French era Panama Canal Workers Database



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The book of reference:

150 illustrations
unfolding map
14 portraits
The Canal Adventure
in 194 color pages
Buy this book in Amazon US for shipping in the Americas  Buy this book in FNAC for shipping in the European Union  Buy it in Panama bookshops or contact the editor

Welcome to this research site

The French era of the Panama Canal construction covers 24 years, between 1880, when count Ferdinand de Lesseps lauched the Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interocéanique de Panama, and 1904, when the US government bought the Compagnie Nouvelle du canal de Panama. During this period, more that 40,000 people took part in the project, many of them were French, from the mainland or the French Antillas, but also Jamaicans, English, from the US, Spanish, Italians, Germans, and obvioulsy many Panamanians.

People from all over the world, sometimes just passing by but often answering the call for work and adventure, took the way towards the isthmus of Panama. It was by then quite dangerous a land, not only because of the wild animals dwelling in its jungles, but also for the occurence of tropical fevers epidemies, revolutions, and deadly landslides. How many of those workers died while building the ditch? Figures are discussed. The high range proposes the astromical estimation of 20,000 dead. It is often repeated but nonetheless very likely false. The low range comes from the calculations of the French companies, counting 6,000 deceased. The likely figure is probably between 7,000 and 10,000 people, and most of them did not die from yellow jack or malaria, but from belly diseases like dysenteria.

Among those workers you will maybe find your great-grandfather, or some character you are looking to trace 150 years later. This database is meant to help you find them. But you can also take a hike along the path of this canal that was not built, visiting villages that have disappeared under the waters of the Gatun Lake, such as Tabernilla, Culebra, Bohio-Soldado or Bas-Obispo. Who was working there? Doing what? When exactly? This database will allow you to find those answers.

For now, the database is still rudimentary, and most of the informations here come from notes taken in French. We will enrich it step by step, and also thanks to you. The objective is to allow registered users and the general public to post notes, questions, links and pictures. The original data contains 3,700 names. Some of them are uncomplete, other duplicated, and probably many contain typing errors.

The first available functions allow researching the database by name, working place or place of origin. For this, please use the forms on the left.

Thank you for your interest for this little known moment in the history of Panama

Marc de Banville, May, 1st, 2015

email : cv at canalvalley dot com
Twitter : @marcdebanville
-a web site built by canal valley, s.a. panamá-