[Historically Important Document of the American Chinese Trade and Chinese Migration to the US in the 1870s: A Large Purchase Bill for Over Forty Types of Products Ordered by the San Joaquin & Kings River Canal Co from One of the Leading San Francisco-based Importers of Chinese Goods, Tong Wo & Co. Among the Products Purchased for the Chinese Labor Force Are 20 Bottles of Gin, Tobacco, Silk Jackets, Cotton Shoes, Bamboo Brushes, Pills, Shrimps, Etc.].
San Francisco, 19 August, 1875. Quarto (ca. 35x21.5cm or 13 ¾ x 8 ½ in). 2 pp. Brown ink on wove paper with the company’s official letterhead “Bought of Tong Wo & Co. Importers and Wholesale Dealers in Fine Basket Tea, Sugar, Rice, Opium, Oil, And Other Chinese Provisions, Etc.” The date and the name of the recipient of goods added in manuscript as “Aug 19th (187)5” and “San Joaquin + Kings River Canal Co.” Fold marks, but overall in a very good condition.
A large purchase bill for over forty types of products, documenting a sales deal between one of California’s first irrigation enterprises, San Joaquin & Kings River Canal Co, and one of the leading San Francisco-based importers of Chinese goods, Tong Wo & Co. The American Chinese trade began in 1784 when the American ship “Empress of China” departed for Canton, loaded with merchandise. In the following years, San Francisco became the west coast center of America and Chinese trade with the total value of Chinese imports amounting to over $1,600,000 by 1867.
Dated August 1875, this bill, for $28,406 worth of goods payable in gold, was sent to the San Joaquin & Kings River Canal Co as it approached bankruptcy. The firm was established in 1871, and after failing to attract federal subsidies, slipped into a financial crisis that lasted until 1877. In the 1880s, following its reorganization, the company managed to construct a sixty-seven-mile-long “Main Canal” (from the San Joaquin River to Orostimba creek in Stanislaus County), at the time longer than “any other irrigating canal” in California. The company existed until 1951 and was succeeded by the Central California Irrigation District (CCID).
The sales document lists some of the most sought-after Chinese products in the US at the time: silk jackets and handkerchiefs, bamboo and woolen hats, Chinese shirts and pants, rice baskets, cotton shoes, chopsticks, bamboo brushes, etc. Among the other goods recorded in the bill are 20 gallons of gin, tobacco, vermicelli, preserved plums, garlic, pills, shrimps, boots, and envelopes. Most of this merchandise was apparently ordered for the Chinese labor force that the San Joaquin and Kings River Canal Co actively employed from the earliest days of its existence: “The San Joaquin and King’s River Canal and Irrigation Company have 100 Chinaman at work and will have more as soon as harvest is over.” (The Sacramento Bee. 2 Sep 1872. P.2.). Chinese immigration to San Francisco began shortly after the California Gold Rush and reached its peak in the 1870s, with over 12,000 Chinese immigrants arriving each year. Soon, intense competition between local workers and the cheap Chinese labor force led to massive protests in the US, which resulted in the prohibition of all immigration of Chinese laborers in 1882.
The goods were purchased from the Tong Wo & Co wholesale dealers in opium, fine basket tea, sugar, rice, oil, etc. The Chinese importer, with their head office located at 722 Sacramento St., San Francisco, “established business here in 1853 and during the last year imported merchandise to the value of $340,000....” (The San Francisco Examiner. 16 April 1893. P. 9). The company imported a variety of goods from China through the San Francisco port and soon emerged as one of the most influential Chinese import firms in the city. The company had another branch in Hawaii and apparently existed until the early 20th century.
Overall, an important document of both the early American Chinese trade and the Chinese migration to the US.
Status: On Hold
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