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ponedjeljak, 16. kolovoza 2010.

Samuel Jerisich, Croatians, Gig Harbour And The West Coast

Originally I was going to do a piece about the Croatian connection, as well as mine, with the small Northern Ontario town of Larder Lake. I spent 2 whole summers there when I was 15 and 16. My dad had an uncle who still lived there with his family, and his married daughters who lived in nearby Kirkland Lake. His name was George (Jura) and he had  his name on commemorative displays even at the local Recreation Hall for having worked at the local mines for many years. My dad spent a few years in Larder Lake when he first came to Canada, working in the local mines with George  before moving on to Hamilton. Larder Lake was a small town, with deadly cold snow filled winters, but in the hot summer, for a city kid like me, it was bliss. (It wasn't  Croatia like a few summer previous, but still better than Steeltown)...Swimming, Fishing, Boating, Cliff-diving, all that kinds of fun stuff and other fun stuff, and Georges wife was one hell of a cook when it came to Croatian food.  I experienced quite a few firsts there, made tons of friends from the locals, and others who spent summers there. (Almost half the town was of French descent, being close to the Quebec border and all). and we had lots of fun. I actually hated going back to the city come September.   Anyway, this piece is similar in it's theme, but with a lot less work for my part. The material was already out there. Kind of interesting if your'e of Croatian background, especially to me, because it reminds me of Larder Lake in a lot ways, and because George (Jura) looked alot like Sam (Šimun).


By Zelimir B. Juricic

Gig Harbour is a small, picturesque maritime community. Nestled in the heart of Puget Sound in the state of Washington, near the major urban centers of Tacoma, Seattle, Bremerton and Olympia, it commands a breathtaking view of the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges. For much of its century-old history, fishing and boat building have been the lifeblood of this closely-knit coastal community. At one time Gig Harbour had one of the largest commercial fishing fleets in the Pacific Northwest. 'Some seventy vessels, and ferries, and fishing boats up to seventytwo-feet-long, had been built here. Still today, the commercial and tourist pulse of Gig Harbour is most intensely felt'down by the water', along the Harbourview Drive. 'That's the place to be if you truly want to experience this place,' proudly observed a local old-timer. 'Just look around you, there is history, everywhere. Overlooking the water and the docks, are the string of houses belonging to some of the oldest Gig Harbour families. In days past, the town's fishermen readied their boats for the annual trip north to fish, and annual ceremonies such as the Blessing of the Fleet, were regularly held here. At the foot of Rosedale Street, in this historic part of town, is a small park - the Jerisich park. It had been named after a Croatian fisherman Sam Jerisich who, along with his family and two fishing partners, rowed down from Vancouver Island some hundred and thirty years ago, to become the first white settlers in Gig Harbour. In 1976, city fathers placed a cairn at the entrance to the park. The text, carved in stone, reads:

In 1867 Samuel Jerisich and two Vancouver Island fishing partners arrived in Gig Harbour. They had rowed a flat-bottomed skiff from British Columbia and like men of the Wilkes expedition 26 years before, found shelter from the storm in the Harbour. The bay was to their liking and thus they became the first white settlers. Farragut and Goldsmith later moved on, but Samuel, his wife Anna, and family remained. It was not until 1883 that other pioneers came. The family lived in a cabin on the east side before building on the west side near the bay entrance. Jerisich, a fisherman, also rendered dog fish oil and smoked fish, rowing his products to Steilacoom or Olympia to sell. The fishing industry begun by this Kotor native, continues to today through his and the descendants of other pioneers who settled in Gig Harbour.

Samuel Jerisich (Šimun Jerisić)

Who was Samuel Jerisich? And how did he come to settle in Gig Harbour, thousands of miles away from his native Kotor in the Gulf of Boka? What prompted this young Croatian to leave his family and friends in the'old country'and begin a new life on the distant shores of the Pacific? A worsening economic and political situation in the Balkans in the middle of the nineteenth century, induced many a young Dalmatian to seek a better life for themselves and their families in distant parts of the world.

With the invention of the steamship in 1807, which soon began to dominate the sea, sailing vessels were made obsolete. Sails continued in use however, as auxiliary power in the fleets of all the nations for several years, but the 'wood and sail'vessels could hardly compete with those made of I steel and driven by motors.'The latter were not only cheaper, but more dependable, for they no longer had to rely on wind as the sole source of power. Revolutionary advancements made in shipbuilding had a profound impact on the Croatian sailing trade. Formerly rich captains of Kotoran windjammers came to know poverty, and many sailors found themselves without work. The approaching twentieth century found the Kotor Bay harbours neglected and abandoned. 'On the shores of the Boka bay one sees dead towns and dream-like streets fined with deserted villas now all out of proportion to the needs of the trade.

The economic woes of Dalmatia were amplified by natural calamities, the effects of which would seriously alter a demographic pattern in the region. The grape phylloxera ravaged Dalmatian vineyards, depriving people of their chief source of income. The situation was made worse by the Italian wine merchants lowering the prices of their wine, causing the Dalmatian wine market to plummet. The long queues of unemployed Dalmatians were made longer by the addition of people employed in the rapidly 'declining wine industry. Moreover, the lack of drinkable water - an age old problem in the karst regions of the country - and the ever smaller fish catch in the Adriatic - due chiefly to the failure of the fishermen to follow an effective policy of conservation - augmented the suffering of the food distressed population. Faced with malnutrition, and in extreme cases death from starvation, people began to leave the impoverished region. Those accustomed to working the land, migrated into the interior of the country, where the soil was more fertile and agriculturally promising. Leaving their aged parents, wives and children behind, many a young and more adventurous men took to the sea. The most popular destination points were North and South America, Africa and Australia. Šimun Jerisić, a young Kotoran sailor, set his eyes on the gold-rich state of California.

Jerisic: was born in 1833, in Kotor. He was christened Šimun. Simun - Sime and Simat for short - was a popular folk name given to male offsprings by peasants in Lika, the part of Croatia on the Karst, the bare, rugged limestone behind the Dalmatian coast. It is possible that the child's parents were of peasant stock, and from Lika (in Croatian, Licani). When condition of their lot began to deteriorate due to heavy taxes, unjust land allocation, and government regulation prohibiting goat raising for the sake of preserving rapidly diminishing forests, which resulted in the virtual disappearance of milk and milk products from the peasants' table, many a Lican descended the Velebit mountains to Dalmatia in search of work. The Jerisic’s chose Kotor, and it was there where their son Simun was born. Throughout the empire, the Licani were known as tough, strong, and courageous people. They distinguished themselves as soldiers and frontiersmen on the former Military Frontier in the Balkans and the battlefields of Europe. But, as was characteristic of many a young man in the region, the Licani had one principal failing - most were illiterate. According to the census of 1900, nearly seventy percent of men, between thirty and fifty years of age were illiterate, and nearly ninety per cent of the women of the same age. Even among young men between ten and twenty, over half could neither read nor write. Simun Jerisic was illiterate. Education notwithstanding, in the eyes of his descendants, Sam was 'one helluva strong, tough, guy - a hero. He had no formal education because his parents could probably not afford to give him one. But, one must respect a man. He sure had guts. It's amazing how a man who could neither read nor write, and with practically no money in his pockets, could come all this way! Did you know that he rounded the Horn several times as a sailor. Can you imagine achieving something like this in those days?

A brief history of Gig Harbour mentioning Samuel Jerisich and the role of the early Croatian immigrants.

When the sordid cry of Gold! Gold! Gold! come echoing out of California in 1848, interest in California's gold quickly spread beyond its borders and by the end of that year reached a fever pitch. A long list of ships were available in New York to carry people to the land of wealth. In the last month of that year and early in the following, eleven thousand people sailed from New York and Baltimore in one hundred and seventy-eight vessels, and the numbers grew at a crazy rate. Jobs were a plenty for men to crew the ever increasing number of ships. Šimun Jerisić readily found work on one of them. It was an Austrian ship, which was plying the waters from Europe via New York, to California.

Our great-grandfather sailed from Dalmatia on a sailing ship - which would be a freighter of sort at that time - to New York, then round the Horn. It was a long haul from New York. He sailed this same route, round the Cape and into California, the second time a long haul, a couple of three years. There was no Panama Canal then, so the trip around the Horn was something else, long way, six months or so, and you had to do it during summer. The second trip he made he stayed in San Francisco, since his ship was only San Francisco bound. This was in 1854. 1 don't know how long he stayed in San Francisco and what he did there, before moving up the coast on another ship.

The land his compatriots called 'Zlatna Kalifornia', Golden California was not totally alien to the newly-arrived, twenty-oneyear old Kotoran sailor. The climate, the surrounding mountains and the sea, resembled that of his native Dalmatia. The olive and fig trees, oranges and cypresses, grew in profusion upon the land. And the several thousands of his countrymen residing in and around the city, could help him during a critical period of adjustment from the old world to the new. The San Francisco Dalmatians were found in a variety of businesses ranging from coffee saloons, restaurants, to fruit and vegetable vendors, and wine merchants. Dalmatian pilots, captains, and mates, were known for their mastery of the treacherous waters of the San Francisco Bay and Delta waterways. Captain John Silovich, a master mariner from Dalmatia, was renown for guiding ships up and down the California coast and into the Golden Gate. And in the Bay itself, Dalmatians - many owned their own boats - had a reputation of being superb fishermen Further afield, Dalmatians were found working on a number of coastal steamers running to and from San Francisco to more remote regions of the Pacific coast, as far north as Canada and Alaska. Every day the harbour was the scene of coal and lumber schooners arriving from the northern coast, scows discharging coal or hay, and transpacific steamers landing passengers and freight. 'We don't known what our great-grandfather did during his four-year stay in San Francisco. What we do know, however, is that during his stay in the city he changed his name from Croatian Simun Jerisic" to the more American sounding Sam Jerisich, and that he left San Francisco and moved up the coast, to Canada, when the gold was discovered there, in the 1860's.

Samuel Jerisich and family.

In 1858, throughout California, the word spread like a brush-fire of the possible gold rush, this one to the north, on the Fraser River, in British Columbia, and that men would be needed to crew boats expected to take gold-diggers to new Eldorados there. Gold was everywhere plentiful, more plentiful the miners think, than formerly in California; strange someone should not have found it before. In March and June, 1858, ocean steamers from California, crowded with gold-seekers - carrying perhaps three times the complement allowed by law - arrived every two or three days at Victoria. At the lowest computation, at the beginning of the rush, some eighteen thousand people from California, Oregon, and Washington, arrived in Victoria. Among the many boats which entered Victoria harbour in 1861, the British Colonist recorded the arrival of a brig, the Ivich, from San Francisco. Captained by one Vacorsovich, possibly a Croat, the vessel plied the waters between San Francisco and Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island, hauling coal. The 260 ton Ivich was registered at the port of Trieste, and carried a crew of nine men. 'It was on one such cargo vessel from San Francisco that my great-grandfather Sime came to Nanaimo. As far as I know, he jumped the ship there to become a fisherman in Canada.

In the late 1860's, Nanaimo, seventy miles north of Victoria, was still just a pocket of settlement in a surrounding wilderness. The great world came to it in the form of sailing ships from all comers of the world, to pick up cargoes of coal and/or sandstone from the near-by Newcastle Island quarry. The San Francisco Mint, for example, was built from stone from the Newcastle quarry. Coal, however, was Nanaimo's main export. Between 1852 and 1853 alone, 2,000 tons of coal are reported to have been shipped out, chiefly to San Francisco. By 1865, over thirty thousand tons were exported to California. There was a handsome profit to be made in the early days of coal-mining on the Island; the price of coal at Nanaimo was eleven dollars, and sold at San Francisco for twenty-eight dollars a ton. Nanaimo coal mines offered employment to several hundred men, mostly white, Chinese and some Indians. Besides coal, lumber and fishing began to make inroads into the Island's economy. The sea, channels, bays, rivers, and coastal waters of Vancouver Island teemed with fish and marine life in an endless variety; halibut, smelt, haddock and whiting, herring and herring spawn, shrimps and prawns, trout, rock and link cod, oysters, dog fish, seals and sea lions. A person with good knowledge of and respect for the sea could make a decent living extracting these sea bounties from the Island waters. Sam Jerisich wasted no time in entering the lucrative fishing business. He bought himself a boat and took in two fishing partners. The decision to become a fisherman was probably the most important decision he had made in his life. When my great-grandfather came to Nanaimo, aboard a cargo vessel out of San Francisco, he decided to go into fishing. That decision would change his life forever. He would remain a fisherman for the rest of his life. He would fish up and down the coast of Vancouver Island, and the whole Puget Sound. He fished for salmon and was harvesting dogfish for oil. He was making a good living. While in British Columbia, he married and started a family. Soon after, he rowed his boat from Vancouver Island down here, to Gig Harbour, where he settled with his family for good. His first home, a cabin, was right here across the Bay, above the sand spit; my home looks right at it.

Gig Harbor, Washington, USA is proud of it's Croatian heritage. Many of the village's earliest settlers were courageous Croatian fishing families. The Vela Luka Croatian Dance Ensemble from Anacortes is always a favorite at the Maritime Gig, with their exotic, east European sounding folk music, colorful costumes and EXTREME dance techniques, your last name doesn't have to end with "-ich" to sense a stirring in your soul. Visit their website at

The Vela Luka Croatian Dance Ensemble, founded in 1975, perform music and dance of Croatia and the United States. Anacortes, home of the Vela Luka Croatian Dance Ensemble, is located on Fidalgo Island in the Northwest corner of Washington State. One-quarter of the residents of this unique community are descended from immigrants from another fishing village: Vela Luka, on the Island of Korčula, Croatia. The performers in Vela Luka represent four generations of Croatian Americans who have introduced their culture's extraordinary choreography, music, and instruments to people all over the world. Forming a cross-cultural link between the Puget Sound region and Croatia, the company strives to preserve Croatian folkways and culture for generations to come.

Photos of Vela Luka Dancers courtesy of

Official website:

The Ruže Dalmatinke Orchestra, a Seattle-based, professional ensemble, specializes in the music of Croatia and Bosnia. The group was founded by two sisters, Binki Franulović Spahi and Alma Franulović Plancich, who immigrated with their family to the United States after World War II from their native town of Vela Luka on the island of Korčula, Dalmatia in Croatia. The sisters are backed by expert musicians who are soloists in their own right.

Jerisich's first boat was a long, flat-bottomed skiff, built of well-seasoned cedar boards and powered by sixteen-foot oars. Until his death, in 1905, at age seventy two, the Kotoran sailor turned fisher never used motors in his boats. He powered them in the old fashioned way - by pure 'muscle' power. He and his two fishing partners Petar Zlatarich (In English, Peter Goldsmith), a Croatian, and John Farragut (also known as John Farrague),  took turns at rowing and pulling in the catch. The nets were drawn in by 'muscle power', too. The trio fished either from the harbour shore, rowing out to corral the fish and returning to the beach to draw the nets in by hand, or by trolling with hook-and-line, a method of fishing which was practiced by native fishermen in virtually all areas of the North Pacific coast. As they ven tured out in search of salmon, the Slavic-Portuguese trio frequented all the known fishing grounds in the Georgia and Juan de Fuca Straits, and the Puget Sound. The delta region of the lower Fraser Valley was most popular, especially at spawning time, because the valued Chinook (spring), sockeye (red) and coho (silver) salmon weremost abundant there. The fish were plentiful, and surplus could be easily preserved to remain edible for considerable periods. Jerisich and his fishing partners traveled up and down the coast of Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula, selling fish and dogfish oil. It is known that they often traded with the Indians and were frequent guests at their ceremonies and potlatches. In the Gulf Islands, on Kuper Island, Jerisic met his future wife, Anna (dimin. Annie). She was a full blooded Indian from Kuper Island. Due to lack of ecclesiastical, civil, or native evidence, the exact date of marriage between Anna Willesh Henemat and Samuel Jerisich, can only be estimated. It had probably taken place on Kuper Island in late 1866 or early 1867, that'is before the birth of their first child, Caroline, in Victoria, on May 12,1867. Less than six months following the birth of their daughter, the Jerisichs abruptly left Kuper Island for Gig Harbour, in the Washington Territory. They settled on the west side of the bay in a one room split-cedar board cabin. Life in their new surroundings was hard and primitive. Sam continued to fish, selling his catch in Steilacoom, Olympia and the Hudson's Bay Store at Fort Nisqually. In time, this enterprising Kotoran expanded his business by building a dock and rendering plant to extract dogfish oil in Gig Harbour, as well as a smokehouse and a warehouse for the storage of smoked and salted fish. Anna was just as enterprising.

Putting her native skills to use, she made fishing nets for her husband, knitted, sawed and split wood, picked and dried berries, and even made her own candies. She maintained good and peaceful relations with all her neighbors; a small tribe of Puyallup-NisquaIly Indians, who lived at the head of the bay, in a village complete with a long house, and the two new Slavic arrivals, John Novak and Joe Dorotich, who with their Indian wives settled in the nearby Millville, now a part of Gig Harbour. The Jerisichs prospered and, in time, the family grew. In the Tenth Census of the United States for the Washington Territory, 1880, Samuel and Annie Jeresich are listed as having five children, three boys (John, Michael, and Samuel Jr.), and two girls (Caroline and Melissa). In the next decade, three more children, all girls (Catherine, Julia and Mary), were added to the pioneering Jerisich family. Samuel Jerisich, formerly known as Sime Jerisic, died in Gig Harbour, in 1905. He was seventy-two years old. His wife, Anna, died in 1926, at the age of eighty-two. Both are buried in the Artondale Cemetery, in the city which they helped found. On November 11, 1976, the citizens of Gig Harbour dedicated a park - Jerisich Park - in perpetual memory to one of their founding fathers. In the memory of his many descendants and friends, Sam Jerisich will forever be remembered as an example of an honest breed of tough Dalmatian fisherman, a unique yet typical example of those whose hard work and perseverance built the fishing communities all along the Pacific Northwest coast of Canada and the United States. 'What our greatgrandfather did was quite an accomplishment. Hard work, deep respect for the sea and its bounties, helping his fellow men, love and respect for all those who came in contact with him, these were his trademarks. We're all extremely proud of him. And he did all this without, practically, a dollar in his pocket and the ability to even sign his own name. But he instilled a love for learning in all his children. This is what kind a man he was. He left his mark on all of us.

 Gig Harbor today.

Dr. Zelimir B. Juricic is a Professor Emirutes in the Department of Slavonic Studies, University of Victoria, Victoria, B.C., Canada. This is an excerpt from his forthcoming book Croatians on Vancouver Island: Echoes from the past.

Dear Adam; Nice to hear from you again -- its been a long time since
we met (In Zagreb, I believe?) and corresponded. I've retired three
years ago, but am still fairly active, academically and physically.
My manuscript Croatians on Vancouver Island; Echoes from the past, is
currently being serialized in the CFU's Zajednicar. A short excerpt
-- on the miners on Vancouver Island -- appeared, I'm told -- I am
still to receive the paper !!- in the latest issue of the "Z". Have
you read it? And, of course, I'm hoping to find a publisher for my
book, preferably in the US. A Zagreb publisher is interested in the
Croatian version of it.

Re your request, go ahead and use my Sam Jerisich article in your
study. Hopefully, it should soon appear in the "Z, " in its entirety.
Hope life is treating you well and you're as active as ever, srdacan
pozdrav vama i vasima, Zelimir

Dr. Zelimir B. Juricic
Professor Emeritus
University of Victoria
Victoria, B.C., Canada

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