Historians and community groups are continuing to work to preserve the site of the first Japanese colony in the United States near Gold Hill Ranch outside Coloma, California.

Cecilia Rasmussen has been covering the story for the Los Angeles Times: In an article appearing in the Sunday, June 10 edition of the LAT, Rasmussen writes:

“The story of the Japanese in California begins with Dutchman John Henry Schnell, a weapons trader and merchant who married a Japanese woman named Jou, possibly a member of Katamori Matsudaira’s clan, a samurai family of northern Japan. Schnell trained warriors to use firearms and fought with Matsudaira on the losing side in the Boshin War, which ended in 1868.

In a hurry to get out of the country and with Matsudaira’s financial backing, Schnell organized about two dozen colonists from Aizuwakamatsu to leave on three ships over a period of a year. They intended to hunt for gold and to set up a farm to produce tea and silk in California.”

But the colony flounders due to miscalculations, disease and bad weather. A focus of those hoping to preserve the legacy of the Wakamatsu Colony near Gold Hill is a solitary gravestone marking the final resting place of one of the original colonists, a teenage girl named Okei Ito.

 

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