Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Chinese workers 1864-1865

From: "Chris Graves" caliron@att.net

Seems not all Chinese needed to work for the CPRR. ...

Most of us know the stories regarding James Harvey Strobridge and his partner, Ed. Pitcher (he being the son of the Governor of New York, Nathaniel Pitcher) hiring something over 15 Chinese workers to harvest hay on their hay ranch in what is now Rio Linda, Cal. That story is easily verified by looking at the 1852 California census.

To validate the earning capacity, as well as the "work" capacity of Chinese workers in early California, the attached documents may be enlightening. A brief history: The North Fork Ditch was dug out in 1854-56, running some 33 miles from Tamaroo Bar to Mississippi Bar, near what is now Orangevale. That ditch was five feet wide at the base, and eight feet wide at the top, designed to carry 3,000 miners inches of water. That Ditch was owned by the American River Water and Mining Company.

The first sheet, attached to this memo, shows Chinese workers purchasing water from the owner of the ditch, the American River Water and Mining Co. Please note that "Ah Sing" is also noted as "No.1", and that the place that they are working is called Rose Springs, this on March 9, 1863. Rose Springs is now under the waters of Folsom Dam, in Placer County, near the meeting of the North Fork and South Fork of the American River, this upstream from Folsom. It is of further interest to find an "Ah Sing" working as a miner in the Mississippi district, some 2 1/2 miles downstream from Folsom, this in the Spring of 1860.

Ah Sing in 1860 was 62 years old, making his birth date about 1798.

The following receipt pictured is from the Palmer & Day's Assay Office, Folsom, Cal., dated 17 October, 1864, where Ah Sing delivered 29 ounces of gold for refining.

Mr. Day was Roger Sherman Day, son of Sherman Day, a surveyor in Placer County, later to become Surveyor General for the State of California; Sherman Island in the Delta is named in his honor. Sherman Day was the surveyor that laid out the railroad grade for the Sacramento, Placer & Nevada Rail Road in 1859-60. It is of further interest to find that Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, son of Sacagawea (she of the Lewis and Clark Exploration party) was also a surveyor in Placer County, this in 1852. It is not known to this writer whether or not Mr. Sherman knew Mr. Charbonneau.

Mr. Palmer, of the Palmer and Day Assay Office, married the daughter of Sherman Day, thus that office was family owned in every sense of the word.

That the old Chinese miner, Ah Sing, would take nearly two pounds of gold to an Anglo-run assay office, this in exchange for a $200 advance, speaks volumes as to the relations between Chinese and Anglos in 1864.

And, to bring this story full circle, the question that begs an answer is "Why, if Chinese workers are getting nearly two pounds of gold in 1864, why would they go to work for the CPRR at $1. a day wages?"

The answer to that question may lie in the date of March, 1865, when Crocker told Strobridge to "go over to Auburn and hire some Chinese." The gold that could be obtained from the American River in 1864 was largely mined out by Spring, 1865, this evidenced by Mr. Palmer moving to Michigan Bluff in late Summer, 1864. That gold mining in streams and rivers was in decline by 1865 could be one of the primary reasons for Chinese workers to accept the wages offered by Strobridge and Crocker.

Receipt for water sold Chinese workers in 1865 at Rose Spring.
Receipt for water sold Chinese workers in 1865 at Rose Spring.

Receipt from an assay office from those same workers for 29 ounces of gold.
Receipt from an assay office from those same workers for 29 ounces of gold.