11/30/14

Was there a Chinese "slave" in pre-civil war Virginia?

Historian Krystyn Moon traced the story of Tom Jefferson, a Chinese boy purchased in Canton in the mid 1850s by a Captain of a clipper ship that sailed from China to America.  He presented the Chinese boy, along with a chimpanzee, as part of his wedding gifts to his daughter in Alexandria, Virginia.

Moon discovered more details about the life of the boy, given the American name, Tom Jefferson.


Jefferson became a machinist, probably working for the Orange, Alexandria, and Manassas Railroad, and later for the Southern Railroad.  Interestingly, the 1860 census taker initially listed Tom's  race as “C” for Chinese but then he crossed it out and put “W” for white.  He did not marry or have descendants, dying from a stroke in Alexandria in 1899.


11/15/14

What Did Early Chinese Immigrants Get Fed Crossing the Pacific?

The accounts of the month-long journeys of Chinese immigrants sailing from Hong Kong by steamers to North American ports in the late 19th century tell of crowded quarters in steerage but do not give much detail about what food was provided, or its quality and quantity.  One article reprinted in the Louisiana Democrat in 1889 was revealing in a steamship company's description on this matter, although it may not be entirely truthful.

A spokesman for the Trans-Pacific steamers described the meals as consisting mostly of rice, a variety of beans, some orange peel as a relish, dried fish, occasional dried abalone as a dessert, and "chow-chows" defined as different sauces.  For a trip of 30 days, the estimated cost to feed one passenger was $1.18. He bragged that "immigrants get as good food on ship board as they get at home."


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