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Governor William M. Dawson was informed by Secretary of State Elihu Root that reports of peonage had been received by the Italian ambassador in Washington, D. Smith, accompanied by Deputy United States Marshal Dan Cunningham and an interpreter, went to Raleigh County, investigated the charges, and made a full report to the governor.

The company's contract showed the men had agreed to work at one rate of pay, while the men claimed they had been promised another. According to Smith, the men may have been misled by the labor contractor, since many of them did not speak English and all were illiterate. When the workers became dissatisfied with their pay and tried to leave, they were arrested on a warrant issued by a justice of the peace in Raleigh County.

The warrant charged them with intent to defraud the lumber company for the amount of their transportation. Five men were able to pay the twelve dollar transportation cost claimed by the company, and they and the boy were released. The others were returned to the lumber camp and given funds by the company to send messages to friends and relatives for money to return to New York. They failed to obtain the money and went back to work voluntarily. When Smith and Cunningham arrived in Raleigh County on January 3, , the Italians learned the purpose of their investigation. They immediately quit work and announced their intent to leave.

After consulting with the governor, Smith took the laborers to Charleston where they were examined by a physician, and given minor treatment. In his investigation Smith concluded that the lumber company acted in good faith to obtain the money it had advanced to the workers. He noted the facilities for housing the men were reasonable and adequate and the commissary was "stocked with provisions suitable for Italian laborers and the same that is usually furnished.

Meanwhile, Governor Dawson received a complaint of alleged peonage in Wyoming County.

Material Information

Dan Cunningham was detached from the investigation in Raleigh County to look into the matter. Cunningham found the William Ritter Lumber Company imported workers to build an extensive lumber yard in Wyoming County. The laborers consisted of a mix of nationalities and races and were known only by numbers, not by names. Cunningham thoroughly investigated the charges against the company. He learned one of the workers tried to escape, was captured, beaten, and returned to the camp at Estell, Wyoming County, by railroad detective Elias Hatfield.

He concluded the company had forcibly detained and "compelled" the men to work until they repaid the cost of their transportation. Governor Dawson summarized the findings of the investigations in Raleigh and Wyoming counties in a special report to the legislature. He examined the state's great need for labor but criticized the labor agencies that provided workers. He thought this recruitment system produced "an undesirable class of labor. But they are human beings. Our duty, the instincts of humanity, justice, our own safety as a people, and our good name, all demand they be treated justly, and that if the law has been violated that the offenders be adequately punished, and if there be need of further legislation it be promptly furnished.

Dawson quoted a coal operator's letter suggesting the state of West Virginia should offer "inducements" to "suitable" immigrants from the British Isles, Sweden, Norway, and Poland to counterbalance the number of Italian immigrants. Dawson told the legislature that the man's letter deserved consideration. He pointed out that the state had no immigration bureau and hence no means to "bring about the betterment desired.


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The legislature ignored Dawson's recommendations with the exception of recreating the Bureau of Immigration. State laws had the effect of encouraging the evil practice and in some cases official connivance effected a condition of peonage. The first prosecutions were geared primarily toward those who held blacks in peonage in the South.

Cases involving immigrants occurred more frequently after Allegations of peonage in West Virginia, on the other hand, had almost always involved immigrants. Allegations made in and claimed that Bohemians in the first instance, and Italians in the second, were being held against their will. The incident involving Italians was investigated more thoroughly than these, but still failed to result in state or federal indictments or prosecution of any peonage cases.

State and local authorities did not take positive action against peonage again until The written statements of Governor Dawson, coal operators, and editorials in the local papers shed some light on the continued failure to protect workers brought into the state. The writings show a definite ethnic bias against immigrants from eastern and southern Europe. Writers frequently lamented the "poor class" of workers recruited from the "slums and dives" of New York and blamed them for the labor problems encountered by railroad, lumber, and coal companies. Paul [the West Virginia Chief Mine Inspector] thinks that the final solving of the impending problem will be effected through the fact that these people will locate in West Virginia, and by spending the money they earn here add to the development of the State and make the future of its citizenship secure.

Unlike the situation in when Speranza visited West Virginia, the United States Attorney General's Office in was better prepared to handle peonage cases. Northcott asked that Dan Cunningham and one other detective be assigned to investigate the allegations. The attorney general agreed and permission was given for Cunningham and a treasury agent to join the case.

The fact that Northcott asked for another investigation is interesting and his reasons are not revealed in his letters to the attorney general. The documents that Cunningham and Smith provided to Governor Dawson were available by January 9, Northcott had to have been aware of the earlier investigation, even though it was instigated by the state. It is possible he believed the facts, as unearthed by the initial investigation, were insufficient to obtain a conviction. Following the second investigation, Elliott Northcott began preparation of his case for presentation to the grand jury.

Russell be present when allegations that the peonage statutes had been violated were brought before the grand jury and at the trial, if indictments were returned. Northcott informed Russell of his difficulty in returning witnesses to West Virginia from New York and New Jersey because they lacked money for train fare.

His request for funds to pay the train fare for the witnesses received quick approval from the attorney general. Charles Russell, a West Virginia native, had experience fighting peonage in Florida, Georgia, and other southern states. He became a deputy attorney general in and, in , was appointed to head Justice Department efforts to fight peonage.

According to a report in the Charleston Gazette , Russell had "wide fame as a prosecutor of peonage cases, and his fearless handling of this sort of criminal proceedings in the southern states is only a matter of recent date. Elliott Northcott asked that Russell assist in presenting the evidence in the case to the grand jury.

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It could be that, since he had no experience in peonage cases, he considered Russell capable of doing a better job. A conflict of interest may have also affected Northcott's enthusiasm for prosecuting the case. Presiding trial Judge Benjamin F. Keller, of the Southern District of West Virginia, made public his business interests in the Ritter Lumber Company and requested removal from the case. With this knowledge, Charles Russell also requested the attorney general to replace Keller. While Keller's conflict of interest is obvious, there were more subtle conflicts which were not as apparent.

Many of the officers of the federal court, political figures, state officials, the federal marshals and those accused of peonage had close personal, political and economic ties. The links between these individuals have been investigated by John A. Williams in his monograph West Virginia and the Captains of Industry.

Williams points out that both Keller and Dayton owed their positions to the influence of senators Stephen B. Elkins and Nathan B. Scott, leaders of the Republican party in West Virginia. Elliott Northcott and Dan Cunningham also obtained their jobs through Republican patronage and in later years Northcott was chairman of the State Republican Committee. Williams claims that these associations gave great power to those who had a vested interest in the outcome of litigation in the federal courts.

There are numerous examples of the ties between industry and the federal courts. Assistant District Attorney H. Rummell, a Republican appointee, represented coal interests while serving as Northcott's deputy. In addition, most of the individuals were Masons and some were Shriners.


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Because this membership was usually mentioned in biographical data of the early s, it indicates how much importance the members and the public gave to this type of association. Finally, most of the principals in this peonage case and others were linked through membership in the Methodist, Episcopal and Presbyterian churches. Potential influence by the defendants notwithstanding, the grand jury took little time to return indictments against the Ritter and Raleigh lumber companies, the Thacker Coal and Coke Company in Mingo County, and several of their employees on charges of peonage.

The trial date was set for July 10, The connection between the Ritter and Raleigh lumber companies is clear since Ritter bought the latter in January It is not clear if any connection existed between the Ritter and Thacker operations and the concurrent indictments may be a coincidence since the Thacker company was not tried until the November term of court. The Ritter and Raleigh lumber companies' trials officially began on July The agreement further stipulated that Judge Dayton would hear testimony to determine the fine on the guilty plea.

William M.

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Ritter was called as a defense witness and questioned by his counsel, Taylor Vinson. Under the tutelage of Vinson, Ritter praised his superintendents and managers and discounted the stories of mistreatment of the laborers working for those supervisors. Ritter was then questioned as to the reason for the guilty plea. Will you state to the Court why you were willing that your company as such should put that plea in? Following this examination, Ritter was questioned by Judge Dayton concerning the number of employees the company had in the state and the extent of its business interests.

Ritter informed him that the company employed from twelve- to fourteen-hundred people in West Virginia and at one plant, Maben, could process over eighteen million board feet of lumber per year. On cross-examination, Russell tried to obtain more information on the extent of the company's business in the state and its capitalization. Vinson objected and the judge disallowed the questions. Apparently, Russell was trying to shed some light on the business connections of the Ritter Company and was rebuffed.

Vinson was willing to provide the judge with the information but did not want it made public. Judge Dayton considered the matter irrelevant and after hearing from a few more witnesses, abruptly ended the trial stating he had heard enough from both sides and saw no reason to continue. The fines and punishment meted out by Judge Dayton illustrate the basis for his decision in this case and in those he would decide against unions and union men in the future.

Dayton first noted his belief that guilty parties ought to be punished and that the punishment be a deterrent to others contemplating similar crimes. However, he said that to err is human and "many times offences [ sic ] are committed, not through improper motives, not with malice and with evil hearts, but through mistaken ideas and conceptions of their rights and of what the law is. He "absolutely and unqualifiedly" approved the action by the government's attorneys to allow a plea of guilty to be entered in the case.

Dayton was particularly pleased with the plea because it allowed him to dismiss the charges of "conspiracy" against the defendants, including the lumber companies, because he believed there was insufficient evidence to convict on that charge. I do not believe that there was any preconceived, preconcerted plan or conspiracy on the part of the officers to get possession of these men and compel them to work there for a debt which they advanced.

There are two or three reasons why this is so. In the first place, the transaction was of no long standing; and it is inconceivable, looking these men in the face -- looking Ritter in the face -- looking Wolfe in the face -- it is inconceivable to me I say, to believe that these men, for the paltry sums of money involved, went to New York and got these men, paid their transportation and got them into their debt, for the purpose of violating the law. Dayton went on to say that the indictments could be reduced from twenty to ten because several of them seemed to be duplications.

In light of the penalty per conviction, this interpretation was quite beneficial to the Ritter Company.

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The judge also excused the seriousness of the crime, noting that probably not one person in ten thousand was aware of the peonage statute which was passed in and for which there had never been a prosecution in West Virginia. The judge conveniently ignored the nationwide publicity the trials in the South had attracted and the fact that these matters were common knowledge in West Virginia, as well as the publicity surrounding the peonage allegations in Her details were — 5, gross tons, length There was accommodation for cabin class, intermediate and 1,rd class passengers.

Launched on 12th March , she commenced her maiden voyage from Liverpool to Quebec and Montreal on 8th may On 28th Dec. In August she sustained slight damage in collision with an iceberg in fog near Belle Isle. In November her commander and a quartermaster were swept overboard and drowned. In she was rebuilt with triple expansion engines and only one funnel, and in November she stranded at the entrance to Lough Foyle and was towed to Liverpool. On 29th March she sailed from Liverpool for Naples and on 10th April commenced her first Naples — Boston sailing.

She commenced her last Boston — Genoa — Naples voyage on 21st Nov. Her accommodation was altered to carry nd and 1,rd class passengers and she commenced her final voyage on 27th March when she left Portland for Liverpool. In she was scrapped. With an OverDrive account, you can save your favorite libraries for at-a-glance information about availability.

America's history of attacking on Italian immigrants

Find out more about OverDrive accounts. Each volume in the Immigration to America series presents information from the original ship manifest schedules, or passenger lists, filed by all vessels entering U. The passenger lists make it possible to trace the movement of immigrants to the U.

Volumes are arranged in chronological order by each ship's date of arrival. Every passenger list includes first and last name of each passenger, their age, sex, occupation, nationality, residence, and destination. Analysis of this information enables the researcher to identify not only immigrants, but also aliens returning to the U. Each volume also features a complete name index, making it easy to find a particular individual or family name.

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