History: San Joaquin’s Chinese in the 1800’s

Once gold was discovered in California, many Chinese men made the harrowing passage for the chance to strike it rich. Upon arrival, many would have passed through San Joaquin County on the way to the gold rich Sierra Nevada. Some chose to stay in San Joaquin County and by 1850 the county’s official census boasted 50 Chinese men ages 16-36. Chinese immigration increased exponentially; in 1852 alone 4,000 made the trek. Once arriving in San Francisco, many of the travelers came to Stockton using the small steamer Kate Kearnery. Some went on to the mountains and some stayed. By the middle of the 1850s Stockton had become one of the centers for the Chinese in California.

history1The Chinese’s first settlement in the city was comprised of numerous shacks near the Hotel French located on Bridge Palace between Hunter and El Dorado Street. This was their primary living area until 1854, when the shacks caught on fire. They then moved to the Mormon Channel west of Center St, where they remained for many years until a gradual move to Washington Street. Once the Gold Rush ended many Chinese found themselves with limited opportunities for employment. There were just too many people competing for the same jobs. Many of the Chinese resurrected their old livelihood in China and returned to farming. By the late 1850s many were successfully farming potatoes and garden crops in the San Joaquin area.

history2A secondary migration occurred in 1865, due to the labor force required by Central Pacific Railroad to build the Trans-Continental Railroad. After completion the unemployed workers moved to the local cities, in San Joaquin County many turned to reclamation and irrigation projects on the Delta. For years many locals believed that the Delta was just a marsh land reserved for the ducks and geese, however the Chinese saw its true potential. Anywhere from three to four thousand Chinese workers were required for each of their reclamation projects including Sherman Island in 1870. Once they reclaimed the land from the marsh, extensive farming was underway. By 1880 there were 32 Chinese owned and operated farms in San Joaquin County and that was just the beginning. By the turn of the century there were 50 Chinese owned farms employing a total of 3,000 Chinese. Most of these farms were located in the counties outlaying communities leaving Stockton with a Chinese population of just 593. If things stayed the same the Chinese population impact on San Joaquin may have been very different but an earth quake soon set to rattle the west coast in 1906 would change everything.