Sardar Nand Singh Johl was one of the first Punjabi pioneers to arrive in the Yuba City area in 1906. He is historically significant in the history of South Asian Americans for a number of reasons. First, he was among the earliest pioneers to settle in northern California. Second, he was also one of the early rice farmers in California who helped introduce rice cultivation to the northern Sacramento Valley. Third, Mr Johl also played a significant role in the history of South Asian religions in the US. Finally, in the postwar period, he was one of the first Punjabi Americans to purchase land in Sutter County after the war in 1946.
Held the First Congregational Prayer of the Sikh Scripture in the United States in 1911
Before the first Sikh Temple was established in the United States in Stockton in 1912, Sikh farmers Jawala Singh and Wasakha Singh would host congregational prayers reading the Sikh scriptures (Sri Guru Granth Sahib) at their farm in Holtville near Stockton. The reading of the scriptures also rotated among the farms of other Sikh farmers in the San Joaquin area. According to an article by Dr. Onkar Bindra, Mr Nand Singh Johl held the first Sikh congregational prayer on November 1, 1911 on his camp near Stockton.
Led the Dedication Ceremony for the Stockton Sikh Temple in 1915
According to an article published in the Stockton Record in 1915 about the dedication of the Stockton Sikh Temple, Mr Nand Singh Johl was the chairman who presided over the historic dedication ceremony. He gave a speech in which he drew parallels between the Sikh scriptures and the teachings of the Puritans. At this ceremony, Mr Johl called attention to the importance of the free communal kitchen in the Sikh temple, saying, “We do not permit our people to become charges on public charity. If a man is hungry and out of funds, we feed him… The unfortunate hungry American will be as welcome as our own people.”
Family in Yuba City
When he left India, he left behind his wife, Partap Kaur, and a two-year old son. The Johl family originally comes from the Jandiala village in the district of Jullundur, Punjab. Today hundreds of his descendants and other relations who share the surname Johl call the Yuba City area home. According to the Sutter County deed records, Mr Nand Johl was among the first Punjabi Americans to purchase land in this area after World War II. A land deed shows that he purchased land on September 16, 1946 from Mr. Ernest Leyva. Over the next decade, he continued to purchase additional farmland. Together, the Johl family owns more than 1,000 acres of farmland producing peaches, prunes, walnuts, almonds and pomegranates in the Yuba City area.
Bindra, Onkar Singh. “Baba Jawala Singh and Baba Wasakha Singh, Founding Fathers” in Sikh-American Establishments & Their Journeys, 1912-2012, Pacific Coast Khalsa Diwan Society, 40-42.
Interview with Mr. Kulwant Johl by Nicole Ranganath, April 21, 2016, Yuba City, CA.
Punjabi American Heritage Society, Becoming American: The Story of Pioneer Punjabis and South Asians Donor Book (Yuba City, CA, 2012), 35.
Sikh-American Establishments and Their Journeys, 1912-2012 (Stockton: Gurdwara Sahib, 2012), 28-30.
Sutter County Records