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BL Longform: 19th-century Gilmore colony collapses on farm


Only former slaves and laborers move to Hollister to start their lives anew.

BL Longform articles are designed for a quieter reading experience. You can print BenitoLink articles by clicking on the printer icon at the top of each article. It is the latest in a three-part series on the Rise and Fall of Gilmore Settlement. Read the first article here and the second article here.

Daniel Gilmore came in the Cienega Valley from Arkansas in 1888. He bought Blackberry Farm, filling it with families his father held as slaves, promising them a better life than they had as sharecroppers at home, hoping to have the same success as the neighboring vineyards and orchards.

By 1895, his funds had dried up after having achieved little success. Gilmore left for Santa Cruz and was never able to recover financially, with costly lawsuits that followed him for the rest of his life. He died in Los Angeles on June 2, 1912, leaving his sons only $ 100 each, in present currency of about $ 2,500 each.

Gilmore’s loss as an employer left workers in the colony homeless and homeless. A few of them, including Robert and Mary Washington and Charlie Parker, stayed in the Cienega Valley to work in the fields. (Parker died in 1892 and the Washington moved to the Bay Area in 1905). The others traveled to the town of Hollister to live there.

A search of the appraiser’s records from 1895 to 1900 at the Historical Society of San Benito does not show any of the Gilmores with property in town. Available census records show they rented homes in an area five blocks from South Street, stretching to East Street.

The census records also give us some indication of the types of jobs available to colony members. Few opportunities were available to them, and most of them took on agricultural work and unskilled labor jobs.

Eliza Dickson was a cook. Joseph Parks was a marksman. John West was a teamster. Brothers Charlie and John McCloud have become black boots, or shoe shiners. Charlie’s wife, Nora, and Scott Gilmore’s wife, Drucilla, did the laundry. Lewis Cole was a day laborer. Scott’s son Cicero started out as a day laborer and eventually turned black. Another son, Norman, became an auto mechanic.

Beyond census records and assessors, there is not much public information outside of the occasional obituary.

“They lived quietly and modestly,” said Antonia Martin, Scott’s granddaughter and Hollister resident. “Back then, when you were black and you lived in an entire city of whites, you would stay silent and get out of trouble. I can’t say there was anything remarkable about them except that they survived.

The best record we have for any of the former slaves is that of Scott and his family. Scott was the first of the colony members invited to Hollister by Daniel. His letters and files have been kept by his family and are currently in the possession of Martin, who has also conducted extensive research into his family history.

Scott Gilmore was a lumberjack and gardener. He was offered minimal opportunities for advancement. He was self-taught but very literate and had several active correspondences, notably with LH Senter, a friend from Arkansas. He was active in his church and responsible for managing the weekly collections.

He helped organize the San Benito County section of the California African American Leagues and, as president, attended the African American League Congress in Los Angeles in 1896.

That same year, he was contacted by the Republican National Committee, which asked for his help in reaching “voters of color” in the upcoming presidential campaign that pitted William McKinley against William Jennings Bryan.

Scott and his wife Drucilla had 11 children, six of whom survived to adulthood: Cicero and Norman came with them from Arkansas; Lena, Gertrude, Louis and Herman were born in Hollister. Lena became the first black person born in the county on October 22, 1889.

Scott and Drucilla were obviously proud of Lena. She was an outstanding student and they kept all of her school reports as well as the certificate she obtained when she was admitted to San Benito High School on April 1, 1905.

“All of their children went to school,” Martin said. “They went as long as they could, which for some was at least until eighth grade. They did well in school, and school district records show that they were generally the top of the class, sometimes the top of the county.

Some of the children are said to have attended Vineyard School on Cienega Road before moving to Hollister in 1895. Some accounts credit Daniel with building the school that year, but county records indicate that the school was founded in 1891 and built on the Carl Palmtag. property, not Daniel’s.

On February 13, 1901, Scott died of injuries sustained when his horse cart tipped over. By this time, the Hollister colony was slowly crumbling as the second generation of Gilmores moved away, in search of greater opportunities.

“People move to where there is work,” Martin said. “They went to San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley. I have a lot of relatives in these cities.

Lena moved to Alameda, where, in 1909, she married Fred LaSelve, a Pullman porter from Oakland. They lived in Alameda with their two daughters, Hazel and Esther. LaSelve died on October 18, 1918, a victim of the flu epidemic. Lena returned to Hollister, where she gave birth to their son on June 21, 1919. She named him Fred, after her father.

While this third generation was being born, the last of the first generation died. Joseph Parks, one of the first members of the colony to arrive in Hollister, died in a house fire in 1921 at the age of 102. The 1930 obituary journal headline for Cora McCloud read: “The last member of the Hollister Negro Colony is dead.” The article mentioned that only a few descendants of the McCloud, Gilmore, Cole, Washington and Bruce families remained in Hollister, the others “having moved away to other towns to settle in new homes.”

Over 40 members of Gilmore Colony are buried in an area of ​​Odd Fellows Cemetery called Sherman’s Lot, at 600 Buena Vista Road in Hollister. Originally, the land was outside the cemetery fence. It has since been locked up, although its location in a remote corner of the grounds makes it separate from white burials.

Fred LaSalve spent long hours maintaining the plot and replacing worn headstones. He is buried there now, with military honors, along with World War I veteran Lewis Gilmore and World War II veteran Harold Cole.

Julia Cole was 105 when she came to Hollister from Arkansas at the behest of Daniel Gilmore. She died a year later and was buried at Blackberry Farm, to be reburied at Sherman’s Lot when Daniel lost the land.

Scott and Elizabeth are there, with their children Cicero, Lena, Lewis and Norman. Scott’s father, Civil War veteran Thomas, and his stepfather, Joseph, are buried on either side of Mary Parks, the woman the two men married.

This plot and stones are the only physical evidence that Gilmore Settlement ever existed, as history itself fades into memory.

“I have always been interested in this story,” said Antonia Martin. “There are small pockets of people who know it, but not so many. Has coming here made life better or just different? What happened here? How did it work? What was it? It’s a story worth trying to save.

Occupants of Sherman’s Lot
(compiled by Antonia Martin)

Rufus adams

Betty blackwell

Guillaume Brown

Edward Bruce

Eliza bruce

James bruce

Elena caines

Corrina Chaddick

Harold Cole

Julia cole

Laura Ann Cole

Lewis cole

Roxie cole

Warren cole

Howard cooper

Surrellda Cooper

Peter Jennins Cottrell

John dixon

Charles Gibson

Agnes Gilmore

Anna mae gilmore

Cicero Gilmore

Drucilla Gilmore

Lewis gilmore

Nora Gilmore

Normand Otto Gilmore

Ruth Angels Gilmore

Scott Gilmore

Thomas gilmore

Carroll Hamilton

Lena Gilmore Jennings

James jennings

Nora Jennings

Fred LaSelfe

Charles McCloud

John mccloud

Norah McCloud

Mary jane morris

Charles Parks

Ida Parks

Joseph Parks

Mary Gilmore Parks

Rose pyatt

Ella Silva

Martha Washington

Hazel Watkins

John west

Martha West

John west

Bessie williamson

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