Chinese-Americans & the U.S.


The majority of those tongs that re-located in North America were fraternal associations based on clan, surname or locale. These benevolent societies looked after the welfare of their members and played a major role in the mining camps where the men were isolated from their friends and family.


INTRODUCTION: The California Gold Rush was not merely an American happening -- it was a world event. Many mines, especially in the south, were worked by foreigners who came solely for the gold. Chinese, Chileans, Mexicans, Irish, Germans, French, and Turks all sought their fortune in California.


WHO STARTED THE GOLD RUSH: James Marshall was the first man who discovered the gold mines in America. In January of 1848, James Marshall had a work crew camped on the American River at Coloma near Sacramento. The crew was building a sawmill for John Sutter. On the cold, clear morning of January 24, Marshall went to the river at Coloma near Sacramento for his job. He found a few tiny gold nuggets right over there. After a few months, the news spread over the towns and the cities. Thus began one of the largest human migrations in history as a half-million people from around the world descended upon California in search of instant wealth.

After the news went through the towns and cities, many people did not think the discovery was authentic. They thought it maybe some kind of tricks. An intelligent businessman named Sam Brannan thought it might be real, so in the May of the same year, he went to the river to prove Marshall's discovery. When he came back, he brought along with him pieces of gold that stuck with rocks. This news shocked the entire whole world.

Before the news spread through San Francisco, Sam Brannan opened a factory near the harvesting area, it had food, tools, and other equipment ready. Then he went to San Francisco, yelled to the public, "There is a discovery of gold near the America River!" After people who lived in San Francisco heard that, they left their works, grabbed the tools and then joined together and rushed to the mines.

THE CALIFORNIA GOLD RUSH: In early October 1848, before the news of gold at Sutter's mill had spread the "Gold Fever," a steamship called California sailed from New York bound for San Francisco with only a few passengers. By the time she had steamed around Cape Horn and anchored off Panmama City on January 30,1849, some 1,500 goldseekers had responded to president Polk's December 5 confirmation of the gold discovery. The steamer had accommodations for only one hundred. Demand for tickets nurtured trickery and prices soared to more than $1,000 for a bunk in steerage.

On February 28 the California entered SF bay, causing a wild celebration among the city's wintering miners. The passengers--about 450 of them--rushed ashore, as did the crew, leaving the ship abandoned. Some weeks later, on April 1, the Oregon and then the Panama on June 4 reached S.F., each jammed with goldseekers. By the end of December 1849, 697 vessels had entered the harbor, delivering more than 41,000 Americans and foreigners, of whom fewer than 800 were women.

The 89,000 goldseekers were no settlers or pioneers in the tradition of America's westward migration. These people came as exploiters, transients, ready to take, not to build. Crowds of hurrying men concerned only with how to make the greatest amount of money in the shortest time. With that common motive, they also shared an indifference toward California and its future. No one knew where he might be next week. No one wanted to be tied down and burdened by social responsibility. There were no jails.

MINING METHODS: The gold mines were scattered through a vast area along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada. While everyone used the word 'mines,' they were actually talking about the rivers, for most of the gold had been dug from the banks and flats and gravel-rock bars of the ten rivers that flowed through the foothills to join the two great rivers in the central valley.

Since 1848 it had been customary to speak of the mining region as two separate areas. The northern mines referred to the Feather, Yuba, Bear and American rivers. The southern mines was often described as 'the dry diggings,' meaning the gold had to be dug some distance from water during the summer because many smaller streams were dry. Here the main rivers--the Consumnes, Mokelumne, Calaveras, Stanislaus, Tuolumne, Merced and, farther south, the Mariposa--flowed through the foothills at a lower altitude, in a rolling, arid country sparsely covered with oak groves and madrones.

Through 1848 and most of 1849 the miners depended on the pan and the rocker to separate the gold. Thousands of newcomers were reluctant to give up the methods of their predecessors. No one wanted to invest time and money in complex machinery that would require month--maybe years--to achieve profitability, and, worse, would prevent from joining the rush to the latest discovery.

By fall '49 there were few new discoveries and the old diggings were overwhelmed by miners. Gold could still be found, but no longer in such easy abundance. More efficient mining methods were called for--and so the long tom came into use. It was simply an enlarged rocker, eight to fifteen feet in length. With its upper end attached to a flume or ditch which delivered a constant stream of water, the long tom allowed three or four men to wash great quantities of dirt dug by others at their claim. Because this primitive improvement in mining technology reduced the cost--the time and effort--of washing each cubic yard of dirt, miners could work claims that would have been unprofitable with only pan and rocker.

As important as was the Tom, an even greater gain in efficiency came from the use of mercury or quicksilver, which was being mined south of San Francisco at New Almaden. Because this element has an affinity for gold, it was placed along the riffles or cleats, the obstacles on the bottom of the tom over which the water carried the gold bearing sand and gravel. Other changes evolved during the fall of 1849. By far the most important was river mining. By January 1850, river mining had become the ambition of most miners. The swollen river prevented the miners from operating near its bed where gold is found most abundantly. During the fall, miners could average their ounce clear in working with rockers on the bars and edges of the streams, and those who were lucky enough to make dams across the streams before the rains often made large sums in a few days and frequently in a few hours.

This mining among the mountains was a dog's life.

THE IMPORTANCE OF GOLD MINING: Owing to gold mining, S.F. was given over entirely to business, speculation and entertainment. In August 1849, S.F.'s population was estimated at 6,000, and by November, 15,000. Of the thousands who arrived each month by ship, most headed for the mines after a few days of S.F.'s temptations. From the Sierra mining camps hundreds of bearded miners landed each day, brought to the west's frost boom town by a growing fleet of boats that sailed the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.

The economy was based on gold production, but no one knew just how much was being mined, put into circulation and shipped back to the States or to Europe, Mexico and South America. Such statistics were calculated in later years. Estimates of gold production for 1848 ranged from $245,000 to $10 million, with similar imprecision for 1849: $10 million to $40 million. Whatever the actual numbers, the fact was that California boomed on gold, with production reaching a more accurate total of $81 million in 1852. As with the sum, so the parts reported in 1849 contrasted widely, from the many miners who panned one or two ounces each day--$16 to $32--to the lucky few who miners who struck it rich. Everyone eagerly believed the stories of success.

Gold dust became the principal currency in this country. "When a man is asked the price of anything here, he does not tell the price in dollars but will say an ounce, a half ounce, or two ounces."

THE CHINESE ARRIVED AT THE "GOLD MOUNTAIN: As the news of the discovery of gold reached Guangzhou, thousands of Chinese came to America and joined the Gold Rush. In 1852, about 25,000 Chinese arrived at San Francisco, taking along their harvesting tools, dreaming of became millionaires by the mining of gold. The period, which the later historians called "The Gold Rush", started. San Francisco, at that time, were also called as "Gold Mountain" by some of the Chinese. This showed the madness for gold at the time.

During the mid-19th Century, the Chinese Government had raised taxes, in which the farmers were unable to pay for them. And also, natural disaster such as flood happened. Crops were destroyed, the Chinese could not produce enough rice to feed themselves. So as they heard about the news of the Gold Rush in America, they came to the U.S. in swarm, hoped to mine the gold.

THE CHINESE IN THE GOLD MINING: At first, the Chinese were cheerfully welcomed as ''The China Boys,'' invited to official functions and praised for the quality of their work. The next thing they knew, the governor was denouncing them as avaricious ''coolies,'' whites were chasing them out of the mines and legislators were targeting them with punitive taxes. To lower the quantity of exported gold and balance the national trade, the Federal Government imposed the "Foreigner Miners' License Tax" in 1852, which, stated that you should register to become a licensed miner before you could actually started mining. The law aimed mostly at the Chinese miners to increase the State's revenue. It required every foreign miner who did not choose to become a U.S. citizen to pay $3 every month to the state. In mining, the Chinese worked for companies for gold silver, and other ores wherever they were permitted. The huge taxes discouraged their business, but the Chinese managed to pay the levies and gathered as much gold and other metal nuggets as they could. New ore veins were opened too, and the European miners grew angry at the Chinese for becoming rich while they grew poorer.

When employment in mining, railroad building and timbering was closed to Chinese, they turned to manufacturing. California had just begun to develop consumer industries and free from the economic control of the Eastern States. Before the turn of the century, one half of California's labour force engaged in manufacturing was of Chinese origain.

From 1869 there was a small community of Chinese miners living in Arrowtown. They were originally invited as workers when the West Coast gold rush depleted local labour and helped build such buildings as the St John's Presbyterian Church. The Chinese were largely segregated from the European miners and created their own settlement near Bush Creek. Many worked on a large sluicing in Arrow Flat. The population of Chinese was entirely men, and the proceeds from their labours was sent home to families in China. The Chinese were regarded as successful miners, which was mainly due to their hard work. The Chinese settlement was exacavated and partially restored during 1983 and is well worth a visit.


Fong Dun Shung with his second and third sons began the half-day's walk to Fatsan, where he would board a sampan and float east to Canton, then south to Hong Kong, where he would board a ship for the Gold Mountain. He had heard of other men who had made their fortunes as Gold Mountain men. Defying the powerful ties of family tradition and the more tangible threats by the dowager Empress of death by decapition for leaving China, many men had gone looking for gold. It was said of Gam Sann that a man could find pieces of gold as large as a firstborn son lying openly on the ground for anyone to pick up and keep. Now people talked about this railroad and jobs to be had for any man who was willing to work hard.


In his village, the men guessed that even if you couldn't save one thousand American dollars, you would make at least eight hundred. He was being given a free trip to the Gold Mountain, and he and his sons had already been promised jobs.These had been harsh years for his family. Mimtao was a poor village, and this branch of the Fong family was one of the poorest. He didn't own land, not even one miserable mou in a time when the whole world knew that at least three mou were required to sustain a single life. He couldn't rend land, for he was too poor even to buy rice seed.

In 1862, the slave trade was banned internationally, so foreign men tricked, coerced, or 'shanghaied' Chinese travelers into signing contracts for boat fare, which left them little better than slaves. Like the blacks who had been shipped to America from acoss the Atlantic, the Chinese, too, were loaded onto overcrowded ships where they lived below decks for the duration of their voyage across the Pacific. On some vessels, men found themselves stacked like cordwood in three-tiered bunks six feet ling and thirteen and a half inches wide, with only seventeen to twenty-four inches of headroom. Death rates were consistently high. On the Exchange, 85 of 613 coolies died. In 1854, after eighty days at sea, the liberated reported 150 dead from scurvy and 'ship's fever.' Fong Dun Shung arrived at San Francisco, in early 1867. The laborers changed from their filthy traveling clothes to clean, blue cotton tunics and pants. There were no immigration procedures, no customs officials. He had been told he would be met by someone. Fong heard the strains of his dialect. He noticed that other men from the ship seemed to be grouping together around other Gold Mountain men who called out in various dialects.

In they trotted until they reached Chinatown. Soon he went with some workers to Gold Mountain to find gold. Of course, he did not exactly find gold just for himself.