the Canal, in search of work and hope for a better life.
Like my Mother’s maiden name Girvan, the name Crosbie is of Scottish descent. The Scottish-Jamaican marriages created a spectrum of skin complexions and features that are prevalent in both the Girvan and Crosbie families today. The richness of this mixture is a footprint to the diversity of our origins.
Dad, Herbert Fitzroy Crosbie, was the second child of Herbert George and Marie Louise’s four children. He and his eldest sister, Angela Monica, were born in Jamaica. while his two younger brothers, Clarence George and Vernon Antonio were born in Panama.
Grandpa died in the late 1920s. As a widow in her mid 30s, Grandma was forced into the labour market to pay expenses and take care of her children and her mom, Great-grandma Wilson, who must have been in her 60s. Grandma Marie did not spend much time with Dad. She was too busy, working to support the family and taking care of her two younger sons.
Post Scriptum: We welcome this, the first of three posts by David Wayne to celebrate his parents, and hope sincerely that others will find the time and the motivation to add some information of the life and times of ancestors wherever they are now and wherever they go.