Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Chinese On Lower Delmarva in 1900

Between 1850 and 1900 about 250,000 Chinese came to America.  Most arrived in California initially for the Gold Rush and they referred to going to America as going to Gold Mountain.   As the gold became harder to find they moved into the laying of track for the railroad and many service type jobs.  Because they would work cheap and did not shy away from jobs that were traditionally woman’s work; such as cooks, dishwashers, laundryman, servants etc  they at first were accepted, but as more arrived and jobs for white men became limited, prejudice and discrimination drove them East looking for employment.    There were bound to be a few that would end up on Lower Delmarva.  The few that were here in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s were almost all owner and operators of Chinese laundries.  Unlike the Chinese immigrants who lived in ethnic enclaves in the large cities, the Chinese on Lower Delmarva were isolated from the Chinese communities in Wilmington, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC.  They would eke out a living working 18 hour days, 6 days a week closing only on Sunday due to community pressure.  Usually single and in their 30’s they had no social outlets and would usually move after a few years.

From 1914 edition Salisbury Advertiser, Salisbury Maryland

The Chinese laundry continued until the late 1940’s when home washing machines and new
Fabrics reduced the customer base and the children of the laundry family had higher aspirations than to continue their laundries.
Ad From The State Register Laurel Delaware 1929

Altho the Chinese Laundrymen made little money and lived a fugal life he also had no social outlet or place to spend his money due to not speaking the language and racism.  He was able to send a little money back to his family members in China. The families receiving this money  were referred to as Gold Mountain families.   Their relatives back in China had little appreciation of the hard life their relative was living in America.  Instead they imagined that relative just went out and picked gold nuggets up off the ground and was very stingy about sending them home to China.  Many came from the region in Guangdong (think Hong Kong and Canton) and with the money sent to them from America a very poor group of farmers who struggled in the fields were able to buy land, built family homes, summer vacation homes, hired tutors for their children, hire servants to do the work for them, eventually the constant money stream from America allowed them to stop work and they became upper class leisure people or welfare people.  This would come to an end in the 1930’s when Japan took over parts of China and prevent the transfer of money from America to those families.  The Gold Mountain Families found themselves selling land, jewelry, houses, and possessions and in some cases themselves just to buy food.
From Iris Chang book “The Chinese In America”;

Correspondence between Hsiao The Seng, a Chicago laundryman and his family in China, revealed the endless pressure placed on the overseas Chinese by their kin.  Letters he received from home all harped on one single theme: money.  Bandits had kidnapped Hsiao’s elder brother’s concubine, and the family needed $20,000 to pay her ransom.  A cousin asked for $200 to adopt a son.  Younger clan members pleaded for money to purchase a house in Canton, because they had no suitable place to stay during their vacation (“we are indeed losing face Please do not regard this as an unimportant thing”) .  After gangsters ransacked Hsiao’s village, his family begged for funds to construct a wall (“the village’s life and death is depending on you.  Take note of this”)  A nephew wanted financial assistance to cleanse himself from the “humiliation of an embezzling uncle.”  Hasiao’s daughter asked for a gold watch (“Big uncle’s daughters have gold watches, but we do not.  My venerable one can use his own judgment whether jade should be inlaid or not”). 
And on and on goes the demands, perhaps much like today’s immigrant or illegal alien who is sending money home. 
Above and Below From the Salisbury advertiser 1892


Below are listed a few of the Chinese on Lower Delmarva in 1900;

1900 Census Sussex County Delaware
Charles Long (Keay); Laurel, Delaware, laundryman, single, age 25, born Sept 1874, Immigration in 1892 8 years in US Naturazation: AL (alien)

Kay (Keay) Long; Laurel, Delaware, laundryman, single, born April 1865, age 35 immigration 1890 ten years nat: AL(alien)

Jhon, Leon;  Milton, Delaware, laundryman born June 1862,age 38, single, Immigrated 1874

Sing, Loun; Lewes, Delaware, laundryman Born Oct 1874, Age 25,

1900 Census Dorchester County Maryland
Fong, Lee; Cambridge Maryland, Born Jan 1870, age 30, immigrated 1892, laundryman

1900 Census Wicomico County Maryland
Dong, Lit; Salisbury Maryland, Born Feb 1868, age 32, Single, immigrated 1885, laundryman

1900 Census Worcester County Maryland
Jung, Sing; Snow Hill Maryland, age 23, Born Jan 1877, single, Immigrated 1895, laundry
Wah, Long; West Berlin Maryland, age 40, Born Feb 1860, single, Immigrated 1869, Laundry

1900 Census Somerset County Maryland
Leung, Woo; Crisfield, Maryland, age 40, Born April 1860, married, immigrated 1878, Laundryman
Leoug, Henry; cousin, Crisfield, Maryland, Age 47, Born December 1852, married, immigrated 1875, laundryman

1900 Census Accomack Virginia
Foon, Say; Chincoteague Island, Accomack, Virginia Age 36, Born August 1863, single, immigrated 1876,Laundryman
Kee Jin;  Onancock, Virginia age 39, Born Oct 1860, single, laundryman

1900 Census Northampton Virginia
Lee, Charles; Cape Charles, Virginia, Age 36, Born Oct 1863, Married, laundryman
Lee, Gee; Cape Charles Virginia, age 52, Born July 1847, married, laundryman

Due to the unbalanced sex ratio of Chinese males to Chinese female (Many more men) in 1900 and the enforcement of antimiscegenation laws, the Chinese men were forced to seek wives that were still living in China or wives of other races that lived here.  Our Government passed laws prohibiting their Chinese wives from immigrating to the United States.   

In the 1850 to 1900 time period the two classes of immigrants that were lowest on the totem pole of immigrants were Asians and Irish.  They frequently lived in the poorest neighborhoods of cities and towns so if there were not race laws prohibiting it, Chinese men would marry Irish woman. 

One Chinese man  who was not a laundryman was Yann Phou Lee who lived in Cedar Creek Hundreds Sussex County Delaware and was a farmer.  Lee born in 1861 in Zhongshan Guandong Province China arrived in America at age 12.  He broke the traditional single laundryman mold by arriving in Connecticut and taking a Caucasian wife, Elizabeth Maude Jerome.  They had two children and in 1890 he divorced her and went to Nashville Tennessee where he married Sophia Bolles.  They would also have two children; Clarence and Louis.  While in Delaware he had his two nephews from China, Gon Lee and Joe F. Lee work the farm with him.  
The Chinese were often made fun of as in this ad for Chase and Sanvorn Tea which appeared in the Courier Newspaper Salisbury Maryland 1906

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