Wakamatsu — really first?

Is the Wakamatsu colony really the first Japanese settlement in America? This question still nags some diehard skeptics, although the Gold Hill site was recognized in 1966 by the state of California as a historical landmark. Years of search by the Japanese American Citizens League for authentic data had preceded the official recognition. A key piece of evidence was the full on-site inspection report on the colony’s activities by the U. S. Surveyor General carried in the pages of The Sacramento Union on Dec. 31, 1870.

A new riddle revived the unquieted skepticism not long ago when Sacramento Union reporters working on the Wakamatsu story found an editorial in the June 17,1969 edition of The San Francisco Chronicle. In a veiled slap at an earlier Union report of the arrival of an advance Japanese contingent, The Chronicle admonished: “It is a mistake to suppose the colony recently introduced by Mr. Schnell is the first of these people settled among us.”

“Upward of a year ago,” the paper contended, “Mr. Van Reed, father of the United Sates Consul at Jedo (Edo?), an old resident of this city, brought a party of them to the Labor Exchange to obtain employment.”

Unable to obtain work, it said, the party leased a farm in Alameda and hired a few white men to instruct them in learning trades.

The Alameda settlers, the report went on, were “gentlemen of refinement and influence in their own country, from which they were compelled to flee, almost destitute, because their travel in civilized countries has made them too liberal in the ideas to suit the Mikado.”

The Chronicle concluded, “The result of the (Alameda) experiment has been that they have supported themselves, paid for everything they purchased and made a handsome profit on the investment. It was the result of this experiment that induced the Schnell colony to come here.”

A search for any contemporary evidence has yielded none but tantalizing hearsay. For years, Yasuo Abiko, English editor of the Nichi Bei in San Francisco, has been looking out for any authentic clues to the Alameda colony. So far, he has found none. Abiko remains intrigued: “In the absence of historical corroboration, it is still quite possible such a thing could have happened.”

Few can, indeed, dismiss the Alameda mystery as a byproduct of journalistic rivalry. Time may tell.

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