“Rosy Cheeked Girl the Cause of It All”: The English Teenager Who Nearly Toppled the Southern Immigration Movement

by

Vince Lowery

      On October 2, 1906, English teenager Hilda Barnes boarded a train in Charlotte, North Carolina, bound for Washington, D.C.  Stranded and penniless when she arrived, the local press publicized the plight of this innocent immigrant lost in a foreign land, but Barnes’s story changed frequently as local law enforcement officials scrutinized her claims.  The investigation into her travels resulted in the trial of three mill managers and their representative, all accused of violating alien contract labor laws by recruiting Barnes and roughly eighty other English men and women to work in textile mills in North Carolina.  In prosecuting these mill officials, the federal government challenged the various public and private campaigns to recruit foreign laborers to the South in the early twentieth century, threatening the southern immigration movement just as it reached its climax.[1]

The Washington Post published a series of articles about Barnes’s ordeal shortly after she arrived in the city.  She claimed that she had traveled from Manchester, England to New York City with her mother.  They searched for an uncle, but they did not know his address.  According to the teenager, they met her cousin, John Barnes, who convinced her to join him on a trip to Charlotte.  He abandoned her at the train station when they arrived in the Queen City.  Filling her story with colloquialisms that delighted the Post reporter, Barnes explained that “a bobby” paid for her ticket to Washington; the officer apparently assured her the metropolitan police department could help.  After she arrived in the nation’s capital, a police officer took her to the city’s House of Detention, a facility for women who had been “deserted by husbands or friends who may be for the time being within the District.”  The English teenager described her troubles to officials at the detention center, but they doubted her story.  They suspected that she had been “abducted and brought to America by someone who wished to realize on [sic] her abilities in a circus.”  According to the Post, Barnes previously performed an equestrian act in a circus that toured England, but she opted for more respectable employment in a factory.  While the newspaper expressed concern for her well-being, questions lingered.  A final admission prompted a federal investigation into her travels:  Barnes confessed that her name was in fact Edith Goode Elliotte (identified as Edith Good on the passenger list of the R. M. S. Carmania, which arrived at Ellis Island on September 20, 1906, and identified as Edith Goode in all subsequent reports) and that she had been recruited to work in a mill in Gastonia, North Carolina.[2]

Ill. 1: Postcard of the S.S. Carmania from the Maritime Digital Archive Encyclopedia (http://www.ibiblio.org/maritime/media/displayimage.php?album=10856&pid=31547#top_display_media).”

Federal officials suspected that Goode was one of “as many as 1000” English immigrants contracted to work in southern factories by labor recruiters.[3]  The Alien Contract Labor Law (1885), also referred to as the Foran Act, “made it ‘unlawful’ for any individual or firm to import or otherwise arrange for the importation of workers.”  The Knights of Labor had pressed for this legislation in 1885, and the American Federation of Labor (AFL) lobbied for additional restrictions to protect native workers from foreign competition in the early twentieth century.[4]  In 1906, the AFL asked the Department of Commerce and Labor to investigate possible violations of the alien contract labor law by North Carolina mill officials and South Carolina’s Department of Agriculture, Commerce, and Immigration, which pre-paid for the passage of 480 German and Belgian immigrants who arrived in Charleston one month after Goode appeared on the streets of the nation’s capital.  The State (Columbia, South Carolina) suggested that the English teenager was responsible for this “mighty row about the violation of immigration laws in North and South Carolina.”  Although South Carolina officials were absolved of any wrongdoing, the AFL continued to demand action to cease the importation of foreign labor by southern states.[5]

In November 1906, the Department of Justice received a Bureau of Immigration report implicating English mill worker and labor agent Thomas Costello, D. A. Tompkins Company’s general manager, Sumner B. Sargent, and Chadwick and Hoskins Mills president, E. A. Smith, and its secretary and treasurer, E. C. Dwelle, in a scheme to recruit English laborers illegally.  The Department of Justice charged these men with conspiring to circumvent alien contract labor laws.  When the trial began in February 1907, defense attorneys claimed that “hundreds and thousands of spindles [were] idle solely because labor could not be found to operate them,” conditions under which federal law permitted the recruitment of foreign labor.  Testifying on behalf of the prosecution, labor leaders, including United Textile Workers president John Golden, argued that qualified, native-born workers were readily available if mill owners paid proper wages and maintained safe working environments.  Despite these claims, the prosecution conceded the point to the defense.  Sargent advised his employer, immigration advocate Daniel Augustus Tompkins, that the government’s case had become “a hopeless wreck,” and the Department of Justice soon abandoned it.  Defense attorney Charles Tillett proclaimed that the outcome effectively negated alien contract labor laws and legitimized employers’ efforts to recruit workers abroad.[6]

Ill. 2: North Carolina Mills Postcard (n.d.), Courtesy of “Cotton Mills in New South Charlotte” (http://www.cmhpf.org/educationtextilehistory.htm)

Although the Costello case ended favorably, southern immigration advocates still feared federal intervention. Responding to a request made by the House Committee on Immigration the day before the trial began, President Theodore Roosevelt instructed Attorney General Charles J. Bonaparte to assess the legality of the Palmetto State program.  Just as the government’s case against the mill men collapsed in early March, Bonaparte announced “that it is unlawful for a state government to pay the passage of intending immigrants or to assist immigration otherwise than by advertisement.”  This decision prohibited the primary means by which agents lured European laborers to the Carolinas.  Alarmed by this ruling, North and South Carolina immigration advocates met with Roosevelt, Bonaparte, and Secretary of Commerce and Labor Oscar Strauss at the White House one week later.  These meetings inspired Bonaparte to reverse his ruling and permitted states to pre-pay immigrants’ passage, thus undoing what the “buxom, rosy-cheeked, bright-eyed, English girl” supposedly began.[7]

Krystyn Moon, Bluford Adams, and David Voelker generously reviewed earlier versions of this essay and provided important suggestions to improve it, and Renee Ettinger, Lindsay Hahn, Daniel Richter, and Tom Cole provided valuable research assistance.  Moon agreed to host the essay on the Southeastern Immigration Blog and steered it across the finish line, preparing it for public consumption.

[1] On the southern immigration movement, see, for example, Rowland T. Berthoff, “Southern Attitudes Towards Immigration, 1865-1914,” Journal of Southern History 17, no. 3 (August 1951): 328-360; Willard B. Gatewood, Jr., “Strangers in the Southern Eden: The South and Immigration, 1900-1920,” in Ethnic Minorities in Gulf Coast Society, ed. Jerrell H. Shofner and Linda V. Ellsworth (Pensacola, Florida: Gulf Coast History and Humanities Conference, 1979), 1-24; Marcia G. Synnott, “Replacing ‘Sambo’: Could White Immigrants Solve the Labor Problem in the Carolinas?,” Proceeding of the South Carolina Historical Association (1982): 77-89; Erin Elizabeth Clune, “Black Workers, White Immigrants, and the Postemancipation Problem of Labor: The New South in Transnational Perspective,” in Global Perspectives on Industrial Transformation in the American South, ed. Susanna Delfino and Michele Gillespie (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2005), 199-228; J. Vincent Lowery, “‘Another Species of Race Discord’: Race, Desirability, and the North Carolina Immigration Movement,” Journal of American Ethnic History 35, no. 2 (Winter 2016): 32-59.
[2] “English Girl Is Stranded,” Washington Post, October 4, 1906, 10; “See Immigrant Plot,” Washington Herald, October 12, 1906, 3; “Was She Abducted?,” Washington Post, October 5, 1906, 4; “Girl Has Another Name,” Washington Post, October 7, 1906, 4; “Girl of Mystery Tells Her Story,” Washington Times, October 7, 1906, 10. On the House of Detention, see “The House of Detention,” Washington Evening Star, August 12, 1900, 12.  The Carmania’s passenger list has been digitized and made available on Ancestry.com.
[3] Washington Post apparently defied orders to withhold reports about Barnes’s story.  According to the Newport (Rhode Island) Mercury, federal officers feared that any public report would undermine their investigation into the southern immigration movement.  The Rhode Island newspaper suggested this apprehension was well-founded, announcing that “money has been sent to her in an effort to get [Goode] out of the reach of the authorities and put a stop to the investigation.” See “Washington Matters,” Newport (Rhode Island) Mercury, October 20, 1906, 4.
[4] On alien contract labor laws, see Charlotte Erickson, American Industry and the European Immigrant, 1860-1885 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957), 148-186; Gwendolyn Mink, Old Labor and New Immigrants in American Political Development: Union, Party, and State, 1875-1920 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986), 108-110, 194-198; Roger Daniels, Guarding the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy and Immigrants Since 1882 (New York: Hill and Wang, 2004), 28-29; Aristide R. Zolberg, A Nation by Design: Immigration Policy in the Fashioning of America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008), 194-196; Krystyn Moon, “On a Temporary Basis: Immigration, Labor Unions, and the American Entertainment Industry, 1880s-1930s,” Journal of American History 99, no. 3 (December 2012): 771-792.
[5] Although the AFL was primarily concerned with the influx of southern and eastern European and Asian immigrants, labor leaders’ hostility toward the northwestern Europeans in the Carolinas became evident as the cases unfolded.  On the AFL’s actions against the immigration work in the Carolinas, see “Federation of Labor Fighting Good Work,” The State, November 14, 1906, 1; “Much Ado about Immigration,” The State, November 19, 1906, 4; “Southern Immigration,” The State, November 27, 1906, 4; “Those English Girls,” Lumberton Semi-Weekly Robesian, December 21, 1906, 2; “Samuel Gompers on Immigration,” The State, December 21, 1906, 2; Zach McGhee, “Rosy Cheeked Girl the Cause of it All,” The State, March 10, 1907, 14; Samuel Gompers to Joseph Cannon, January 19, 1907, and Gompers to Theodore Roosevelt, March 6, 1907, both in The Samuel Gompers Papers, Volume 7: The American Federation of Labor Under Siege, 1906-1909, eds. Stuart B. Kaufman, Peter J. Albert, and Grace Palladino (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999), 154-155, 195-196.  On the federal review of the South Carolina program, see Berthoff, “Southern Attitudes toward Immigration,” 341; Synnott, “Replacing ‘Sambo,’” 79; Lowery, “‘Another Species of Race Discord,’” 35.
[6] “Those English Girls,” 2; “Cotton Mill Men Under Arrest?,” The State, November 29, 1906, 1; “Charlotte Men Acquitted,” Statesville Landmark, March 12, 1907, 1; Charles W. Tillett, “How the Celebrated Greensboro Case Against Certain Mill Men under the Alien Contract Labor Law Was Fought and Won,” American Industries, March 15, 1907, 9-11; “More about Those Immigration Cases,” Fibre and Fabric, March 30, 1907, 5; Sumner B. Sargent to Daniel A. Tompkins, March 7, 1907 (underlining in original), Daniel Augustus Tompkins Papers (#724), Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC;  Lowery, “‘Another Species of Race Discord,'” 35, 53n15; The Samuel Gompers Papers, Volume 7, 186n14.  On Tompkins, see Erin Elizabeth Clune, “From Light Copper to the the Blackest and Lowest Type: Daniel Tompkins and the Racial Order of the Global New South,” Journal of Southern History 76, no. 2 (May 2010): 275-314.
[7] “Straus’s [sic] Reply Unsatisfactory,” Charleston News and Courier, February 27, 1907, 1; Samuel Gompers to Theodore Roosevelt, March 6, 1907 in The Samuel Gompers Papers, Volume 7, 195-196; “Was Unlawful,” Wilmington Messenger, March 7, 1907, 1; “Immigration Gets a Jolt,” Charleston News and Courier, March 7, 1907, 1; “Held that State Cannot Pay Fare,” The State, March 7, 1907, 1; “State Passage for Immigrants,” Wilmington Morning Star, March 9, 1907, 8; “Foreign Labor for the South,” Wilmington Morning Star, March 12, 1907, 8; “State-Aided Immigration,” Wilmington Messenger, March 12, 1907, 1; “The President and Our Immigrants,” Charleston News and Courier, March 12, 1907, 4; “Immigration Question,” Wilmington Morning Star, March 13, 1907, 4; “Foreign Labor for South,” Wilmington Morning Star, March 14, 1907, 5; “Passage Money for Aliens,” Charleston News and Courier, March 14, 1907, 1; “New Competition for Negroes,” New York Times, March 26, 1907, 8.  Historian Rowland Berthoff argued that Bonaparte’s ruling forced “southern states … to abandon their fifty-year-old immigration campaigns” and that “the tightening of the contract labor law … killed the state governments’ programs for assisted immigration.”  The White House conferences, however, inspired the attorney general to reverse his decision against these initiatives.  See Berthoff, “Southern Attitudes toward Immigration,” 341, 358; Synnott, “Replacing ‘Sambo,’” 79; Lowery, “‘Another Species of Race Discord,’” 35, 44-45, 58n58.

Monument to the Immigrant

Below are some photographs of the “Monument to the Immigrant,” which is located along the Mississippi River in New Orleans (yes–we used a similar image for our website header).  The statue, dedicated in 1995, commemorates New Orleans as an immigration hub, especially for Italians.  German, Irish, and Jewish American organizations also contributed to the construction of the statue.

In many ways, this statute speaks to ethnic revivalism, which appears in the late 1960s, and its 1980s offshoot, multiculturalism. As argued by Matthew Frye Jacobson in Roots Too, the celebration of the U.S. as a “nation of immigrants” emerges at a particular time when Americans are becoming increasingly aware of the role of race and ethnicity in our history.

Interestingly, most–if not all–of the organizations listed on the pedestal of the “Monument to the Immigrant” pre-date the ethnic revival (and later multicultural) moment and speak to a much more complicated notion of racial/ethnic identity and history in a city such as New Orleans.  The creation of organizations by immigrant groups has a long history in the United States, and includes public performances of heritage.  True, the components of heritage celebration (and the ideas behind them) have changed over time, but the practice has persisted nevertheless.  Perhaps the role of racial/ethnic identity in the late 20th century should be seen more as a continuation of the the ways in which immigrants and their descendants imagined and celebrated their heritage as well as a break from the past?

A History of Southern Immigrants in Eighteen Objects

If you were going to tell the story of an immigrant community through artifacts – photographs, letters, newspaper articles, objects from the community’s day-to-day life – what kinds of artifacts would you choose? Would you want to make sure that your chosen objects attested to the transnational connections between the community’s old and new worlds? Or would you center the story around the lives these immigrants made, and the ways they changed (or didn’t), in their new home? Would you focus on the communal leaders, the cultural and political “ethnic brokers” who helped the newcomers and the people among whom they now lived understand and relate to one another? Or would you elevate the quotidian, showing how politics and culture could be found in even the most ordinary acts? Would you want to emphasize the creation and maintenance of communal life, or would you reveal the fissures, the conflicting ideas that needed to be negotiated?

Of course, you’d probably want to do all of these things. Now: what if you had to tell this story in only eighteen artifacts?

This was the challenge posed to me and several other local historians by Timothy Frilingos, the Exhibitions Manager of the Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in Atlanta. Founded in 1996, the Breman is the largest Jewish history museum in the southeast. They recently dismantled their longstanding permanent exhibition on Atlanta Jewish history, with the intent of developing a new space and a new concept. Mr. Frilingos asked us each to send him a list of events, physical spaces, individuals, families, and historical themes – but no more than eighteen in total – that we would choose if we were going to curate an exhibit that told Atlanta’s Jewish history. The exercise evokes the amazing book A History of the World in 100 Objects by the director of the British Museum; the number eighteen, I assume, is a reference to the numerological value of the Hebrew word “chai,” which means “life.”

As a teacher, I do this kind of selecting and excluding all the time. Every subject I choose to include in a course’s curriculum represents a hundred other subjects I’m leaving out. One might call this kind of work curatorial. But museum curation seems especially daunting to me, and when I sat down to make my list I felt a little overwhelmed and outside my comfort zone.

I began with the intent of focusing on the immigrant experience, specifically. Atlanta has hosted a Jewish population since the 1850s, and for most of the nineteenth century a majority of Jews in the city were born in central Europe. By 1900, however, Atlanta’s Jewish population was changing: hundreds of Jewish immigrants had recently arrived from the Pale of Settlement and elsewhere in eastern Europe, and the central European-born population was shrinking, both actually and relative to the newer group. This ethnic shift was entirely typical of Jewish communities all over the U.S., and Jewish historical museums have found ways to tell this story everywhere: the more established population moves to a better neighborhood, and the newcomers take their places; a new synagogue (or two or three) is founded to serve the spiritual needs of the newcomers; the “uptown” Jews look down on their poorer “downtown” brethren, and their paternalistic efforts to help inspire resentments and cultural clashes. Atlanta’s Jewish history offers plenty of evidence of all of this. So my list of eighteen began with the founding of The Temple by central European Jews in 1867, Ahavath Achim by eastern European Jews in 1886, and Or V’Shalom by Sephardim from the Ottoman Empire in 1914. It included the cemeteries where the earliest members of each of these congregations are buried, the names of the immigrant Jewish entrepreneurs who started important businesses in the city, and the secular institutions that these Jews had created. So far, so good.

But the “immigration” story soon gets more complicated. By the end of the nineteenth century, the number of American-born Jews had more than doubled, from 369 in 1880 to 876 in 1896.[i] From that time forward, native-born Jews comprised the majority of Atlanta’s Jewish population. This demographic shift is also typical, but it threw me for a loop: for a population created by immigration, when does the “immigrant experience” end? This is a question that I’ve never seen engaged in the scholarly literature (though perhaps I’ve missed it), and it seems absolutely central to anyone thinking categorically about immigrant communities.

My other hoped-for goal was to include as many events and themes as I could that denoted the “southernness” of Atlanta’s Jewish community. But again, the story got complicated soon enough. Much has been written about American Jewish attitudes toward slavery and Jewish slaveownership. But Jews owned slaves in the North, too, until those states passed manumission laws; and Jewish attitudes toward slavery – both for and against – varied within the sections. Jewish involvement in local Confederate civic and military efforts during the Civil War: that’s an easy one. Was there anything particularly southern about the world of Jewish work in Atlanta? Their occupational distribution looks nothing like that of New York, Chicago, or Philadelphia, which were all manufacturing centers and sites of robust Jewish immigrant involvement in the needle trades. In Atlanta, Jewish breadwinners were far more likely to be petty entrepreneurs and small-scale merchants than anything else. But one would find that in any American city or town without a strong manufacturing sector. So what was southern here, exactly?

Jim Crow, certainly. Of course, racial segregation was not limited to the South in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But white supremacy was the organizing principle of every aspect of life in this city. Jewish responses to it, and the ways in which they were subjected to southern racial ideologies, shaped their history. The trial and lynching of Leo Frank is the most obvious example, but there are others. For instance, central European Jews who had been in the country for decades responded to the turn-of-the-century influx of eastern European Jewish immigrants in ways that betrayed profound racial anxiety: would these newcomers be seen as white enough to gain acceptance by Atlanta’s white mainstream? Another example, decades later: the bombing of The Temple in 1958 by a militant States Rights organization that accused the city’s Jews of “leading the fight to destroy segregation in Atlanta schools” and “promoting mongrelization.”[ii] In each case, the regional context, so profoundly defined by Jim Crow, suggests that there is something distinctively southern about Atlanta’s Jewish history.

In the end, my list failed to speak to “southernness” or “immigrant community” in any absolute way. I sent it in to Mr. Frilingos, and I look forward to being a part of the continuing conversation about the exhibit. But this exercise reminded me that when we think and write about southern immigration, we must question the meaning and use of our analytic categories. It’s not enough to say that immigrant communities have settled and flourished or struggled in the South; we have to ask ourselves why it matters, and what these community histories can tell us about southern and American history more broadly.

[i] Source: Steven Hertzberg, Strangers in the Gate City: The Jews of Atlanta, 1845-1915 (JPSA, 1978): 233, 241

[ii] Source: “Jews Behind Race Mixing,” http://www.southernspaces.org/2009/counterblast-how-atlanta-temple-bombing-strengthened-civil-rights-cause, accessed 8/22/2014

Hugh MacRae, Southern Agriculture, and the Question of Selective Immigration

by J. Vincent Lowery

In 1905, Wilmington, North Carolina businessman Hugh MacRae welcomed the first European settlers onto truck farm colonies that he and the Carolina Trucking Development Company developed in the southeastern section of the state. MacRae was a prominent participant in a regional immigration movement that historian Willard B. Gatewood, Jr. contends “crested about 1905 or 1906 … [,] the work of a relatively few articulate and influential individuals who confronted the dual task of attracting immigrants to the South and persuading their fellow southerners to welcome them.” MacRae argued that African Americans were responsible for the region’s low wages and its debilitating system of tenant farming. He proposed that European immigrants would introduce small-scale, diversified, cooperative farming methods and consequently transform the agricultural economy. He predicted, “The South has everything to gain and nothing to lose in this [immigration] movement, because we would replace the lowest type of labor, that is labor obtained originally from the lowest race on earth, by a type of labor which would be so selected as to represent a standard immeasurably higher than the one we have been accustomed to.” The company chose colonists who intended to settle as families and possessed agricultural expertise, a familiarity with the climate, and a desire to become American citizens. Nativists identified southern and eastern Europeans as innately inferior and therefore undesirable, but MacRae defended the company’s settlers, among them Greeks, Italians, Hungarians, and Poles. He devoted considerable effort to the defense of the Italians of the colony of St. Helena, the largest and most prosperous settlement. Clearly responding to concerns that the company pursued undesirable settlers, MacRae explained that “the South has no cause to fear the descendants of the people who were the builders of Rome and Venice, and of Florence and Milan.”1

Group of Italian Settlers in St. Helena, NC (Pender County Public Library Digital Archive)

Group of Italian Settlers in St. Helena, NC (Pender County Public Library Digital Archive)

Yet immigration restrictions threatened MacRae’s work. Political scientist Aristide R. Zolberg argues that policymakers “designed” the nation by writing laws that permitted the entry of foreigners who possessed cultural, economic, and political value while restricting those perceived “as a threat in relation to what is deemed a fragile status quo.” In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, policy debates reflected a particular unease with the growing number of southern and eastern Europeans entering the country; nativists believed these so-called “new” immigrants were innately inferior, predisposed to disease, immorality, criminality, and anarchism. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act established the precedent for federal restrictions based on national origins, a model that would be embraced in the 1920s to limit southern and eastern European immigration. In 1921, Congress approved a temporary national origins quota system based on the 1910 census to reduce the number of “new” immigrants passing through the nation’s ports. The act also directed legislators to develop a permanent system; nativists insisted this policy must further curtail immigration.2

Photo of Hugh McRae (Village of St. Helena Website)

Photo of Hugh McRae (Village of St. Helena Website)

MacRae, a member of the Selective Immigration League, confronted restrictionists in 1924, when Representative Albert Johnson introduced a bill to implement a permanent national quota system based on the 1890 census. Johnson’s proposal would “not only reduce the total annual immigration but also choke off all but a trickle from southern and eastern Europe.” MacRae argued, however, that the bill “would … be a great calamity to the South Atlantic States, as it is purely restrictive without taking advantage of the wonderful possibilities at this time for selective immigration, through the simple process of classifying the immigrants according to their desirability.” Conceding that Congress would approve the use of the 1890 census to determine quotas, the League suggested “[t]he establishment of a minimum quota of 10,000 for nationalities that numbered 75,000 in the United States in the census,” thus creating much higher quotas and consequently admitting more immigrants than Johnson intended. MacRae and the League shared restrictionists’ desire to bar undesirable immigrants but countered that the United States should instead establish criteria that also addressed the labor needs of the country. Seeking to place greater emphasis on immigrants’ economic value, the League proposed that the quota system should give preference to farmers while making “[p]rovisions for ‘non-quota’ skilled labor and farmer immigrants when specifically asked for by State authorities; and subject to the approval of the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Agriculture in the case of farm experts; and the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Commerce in the case of skilled labor.” The League also endorsed an earlier proposal by W. W. Husband, commissioner general of immigration, who favored using naturalization records to privilege those nationalities more likely “to become assimilated as American citizens,” thus yielding to nativists’ desires to exclude immigrants who did not fit into American culture and politics. MacRae believed that these “principles … should be embodied in the Immigration Bill in order to get the great advantage of selection.”3

MacRae spoke in favor of a selective immigration policy when he testified at a senate committee hearing. He argued that a selective policy “will give an opportunity to avoid arbitrary discrimination against those nations of northern Europe which have always been regarded as the sources from which the best class of immigrants have come to the United States.” MacRae discussed his colonies in southeastern North Carolina, but he did not mention the past successes of the Italian colonists at St. Helena. This omission illustrates his awareness of legislators’ intent to greatly curtail the entry of southern Europeans and his desire to avoid antagonizing restrictionists. MacRae instead identified Dutch and Danish farmers as the most desirable immigrants. He predicted “that a few words put into your bill will add $1,000,000,000 annually to our agriculture without any harm to anyone, and it may add $5,000,000,000 a year, because I believe we can double the agricultural products of the South.”4

Italian Couple on Front Porch in St. Helena (Courtesy of Pender County Public Library Digital Archive)

Italian Couple on Front Porch in St. Helena (Courtesy of Pender County Public Library Digital Archive)

MacRae corresponded with several senators in hopes of securing an amendment to the bill being debated in the Senate. Like Johnson, Senator David Reed proposed a national origins system, although the senator’s proposal did not explicitly discriminate against southern and eastern Europeans. North Carolina senator Furnifold Simmons introduced an amendment clearly influenced by MacRae and the League. Simmons’s proposal gave preference to immigrants “skilled in agronomy, forestry, horticulture, or animal husbandry, and to experienced farm laborers who are going to some agricultural district to engage in farming.” The amendment also permitted governors and state legislatures to appeal to the Secretary of Labor for preferential treatment for such immigrants. The amendment encountered some opposition in the Senate, but historian Peter H. Wang explained that the legislature’s eventual approval of the Simmons amendment signified “a fairly important concession to southern farm interests.”5

In 1925, MacRae returned to Congress to appeal for another amendment to the Johnson-Reed Act. He praised the law for its “scientific selection of immigrants,” but he complained that it counted farmers “within the quota.” He argued, instead, that skilled agriculturalists and their families should be identified as “nonquota” immigrants. MacRae believed that quota requirements deterred men who could not otherwise bring their families to the United States. These immigrants would end the region’s dependence on African Americans “[b]y the simple process of dilution.” MacRae asserted that African Americans were “better adapted to heavy work, say, in an iron foundry or a rolling mill. Negroes do not have the intelligence back of them to make good at scientific farming. They lower the standard of the whole agricultural situation.” The North Carolina businessman assured the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, “I can take a thousand families of Hollanders and Danes, or equally skilled farmers, and put them in groups throughout the South and revolutionize the agriculture of the South.” He believed this “infiltration of brains” would lead to new farming and marketing methods that he had been seeking for twenty years. Despite this appeal, Congress failed to act upon MacRae’s proposal.6

Farmers Working the land inMacon County, Alabama in 1940 (U.S. Department of Agriculture)

MacRae continued to appeal for a favorable immigration policy, but he eventually realized that the immigrants he sought could not be attained. Acknowledging that the South would have to rely on its existing labor force, MacRae argued that southern agricultural reform must account for African Americans. Although the Wilmington businessman continued to blame blacks for the economic hardships of the South, he admitted southern whites’ responsibility for African Americans’ plight since the Civil War. MacRae concluded, “The negro and his problems are our legacy. He is a fixed part of our burden, and to lift ourselves we must lift him.”7

1 Willard B. Gatewood, Jr., “Strangers and the Southern Eden: The South and Immigration, 1900-1920,” in Ethnic Minorities in Gulf Coast Society, ed. Jerrell H. Shofner and Linda V. Ellsworth (Pensacola, Florida: Gulf Coast History and Humanities Conference, 1979), 5; Hugh MacRae, Bringing Immigrants to the South: Address Delivered Before the North Carolina Society of New York, December 7, 1908 (n.p., 1908); “Hugh MacRae’s Letter to Editor Daniels,” Winston-Salem Twin City Daily Sentinel, February 12, 1907, p. 5; George S. Byrne, “Hugh MacRae’s Practical Application of Common Sense,” Manufacturer’s Record, May 30, 1912, 49-53. For more on the economic, racial, and reform dimensions of MacRae’s colonization scheme, see John Faris Corey, “The Colonization and Contributions of Emigrants Brought to Southeastern North Carolina by Hugh MacRae,” (MA Thesis, Appalachian State Teacher’s College, 1957); Paul K. Conkin, Tomorrow a New World: The New Deal Community Program (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1959), 32, 94, 109, 123, 277-294; Stanley Tebbs Prewitt, “Hugh MacRae’s Agricultural Project: An Example of the Tensions between the Jeffersonian Ideal and the Planners’ Ethic” (Honors Thesis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1974); Marcia G. Synnott, “Replacing ‘Sambo’ Could White Immigrants Solve the Labor Problem in the Carolinas?,” Proceedings of the South Carolina Historical Association (1982) 77-89; W. Frank Ainsley, “‘Own a Home in North Carolina’: Image and Reality in Ethnic European Communities,” Journal of Cultural Geography 5 (1985): 61-69; W. Frank Ainsley, “Pulsating Patterns of Land Occupancy: The Impacts of Farm Colonization Experiments on the Rural South,” Pioneer America Society Transactions 10 (1987): 43-52; Marcia G. Synnott, “Hugh MacRae, Penderlea, and the Model Farm Communities Movement,” Proceedings of the South Carolina Historical Association (1988): 53-65; Tycho de Boer, Nature, Business, and Community in North Carolina’s Green Swamp (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2008), 132-139; and Lauren H. Braun, “Italians, the Labor Problem, and the Project in Agricultural Colonization in the New South, 1884-1934” (Ph.D. diss., University of Illinois-Chicago, 2010), chap. 5; Timothy B. Tyson and David S. Cecelski, “Hugh MacRae at Invershiel,” http://www.lib.unc.edu/blogs/morton/index.php/essays/hugh-macrae-at-inversheil/ (accessed April 24, 2013); J. Vincent Lowery, “The Transatlantic Dreams of the Port City Prophet: The Rural Reform Campaign of Hugh MacRae,” North Carolina Historical Review 90 (July 2013): 288-324; Thomas Luke Manget, “Hugh MacRae and the Idea of the Farm City: Race, Class, and Conservation in the New South, 1905-1935” (MA thesis, Western Carolina University, 2012), 28-58. Local historian Susan Taylor Block has written a variety of pieces on the Cape Fear region, including a book on the colony of Van Eeden and blog entries on MacRae and his other colonies. For her work, see http://susantaylorblock.com/ (accessed August 6, 2014).  Wilmington journalist Charles W. Riesz, Jr. has also written an insightful account of  MacRae’s Dutch settlers, from whom he is descended.  See Riesz, Tar Heels in Wooden Shoes: Dutchmen, Daffodils, and Dairies in 20th-Century North Carolina (Wilmington, NC: Charles W. Riesz, Jr. and Joanne F. Riesz, 2012).

2 John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925 (New York: Atheneum, 1973), 99-100, 112-113, 129-130, 202-204, 308-311; Mae M. Ngai, Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), 17-20; Robert F. Zeidel, Immigrants, Progressives, and Exclusion Politics: The Dillingham Commission, 1900-1927 (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2004), ch. 7-8; Roger Daniels, Guarding the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy and Immigrants since 1882 (New York: Hill and Wang, 2004), ch. 1-2; Aristide R. Zolberg, A Nation by Design: Immigration Policy in the Fashioning of America (New York and Cambridge: Russell Sage Foundation and Harvard University Press, 2006), 1-23, 224-227, 232-238 (quotation on 17); Andrew Gyory, Closing the Gate: Race, Politics, and the Chinese Exclusion Act (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1998).

3 Higham, Strangers in the Land, 315; Selective Immigration League of America, “Purposes” and “Principles,” and Hugh MacRae to David R. Coker, January 23, 1924, David Coker R. Papers, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina (hereinafter cited as Coker Papers); Selective Immigration League of America, “Purposes” (dated February 6, 1924), and Hugh MacRae to Frank H. Hampton, February 6, 1924, Box 44, Furnifold M. Simmons Papers, 1890-1946, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina (hereinafter cited as Simmons Papers); Congressional Record, 68th Congress, 1st sess., 1924, vol. 65, pt. 7, 6525.  On the immigration restriction debate and the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act, see Higham, Strangers in the Land, 315-324; Zolberg, A Nation by Design, 258-261; Zeidel, Immigrants, Progressives, and Exclusion Politics, 142-144; Ngai, Impossible Subjects, ch. 1; Daniels, Guarding the Golden Door, 47-58.

4 Congressional Record, 68th Congress, 1st sess., 1924, vol. 65, pt. 7, 6525.

5 Hugh MacRae to Furnifold Simmons, December 29, 1923, Box 43; Simmons to MacRae, January 11, 1924; W. W. Husband to Simmons, January 23, 1924; MacRae to Frank H. Hampton, February 2, 1924 and February 6, 1924; MacRae to Simmons, February 6, 1924, all in Box 44; MacRae to Simmons, March 13, 1924; Royal S. Copeland to MacRae, March 24, 1924; Henry Keyes to Simmons, March 28, 1924; LeBaron B. Colt to Simmons, March 28, 1924; all in Box 45; Simmons Papers; Congressional Record, 68th Congress, 1st sess., 1924, vol. 65, pt. 7, 6521-6525; Peter H. Wang, “Farmers and the Immigration Act of 1924,” Agricultural History 49 (October 1975): 647-652 (quotation on 651); Synnott, “Replacing ‘Sambo,’ ” 84.

6 Hearings Before the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, House of Representatives, Sixty-Ninth Congress, First Session, December 17 and 18, 1925 (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1926), 1-15, 18-19, 24-27 (quotations on 5, 6, 8, and 25).  See Ngai’s Impossible Subjects and Daniels’s Guarding the Golden Door for coverage of the formulation of the national origins system.

7 Hugh MacRae, A Constructive Program for Land Settlement and Agricultural Development in the South Atlantic States (Wilmington, NC: Wilmington Stamp and Printing Company, n.d.), Coker Papers; Lowery, “Transatlantic Dreams,” 320-321. For more on MacRae’s subsequent immigration work, see Braun, “Italians,” 197-198.

John Jung on Chinese Immigration in the American South

John Jung, a psychology professor from Cal State Long Beach, has been writing extensively on the history of Chinese immigrant life in the Deep South during the twentieth century.  His first book was a memoir, Southern Fried Rice: Life in a Chinese Laundry in the Deep South, which depicted his childhood growing up in Macon, Georgia.  He has also written on Chinese laundries and groceries in the South too. Check out Dr. Jung’s Youtube channel where he discusses his research and the reasons for turning to history writing:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChtJH7rLDOTaLmgma2Lwxkw

The videos are mostly of Dr. Jung’s public presentations and museum exhibitions on Chinese immigrant life in the American South and elsewhere.

Researching Greeks in Richmond

Although sizable numbers of Greeks have immigrated to the U.S. South, very little has been written about these communities, especially where I live—Richmond, Virginia.  Historian Lazar “Larry” Odzak’s “Demetrios is Now Jimmy” Greek Immigration in the Southern United States, 1895-1965 (2006) is the “go-to” text on the region; a few articles can also be found through the Modern Greek Studies Association’s website and the Journal of Modern Greek Studies.  Thus, with very few secondary sources to work with, I have turned mostly to primary sources to learn about the Greek experience in my hometown.

One of the most valuable sources for studying Greek immigration in Richmond is the Library of Virginia.  The Library provides free access to Ancestry.com, which has not only digitized the U.S. Census, but also has made it searchable.  I also used city directories, many of which were on microfilm. Finally, the Library’s collection of maps helped me gather information on where people worked and lived. Together, these sources provided a multifaceted way to answer some (although not all) of my research questions: Where did Greek immigrants live in Richmond? Was there an ethnic enclave?  Did they own their home or rent? Who were their family members? Did they have jobs? If so, what kind of jobs and where did they work?  Were they able to read and write? When did they immigrate?  Did they naturalize and, if so, when?

I must admit that getting to this information meant venturing into uncharted waters. While I have acquired some research skills from my BA and MA programs, I admit we did not receive any training on research methods outside the use of the familiar online databases in the university library. For this reason, I offer this advice to fellow graduate students in a similar position—reach out to a librarian or archivist wherever you go to research! With the help and enthusiasm of professionals from several Richmond libraries, archives, and historical societies, I found more than I could imagine on my topic. I even had one librarian tell me “I wish more people used us as a resource, I guess they are just scared.” Librarians were also the ones who taught me how to utilize “old school” research equipment like the microfiche reader (pictured below), an audio tape player (which I’ve used before, but it’s been a while), and how to load microfilm reels correctly.

microfreader

Microfilm Reader

Another valuable source for researching Greek immigrants is to seek out the local Greek Orthodox Church. If records are available, they can provide a lot of valuable information. Churches usually maintain records of baptisms, marriages, and funerals, and can tell a researcher a lot about a family.  This information is especially important if you are looking for immigrants who had children, got married, or died in Virginia between 1897-1911; the State of Virginia did not maintain vital records during this 14-year period. Church bulletins and records from men’s and women’s societies, youth groups, and charity organizations provide additional insight into the community and its interaction with outsiders.  Changes in a particular group’s missions and activities are also a way to measure acculturation. For instance, Richmond’s Philoptochos Women’s Society originated in 1918 as a way for Greek immigrant women to fundraise for their new church and to help fellow Greek immigrants in need. By the 1950s, the organization focused its charitable efforts on raising money for non-religious, local institutions such as Children’s Hospital. The shift in Philoptochos’s activities points to changes in Richmond’s Greek community and its relationships with the outside community.

churchrecords

Church Records

There is also a possibility that oral history projects already exist for the particular group you’re interested in. In my opinion, oral histories are the least utilized resources in our field. In the 1980s, a scholarly movement towards “history from below” prompted widespread interest in oral history. For this reason, countless interviews were collected across the country, including the voices of immigrants. Despite the perceived obscurity of my subject, I found an oral history collection from the 1980s on audiocassettes and twenty-one interviews with Greeks in Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Special Collections. The interviews were not transcribed, so I spent countless hours listening to the tapes. In the end, these interviews served as the most important sources in my study.

oralhistorytapes

Interview tapes and player

For scholars studying immigration in the twentieth century, it is likely that there are members of the particular immigrant group still living whom you can interview. Providing the immigrant’s voice to your analysis will give additional insights that are otherwise lost in other types of sources. To prepare for collecting oral histories, I highly recommend using Valerie Raliegh Yow’s Recording Oral History: A Guide for the Humanities and Social Sciences. Yow’s text is full of helpful advice for collecting oral history interviews, templates for interview questions, and permission slips.

If you are studying a local group, finding subjects is much easier. Since I am a member of the Greek community in Richmond, I was able to turn to people in my community for possible subjects. However, if you do not have this advantage, I suggest contacting a prominent member of the group—a pastor or other type of religious leader. I learned from Valerie Yow and from my own experiences that, once you find one individual to speak with you in a community, you should ask them to recommend other people to interview.

Immigrants Brought the Flavor

Here’s a link to a recent New York Times article that examines the immigrant provenance of a Mississippi food tradition. According to the piece, “Comeback Sauce” (a spicier and more flavorful variant of Thousand Island dressing) originally appeared in Jackson, Mississippi’s Greek-owned restaurants in the early 1900s. “By midcentury, most of this city’s mainstay restaurants were owned by Greek families,” the reporter claims. We never learn if the sauce has any culinary relationship to Greek cuisine, but other sources – especially Adallis’ Greek Merchants’ Guide, published during the 1910s – show how plentiful Greek immigrant restaurateurs (and employees) were throughout the Southeast.  And the Southern Foodways Alliance recently embarked on an oral history project documenting the Greek-owned restaurant networks of Birmingham, Alabama.

So much of the study of the American “Global South” skips over the era of mass migration at the turn of the century. As a result, studies of southern foodways too often ignore the role that early twentieth century immigrants played in the region’s culinary tastes and traditions.  Studying food culture in a more systematic and sustained way will help scholars and foodies alike better understand the region’s complexity and the role that immigrants have played in southern life.

Teaching Southeastern Immigration History with Primary Sources

Here in Georgia, as in much of the nation, the impact of immigrants upon the economy is a sore and contentious subject. In April 2011, our legislature enacted an immigration reform bill intended to severely restrict the number of undocumented immigrants in the state; it took Arizona’s similar (and similarly controversial) law as its inspiration. The law’s proponents claimed that since itinerant immigrants here illegally depressed agricultural wages and took jobs that native Georgians desperately needed, its passage would alleviate the state’s unemployment crisis. Once the law went into effect, however, native-born workers didn’t line up to pick onions and strawberries and melons in the sweltering summer sun for $8 an hour. Farmers were forced to let their crops sit and rot, instead of bringing them to market. Rather than solving an unemployment problem, the law had created the labor shortage and agricultural calamity that its critics had predicted.

The students in my “Immigrants in America” course at Georgia State University last fall were well-acquainted with contemporary debates over immigration and the regional economy. It is a topic that affects many of them directly. About 20% of them were first-generation Americans whose families came to Georgia from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. (That’s roughly the same proportion of Georgia State undergrads who identify as Asian [12%] or Hispanic [7%].) The other students, the vast majority of whom were from Georgia or neighboring states, had regular contact with the foreign born, in friendships, at school or work, or from across a retail counter. It’s fair to say that almost everyone in the class could speak of personal experiences that had heightened their awareness of immigration’s economic reverberations.

But they weren’t aware that this debate in southern history reaches back for more than a century. That’s not surprising. Even those students with knowledge of immigration history had been exposed to the topic only through the extant historiography, which skews almost entirely toward all other regions. So I assigned some older primary sources that dealt with immigrants and the immigration debate in the South, in hopes of giving our discussions of the contemporary discourse a longer history.

The first of these texts was the proceedings of the 1912 meeting of the Southern Settlement and Development Organization.  Organized by S. Davies Warfield, a Baltimore banker and railroad magnate, the SSDO aspired to improve and modernize the southern economy by enticing immigrants to the states of the former Confederacy. (Our timing in reading this piece was phenomenal: “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” had just run a segment on Dayton, Ohio’s current call for immigrants to come live there and bolster their economy.) Similar efforts had been made intermittently since the end of the Civil War, by regional organizations and ad hoc committees appointed by state legislatures. They didn’t have much to show for their attempts, however, and few of these bodies lasted more than a few years. But Warfield was undeterred, so convinced was he that the South desperately needed immigrant labor, both industrial and agricultural, in order for the region to become economically independent.

For this event, the SSDO’s foundational meeting, he gathered representatives of southern state governments, steamship and railroad companies, and a smattering of other New South boosters. Over the course of an afternoon at Baltimore’s Hotel Emerson, several dozen men argued about how to lure immigrants southward, which immigrants they should seek to lure, and whether this was a good idea at all.

No one in the class seemed terribly surprised that the members of the SSDO were concerned about immigrants’ racial status. As one of the men of the SSDO stated, “what has made New England and the great North and West will also make the South if you will be broad and welcome all good and honest white men, no matter from where they come.” A student took note that “the key word in the previous quotation is white … they wanted to grow the southern economy into a profitable, all-white society.” Another pointed out a “hierarchy of superior and inferior immigrants,” where northern and western Europeans were preferred over southern and eastern Europeans – a sentiment that certainly was not limited to the South.

But some of these southern economic leaders, wrote one student, did not think themselves “in a position to be choosers.” If the South was to grow economically, they needed all comers. Another student pointed to the words of a West Virginia representative: “We will take the Swedes, Norwegians, or the Italians, just so they will work.” The presence of the racial hierarchy was not in dispute, but, as this student wrote, the SSDO “wanted to bring only the ‘worthy’ immigrants, which … needs to be considered more broadly.” Another student mentioned a reference made in the SSDO meeting to Italian farming colonies that were already present, and in some places prosperous, throughout the region. One railroad executive even suggested that the presence of southern and eastern Europeans would enhance the rural population: “I believe today that the most vital benefit that could come to the South would be an admixture of black-haired European races, and I believe it would be just as vital in improving the native stock in the mountains.”

The role of race in southern culture did create some regional distinctions. Many students seemed taken aback by the SSDO’s open and undisguised interest in using immigrants to replace African-American labor. One student wrote (and many others reiterated the point) that the SSDO “demonized southern blacks by referring to their presence in the South as the ‘horror of the negro’ … the committee seeks to encourage more than immigrant migration, but also [to encourage] southern blacks to migrate away from the South.” Another student suggested that for the SSDO, immigrants were “a lesser of two evils. In the minds of these men, foreign, white-skinned laborers were more desirable than the black man.”

Some students noticed, however, that the SSDO hoped to replace black sharecroppers and low-wage agricultural workers with an idealized immigrant population. “It is truly bizarre,” wrote one member of the class, “that the committee hoped to lure literate white, middle class Europeans into agricultural jobs at the bottom of the southern class totem pole. Such a disconnect helps to illustrate the profound biases which racialized thinking leads to in otherwise rational individuals … One wonders who exactly the committee was imagining when they were wondering about attracting literate immigrants with good character who were going to immigrate to the South and adopt subsistence level agriculture or tenant farming.”

Another notable regional distinction, according to the class, was the trouble the SSDO foresaw convincing native-born southern whites to accept immigrant neighbors. Many students recognized how frequently the organization’s members referred to the need to “educate the South to the advantages that are to be obtained through foreign immigration.” A former mayor of Atlanta alerted the organization to the “prejudice against the foreigner” in his state, and suggested that they avoid using the word “immigration” in their self-promotion. A representative from North Carolina, the state with the lowest percentage of foreign-born in the nation at the time, urged the SSDO to consider primary among its tasks to convince “the people of the South to take the immigrants from wherever they are brought, and to assimilate them with the people.” Several students alluded to a railroad representative’s comment that Virginia’s efforts to encourage local farmers to grow sugar beets had failed, because “the American laborer will not do” the necessary difficult manual labor. The SSDO’s general contempt for rural southern whites is hard to miss; in their estimation, the South needed industrious and pliable laborers, and southern whites would neither do that work themselves nor welcome others who might.

The next time I introduce this document to students, I intend to pair it with a primary source on European immigration produced by African Americans. We discussed (but did not read) Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Compromise speech, which implores white employers to hire native-born black labor rather than “the incoming of those of foreign birth and strange tongue and habits.” Arnold Shankman’s 1982 Ambivalent Friends: Afro-Americans View the Immigrant would certainly provide some helpful analysis. But I am glad to have given the class an opportunity to think about current regional immigration debates within its broader historical context.

COMING SOON … Students discuss Flannery O’Connor’s “The Displaced Person”


Thinking about Sailors, Immigration, and Southeastern Virginia

Vivek Bald’s Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America is a wonderful addition to Asian American history, not only because it complicates previous arguments on the origin of South Asian immigration but also it emphasizes the fluidity of migration in the early twentieth century.  One group that Bald profiles are South Asian sailors, the majority of whom had dangerous and labor intensive jobs on British and, at times, American and other European ships.  The jobs that these men secured were not those celebrated in fiction and other writings about the age of sail, but were highly industrialized and tied to the rise of steam power.  Many of these men—when opportunities arose—left sailing and found other jobs in the United States. Among these, a few men settled and started families; others returned to sailing and eventually went home.1

South Asian sailors are especially important in understanding Asian immigration in the American South.2 Racist labor and immigration policies limited where these men could travel to and their experiences in port.  From the 1890s to 1939, British authorities forbade South Asians from working above the 38th parallel during winter months and required that they disembark at Norfolk or Newport News, Virginia when working in the North Atlantic along the U.S. Coast.  Officials justified this policy by arguing that South Asians could not cope with cold weather.  Both Norfolk and Newport News—major centers of trade in the American South—saw ships and sailors from all over the world at this time.  Local newspapers also reported on such visitors, including South Asians who were temporarily staying in the area.  For example, two 1899 articles from the Virginian-Pilot recommended that locals go down to the pier to watch South Asian sailors load grain on the Samoa,an all-iron British freighter that usually ran between Liverpool and Calcutta.3 Several early-twentieth century articles mention the disembarking of South Asian sailors in Newport News, some of whom were housed on a pier owned by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company.4

C__O_Station_and_Pier

C & O Station and Pier (1917) from Souvenir of Newport News, VA

Newport News Harbor (1901) from the Historic Postcards of Newport News, VA

Newport News Harbor (1901) from the Historic Postcards of Newport News, VA

With the passage of the Emergency Quota Act (1921) followed by what is commonly called the National Origins Quota Act (1924), South Asian sailors came under further scrutiny.  At first, the Immigration Bureau required that a bond for $500 be submitted with each landed South Asian sailor; however, that policy was soon overturned.  By the late 1930s, shipping companies quartered South Asian sailors under guard in Titustown, a primarily African American neighborhood in present-day Norfolk, and then were either picked up by their ships in Norfolk or sent to New York City where they were able to meet their ships.5 In government correspondence, immigration officials noted that no South Asian sailors had escaped from the Titustown location; two had runaway in 1923 and four in 1924 when boarding at another site.  Local authorities quickly caught all six men.5

Besides the experiences of South Asian sailors, what needs further exploration are the ways in which American immigration policies negatively affected other Asian sailors.  Immigration records that focus on Norfolk and Newport News at the National Archives might provide further insight.

 

1 For more information on the history of South Asian sailors, also called “lascars” by the British, see chapter 3 in Bald’s Bengali Harlem and the Lost histories of South Asian America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013).  See also G. Balachandran’s article, “South Asian Seafarers and Their Worlds: c. 1870-1930s,” in Seascapes: Maritime Histories, Littoral Cultures and Transoceanic Exchanges, ed. Jerry H. Bentley, Renate Bridental, Karen Wigen (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2007), 186-204.

2 Sailors were not the only South Asians traversing the American South.  Bald also demonstrates the presence of South Asian peddlers and merchants who lived in New Orleans and other southern cities. Vivek Bald, “Selling the East in the American South:  Bengali Muslim Peddlers in New Orleans and Beyond, 1880-1920,” in Asian Americans in Dixie: Race and Migration in the South (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2013), 33-53.

3 “Biggest Freighter that Floats,” Virginian-Pilot 4 Aug. 1899; http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86071779/1899-08-04/ed-1/seq-2/ (access 4 Feb. 2014); “Ocean Leviathan,” Virginian-Pilot 5 Aug. 1899; http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86071779/1899-08-05/ed-1/seq-3/ (accessed 4 Feb. 2014). 

4 “Lands Lascars Here,” Daily Press (Newport News, VA), 28 Nov. 1908; http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045830/1908-11-28/ed-1/seq-3/ (accessed 4 Feb. 2014); “Lascars Taken Away,” Daily Press (Newport News, VA), 29 Nov. 1906; http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045830/1906-11-29/ed-1/seq-2/ (accessed 4 Feb. 2014); “Steamer Comes Here to Land Lascar Crew,” Daily Press (Newport News, VA), 26 Jan. 1910; http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045830/1910-01-26/ed-1/seq-3/ (accessed 4 Feb. 2014)

5 55-854-370C, Entry 9, Subject Correspondence, 1906-32, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Department of Labor, Record Group 85; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

A Chinese Slave in Alexandria?

Researching the American South can often lead to unusual discoveries that complicate our understanding of American immigration history.  One such experience occurred while reading Gay Montague Moore’s Seaport in Virginia: George Washington’s Alexandria, a local history written in honor of the city’s bicentennial in 1949.  The last chapter profiled Melissa Ann (Hussey) Wood and the house that her father, Captain Samuel B. Hussey, gave her and her bridegroom, Robert Lewis Wood, in 1857 as a wedding present.  Among the items that Melissa Wood brought to her new home was a collection of objects from her family’s travels.  These included “cages of cockatoos, parakeets, parrots” and “a chimpanzee, and a small Chinese slave boy, bought by her father from one of the innumerable sampans in the harbor of Canton.”1

The last phrase startled me.  Was this story true? Was there a Chinese child enslaved in Alexandria before the Civil War?  What was his actual legal status? And how does this boy’s experiences relate to antebellum debates surrounding “coolie” labor?

To answer these questions, I first looked for more information on Captain Samuel B. Hussey, who had purchased the child.  Born in Vasselboro, Maine around 1811, Hussey was the fourth son of Nathaniel (Huzzey) Hussey and Hannah Lovejoy.  Nathaniel and Hannah must have been passionate about English and American politics—their sons were named Francis Aaron Burr, Benjamin Franklin, George Granville, and Samuel Bancroft.2 Hussey was most likely named after one of two Captain Samuel Bancrofts, both of whom led prominent military and political careers in Massachusetts during the eighteenth century.3

Little is known of Hussey’s early life.  By 1835, he married Sybil Hawkes of Durham, Maine and set up household near his family.  By the 1850 U.S. Census, the Husseys, including their two children, Melissa and Francis, were living in Durham.  His occupation was listed as a “mariner.”4

1850 Census Clip

Excerpt from the 1850 U.S. Census

Hussey, however, was more than the average sailor.  By the early 1850s, he was captaining some of the largest and fastest clipper ships ever constructed in New England.5 These ships were mostly used to bring goods and people from New England and New York to the Pacific and back again. On at least one occasion, it was reported in the press that Hussey transported Chinese indentured laborers, popularly known as “coolies,” from China to San Francisco on an extreme clipper ship known as the Westward Ho.  A few months later, the Westward Ho arrived in Alexandria, Virginia, probably with the Hussey family and their “Chinese slave boy” aboard.6

Clipper_Westward_Ho_(1852)

Source: Wikipedia Commons

During the 1850s, European Americans debated the pros and cons of introducing Chinese indentured servitude to the United States.  Many white planters saw this system—which was growing in popularity in the Caribbean—as a way of fulfilling the South’s labor needs, especially in states such as Louisiana which needed workers for its growing sugar industry.  Northern white critics, however, saw the “coolie trade” as another form of slavery and were critical of shipping companies that participated in the transportation of Chinese indentured workers to the U.S. and the Caribbean.  Ironically, Hussey would die aboard the Stag Hound, another extreme clipper ship, in August 1860 while transporting such laborers to Havana, Cuba.  His son, Francis, who was his second mate on the Stag Hound, had also died a couple months earlier during a mutiny.8 Two years later, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law a ban on American participation in the trafficking of Chinese indentured laborers.9

Source: Moore’s Seaport in Virginia

If Moore had only mentioned the “Chinese slave boy” in passing, it would be possible that the above information would be all that was available.  Luckily, she wrote almost half a paragraph on “Chinese Tom” also known as Tom Jefferson.  Moore went on:

“Chinese Tom” was reared and educated by Melissa Wood and after the War Between the States she gave him his freedom.  For years he was the only Chinaman in Alexandria.  Mrs. Wood’s granddaughter remembers the visits of this man to her grandmother.  He would station himself at the entrance to her door and a long conversation would go on between the guttural-voiced Oriental and the gentle little “Missey” whom he adored.10

Both the 1860 and 1870 U.S. Censuses included a Tom Jefferson from China living in the Hussey/Wood household.  In 1860, he was only eleven years old and, indeed, was attending school.11 His legal status was also clear.  The 1860 Census included him between the family and two free black servants with his race left blank.  Neither the Husseys nor the Woods were listed on the 1860 Slave Schedule, which (if he had been enslaved) would have included his age, sex, and race (NOTE: the names of slaves were rarely given on Slave Schedules).  To date, I have never seen a Chinese indentured servant listed on Slave Schedules.  If the Husseys had purchased Jefferson and viewed him as a slave, the local census taker did not recognize his status.

Excerpt from the 1860 U.S. Census

Excerpt from the 1860 U.S. Census

Ten years later, Jefferson was a machinist, probably working for the Orange, Alexandria, and Manassas Railroad.12 Interestingly, the census taker initially listed his race as “C” for Chinese; however, he crossed it out and put “W” for white.  The reasons for this decision are unknown; one can speculate that the census taker was operating under the racial categories that were prevalent in Virginia at the time.

Excerpt from 1870 U.S. Census

Excerpt from 1870 U.S. Census

Little else is known of Jefferson other than what information can be culled from his two obituaries.  Although he was a railroad worker, the Alexandria Gazette wrote two articles on his life and death.   No doubt, his nation of origin combined with his connections to the Husseys/Woods made him a local celebrity.  In one of Jefferson’s obituaries, it is clear that some viewed him as quintessentially American.  An anonymous writer described Jefferson as “in every respect an Alexandrian, knowing no language but English.  He was good-natured and played when a boy with the children of his adopted city as though native and to the manner born.”13 This comment contradicts Moore’s description of Jefferson as a “guttural-voiced Oriental,” a phrase that reinforced his supposed foreignness and inferiority.  Instead, this author embraced the belief seen in the writings of Christian missionaries during the nineteenth century that Chinese children could become Westernized (and Christian) if they were introduced to Western cultural practices and social mores at an early age.14

The two articles, however, conflict in describing his occupation.  The first obituary noted that he “was employed in the house [of the late Captain Hussey] until he reached early manhood when he was apprenticed in the machine shop of the Southern Railway Company and later was a fireman on that road.”  After leaving Alexandria, Jefferson had supposedly become a drifter.   In a brief article that was published the following day, the author noted that Jefferson had left Alexandria to work as an engineer for the Southern Railway Company in Newport News, Virginia although he frequently visited his friends in Alexandria.15 This latter livelihood was a more respectable one–although still working class–for someone connected to the Woods/Husseys.

Tom Jefferson died on November 14, 1899 at the Alexandria Infirmary from complications related to a stroke.  He was buried in an unmarked grave at Bethel Cemetery, a non-denominational cemetery in Alexandria.  He had no wife or family.16

1 Gay Montague Moore, Seaport in Virginia: George Washington’s Alexandria (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1949), 262. 2 Clarence E. Lovejoy, The Lovejoy Genealogy with Biographies and History, 1460-1930 (New York: C. E. Lovejoy, 1930), 92; Everett Schermerhorn Stackpole, History of Durham, Maine (Lewiston, ME: Pressof Lewiston Journal Company, 1899), 199. 3 Genealogical and Family History of the State of Vermont: A Record, ed. Hiram Carleton, vol. 1 (New York: Lewis Publishing Co., 1903), 700. 4 1840 U.S. Census, Waterville, Kennebec County, Maine, 4; 1850 U.S. Census, Durham, Cumberland County, Maine, 238; www.ancestry.com (accessed August 11, 2013). 5 Helen LaGrange, Clipper Ships of America and Great Britain, 1833-1869 (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1936), 185; Richard C. McKay, Donald McKay and His Famous Sailing Ships (New York: Dover Publications, 2011), 207. 6 “Alexandria Correspondence,” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.) 18 September 1856, 3; “The Slave Trade,” Daily Dispatch (Richmond, VA) 24 April 1856, 1. 7 Moon-Ho Jung, Coolies and Cane: Race, Labor and Sugar in the Age of Emancipation (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), 11-38. 8 “Death of Captain Hussey,” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.) 24 August 1860, 3; “Law Reports: United States District Court,” New York Times 20 April 1861, 2. 9 Jung 36. 10 Moore 262. 11 1860 U.S. Census, Alexandria, Virginia, 129; www.ancestry.com (accessed August 11, 2013). 12 1870 U.S. Census, Alexandria, Virginia, 84; www.ancestry.com (accessed August 11, 2013). 13 “Death of ‘Chinese Tom’,” Alexandria Gazette 14 November 1899, 2. 14 Krystyn R. Moon, Yellowface: Creating the Chinese in American Music and Popular Culture, 1850s-1920s (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005),18-19. 15 “Death of ‘Chinese Tom’,” Alexandria Gazette 14 November 1899, 2; “Funeral,” Alexandria Gazette  15 November 1899, 2. 16 Wesley E. Pippenger, Tombstone Inscriptions of Alexandria, Virginia, vol. 4 (Arlington, VA: Heritage Books), 127.