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Chinese in Northwest America Research Committee (CINARC)
This page was last updated: August 30, 2018
Account & Letter  Book Page 159

[in Chinese: “Outgoing letter to Gold Mine 6”]
S[eattle] Washington Territory King Co. S[eptember] 16th 1880

My dear friends Mr. and Mrs. John Brown. 

It has been seven years since I left your place.  I look back with a great deal of pleasure- all time and would like to see you very much, but it is so far away that cannot go to see you , and I had been school about two year.  
My teacher name Mrs. Thomas, and Mr.  McCoy come to my place of September 5th 1880 a few days ago.   I am feel very glads to see him and we saw him all my house and my rood. We has two roods and six house a one three story brick building corner rood.  We buy, to pay $3500. Three thousand five hundred dollars.  The second rood to pay $1,450.  We has two hundred and four acre land good for farm.

 I think this country very lively.  Some people work in the coal mine and saw mills.  Then Mr. McCoy say the digens [diggings?] has not payed.  I am very sorry to hear all my friends as lost the money in at mine.  Then I hope Yours doing well and making all the money beginning in the hands Miss Frank Millman. she had married to Mr. Huntly and has a boy and a girl hir [here] living in the twon [town].  And my store doing very well.  

You received my letter please to acknowledged,

Ah Ham Gee Hee

Account & Letter Book Page 160

[in Chinese: “Brown incoming letter”]
North San Juan Cal. November 1st 1880

Dear Ah Ham
We were very pleasantly surprised a few weeks ago by receiving a letter from you. I have often thought you must have gone to China to live with your wife.  We would like very much to see you again, but you would find things greatly changed.  We sold our house in Sebastopol  and bought one in San Juan on San Francisco Street opposite to Banks place, the one in which Mrs. Telyea used to keep school.  We like it much better up here as all the american people had left Sebastopol. Except Shoanrs [?]+ McCoy.  Butie and Allie are almost grown to be a young gentlemen and lady now and are a great help to me.  You would feel badly to see how Hard we all have to work now.  Just think of us doing all the washing ironing and cooking for six of us.  We have another little boy 4 years who looks just like Butie did + a little girl 20 months.  You would sorld [?] around worse than you did to find the pans all lost when you came back from China.  I see you advertise house servants in your company.  Now if you have one who heap like workee and no like wages send him along. . .

Account & Letter Book Page 161

[3/4 pages of complaints about the Browns’ own finances follow]
. . .I was surprised to see you could write so nicely.  You can almost as better than I can. I get so little time. . .  If like writing to us I will answer you letters.  

Your well wisher + friend
Mrs. A. H.Brown.  
P.S. I wear your shawl you bought me from China + think a great deal of it.
Account & Letter Book Page 162

S[eattle]. W[ashington]. T[erritory]. Nov. 24th 1880

Dear Friend Mrs. Brown
I am in receipt of your favor last two weeks ago. I should have answered before this, but I have been very busy. Was very much pleased to hear from you. I am so glad that you are improving so much, and very glad to know that Butie and Allie all growing be gentleman and lady and I have been home to China three years ago.  Then I like go to China again but my partner he is gone China last years and I have to with [wait?] my partner come back intered [entered] business. I will go I have had three girls + two boys + two wife all living in China, and my children as growing to + our store name Wa Chung. I am owning ¼ one share + my partner he is owning ¾ three shares and Im think next spring try to make the railroad from Walla Walla , then this city be very lively, and I fell very sorry to hear Mr. Furth has bork up. I hope the Good hope him make back the money he has losted, and I think cannot send you any boy for thirty dollars per month.  Mrs. Frank her husband nice carpenter works.

I think just enough at present.

A. H. Gee Hee
Account & Letter Book Page 163

Seattle W. T. Feb 14 1884

Mr. + Mrs. McCoy
Dear Friend
I am leaf home of China by June and geting in Seattle W. T. at 15 of July 1883 and I wish my third wife come in Seattle now and hope come to see you But I busy all time. I hope yours all well.

Please write to me as soon .
Your Truly

Chin Gee Hee
Ah Ham
Wa Chong + Co.
Chin Gee Hee's Letters to the Browns  陈宜禧信件

For at least several years before his arrival in Seattle in 1873, Chin Gee Hee worked as a domestic servant for Mr. and Mrs John Brown in North San Juan, a gold mining town abut 70 milkes northeast of Sacramento.  His employers and at least one acquaintance of theirs, a Mr. McCoy, knew him as "Ah Ham."

Chin did not deny having worked for the Browns.  He kept the letters for more than two decades before copying them out in his own hand in the "Account and Letter Book 1880-1901," currently preserved in the University of Washington Library.  In preparing the book, which he cannot have finished more than a year or two before his final departure to China in 1905, he seems to have chosen a selection of documents to illustrate activities and events of his business, public, and personal life.  Why he did so is unclear; perhaps he wanted to make sure that future biographers would not miss what he considered to be the highlights of his thirty-plus-year American sojourn.
Note: the 1880 U.S. census for North San Juan, Nevada County, California lists a W. John Brown (40) with his wife H. Adeline (34), his daughters A. Alice (13) and Irine (1), and his sons W. Herbert (11) and R. Joseph (4).  Alice seems to be Allie,  and Herbert to be Butie.  John Brown himself is identified as a miner.

The 1870 census for Bridgeport Township (San Juan Post Office), Nevada County, California, lists a household comprising  John H. Brown (31), Adeline Brown (26), Alice Brown (3), William Brown (1), and a  male cook, Ah Mary [or perhaps Ah Ming?] (15), born in China.  Was Ah Mary the same as Ah Ham?  Could Ah Ham have been only 15 in 1870?

Chin Gee Hee is supposed to have been born in 1844.  The Ah Ham of the CCH-Brown letters sems to have visited China and married during the time of his employment with the Browns, which ended seven years before 1880, in 1873.  So Ah Mary, if really Ah Ham, would have been under 18 when he went back to China to get married.  This is possible.   On the other hand, it is also possible that Ah Mary was a substitute for a somewhat older Ah Ham while the latter was in China.  It could have been he that lost the pans and annoyed Ah Ham.

North San Juan was mainly a gold mining town until the 1880s.  Mining was by hydraulic placering, using water from a 300 mile-long flume [!] (http://www.malakoff.com/goldcountry/northsan.htm).
The Diary of Li Gongbu as a Cannery Worker at Union Bay, Alaska 李公僕 - 笔记亚拉斯加三文鱼罐头厂第一华人

Li studied at Reed College, Portland, Oregon, in 1927-29.  Already a well known progressive thinker, he contributed articles on his American experiences to the Shanghai-based magazine.  He was assassinated in Kunming, supposedly by Nationalist secret agents, in 1946.  A close friend, the great poet Wen Yiduo 聞一多, at one time a student at the Art Institue of Chicago, gave his funeral oration and was himself gunned down shortly afterward.  
July 2, 1928 – A Little Confused –

“I have been [at this cannery] for 10 days.  The work load in first few days was light.   But in the last two days  I have worked up to eight or nine solid hours each day.   My work is to operate a tin forming machine.  What I need to do is to feed a tin sheet into the machine which spits out circular shapes for another machine to turn them into finely finished tin cans.   Although I am supposed to work for 10 hours a day, in reality such a busy schedule is only true for two to three weeks when fish is plentiful .  The other six to seven weeks I work only about seven or eight hours a day.   Those quiet days are good for workers but not for owners . . .”

July 23, 1928 – Never Get Tired of the Beautiful View –

“The cannery where I work for the summer is among the largest in the region.   It is equipped with the most advanced machines. Four to five thousand 3-feet long salmon can be gutted, cleaned, canned, cooked, labeled, and packed in a matter of hours! . . .  The cannery is located at Union Bay.  Not only is it rich in fish, it is also very beautiful.   It is distantly connected with the Pacific Ocean, with its back against a tall mountain from where a small stream flows.  The cannery built a boardwalk connecting with the stream where we get water for drinking as well as for cleaning fish.   The forest in the mountain still retains its original trees, old and large.   We have seen bears and deer (the bears are somewhat shy with people).  The snow-capped mountains keep us cool even in summer days … .  The cannery is cut off from any outside contact except for a mail ferry which reaches us once every two to three weeks.  Fortunately the scenery here is extraordinary pleasant and I never feel tired of watching the sunset, taking the boardwalk retreating into the mountain, or fishing along the stream.  I got two fish the other day – they are delicious to eat.  

The cannery does cleaning, gutting, canning, making tins and packing them.  The many steps of the process are done by automated machines.   Like me, I stand in front of and feed tin sheets into a machine only, which is a relatively easy and clean job than gutting fish.   The first two days I did suffer from shoulder and knee pain.  But now I am a veteran and working nine hours a day does not bother me any more. . .”

August 14, 1928 – The Cannery as a Mini United Nations –
“. . . 
Having worked at this cannery I now can proudly say that my hands are no worse than other workers – carrying coals, transferring stuff, closing boxes, chopping wood, I can do them all, in addition to managing the [tin-making] machine . . .  I feel so much more able now than the time when I started when shoulder and back pain slowed me down a lot.  I also appreciate free time more now;  the time I can use for reading . . .

Even though the cannery hires only about 100 workers, this place is like a mini world, with people of many colors and nationalities.  For instance, Americans are the obvious white, Japanese and Chinese are the obvious yellow.   There are also several tens of native Americans who I can call reds, Filipinos are brown, those originally from Africa are black.  These people come from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Mexico, Italy, Switzerland and even some undocumented workers from other places.   (Chinese workers have been largely replaced by Filipinos these days.)  It is hard to imagine that a small cannery as this can have workers belonging to so many different nationalities . . .

By observing the interaction among workers, one can discern their psychology formed by the perceived status of their own countries in the world.   The white workers come from probably more than 30 different countries.  But about half of them were not educated.  They speak rudimentary English but see themselves as the most civilized people of the world.  Japanese workers are very polite to the white people but very arrogant to people of other nationalities.   Filipinos appear self-important in front of the reds and blacks.  The few Chinese, though with similar “yellow” skin color and look as Japanese, do not get treated as courteously as the Japanese workers, probably because of China’s relatively low international political status . . .

August, 15, 1928  – Ethnicity in Cannery Work –

Workers’ lives here are mostly organized according to their skin color – they work, eat, and sleep in separate masses according to their ethnic affiliations.    White people are a group; Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans another group; Filipinos belong to yet another.  Blacks and Alaskan Indians sleep and eat as a group since they mostly involved in fishing.   The labor operation of this cannery up to last year was under a Chinese contractor who hired mostly Chinese.  I heard that because of poor management, the bedrooms were not cleaned and work was not done well, so the owners changed to using Japanese contractors . . . 80% of the workers here are Chinese, Japanese, and Filipinos because they accept hard-board beds, plain white rice, and relatively low pay . . .  Once I visited the white workers’ mess.  The place is definitely nicer and cleaner than ours.  This is partly because they get higher pay, and partly because they are accustomed to cleanliness.  

People have different ways of entertaining themselves.  White workers like playing chess and cards, fishing, talking, sleeping, and swimming.   Japanese are fond of gambling – sometimes that is where they spend their salary.  Filipinos love playing music.  They often hold dancing parties on the beach together with the blacks and the red girls.  Sometimes the white men join them too.   Occasionally the local Indian girls sing in their language.  Though incomprehensible, this is often lovely to hear.  Indians work mostly on their boats.  I heard that they sleep a lot when not working.  

July-Sept 1928.  Published in Shenghuo 生活 [Life] weekly magazine, Shanghai.  Translated here by Chuimei Ho.