The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1977, Volume 23, Number 4
James E. Moss, Editor
Thomas L. Scharf, Assistant Editor


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Almost from the moment they arrived, the Chinese pioneers who came to California in the mid-nineteenth century were compelled to seek their fortunes away from the mainstream of the rapidly developing West Coast economy. In the Sierra Nevada, opposition from frustrated American and European gold rushers quickly excluded the Chinese from the best-paying diggings. The Asians adapted to their racially hostile environment by working secondhand claims or by taking up strictly noncompetitive positions as cooks or laundrymen in the mining camps. While they played essential roles in the development of the railroad and agricultural industries of early California, here, too, the Chinese were confined to unskilled, killing jobs at the bottom of the wage scale. They literally defined the limits of what were white men’s work and white men’s wages. When this margin blurred, white workers time and again resorted to force to redefine it. At every turn, racial hostility severely limited the Asians’ opportunities for success in the new land.1

Unable to cooperate with other settlers in developing the region, the Chinese created their own, distinctively Asian society on the margin of American California. They organized their own systems for procuring jobs, for settling disputes among themselves, and for preserving Chinese culture in the hostile California environment. The Chinese were little interested in establishing a permanent settlement in the New World anyway, but sought only to make enough money away from their own rapidly disintegrating society to return to a comfortable retirement in southeastern China. Devotion to the family in Asia and indebtedness to Chinese merchants in Hong Kong and San Francisco for the trans-Pacific passage provided the social glue that held Chinese California together.2

A noteworthy exception to the pattern of restricted opportunity that confronted the Chinese in early California was the fishing industry that developed in the bays and coastal waters near San Francisco, Monterey, and San Diego. There was a lot of room on the ocean: While in other sectors of the state’s economy the Chinese sojourners were either forced into subordinate roles or driven out altogether by competing whites, here they were able to pursue their own ends in relative peace. San Diego, especially, offered the Asians a chance to develop a resource that would later become one of the most important in the area.

In 1870 San Diego, like the rest of the southern California “cow counties,” had heard only the faintest echoes of the northern California boom. Only three years before, Alonzo E. Horton had arrived in town and purchased 960 acres of land along San Diego Bay. In 1870 he broke ground for a bank and a major hotel on the site, which eventually became the heart of what is now San Diego. William H. Davis had made an earlier attempt to develop the waterfront of what he called New San Diego and had built a wharf out into the bay, but the hoped-for commercial connections never materialized and “Davis’ Folly” withered. San Diego lay dormant, living on its potential and the dreams of men like Horton and Davis, who counted on a thriving commerce that remained beyond their reach.3

Other early San Diegans sought their fortunes under the surface of the water. Fish and shellfish abounded in the bay and offshore along the rocky, nearly uninhabited coast to the south along Baja California. Enterprising local fishermen, though, were hamstrung by a poor local market and the expense of ice needed to transport fresh fish over long distances. Like Horton and Davis, they lived mostly on hopes for future ties to the outside.4 It was left to a small number of Chinese immigrants to pioneer in the development of what was to become one of San Diego’s most important industries.

The first Chinese to appear in southern California drifted down from the Sierra Nevada gold fields during the Civil War. Many had been fishermen in the old country and, given a chance to pursue their former livelihoods without the harassment they had experienced in the mining counties, they did so.5 San Diego tax collectors found Chinese who owned boats and nets in 1863 and 1864, and a local pioneer recalled that in 1867 one Juk Sing lived with his wife at Ballast Point and “made lots of money selling fish.”6

By 1869, a year before Alonzo Horton built his bank, there were two colonies of Chinese fishermen on San Diego Bay. One of them grew up on the New Town waterfront near the bottom of First Street and eventually included a dozen rough redwood shacks, some of them perched on stilts out over the mudflats along the bay.

Junks and small, flat-bottomed sampans were moored nearby, while others were hauled up on the mud for repairs. The other colony, of about ten houses, was across the bay at Roseville, near what is now the San Diego Yacht Club. Close by were big iron salting tanks and wooden drying racks for preserving the catch as well as pens in which the Chinese raised chickens on fish scrap.7

Very little went to waste, though, as the Chinese made use of whatever they could catch. Chinese junks swept the bay from end to end with fine-meshed seines imported from the old country. In the kelp beds just offshore, the fishermen used hook and line to take redfish, the occasional barracuda, and shark.8 “Even the fins of the shark are eaten by Chinamen,” reported the San Francisco Bulletin, “and are by them esteemed to be a great delicacy—as much of a delicacy as a Chinaman would be to a shark.”9 Chinese peddlers sold larger fish such as smelt, mullet, and roncadores from door to door in San Diego, while those too small to be sold fresh were preserved and then shipped to Chinese merchants in San Francisco for export and for distribution to other Chinese in California. The trade in dried fish out of San Diego was well under way by 1872.10

The fishermen found their most rewarding resource in the black abalone that lived on the rocky bottoms just below low tide line. This fishery seems to have been pursued mostly by junks from the Roseville colony, which ventured as far as halfway down the lower peninsula in search of the shellfish” Theirs was solely an export commodity: Americans had not yet learned to like abalone, which according to Charles Nordhoff was “as much tougher than… a Long Island quahaug as that is tougher than an old boot.”12 Abalone from the southern coast was less worm-eaten than that taken from more northerly waters, and therefore more valuable.13 Though it only began about 1873, seventeen years after abalone was first taken by Chinese in California, the San Diego fishery quickly outgrew those elsewhere on the coast and was producing seven hundred tons annually by 1880.14 According to a government report, abalone “formed the bulk of exports to China and to Chinese colonists in other countries,” and the San Diego fishermen led the state in the harvest.15

More valuable still was the abalone’s shell, which the Chinese kept for sale after other Californians began to prize it for jewelrymaking.16 Merchants at San Francisco shipped abalone shell to England, Austria, the eastern United States, and China.17 Here, strangely, was a commodity for which there was at once a great demand and little competition, and the San Diego fishery grew in its good fortune.

In all, there were eighteen junks based at San Diego at the Chinese fishery’s zenith in 1886, twelve of which gathered abalone in U.S. and Mexican coastal waters.18 At Roseville, under the stimulus of the lucrative abalone trade, the Chinese built the finest vessels in their American fleet. One of the best of them, the three-masted Sun Yun Lee, was built in 1884. It was 52 feet long and had a capacity of 14.6 tons.19 Manuel Madruga, a Portuguese boatbuilder who moved to San Diego in 1884, recalled that the junks were built “a funny way,” but despite their strange appearance the Chinese craft were safe, fast, maneuverable, and as seaworthy as any vessel of comparable size in San Diego Harbor.20

Blessed with rich resources, a local market that was big enough to be rewarding but not so lucrative as to attract fishermen of other nationalities, and relative freedom from race hatred, the Chinese fishermen at San Diego prospered. During the 1870’s and 1880’s, when the American market fishing fleet on the West Coast consisted “almost wholly” of vessels of under five tons capacity, Chinese junks ranging from five to fifteen tons farmed waters as far away as Monterey to the north and Cabo San Lucas to the south.21 The Chinese fishermen were among the first to develop a healthy export trade out of San Diego, and dominated the city’s domestic and export fish trades until well into the 1880’s.

While Alonzo Horton and other white San Diegans were vainly trying to attract the commerce of northern California and the rest of the nation, the Chinese fishing settlement at San Diego formed one of three nodes of an integrated network that spanned the entire Pacific Coast of the United States. At San Francisco, where Chinese began fishing as early as 1852, they controlled the trade in fresh and dried shrimp and put California at the top of the eight shrimp-producing states in the nation.22Another majorcenter wasat Monterey Bay, where a colony was established in 1863. Chinese also fished the Sacramento River Delta, and there was even a colony on the Washington Coast whose methods, according to David Starr Jordan, were “wholly similar” to those employed south of San Francisco.23 As late as 1893, fully one third of all the fishermen in California were Chinese.24

That San Diego became an important part of the Pacific Coast fishing industry seems only natural given its excellent harbor, distance from other ports, and strategic location. Yet that the Chinese were so firmly in control of the San Diego fishery was unusual. At San Francisco the Chinese were soon limited to catching shrimp while the members of the white fishermen’s union reserved the more lucrative market fishing trade to themselves.25 By 1880 Chinese in the Sacramento Delta were excluded from that region’s highly profitable salmon fishery.26 At San Diego, however, the dozen or so Chinese fishing companies shared their industry with only four companies of Americans, none of which directly competed with them.27 Here, as nowhere else, the Chinese were left alone for some fifteen years in command of an extremely valuable resource.

San Diego’s Asian fishermen were, moreover, as important to their local community as they were to the California Chinese economy. In the seventies and eighties the Chinese supplied San Diego with all the fresh fish it would buy.28 When they ceased work for a short while in 1880, the San Diego Union reported that “a fresh fish cannot be had in town for love or money.”29 The fishermen had dealings with white San Diegans at several critical points in their work, and this, too, was unusual. A standard complaint in the mining and railroad camps to the north was that the Chinese refused to buy anything from American storekeepers but boots and a few tools, but in San Diego the fishermen purchased lumber for their boats and houses from local suppliers and traded with local merchants for rice, hardware, and other supplies. They relied on white shipping agents and the Pacific Mail Steamship Company for getting their harvests to Chinese distributors in San Francisco. Abalone shells, which were produced for an American market, were sold to American merchants who sorted and finished them for export.30 In all, the fishermen offered a striking contrast to the insularity of other Chinese communities in California.

The San Diego Chinese fishermen differed from their countrymen elsewhere in several other respects as well. Most obvious was their relatively small number: While at one point there were fifteen hundred Chinese shrimpers at San Francisco Bay and two hundred Chinese fishing huts at Monterey, there were never more than fifty or so Asians fishing near San Diego.31 At San Diego, fishermen were more likely than other Chinese to have families living with them.32 They were far more likely to own property (in the form of boats and fishing equipment) than Chinese in other occupations.33 Finally, in the early years at least, the San Diego fishermen seem to have worked for themselves or in independent companies, and some of them grew quite wealthy at it.34 Americans in California commonly complained that the Chinese were birds of passage; that they hoarded their earnings with the intention of returning home as soon as possible. The San Diego fishermen, however, apparently feathered some very substantial nests for themselves in California.35

Because they maintained extensive contacts with local consumers and merchants and because their junks were constantly in public view, the Chinese fishermen at San Diego were very highly visible, both socially and economically. Contemporary accounts commonly refer to the local Chinese as being “engaged principally in the fishing business,” even though fishermen made up at the most ten per cent of the county’s Chinese population36 Economic power and high visibility were ordinarily the kiss of death for Chinese in California, but in San Diego the fishermen were regarded quite highly until after 1885. “The Chinese fishermen of this neighborhood are about the most industrious set of individuals to be found anywhere,” exclaimed the Union in 1884.37

Industrious though they were, the fishermen were nonetheless part of an exclusively Chinese economic system whose raison d’etre was to maintain the insularity of the beleaguered Chinese community in California. The bulk of their produce went to Chinese merchants who sent it on to China and to Chinese colonists in California and overseas in order to provide them with a diet to which they were accustomed.38 The San Diego fishermen themselves supplied Chinese laborers on the California Southern Railroad with fish and clams taken from the bay.39 In the end, the development of a Chinese fishing industry in California can only be seen as an effort on the part of the Chinese community to conserve its distinctively Chinese character.

This was one of white Californians’ major objections to the Chinese. Like those who complained that the Asians were removing gold from the Sierra only to take it home to China with them, many protested that none of the benefits of the Chinese exploitation of American fisheries accrued to the local society. Such complaints were heard at San Diego from time to time but, partly because there were at first no other fishermen competing with them, San Diegans did not feel that the Chinese were unfairly exploiting the city’s natural wealth. That would come later, when the completion of a rail connection to the outside world brought large numbers of new settlers to the area and finally integrated San Diego into a California-wide economy.

There was certainly no lack of anti-Chinese prejudice in early southern California. Nineteen of the sojourners lost their lives at the hands of a particularly vicious Los Angeles mob in 1871.40 Chinese miners at Julian were restricted to the poorest claims and were liable to attack from white miners at any time, just as they had been in the northern mines during the fifties and sixties 41 At no time, however, was hatred of the Chinese as widespread or as virulent as it was in the north. Leading San Diego citizens kept the peace during the Kearneyite terror of 1877. During the winter of 1885, when communities all over the West were purging themselves of Chinese, the San Diego Union reported that

nearly all the Chinese living in San Diego are engaged in the fishing business; no Chinese are employed at the lumber yards or on public works, and the rights of whites are so little encroached upon that we anticipate no such riotous trouble as other towns on the coast are experiencing.42

Mostly because there were not very many of them, San Diegans generally regarded the Chinese among them as a harmless curiosity, just as had San Franciscans before 1850.43

In 1880 San Diego began to awaken from its slumber. The California Southern Railroad, which was to link the city to transcontinental lines at San Bernardino and Barstow, was chartered in October of that year. San Diego Harbor became a busy place as ships brought materials, supplies, and Chinese laborers to aid in the construction.44 The long-awaited link to the outside was completed in 1885, and a flood of new settlers arrived. By 1888 Chinese comprised only 52 of a total 159 fishermen at San Diego. Also included were 46 Americans and 27 Portuguese.45

One week after the first train arrived from the East, the Union’s editors predicted that San Diego ought soon to do a big business in fish: “. . . The fish industry of San Diego will yet give employment to a great many men and prove a source of considerable wealth to this city.”46 Complaints began to appear in the Union about the smelly boats and drying racks and the unsightly piles of garbage around the New Town fishing colony.47 Just as Chinese exports of dried fish from San Diego reached a peak in 1884-85, hotel keepers in town began to complain that there was not enough fresh fish to serve their guests.48 Blame for the scarcity quickly focused on the Chinese.

According to their opponents, the Chinese depleted the supply of food fish in California waters by indiscriminately using fine-meshed nets to take small fry and species that larger fish used as food.49 Complaints of this nature were especially strident where Chinese and white fishermen competed for the same species, as they did on Monterey Bays50. There was some concern about this in San Diego during the seventies, but local feeling did not harden until after the railroad arrived and competition increased there as well. In 1887 the San Diego Union hoped that vigorous enforcement of the fishing laws “would soon drive the heathen from the bay.”51 The State Board of Fish Commissioners responded to the outcry later that year by deputizing a local American fisherman to enforce the net regulations.52

It is true that Chinese fishermen systematically took very large amounts of spawn and other small fish from California waters, just as their countrymen did in China. At home, however, these small fish were kept alive and raised artificially until they were large enough to sell fresh, while in California they were immediately killed and preserved for export.53 Fishing methods that conserved the ecological status in China became crudely exploitative when transplanted to the New World because the Chinese fishermen looked to other Chinese, not Californians, for their major markets. It is also true, however, that the Chinese were no more interested in plundering California’s resources for profit than any other group, and members of many ethnic groups shared the blame for overfishing.54 Finally, at San Francisco at least, sewage and industrial pollution were killing fish as early as 1879.55 Later, Don Stewart recalled that at San Diego “the virtual disappearance of all sorts of marine life from the Bay was the result of commercial activities, sewage, oils, and creosoted piling.”56 At any rate, opposition to their methods seems to have had little effect on the fishermen and was probably more a means of attacking them for being Chinese than anything else. A series of laws passed by Congress to restrict Chinese immigration was to have a far more serious effect on the San Diego fishing industry than any concern for the ecological integrity of the area’s waters.

As legitimate shipping activity in San Diego Bay increased with the arrival of the railroad, so too did the smuggling of illicit goods and immigrants. By 1887 the traffic of Chinese laborers into San Diego County, outlawed by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, was large and growing.57 In 1890, San Diego Collector of Customs John R. Berry testified that he thought some of the illegal entrants arrived in small Chinese craft that anchored in the kelp beds offshore “under pretense of fishing.”58

That suspicion focused on the Chinese fishermen was probably only natural. It was very difficult for the Customs Collector to monitor the junk traffic from his office in New Town, some four miles away from the mouth of the harbor. To avoid paying entry fees and tonnage taxes, the fishermen did their best to avoid any contact at all with local customs officials.59 The junks in the abalone trade often did not enter the bay at all, but anchored offshore while smaller vessels went out to bring the fishermen supplies and transfer their cargoes to the waterfront.60 It was just this kind of movement that aroused the understaffed and underequipped Berry’s suspicion, though he was powerless to do anything about it. Most of the illegal immigrants came overland anyway, and Berry and his deputies were more concerned with patrolling the desolate border east of San Diego than with keeping track of Chinese fishermen.61

Under the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Chinese laborers already living in the United States were allowed to return after leaving the country by presenting certificates of residence to the Collector of Customs at their port of entry. In 1888, however, the Scott Act invalidated these certificates and made it illegal for any Chinese laborer whatsoever to enter the country. Congress probably did not act with the San Diego fishermen in mind, but the new law did threaten those in the abalone trade who passed into Mexican territorial waters on their way to the lower coast. No indication survives that local customs officials made any effort to use the new law to “drive the heathen from the bay,” as the Union put it, but the industry nonetheless began to dissolve immediately after enactment of the Scott Act. One government observer cited fear of deportation under the law as one reason for the decline.62 At any rate, the number of junks based at San Diego dropped from thirteen in 1888 to six in 1890.63

At the same time, control of the industry concentrated into the hands of a few wealthy merchants. Two of the six junks left in the bay in 1890, the Acme and the Sing Wo On, belonged to Wo Sing, a local merchant and labor contractor who was described by the Union as “one of the wealthiest Chinese in San Diego.”64 Three others, including the Sun Yun Lee, were owned by Quong Sun Kee, whose store was at Second and J Streets in New Town.65 Merchants were not subject to exclusion under the acts of 1882 and 1888, which may explain why these five junks were still at San Diego as late as 1890.

Wo Sing and Quong Sun Kee maintained their hold in the San Diego fishing industry for only a short while. In September, 1891, the Sun Yun Lee arrived in port with a cargo of salt fish taken off Monterey. John Berry asked Secretary of the Treasury Foster for instructions. “These vessels,” he wrote, “have formerly entered and left this port at will, making no entry except when arriving from a foreign port or waters.” The junk’s owner was a responsible Chinese merchant in San Diego, he continued, and he did not know how to treat the vessel under the law.66 There is no record of any immediate reply, but eighteen months later Foster’s successor, John G. Carlisle, notified all collectors of internal revenue that “persons engaged in the taking or drying or otherwise preserving shells or fish for home consumption or exportation, and laundrymen, shall be classed as laborers.”67 In the meantime, the Chinese bailed out. Wo Sing sold the Acme and the Sing Wo On to Americans in August and September, 1892, and a month later Quong Sun Kee sold two of his junks, including the Sun Yun Lee.68 By 1893 there was only one Chinese junk left fishing in San Diego County.69

In 1893, Captain J. W. Collins of the United States Fish Commission reported that the Chinese fishery at San Diego, which had been extensive seven years earlier, had “since been abandoned… and at this time there are comparatively few Chinese connected with the industry.”70 After the McCreary Act that year codified Carlisle’s ruling and put a final end to their ocean-going fishing, some of the Chinese fishermen returned home to China, while others took up truck gardening and other occupations in San Diego. A very few stayed on to work the waters of the bay.71 Chinese fishing activity elsewhere in the state fell off as well after the turn of the century as the State Board of Fish Commissioners successfully pressed for protective restrictions on the taking and export of abalone and shrimp.72

Prevented by federal law from making proper use of their large, seagoing junks, Wo Sing and Quong Sun Kee gave up the fishing business. The Sun Yun Lee , now renamed Hong Kong, hauled wheat for its American owner in 1896.73 Others, the Pekin, the Alta (formerly the Sing Wo On ), and later the Hong Kong, carried guano from rich deposits on the lower coast to citrus orchards in San Diego County.74 Mexican law required that guano be taken under government concession only, but the fast Chinese craft had no trouble evading the authorities at first.75 In April, 1900, Mexican cutters seized the Hong Kong and the Alta for poaching guano. Later that year, the Hong Kong broke up on the shore at Ensenada during a storm.76

“Judging from the rapid progress being made in nearly all the industries of San Diego,” predicted a local journalist in 1891, it is very probable… that the time is not far distant when the primitive and Oriental type of fishing boats now engaged in the fisheries of southern California will be supplanted by a type of vessels similar… to those engaged in prosecuting the fisheries of New England.77

During the nineties, San Diego businessmen built canneries and by 1897 the new railroad was carrying fresh fish and shellfish to markets as far away as Denver and Kansas City.78 At the turn of the century, Portuguese craftsmen like Manuel Madruga were busy installing gasoline engines in older sailing vessels and fishermen were continually landing record catches at the city’s wharves.79 A decade later, Portuguese fishermen had moved into the fishing shacks at Roseville and established the still-vital tuna industry at San Diego.80 In 1936 the San Diego Union voiced an unwitting irony when it marveled at the growth of the city’s “new” business in gathering abalone and shipping it to the Orient.81

For thirty years after the discovery of gold brought a rush of immigrants and commercial activity to the northern part of the state, southern California remained isolated and unchanged. As such, it offered a temporary haven for Chinese pioneers whose efforts elsewhere were thwarted at every turn. At San Diego, Chinese fishermen were able to build a prosperous and expansive industry by developing a resource that no one else seemed to covet very much. At the same time, they performed a valuable service to the whole community and cooperated with whites at several key points in their work.

While there were indications that the fishermen might be able to establish a working relationship with other members of their community, however, they nonetheless adhered to the insular Chinese society in California more closely than to that around them. As long as San Diego itself remained economically backward and could not really use the resources they controlled, the Chinese fishermen were left in peace and even liked. As soon as the railroad integrated the city into the larger state and national economies, San Diegans’ good will toward the Chinese among them evaporated and fishermen of other ethnic backgrounds arrived to take command of the valuable marine resource. It very quickly became apparent that, in San Diego as elsewhere, there would be no room for the Chinese in an American California.


1. Good general treatments of the Chinese in nineteenth century California include Ping Chiu, Chinese Labor in California, 1850-1880. An Economic Study (Madison: Department of History, University of Wisconsin, 1963); Alexander Plaisted Saxton, The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971); and Gunther Barth, Bitter Strength: A History of the Chinese in the United States. 1850-1870 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964).

2. Barth, op. cit., pp. 301., 1071.

3. Richard F. Pourade, The Glory Years (Vol. 4 of The History of San Diego) (San Diego: The Union-Tribune Publishing Company, 1964), ch. II-III passim; cf. Corey McWilliams, Southern California: An Island on the Land (New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1946), pp. 50, 1161.

4. George Brown Goode, et. al., The Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United States, Section IV, The Fishermen of the United States (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1887), p. 29; H. B. Alexander, “Prospective Fisheries of San Diego,” Golden Era, 40 (May, 1891), 891.

5. Thomas W. Chinn, ed., A History of the Chinese in California: A Syllabus (San Francisco: Chinese Historical Society of America, 1969), p. 87; Robert A. Nash, “The Chinese Fishing Industry in Baja California” (paper read at the Baja California Symposium IX, Asociacion Cultural de las Californias, Santa Ana, California, May 1, 1971), San Diego Historical Society Library and Manuscripts Collection (hereinafter cited as SDHC), p. 4.

6. San Diego History Center, Statements of Property of Chinese, Miscellaneous Box File No. 1, SDHC; Lucy Wentworth, Lucy Wentworth ‘s Notes, SDHC, p. 13.

7. For physical descriptions of the Chinese fishing settlements, see John Davidson, Place Names of San Diego County, No. 259: Chinatown, SDHC; Pourade, op. cit., pp. 46, 230; Goode, op. cit., Sec. IV, pp. 37, 40; also Don M. Stewart, Frontier Port: A Chapter in San Diego’s History (Los Angeles: The Ward Ritchie Press, 1965), pp. 15117.

8. San Diego Union, January 19, 1880; David Starr Jordan, “The Fisheries of the Pacific Coast,” in Goode, op. cit., Sec. 111, Fisheries, pp. 595f.

9. San Francisco Bulletin, January 12, 1875, cited in Jordan, op. cit., p. 614.

10. San Diego Union, April 20, 1872.

11. George Johnson, Collector of Customs. San Diego, to the Secretary of the Treasury, January 12, 1886, Records of the United States Bureau of Customs, Record Group 36, National Archives and Records Service, Los Angeles Federal Records Center, Laguna Niguel, California (hereinafter cited as NARS 36), Series 143.

12. Charles Nordhoff, Peninsular California: Some Account of the Climate. Soil, Products, and Present Condition Chiefly of the Northern Half of Lower California (New York: Harper Bros., 1888), p. 195.

13. Ibid.

14. Goode, op. cit., Sec. IV, p. 37; Chinn, op. cit., p. 40.

15. W. H. Dall, “Notes on Fishing Products Exported From San Francisco, California, During the Year 1883,” United States Fish Commission Bulletin, Vol. 4 (1884) (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1884), p. 125; Chinn, op. cit., p. 41.

16. Pourade, Gold in the Sun (Vol. 5 of The History of San Diego (San Diego: Union-Tribune Publishing Company, 1965), p. 156.

17. Goode, op. cit., Sec. V, History and Methods of the Fisheries, Vol. 2, p. 625.

18. George Johnson to Spencer F. Baird, Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries, March, 1886, NARS 36, Series 143; Johnson to the Secretary of the Treasury, January 12, 1886, NARS 36, Series 143.

19. United States Bureau of Customs, San Diego Office, Tonnage Admeasurements, 1889-1917, NARS 36, Series 158, Junks at San Francisco, which never left the bay, had only one mast. David Starr Jordan noted that those moored at Pescadero were very poorly built. The San Diego junks were the only ones in the California junk fleet that had to travel long distances at sea, and so had to be well built. Nash, op. cit., p. 5; Jordan, op. cit., p. 601.

20. Manuel Madruga, Interview of Manuel Madruga (oral interview conducted by Edgar F. Hastings, April 20, 1957), SDHC, p. 5; cf. Stewart, op. cit., p. 17.

21. J. W. Collins, “The Fishing Vessels and Boats of the Pacific Coast.” United States Fish Commission Bulletin, Vol. 10 (1890) (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1890), pp. 40, 46; John R. Berry, Collector of Customs, San Diego, to the Secretary of the Treasury, September 12, 1891, NARS 36, Series 143.

22. Robert F. G. Spier, “Food Habits of Nineteenth-Century California Chinese,” California Historical Society Quarterly 37 (March, 1958), p. 82; Chinn, op. cit., p. 40.

23. George Chu, “Chinatowns in the Delta: The Chinese in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, 1870-1960,” California Historical Society Quarterly 49 (March, 1970), pp. 21-39; Jordan, op. cit., p. 626.

24. Robert F. Walsh, “Chinese and the Fisheries in California,” The California Illustrated Magazine 4 (November, 1893), p. 834.

25. Chinn, op. cit., p. 37.

26. Goode, op. cit., Sec. V, Vol. 1, pp. 735f.

27. Jordan, op. cit., p. 595. This pattern obtained until at least 1885. George Johnson. to the Commissioner of Navigation, November 25, 1885, NARS 36, Series 143.

28. Herbert C. Hensley, Memoirs, Vol. 4, SDHC, pp. 618f.

29. San Diego Union, January 16; February 14, 1880.

30. Jordan, op. cit., p. 620; San Diego Union, September 7, 1878; July 6, 1885; Goode, op. cit., Sec. V, Vol. 2, p. 625; Henry Schwartz, “The Levi Saga: Temecula, Julian, San Diego,” Western States Jewish Historical Society Quarterly 6 (April, 1974), p. 166.

31. 9 in 1870, less than 40 in 1879-80, and 52 in 1888. Manuscript Census, San Diego Enumeration District, 1870, 1880; Jordan, op. cit., p. 599; J. W. Collins, “Report on the Fisheries of the Pacific Coast of the United States,” United States Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries, Report of the Commissioner, for 1888 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1892), p. 28.

32. Manuscript Census, 1870, 1880. In 1870 all of the nine fishermen were single men ranging in age from 21 to 36. In 1880 there were five families with children in the two fishing colonies. Ten years later, when San Diego’s population had tripled, there were only about a dozen Chinese families in the city. Testimony of Ah Quin taken December 17, 1890, Hotel del Coronado, San Diego. United States Congress, House of Representatives, “Immigration Investigation,” 51st Congress, 2nd Session, 1890 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891) (hereinafter cited as “Immigration Investigation”), p. 557.

33. The 1870 Manuscript Census shows that six out of the nine Chinese fishermen owned personal property ranging in value from $75 to $200. Only rarely do any other Chinese in the census have property listed. No records of property were taken for the 1880 census. One may surmise that the Chinese who did own capital equipment bought it with earnings from other occupations, e.g., mining. Sometimes the Six Companies would get a Chinese started in his own business, but the influence of the Companies in faraway San Diego seems to have been remote. Testimony of Foo Gwang Kin, “Immigration Investigation,” p. 554.

34. Nash, op. cit., pp. 4, 8; San Diego Union, July 24, 1884.

35. It would appear from the census records that none of the fishermen stayed in San Diego for more than a decade, but the census takers cannot be relied upon for having spelled Chinese names consistently. Moreover, many of the fishermen were commonly away from port for a month or more at a time, and may have been missed by census workers.

36. 22 out of 229 in 1880; about 57 out of 909 in 1890. In fact, the largest share of San Diego’s Chinese population seems to have been made up of laundrymen. Manuscript Census, 1880; Chinn, op. cit., p. 21; Stewart, op. cit., p. 14; Testimony of Mayor Douglas Gunn, “Immigration Investigation,” p. 571.

37. San Diego Union, August 23, 1884.

38. Spier concludes, “. . . the customary Chinese diet persisted among the Chinese of California and… they took direct steps to maintain it.” op. cit., pp. 129ff.

39. San Diego Union, May 24, 1881.

40. McWilliams, op. cit., p. 91.

41. Pourade, The Glory Years, pp. 67, 118.

42. San Diego Union, November 8, 1885. M. C. Miller has analyzed the anti-Chinese agitation in San Diego in 1877, “The Anti-Chinese Movement in San Diego, 1870-1882” (unpublished seminar paper, California State University, San Diego, 1972), SDHC. She concludes that the leading citizens that made up the 1877 Committee of Public Safety benefitted financially from the presence of Chinese laborers, even though they shared the workingmen’s racial attitudes in every way, p. 14.

43. William R. Wecklean discusses the relative lack of violent anti-Chinese feeling in his “The Celestials and the Angels,” Southern California Quarterly 42 (March, 1964), p. 240.

44. Pourade, The Glory Years, pp. 159-165.

45. Collins, “Report on the Fisheries of the Pacific Coast,” pp. 25, 28.

46. San Diego Union, November 22, 1885.

47. Ibid., August 11, 12, November 21, 1886.

48. Ibid., May 23, June 7, 12, 1884. In 1886 the Chinese shipped twenty tons of dried fish in one week, December 18, 1886. Hotel keepers’ complaint, Ibid., February 6, 1885.

49. Walsh, op. cit., p. 833.

50. Goode, op. cit., Sec. IV, p. 38.

51. San Diego Union, October 6, 1887.

52.Ibid., October 12, 27, 28, 1887. The Mexican government as well moved to protect its resources by ruling that all fishing on the lower coast had to be done under license. Nash, op. cit., p. 8.

53. Charles Seymour, “Fish Culture in Southern China,” United States Fish Commission Bulletin, Vol. 5 (1885) (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1885), pp. 252ff.; cf- Isaac Shepherd, “Fish Culture in China,” Ibid., pp. 250f.

54. Statewide, conviction rates for violating the net laws were much higher for European fishermen than for the Chinese. California State Commissioners of Fisheries, Fifth Biennial Report, 1878-1879 (Sacramento: State Printing Office, 1879), p. 18; Eighth Biennial Report, 1883-84, pp. 12, 18f. At San Diego, too, several nationalities were accused of taking small fish out of the bay. San Diego Union, June 23, 25, 1894.

55. W. N. Lockington, “Report on the Food Fishes of San Francisco,” State Commissioners of Fisheries, Fifth Biennial Report, 1878-79, p. 19.

56. Stewart, op. cit., p. 120.

57. San Diego Union, December 10, 14, 1887.

58. Testimony of John R. Berry, “Immigration Investigation,” p. 548. cf. San Diego Union, December 14, 1887, April 10, 1896.

59. Johnson to Baird, March 15, 1886, NARS 36, Series 143.

60. Johnson to the Secretary of the Treasury, January 12, 1886, NARS 36, Series 143.

61. In contemporary remarks about the immigration problem, entry by sea is usually mentioned after or incidentally to that by land. Moreover, all of the special agents hired by the San Diego Customs Collectors were posted on the land border to watch for illegal Chinese.

62. William A. Wilcox, “The Fisheries of the Pacific Coast,” United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries, Report of the Commissioner for the Year Ending June 30, 1893 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1898), p. 188.

Eight Chinese, some of whose names are similar to those listed as fishermen in the 1880 manuscript census, were arrested for illegal entry in San Diego Harbor at midnight on April 9, 1890. Some of them were later convicted and deported. A “Doctor Wo Sang,” who may have been Wo Sing, the San Diego merchant, labor contractor, and junk owner, was also indicted in the affair. Inconsistent transcription of Chinese names (cf. supra, note 35) and poor organization of the District Court’s records, however, prevented the author from pinpointing this as the incident which precipitated the dissolution of the San Diego Chinese fishery. It would probably have taken only one such incident to do the job. cf. Testimony of John R. Berry, “Immigration Investigation,” p. 546; Berry to George E. Gard, U. S. Marshal, Los Angeles, April 10, 1890, NARS 36, Series 153; United States District Court, Southern District, Central Division Docket Books: Commissioner’s Records, William M. Van Dyke,1888-1893, NARS Record Group 21, Series 90, p. 150.

63. Wilcox, loc. cit.

64. San Diego Union, December 20, 1888.

65. Jerry MacMullen to Frank Quin, April 28, 1958, Vertical File No. 72: Chinese in San Diego, SDHC; Nash, op. cit., p. 6. Those of the five for which records survive were all quite large and built in 1884, suggesting that these two merchants moved into the abalone industry just as it was reaching its zenith. United States Bureau of Customs, Tonnage Admeasurements, 1889-1917, NARS 36, Series 158.

66. Berry to the Secretary of the Treasury, September 12, 1891, NARS 36, Series 143.

67. United States Congress, House of Representatives, “Enforcement of the Geary Law,” House Executive Document 10, 53rd Congress, 1st Session (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1893), p. 16.

68. San Diego Union, May 10, 1959.

69. Wilcox, op. cit., p. 188.

70. California State Commissioners of Fisheries, Thirteenth Biennial Report, 1893-1894 (Sacramento: State Printing Office, 1894), p. 16.

71. San Diego Union, November 12, 1894; Pourade, op. cit., p. 290.

72. Chinn, op. cit., p. 41; California State Commissioners of Fisheries, Biennial Reports, 1878-1879; 1897-1898; 1899-1900, passim.

73. San Diego Union, March 17, 1896.

74. Nash, op. cit., p. 6; Stewart, op. cit. p. 144.

75. Nash, loc. cit.

76. San Diego Union, April 1, December 19, 1900.

77. Alexander, op. cit., p. 891.

78. Pourade, Gold in the Sun, p. 231. San Diego Union, September 27, 1890; August 13, 31, 1891; June 9, 1893.

79. San Diego Union, July 5, 1902; August 12, 1903; Madruga, op. cit., p. 1.

80. Pourade, Gold in the Sun, pp. 139, 233; cf. Frederick G. Bohme, “The Portuguese in California,” California Historical Society Quarterly 35 (September, 1956), pp. 233-253.

81. San Diego Union, June 9, 1936.


Arthur F. McEvoy received his B.A. degree with honors in History from Stanford University in 1973. He is currently studying for the Ph.D. in United States Economic History at the University of California at San Diego. His article published here was an award winning paper at the 1976 San Diego Historical Society Institute of History.