Friday, February 28, 2020

The First Restaurants In Boston's Chinatown (Part 1-Expanded/Revised)

... Boston’s Chinatown, so little understood by the multitudes that surround it and pass through it day by day.
--The New England Magazine, v.28 (March to August 1903), China in New England by Herbert Heywood

Take a leisurely walk through Boston's Chinatown, exploring Harrison Avenue, Beach Street, Tyler Street, Knapp Street, and more. You'll quickly note numerous restaurants, offering a variety of Asian cuisines, although Chinese restaurants, including a number of regional spots, predominate. So many delicious options, from Soup Dumplings to Dim Sum, Banh Mi to Ramen, with many restaurants offering excellent value as well.

However, what was the first restaurant to ever open in Chinatown? This question intrigued me so, back in 2019, I conducted an initial, limited online search to try to determine the answer.

Chinatown, as an established neighborhood, has been around for roughly 140 years, and most sources I found claimed that the first Chinese restaurant in Chinatown was Hong Far Low, though the sources vary as to when it was established. Various sources have suggested dates including 1875, 1879, or even 1890. The problem is that little documentary evidence has been provided to support any of these claims. Instead, the claims have taken on a life on their own, becoming "common knowledge" and then repeated by numerous other sources.

The most evidence, though still scant, was provided in the book, Chinese In Boston 1870-1965, by Wing-kai To and the Chinese Historical Society of New England (2008). Their first piece of evidence was a photo, circa 1916, of a tiled door stop that stated "Hong Far Low Established 1879." The authors thought the tiled door stop might have been created in 1896 during building reconstruction, though it's possible it was created even later. Can we trust the date on this door stop?

Another piece of evidence offered in this book is a menu from Hong Far Low, allegedly from the early 1900s, with a photo of a Chinese man, stated to be, "This is the first man in Boston who made chop suey in 1879." The name of this man was not provided. In addition, this menu is from The Harley Spiller Chinese Menu Collection, and they indicate the menu is actually circa 1930, so it wasn't from the early 1900s. The Menu lists 6 types of chicken chop suey as well as 13 other types of chop suey, including "Tomato with Beef."

Initially, we should be at least a bit skeptical of this book's evidence as it was provided only by the restaurant itself. They certainly wouldn't be the first restaurant or business to create a myth around themselves, making claims that weren't actually true. At the very least, we should seek out additional information, which could either support or refute these claims. If the claim is true, then we should expect to find additional supporting evidence through more research.

I chose to delve deeper into this question, engaging in my own extensive research into newspaper archives, old books, city directories. I published my initial article, The First Restaurants in Boston's Chinatown, in 2019, and continued my research, leading to a series of articles on the history of Chinatown and its restaurants. I've continued to expand and revise my prior articles as well as write additional ones based on my continued research. Eventually, I hope to put all of this together into a book. 

Through my research, I've concluded that the evidence, most probably, does not indicate that the Hong Far Low restaurant was established in 1879, and was more likely founded about ten years later, around 1888 or 1889. In addition, if it had actually been founded in 1888 or 1889, then it definitely wasn't the first Chinese restaurant in Chinatown nor the first to serve chop suey. I didn't find any evidence to support their claim of being around since 1879.

Though the focus of this series is on Chinatown restaurants, I've included plenty of additional historical information about Chinatown for background, context and more completeness. The more we understand about the historical context and historical background of Chinatown, the better we can understand its restaurants and the community of Chinatown.

Let's begin with a historical look at the first connections between Massachusetts and the Chinese, starting with trade and tea. 

During most of the 18th century, Americans didn’t know much about China, but they were intrigued by the trade goods coming from China, from silks to tea. At this time, one of the most famous books about China was The General History of China by Jean-Baptiste Du Halde, a Jesuit priest. Interestingly, Jean-Baptiste never journeyed to China, compiling his book from numerous reports of other Jesuit priests who had travelled there. The book was translated into English in 1738, and it also had a powerful impact in Europe, leading to a thirst for more knowledge of China.

The British East India Company began importing tea from China in the latter half of the 17th century, though initially it was expensive. Over the course of about thirty years, the price dropped until eventually it was cheap enough for everyone, spreading tea consumption throughout the country. In addition, as the 18th century began, the East India Company had garnered a monopoly in the British Empire of trading with China.

Tea was introduced into the American colonies during the mid-17th century. Around 1650, Peter Stuyvesant, the director-general of New Amsterdam (which would become New York), introduced tea to the colony, where it became extremely popular. By the end of the century, it’s said that more tea was being drunk there than in England. During the 18th century, tea spread throughout the colonies, becoming common for all social classes, and by the middle of the century, the average colonist was consuming at least one cup of tea per day.

In general, the colonies had to purchase tea from British traders, though sometimes they bought from smugglers. And during the early 1770s, with tensions with Britain increasing, it’s said that about 75%-95% of the tea drank by colonists was smuggled into the country. Even with the Boston Tea Party and similar protests, colonists continued to drink plenty of tea, simply obtaining it elsewhere than from the British.

After the Revolutionary War, when the U.S. was no longer part of the British Empire, they were finally able to begin their own trade with China, generally selling sea otter pelts, silver, ginseng, furs, sandalwood, sea cucumbers, cotton fabric, and other items for various Chinese goods. American ships sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn on their way to China. U.S. received silks, porcelain, furniture, and hundreds of thousands of tons of tea.

According to When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail, by Eric Jay Dolin, “The China trade was critical to the growth and success of the new nation. It bolstered America’s emerging economy, enabling Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Salem, Providence, and other ports to thrive after the ravages of the war. In doing so it helped create the nation’s first millionaires, instilled confidence in Americans in their ability to compete on the world’s stage, and spurred an explosion in shipbuilding that led to the construction of the ultimate sailing vessels—the graceful and exceedingly fast clipper ships.”

Some statistics on this China trade were provided by The Trouble with Tea by Jane T. Merritt (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017). “All told, between 1784 and 1790, forty-one American maritime ventures exchanged goods in Canton markets; some ships, such as the Empress of China, made several voyages. Over the next decade (1791–1800) another 166 American vessels sailed directly to China.” As for the tea trade, Merritt wrote, “Into the 1790s, tea made up at least half of the cargo value for most American ships trading in China.” In addition, “Whereas Samuel Wharton had reckoned that Americans drank 2 pounds of tea annually in the 1770s, a typical family of the 1790s might purchase and drink 4 to 5 pounds each year.

The above photograph is from the Boston Daily Globe, August 17, 1902, and the accompanying article alleged that in 1846, Oong Ar-Showe was the first Chinese man to come to Boston. Although I'll discuss the life of Ar-Showe shortly, as it's important, he actually wasn't the first to come to Boston. For the first, or at least the first for who we have documentation, we must go back about fifty years earlier, to 1796. However, we need to quickly delve another 11 years before that, to see the roots of this matter.

On September 30, 1787, Captain Robert Gray, financed by Boston merchants, sailed the Colombia Redidiva out of Boston on a trading voyage to China, first stopping in the Pacific Northwest to obtain some trade goods, such as otter pelts. The ship returned on August 9, 1790, and then left for a second voyage on September 28, 1790, reaching China in 1792 and returning to Boston in July 1793. One of the seaman on this second journey was John Boit, from Boston, who was only 15 years old and the 5th officer aboard the ship. He kept a detailed log of the voyage, of which a copy survived, providing lots of valuable information about the journey.

A year after Boit returned to Boston, when he was 19 years old, he was made the Captain of his own ship, the Union. The ship, with a crew of 22, set sail on August 1, 1794, headed to the Northwest and then onto China. After a successful journey, the ship returned to Boston in July 1796. Apparently while in China, Boit hired a Chinese servant, called Chou, who was about 15 or 16 years old, and took him back to Boston with him. It’s likely Chou lived with Boit, especially considering they were only in Boston for about a month before departing on another voyage.

Chou would thus be the first known Chinese person to live in Boston. Around this time, other Boston captains may have also hired Chinese servants, and brought them to Boston, but if so, we lack documentation. Such servants likely lived with their their employers, especially if they only spent a short time in Boston before sailing off on a new journey.

Boit was given the command of another ship, the Snow George, which departed in August 1796 to the “Isle of France,” aka Mauritius, which is located about 500-600 miles east of Madagascar. Chou accompanied Boit on this voyage. The ship arrived in March 1797, and was later sold in May 1797, after which Boit decided to spend some vacation time in Mauritius. According to The Boit Family and their Descendants by Robert Althorp Boit (1915), John Boit wrote, “Took a house on shore, attended by my faithful servant Chou (a Chinese)—kept Bachelor’s hall—and in the gay life that is generally pursued by young men on this island passed a few months away in quite an agreeable though dissipated manner.

Sounds like Boit enjoyed quite a fun time on Mauritius, and it then appears that he returned to Boston sometime during the summer of 1798, and again, it is very likely that Chou lived with Boit in Boston at that point, especially as it would only be for a short time before tragedy took Chou. On September 11, 1798, Chou fell from the masthead of the ship Mac of Boston, though details of this accident are scant. Boit took an extraordinary step at this point, having Chou interred in the Central Burying Ground in Boston, and erecting a tombstone for him.

The epitaph read, “Here lies interred the body of Chou Mandarien. A native of China. Aged 19 years whose death was occasioned on the 11th Sept. 1798 by a fall from the masthead of the Ship Mac of Boston. This stone is erected to his memory by his affectionate master John Boit, Jr.” Chou is probably the first Chinese person buried in Boston, and you can still visit this cemetery and view his tombstone. In the epitaph, the term “Mandarien” is not intended to be a surname, but simply a term at that time meaning “Chinese.”

Although Boit called himself “master,” it doesn’t seem that Chou was a slave, but it was more a master/servant relationship. Though the burial and tombstone may create the impression that John Boit was an empathetic person, there is a darker side to this story which most sources writing about this matter omit, likely more out of ignorance than intent.

At the time of Chou's death, it appears that Boit was preparing the Mac of Boston to illegally engage in the slave trade, and if Chou had lived, he would have accompanied Boit on this expedition. The Lancaster Intelligencer (PA), September 25, 1799, reported that the Mac of Boston was condemned in the District Court of Maine for a “breach of the laws of the United States against the slave trade.” The ship apparently left Boston in November 1798, two months after the death of Chou, and allegedly was headed to Cape de Verde but Captain Boit had different plans in mind, desirous of going to Africa to purchase slaves. The crew was unaware of his plans until several weeks into the journey. Boit eventually acquired 270 slaves, male and female, and sailed to Havana, Cuba, where he sold the 220 slaves which survived the trip.

The newspaper stated, “The record of these facts, will remain an eternal monument of disgrace to mankind. A savage, who had not abjured both nature and its God, would shrink with horror at this complicated tale of crime and misery. What then shall we say of a Christian, a Bostonian, who accumulates his wealth by this nefarious and infernal traffick.” Unfortunately, I’ve so far been unable to find out what happened with this court case though it doesn't seem likely Boit received any significant punishment as he continued to captain other ships.

For example, The Boit Family and their Descendants by Robert Althorp Boit (1915) noted that Boit was married in August 1799, and “During the first years of marriage, Boit’s wife, Eleanor, lived in Newport while he was at sea; later they moved to Jamaica Plain and then Boston.” In addition, Boit made voyages on the Mount Hope from Newport, Rhode Island, to the East Indies and back in 1801-02 and 1805-6. It seems likely that if he was convicted, any punishment he received was relatively minor.


In the early 19th century, there were some Chinese who, though they didn't live in Boston, passed through the city, generally as part of an exhibition, seen as curiosities. First, on August 16, 1829, the Sachem, captained by Abel Coffin, sailed into Boston Harbor, bearing with it Chang and Eng, eventually known worldwide as the “Siamese twins.Robert Hunter, a British merchant, was also aboard, working with Coffin, hoping to financially benefit from displaying Chang and Eng to the world.

Though they were born in Thailand, Chang and Eng possessed Chinese ancestry, on both their father and mother's side, and were conjoined twins, bound at the abdomen by a five-inch long section of skin. The Boston Patriot, August 17, 1829, printed, “We have seen and examined this strange freak of nature. It is one of the greatest living curiosities we ever saw.” A number of physicians would also spend time, examining Chang and Eng. Then, Chang and Eng were exhibited at the ruins of the former Exchange Coffee House, which had burned down in 1818.

In Inseparable: The Original Siamese Twins and Their Rendezvous with American History by Yunte Huang (Liveright, 2018), it stated, “In the last week of August 1829, thousands of Bostonians, lured by a blizzard of publicity via newspaper reports, advertisements, handbills, and eye-catching posters, stood in long queues outside the tent at the Exchange, eager to get a peek at the curiosity from afar. Each of them would pay a stiff fifty-cent admission fee.” Soon after this display in Boston, Chang and Eng were taken to Providence, Rhode Island.

Another curiosity arrived in the U.S. on October 7, 1834, arriving first in New York City, allegedly the first Chinese woman to arrive in the country. She soon adopted the name of Afong Moy, and was more commonly known as the "Chinese Lady." Afong was put on display in New York City, for an admission of fifty cents, and eventually left the U.S. in 1837, only to return about ten years later. On September 7, 1847, she made an appearance in Boston, for only a 25 cent admission, for several days at the Tremont Temple.

The Boston Post, September 7, 1847, noted that she would  “appear in her native costume, composed of the most superb Chinese Embroidery, and will also exhibit her magnificent Worshipping Robe!” In addition, it was mentioned that would would speak in Chinese, sing a Chinese song, and eat with chopsticks. She would also walk across the elevated stage, intended to “display (the extraordinary and peculiar characteristic of the higher classes of her countrywomen) her wonderful little feet.” At this time, the Chinese were still seen primarily as exotic curiosities.

In 1853, a troupe of "Chinese Artists" performed in Boston. The Boston Herald, March 28, 1853, printed an advertisement that a troupe of Chinese Artists would make their first appearance in Boston at the Meledeon, before they left to tour Europe. There would be “...astonishing feats of Magic, Legerdemain, Jugglery, Dexterity, & c.” The troupe had 14 performers, both male and female, children and adults. One of the noted performers was Chin Gan, a "Double-jointed Dwarf," who was 29 years old and 30 inches high. He had “...double processes in all the joints of his limbs and body” and was said to be a special favorite of the Emperor of China. 

The troupe has performed in many U.S. cities, including San Francisco, Sacramento, New Orleans, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, New York, Baltimore and Washington. It was said this troupe would provide “...opportunities they will furnish to obtain correct impressions concerning the peculiar character, manners and customs of a nation whose history is more remarkable and worthy of investigation than that of any other people in the world.” The cost of admission to the show was 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children. 

Another newspaper, form Louisiana, provided some more details about this troupe, so we have a better idea of what Bostonians got to experience. The Times-Picayune (LA), December 3, 1852, stated the troupe was “The great company of Chinese Jugglers, Magicians, Necromancers, Tumblers, Rope Dancers, etc.” It included performers such as Wan Sing (great Knife Thrower and legerdemain with Stone Balls), Tack Quy (famous juggler, performs The Fan & Flying Knives), Ching Moon (magician, balances on his nose Chinese coins affixed to the end of a straw), Thong Mong (stilt walking), Loi Pha (pupil of Thong Mung), Lo Pu (pupil of Thong Mung), Yan Yow (magic and legerdemain) and Chinese music by Ar Sam, Loi Pha, Lo Pa and Chin Gan

The troupe proved so popular in Boston that the Boston Herald, April 29, 1853, reported they would also give performances at the Lyceum Hall for two nights, at the request of the residents of South Boston. They also had an afternoon matinee for children under 15 years old . 


One of the next documented cases of a Chinese actually living in Boston for a time occurred during the 1840s. The Boston Globe, June 19, 1910, in an article titled, How Ah Soon Came To Boston-The Pilgrim Father of the Chinese, related the tale of Ah Soon, who initially worked as a clerk for a Chinese tea merchant in Hong Kong. One day, in 1840, when he was 17 years old, he was sent to deliver some tea chests to a Yankee ship. The captain of the ship needed a new cabin boy and decided to kidnap Ah Soon. When Ah Soon went below decks with the tea, the captain ordered the ship to set sail. Once Ah Soon realized what was happening, he asked to be returned to shore though the captain came up with an excuse why he couldn't do so, offering Ah Soon the position of cabin boy and ensuring he would be returned to China during their return trip. Ah Soon decided to accept the position, though he had little choice.

In the summer, the ship landed in Boston and Ah Soon disembarked to explore this new city. When the ship departed, Ah Soon remained behind and eventually was hired as an assistant storeman in the warehouse of a merchant who engaged in business with China. Ah Soon faced almost no prejudice in Boston, and was seen more as a curious novelty by the people of Boston. In time, he became wealthy, with a store located at 27 Union Street, and moved to the Maplewood area of Malden.

He eventually married an American woman and they had seven daughters. Since 1843, unlike a number of other states, interracial marriages in Massachusetts were legal. All of Ah Soon's daughters married Americans, as there were no Chinese men available. Sadly, just after their last daughter was married, Ah Soon's wife died, and he travelled back to China, thinking he would remain there. Two years later, he returned to the Boston area, living for another five years at his residence in Malden.

We now return to the matter of Oong Ar-Showe. In 1846, six years after the arrival of Ah Soon, Oong Ar-Showe traveled from the Chinese town of Chirmee, located about 60-70 miles from Makowe, and settled in Boston. Though he wasn't the first to come to Boston, he certainly made a significant mark in Boston, more than any other Chinese who might have predated him. There is a possibility that a few other Chinese might have come to Boston after Ah Soon, but before Ar-Showe, but we know nothing about their identities.

When Ar-Showe arrived, he was about 22 years old and spoke only a few words of English. It didn't take him long to be hired by Redding & Co., as a tea salesman. Redding & Co. had a tea shop on Washington Street, and had recently started specializing in tea. They figured that the addition of a Chinese employee might be beneficial to their business. The company also employed a woman, Louisa M. Heuss, to work with Ar-Showe, including helping him to learn English. Ar-Showe also adopted an American name, Charles.

Ar-Showe spent five years working for Redding before taking a job with P.T. Barnum, to accompany him to the World’s Fair as an interpreter for a Chinese family. Ar-Showe spent about 18 months in Europe, before returning to Boston. None of the sources I found gave any reasons why Ar-Showe would choose to leave the tea business and take a job with P.T. Barnum. Did he just want to see more of the world? Had he been made a significant financial offer? Was he bored of the tea industry?

Upon his return, sometime in 1852, Ar-Showe opened a store to sell tea and coffee, located at 21 Union St, between Hanover St and Dock Square. The Boston Post, October 1, 1852, noted the opening, and praised Ar-Showe, stating, “He has had great experience in the tea business in China, and is called the best judge of teas in this country,..” The above advertisement is from the Boston Post, June 9, 1853, and you can see that it describes eight of the teas which are available for sale at his shop. The teas were sold in five-pound bags and could be purchased at his shop or through mail order.

In addition to starting his own business, Ar-Showe decided to marry, and a wedding was held in January 28. His bride was Louisa M. Heuss, the same woman who had been his attendant when he worked for Redding & Co. The Liberator, January 28, 1853, wrote, “Oong Ar-Showe, the well known China tea merchant of Boston, was married at South Boston, on Sunday, to a young German woman. The bridegroom, for some time past, has discarded the Chinese dress, with the exception of the queue, which is kept beneath the collar of his coat, and at first sight, no one would suspect him of being a native of China.”

Ar-Showe and Louisa had a son, also called Ar-Showe though he was christened as Charles in 1854, and they would also later have two daughters. They lived in South Boston for a number of years and then moved to the Maplewood neighborhood in Malden, which is where Ar Soon also lived. Ar-Showe was an excellent businessman, acquiring a significant amount of wealth. He was naturalized as a citizen in 1860, probably the first Chinese ever to do so, and voted in every Presidential and State election afterwards. Unfortunately, his wife died in 1877 or 1878, and Ar-Showe moved back to China for two years. He returned to Malden, staying only a short time, before returning to China permanently. His children remained behind.

The year 1870 would see the first significant influx of Chinese into Massachusetts. In 1865, Chinese started to work on the construction of the transcontinental railroad, and it's said that by 1867, 90% of those railroad workers were Chinese. The completion of the railroad at the end of that decade led to significant unemployment among the Chinese. The 1870s also saw a nation-wide depression, which led many Chinese to leave California and spread across the U.S., seeking employment. Many came to the East Coast, where manufacturers were willing to hire, except that they often paid them less than they did the previous white workers the Chinese replaced.  

The Boston Globe, September 19, 1873, discussed some of the findings of the 1870 census. The city of Boston, with a population of 250,526, didn't have any Chinese. The communities of Brighton, Cambridge, West Roxbury and Charlestown also didn't have any Chinese. Somerville and Brookline each had a single Chinese person listed in their census results. We know there were a handful of Chinese scattered in other communities, such as Chelsea and Malden, but overall, the Chinese were clearly a rarity in most of Massachusetts.

In the far west of the state, the situation was a bit different. On June 15, 1870, 75 Chinese workers, who travelled from San Francisco, arrived in North Adams to work in a shoe factory. C.T. Sampson, the owner of the shoe factory, previously had labor difficulties with his workers, who all belonged to the Knights of St. Crispin, a trade union. The Knights were upset about the arrival of the Chinese, though they still worked at 4-5 other large shoe shops in the town. Within a week or so, the Legislature also tried to enact a law that would void any contracts with the Chinese that were for a term longer than 6 months. Fortunately, the House voted against it so it didn't come to pass.

It cost Sampson nearly $10,000 to hire and transport the 75 Chinese workers, who were mostly 16-22 years old and none had previously worked in shoe making. This group included 72 workers, 2 cooks (who were about 35 years old) and 1 foreman. The foreman was Ah Sing, who took on the name of Charlie, and had been in the U.S. for about 8 years. He was 22 years old, spoke English fluently, could read English, and was a Methodist. Of the other workers, they were divided into three companies, and each company was composed of cousins.

According to their three-year contract, the foreman was to receive $60/month for overseeing 75 men, and 50 cents more for each worker over that total. The cooks and workers was to receive $23/month for the first year, $26/month for the second and third years, and $28/month for any time after the third year. They also received room and board, and were housed at the shoe factory, with their own kitchen.

The Pittsfield Sun, August 11, 1870 reported that Sampson would soon send for 50 more Chinese workers as the initial group was working out so well, except for 4-5 of them who he might send back to San Francisco. By October 1870, Sampson claimed that he had now spent about $30,000 on his Chinese workers but he had already saved money on shoe production. In addition, the Chinese were learning English and had already sent $1600 westward, to pay off their debts, such as their original cost of passage across the Pacific Ocean. However, there is no indication at this point that Sampson followed up on his previous plan to send for 50 more workers.

The Berkshire County Eagle, December 1, 1870, noted how the Chinese workers were attending Sunday School at the shoe factory, which included learning English. Initially, a 12 year old boy, with a primer, showed up at the shoe factory to help teach the Chinese. Since then, other boys, from 12-14 years old, helped with the teaching, and some girls and older men joined them too. The Chinese integrated fairly well in North Adams and even the unions generally left them alone, primarily because the Chinese had willingly come to the shoe factory, and weren't actually slaves who had been forcibly brought there.

In the Pittsfield Sun, August 31, 1871, Sampson proudly stated that the Chinese workers had saved him about $40,000 in the past year and were producing 10% more shoes than the previous workers. And in November, Sampson noted that so far, he only had to send one Chinese worker back to San Francisco. By March 1872, one additional Chinese worker had returned to San Francisco on his own. Unfortunately, in August 1872, a 20 year old Chinese worker died, from rheumatism of the heart, and this was the first worker death. Thirty more Chinese workers came to the shoe factory in November 1872. A second Chinese worker died in February 1873, from pneumonia after two months of being ill.

The original three-year contract with the Chinese workers was set to run out in June 1873 but by the end of May 1873, all but 6 of the workers agreed to extend their contract. Those six workers generally either returned to San Francisco or China. In July 1874, there was a third worker death, from dropsy. By September 1875, there were still 93 Chinese workers at the shoe factory, so we can see that nearly all of the original workers had remained there for over five years, though that apparently changed during the next year.

The Boston Post, June 12, 1876, reported that Sampson only had 85 Chinese workers, which included 40 who had arrived a year ago. So where did approximately 50 Chinese workers go? Some likely returned to San Francisco or China, but at least a few of them may have remained in Massachusetts. The foreman, Charley Sing, was still at the shoe factory, and in October 1876, he was the first Chinaman in the area who was allowed to vote, and he opted for the Republican platform.

By February 1879, a sixth Chinese worker died, from typhoid pneumonia. A year later, in February 1880, there were only about 40-50 Chinese workers still at the shoe factory though several months later, it was noted that all of the Chinese workers would soon be gone. Some of these workers may have moved to other parts of Massachusetts though the newspapers didn't mention whether any of them so relocated.

During the 1870s, other Chinese men came to Massachusetts, including to the Boston area, and one of the first types of business that a number of them started were laundries. The first Chinese laundry in the U.S. likely opened in San Francisco in 1851 and according to New England Farmer, February 6, 1875, the first Chinese laundry in Boston, noted as a "California Chinese Laundry," had just opened at 299 Tremont Street. It was owned by Wah Lee & Co., a group of four Chinese businessmen.

A lengthy article in the Boston Daily Advertiser, February 18, 1875, went into great detail about the new Chinese laundry, as well as discussing the alleged "Chinese problem," fears of cheap Chinese labor. It began noting that the “Chinese problem” hadn’t bothered Boston yet. Even the arrival of the Chinese in North Adams, to work at the shoe factory, wasn't considered a problem. However, the writer was now concerned that Boston had  “been invaded, and a veritable Chinese laundry is in successful operation in our city.”

It was feared that this Chinese laundry would cause white washing-women to go out of business, who already made barely enough money for their needs, for “wearing and exhaustive labor.” It was claimed that the Chinese charged “ruinously low charges for their work” and their “inexplicable economy of living, which allows them to live and thrive contented with these wages.” The writer then went into great detail about the operations of the Chinese laundry.

Located at 275 Tremont Street, it was mentioned to be a cheap wooden building, poorly lighted, which employed 4 Chinese workers. There was a printed list of prices and when you dropped off clothes, you received a check inscribed with Chinese characters and a duplicate was kept by the laundry. Their prices included shirts for 15 cents (or 2 for 25 cents), collar 4 cents, handkerchief 4 cents, pair stockings 5-10 cents, neckties 4 cents, table covers 15-75 cents, and overskirts 50 cents-$2.50. Clothes would also be washed and dried for 80 cents a dozen.

Clothes were taken every day of the week and returned 3-4 days later. If you want the clothes delivered to you, you simply had to pay in advance. In addition, there was “no allowance for clothes said to be lost unless reported within 24 hours after delivered." Wah Lee owned a chain of laundries, his other locations in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Chicago, and maybe elsewhere. His other laundries were much bigger, most with about 50 employees. The laundry workers were paid about $15 a week.

By May 1875, another Chinese laundry, Sum Kee, was opened at 217 Shawmut Avenue. Others soon opened too, and the Boston Globe, August 3, 1875, noted, "The rapid increase of 'California Chinese Laundries' in Boston is noticeable."

At this time, laundry work, which was done by hand, was laborious and time-consuming, so not many whites wanted to do such work. In addition, crowded housing conditions made it more difficult for people to do their own laundry. The Chinese were willing to do so, faced little initial competition, and quickly turned it into a wide-spread industry. In addition, starting a laundry cost very little, making it attractive to the Chinese who had little starting capital. For example, it's said that in 1900, it cost about $500 to purchase a Chinese laundry. This situation was common throughout the U.S.

Commonly, these laundries had three main rooms, including the front room where customers came to drop off and pick up their laundry. A second room would be the residence while the third room would be where all the washing occurred. That stove in the washing room would also be used as their kitchen. Laundry was a laborious job, and the Chinese usually worked six days a week, and sometimes even seven. On Sundays, when they usually didn't work, they might visit  and socialize with their friends and family in other parts of the city, such as eventually in Chinatown.

In September 1875, two Chinese laundries opened on Howard Street while there was mention of another Chinese laundry, owned by Wahlee Ah Gewe, at the corner of Blossom and Cambridge Streets. In January 1876, there was reference to a Chinese laundry, owned by Sing Lung and his brothers, under the Newport House at 5 Cambridge Street. In January 1878, there was mention of a Chinese laundry at the corner of Northhampton and Washington streets. And in June 1878, there was mention of another Chinese laundry at the corner of Howard and Bulfinch streets. In comparison, the Boston Globe, August 30, 1877, noted how New York had over 800 Chinese laundries. According to the Boston Daily Globe, June 18, 1878, there was another Chinese laundry located at the corner of Howard and Bulfinch streets.

Despite the proliferation of Chinese laundries, a "Chinatown" still hadn't formed in the city. The Boston Globe, December 22, 1877, published an article, The Heathen Chinee, and noted that six years ago, there were only about three or four Chinese in Boston but now there were about 150-200 Chinese. The article stated, "One thing Boston lacks which San Francisco has--Chinatown. But how long will it be before there is such a noisome quarter?" That writer definitely wasn't pleased about such an idea.

Two years later, the Boston Globe, March 25, 1879, ran another article titled, John Chinaman. How He Lives And Thrives in the Hub. The article mentioned that there were about 100 Chinese laundrymen in Boston, and a few other Chinamen, and it was alleged most were just here to earn money so they could eventually return to China. As the laundries were spread across Boston, the Chinese lived in various areas, as they usually lived in the laundry building. There still wasn't a mention of a Boston "Chinatown" or any Chinese restaurants. It also stated that there wasn't a "joss house," or Chinese temple in Boston.

There was a brief follow-up article in the Boston Globe, March 31, 1879, noting that the Chinese laundry trade had fallen off a bit, and that the owners of some of the first laundries had returned to China. The Boston Weekly Globe, September 9, 1879, went into more detail in an article titled, Washee. Washee. How John Chinaman Makes Money in Boston. The Chinese population in Boston was estimated at about 120, who were generally aged from 12-40 years, with an average of 25 years. The youngest one worked at a laundry on Leveret St, and the two oldest, around 40 years old, lived in the South End and East Boston.

About 100 of them were involved in the laundry business, working in 40 different Chinese laundries. These laundries were broken down into 30 in Boston proper, 4 in Charlestown, 3 in East Boston, and 3 in South Boston. Of those in Boston, 18 were in the South End, 10 in the West End, and 2 in the North End. The remaining 20 Chinese were involved in selling fruit, cigars, tobacco, and tea. There were several tea merchants, who had been in the city for a number of years, including Ar Showe on Union St., Ar Chang in the South End on Washington St, across from the Rockland Bank, Wong Ariock at 101 Pleasant St., and James Williams (who dropped his Chinese name) at 264 Hanover St. There was also one Chinese man with a fruit and nut store on Tremont Street.

In comparison, Sweet and Sour: Life in Chinese Family Restaurants by John Jung (Yin & Yang Press, 2018), mentioned that "The 1870 U. S. Census listed 3,653 launderers and laundresses, as the fourth leading occupation among Chinese following miners, laborers, and domestic servants, but only 66 “restaurant keepers” near the bottom of the list."

What might surprise you is that there probably were not any Chinese women living in Boston at this time. In addition, there were only a small number of Chinese woman living in other communities in Massachusetts. We know that Ah Soon had seven daughters, who married Americans, but we don't know where they settled. Ar-Showe also had two daughters and we aren't sure where they settled either, though it is possible they continued to live in Malden.

In addition, we know that one Chinese woman lived in Chelsea. In the late 1850s, Robert S. Ar Foon and his wife came to Massachusetts, where Robert acquired a job as a cook for Josiah Caldwell, a wealthy American who spent Spring in Boston, Summer and Fall in Lenox, and Winter in Cuba. Robert travelled with Caldwell for a number of years. On March 28, 1872, while living in Boston, Robert and his wife had a son, Henry Smith Ar Foon, though a couple months later they moved to Chelsea.

Prior to 1872, Robert had become a naturalized citizen, so Henry was an American citizen by birth, likely the first Chinese to achieve that honor. Robert eventually partnered with Ar Showe, the wealthy tea merchant, and opened a restaurant and ice cream café on Broadway in Chelsea. At some point, these businesses were relocated to Winnisimmet Street, and they also opened a tea shop. These businesses may have closed around 1889.

Another Chinese wife lived in Cambridge with her husband and children. On May 26, 1879, Harvard University signed a contact with Ko Kun Hua to teach Mandarin Chinese at the university. The contract was three years and Ko was to be paid $200 a month. Ko arrived in Cambridge in September, with his wife, a female servant, six children and an interpreter, Chin-Tin-Sing. His Mandarin course was intended for commercial purposes, for those planning to travel for business to China. It was open to undergraduates as well as anyone else who was interested, except for women. Initially, he had a single student, who wasn't even an undergraduate. By August 1880, this student had done so well that he left for China for business. By February 1881, Ko was instructing three students, though by the start of June, he no longer had any students. Unfortunately, In February 1882, he became ill and died from pneumonia.

There are multiple reasons why so few Chinese women came to the U.S. at this time. First, many Chinese men came to the U.S. to make money, with plans to return to China once they had made a sufficient amount. It wasn't cheap to travel across the Pacific and would have been much more expensive for them to travel with their wives. U.S. law also eventually placed barriers upon Chinese women from entering the U.S. In 1880, the ratio of Chinese men to women was at 21:1, rising to 27:1 in 1890. This large disparity between Chinese men and women would last into the 20th century.

With so few Chinese woman in the Boston area, a number of Chinese men would eventually marry white women. Probably the first white woman to live in Chinatown, and marry a Chinese man, was a woman known as Bella, and she soon acquired the title of Queen of Chinatown. Bella arrived in Chinatown sometime around 1880-1882 and trying to determine the facts of her history before she arrived in Boston isn't easy. Bella may not have even been her birth name.

For example, the Boston Sunday Post, March 31, 1901, claimed that her prior name was “Oklahoma Belle,” which she acquired from her time as a bareback rider in the circus. In addition, she was supposed to be a doctor, having graduated from a medical college in Poughkeepsie. She was also now supposedly providing medical care for the Chinese. Much of this wasn't mentioned again in any other newspapers and can't be confirmed, except that a later newspaper specifically stated she never completed any medical studies.

Later, the Boston Globe, May 15, 1906, printed that Bella was an Englishwoman, who came to New York when she was very young. She eventually married a "renegade sailor," a white man and when he died, she moved to Boston. There was no mention that she was a doctor or had even been a bareback rider.

We know that Bella married Yuen Song (also known as Wee Yuen) prior to 1889, and likely during the early 1880s, and they lived at 29 Harrison Avenue, a residence that Bella would remain in throughout her entire life. In the Boston Daily Globe, June 13, 1889, the police stated, during an opium investigation, that “There is one white woman in Chinatown but as she is legally married to a Chinaman, the police could not molest her.” Though Bella isn't mentioned by name, it seems clear that it refers to her. As Bella might have been the only woman in Chinatown at this time, it's not too surprising that she was popular and would receive the designation of Queen of Chinatown, a role she apparently relished greatly.

Six years later, the police finally chose to move against Bella in a new opium investigation. The Boston Daily Globe, May 13, 1895, noted that the police made a raid on her residence, as they had information that it was an alleged opium joint. The police found plenty of opium, pipes and other paraphernalia, was well as four other Chinese men who had been partaking. Yuen and Bella were arrested, though the ultimate disposition was not mentioned. Based on similar cases at this time, they might have been able to pay a small fine to resolve the matter.

The first mention that Bella was the Queen of Chinatown was presented in the Boston Sunday Post, October 27, 1895, in an article titled: The Hub’s Chinatown Woman Ruler. After this time, it became more common for Bella to be referred to by this title. The article stated, “Bella Yuen Song is an American girl. She is young and sometimes pretty.” She is well educated and a good conversationalist. She is an incurable opium fiend and the undisputed Queen of Chinatown” It was mentioned that everyone in Chinatown either knew her, or knew of her, and many Chinese came to her for advice on business, romance, health, and more. Living on the top floor apartment at 29 Harrison Avenue, she would give audiences, while she lay on her couch, smoking opium, with her green-eyed cat nearby. 

Bella gave an interview to the reporter, providing a brief biography of her life before Chinatown, though there wasn't any effort to confirm the veracity of her tale.  Bella claimed that she had born in the country region of New York, but she wouldn't be more specific. When she was 18 years old, Bella attended Dr. Hall’s Seminary in Poughkeepsie, intending to study medicine after graduation. However, opium intervened, changing her plans for the future.

She had a cousin who was a “well-known variety star and manager,” and he once invited her back to his apartment to partake of opium with some of his friends. Bella decided to try it, and got sick on her first attempt. However, she tried it again and again, and eventually got hooked, and has not been able to quit over the last 16 years. She mentioned that she had married a Chinese man, Yuen Song, and when he died, she married his brother, Jim. Bella also noted that she is awake all night, partaking of supper at 5am-6am, and then retiring to bed until around 3pm-4pm. 

The Boston Sunday Post, March 31, 1901, referred to Bella as the Queen of Chinatown, and noted that she was now married to a second Chinese man, Jim Gong, who was dying of consumption. But, from the previous 1895 article, it seems that her marriage to Jim wasn't contemporary to this article. 

An article in the Boston Sunday Post, September 13, 1903, discussed that a number of white women had married Chinese men, noting that there were only 14 Chinese women living in Boston.  “The police say that these mixed marriages rarely result in trouble. The white woman usually bosses the outfit and is careful to do nothing that would attract the attention of the police. She keeps her husband out of trouble and, as a general rule, is devoted to him.” The article also stated that none of these wives would dare anger or oppose Bella, the Queen of Chinatown.

Bella's residence was raided again, this time for illegal gambling rather than opium. The Boston Post, August 15, 1904, reported that in an adjoining room to Bella’s residence, the police were found "Chinese playing picu." They were arrested for the crime of “gaming on the Lord’s day,” a crime which was enforced numerous times, especially against the Chinese.

In the Boston Globe, August 23, 1905 and Boston Sunday Post, August 27, 1905, there was discussion that Bella Long, the Queen of Chinatown, might marry for the 4th time. Her third husband, Jim Long, also known as Ah Long, who had been a gambler, had died about a month ago. Her new beau appeared to be "Jim the Guide," who did guided tours of Chinatown, and his last name wasn't known by any of the reporters. The Globe article also mentioned that Bella was about 45 years old, still an opium smoker, and that in a racist comment, “She has lived among Chinamen so long that it seems as though her eyes had grown on a slant.

Unfortunately, like her third husband, Bella was the victim of tuberculosis. According to the Boston Herald, December 23, 1905, the board of health viewed her as a health menace and had her removed to the Long Island Hospital. Bella didn't resist the removal. The newspaper noted, "She has been the Chinamen's acute adviser. She was true blue. She could be trusted. To her they turned when danger threatened and they found themselves at a disadvantage because of their inability to speak English fluently."

The article also mentioned how she mainly remained in her apartment, which was described as "dark, dirty, ill-ventilated and choky with the fumes of opium." As the officers came to take her to the hospital, she became chatty, talking about her life. She claimed to have been smoking opium for about 26 years, having started when she was 17 years old. Her original home was allegedly in Hudson, New York, though she eventually moved to New York City. While in NYC, when she was 17, she and a cousin went to the a theater and later stopped in an opium den. She spent seven weeks in NYC, before returning to Hudson, continuing to smoke opium, and became an addict. The opium sapped her ambitions, including her desire to study medicine.

In New York, she married her first husband, who was lost at sea while racing a yacht from New York to Ireland. Then, while living on Pell Street in NYC, she married a jealous Chinese man, who eventually tried to kill her. He was convicted and sentenced to 10 years, though Bella pled for leniency so he only served eighteen months. Once he was released from prison, they moved to Boston, where he died. The article also noted her name was once Bella Hubbell, though it isn't clear if that was her maiden name or her first married name.

Bella also claimed to have been related to the Coffins of Nantucket. In addition, she stated that her father was still living in Jersey City. She claimed to still have wealthy and powerful friends, but she was a slave to the opium pipe and it guided her life. And it is clear that she never married Jim the Guide.

The Boston Herald, May 1, 1906, stated that Bella was dying, and probably only has days remaining. She had been a good patient, and received many Chinese visitors from Boston, some bringing her news, others seeking her advice. The doctors also felt that some of the visitors were bringing her opium, though they tried to deter it. This article also makes it clear that her maiden name was Bella Hubbell.

The Boston Globe, May 15, 1906 reported that Bella had died of consumption. When she arrived in Chinatown, she was young and pretty, and quickly a big hit in that neighborhood. She used to give audiences in her home at 29 Harrison Avenue, often reclining on her couch, smoking opium, though also warning people about the dangers of opium. The Boston Post, May 16, 1906, reported that Bella Long would be buried quietly and was unable to receive a Chinese funeral as her ancestors didn’t lie honored in Chinese graves. What is also interesting to note is that Hong Far Low, a leading restaurant manager, had acted as Bella’s prime minister.

A bit more information about Bella was presented in the Boston Herald, July 16, 1929. The newspaper spoke to a British musician, W.F. Cooper, who claimed to have met Bella back in 1903. He had heard stories that Bella subsisted only on tobacco, about two pounds a day. When he met Bella, she confirmed this story to him. However, he either misunderstood or was intentionally misled, as Bella smoked opium, not tobacco. The article also mentions that after Bella's death, her apartment became a tourist attraction, which cost people 50 cents to visit and view.

At this point, before progressing further, I should mention a dark aspect of American history, involving abject racism against the Chinese.

Near the end of the 1840s, a few hundred Chinese had immigrated to the U.S., mainly in California, but as the 1850s began, Chinese immigration exploded. In 1851, there were about 4,000 Chinese in California and a year later, there were about 25,000. By 1876, there were approximately 151,000 Chinese living in the U.S., with about 116,000 of them residing in California. 

In 1868, the Burlingame Treaty was signed between the U.S. and China, expanding commerce between the two countries, as well as establishing liberal immigration policies, allowing Chinese to more easily immigrate to the U.S. Thousands of Chinese then came to the U.S. hoping to earn money which they could send home. Unfortunately, they often faced racism in the U.S., and it only worsened in the coming years. What was supposed to be better relations between the two countries became a system where Chinese laborers were exploited by Americans.

Some Chinese and Japanese women were being brought, sometimes against their will, to the U.S. to work as prostitutes. It's estimated that in 1870, there were about 3,500 Chinese women in California, and over 2,000 of them were prostitutes. In 1875, the Page Act was passed, ostensibly to protect these victimized women, but the language of the act actually made it more difficult for any Chinese women to come to the U.S.  This was an obstacle that prevented numerous innocent Chinese women from coming to the U.S., even just to unite with their husband.

In May 1882, President Chester Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act which prohibited the entrance into the U.S. of Chinese laborers, skilled and unskilled, for a period of ten years. The Act had some exceptions for merchants, students, teachers, and diplomats. In 1892, the Act would be extended for another ten years by the Geary Act, which also added other strict legal requirement for the Chinese. And then, in 1902, the Act was made permanent until being nullified in 1943 by the Magnuson Act.

In the report, The Chinese in Boston, 1970, written by Charles Sullivan and Kathlyn Hatch for the Action For Boston Community Development, there is a table providing statistics for Chinese immigration to the U.S. from 1820-1970. In the period 1881-1890, despite the Chinese Exclusion Act, 64,301 Chinese immigrants still came to the U.S. In the period 1891-1900, this number had dropped significantly, down to 14,799. In the period 1901-1910, the number had risen a bit to 20,605. If it hadn't been for the Chinese Exclusion Act, far more Chinese would have immigrated to the U.S., which would have included uniting families who were separated from each other. This certainly has much relevance to our current situation concerning the immigration crisis.

These terrible laws adversely affected the Chinese for many, many years and were fueled by pure racial prejudice. This article isn't about all of the harms of the Chinese Exclusion Act, and not the place to go into great detail about them, but I did feel it necessary to mention it as it clearly affected the settlement of Chinese immigrants in Boston.

The first known Chinese restaurant in the U.S. appears to have been the Canton Restaurant, in San Francisco, in 1849, if not even earlier. There may be some confusion about the time it was established as there were two restaurants named Canton at around the same time. The Weekly Alta California, October 4, 1849, briefly mentioned that Ahae, the "original proprietor of the first Canton Restaurant" has now opened the New Canton Hotel and Restaurant, which is located on Jackson Street, next door to the Fulton Market. Later that year, the new restaurant would host a huge meeting go about 300 Chinese residents of San Francisco. By 1850, there were about five Chinese restaurants in San Francisco.

Maybe the first reference in a Massachusetts newspaper to Chinese restaurants was the Boston Daily Mail, July 23, 1850, discussing a great fire that occurred in San Francisco. There was a brief mention that a Chinese Restaurant on the East Side sustained $3,000 in property damage. Another early reference was in the Boston Evening Transcript, September 10, 1850, which mentioned the funeral of a Chinese man who died at a Chinese restaurant, located at Macoa and Woosung in San Francisco. The article didn't mention his name or how he had died.

The first extended article in a Massachusetts newspaper about a Chinese dinner was printed in the Pittsfield Sun, September 22, 1853. The writer dined at "...the crack Chinese restaurant on Dupont Street, called Hong-Fo-La,..." His hosts included Keychong, Acou and Peter Anderson (a naturalized American citizen). The photo above shows the menu for this dinner, and you can see that the writer didn't know some of the dishes that they were served. 

The Boston Daily Mail, October 4, 1853, provided more information about this dinner; including noting there were  numerous additional dishes served. There was also Tong Chou, mushrooms worth $3 per pound, and Sum-Yoi, birds' nests, worth $60 per pound. In addition, there were another ten to twelve courses (a veritable feast), including "...stewed acorns, chestnuts, sausages, dried ducks, stuffed oysters, shrimps, periwinkles, and ending with tea--". The writer noted that the most difficult part of the dinner was using chopsticks. 

The writer stated, “We came away, after a three hours sitting, fully convinced that a China dinner is a very costly and elaborate affair, worthy the attention of epicures.” He continued, “From this time henceforth we are in the field, for China against any insinuation on the question of diet a la rat, which we pronounce a tale of untruth.”

This article also raises an important point about reporting on Chinese restaurants during this time period in the U.S. Not all of the news reports were positive, and promoted racist allegations that Chinese restaurants served rats, cats, dogs and other animals. It's clear that these allegations had already risen by at least 1853.

One of the earliest such articles, and printed in numerous newspapers across the country, appeared locally in the Boston Daily Mail, January 5, 1854, as well as several other Massachusetts newspapers. The brief article stated, “A California paper gives the following as a bill of fare at a Chinese restaurant in that city:--‘Cat Cutlet, 25 cents; Griddled Rats, 6 cents; Dog Soup, 12 cents; Roast Dog, 18 cents; Dog Pie, 6 cents.

I was unable to find the original source, the California newspaper, which allegedly first printed this information. I later read Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America, by Yong Chen, which claimed that this article began as a joke in the Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, January 21, 1854, a magazine printed in Boston. However, first, the Boston Daily Mail article predated the Gleason article. Second, by reading the Gleason reference, there is nothing to indicate it was meant as a joke. In fact, based on the surrounding context, it appeared to be offered as a fact. So, I don't accept Yong Chen's assertion that this was intended to be a joke.

In addition, I have found absolutely no evidence to support these allegations, and similar such accusations have been discredited by others. Even unsubstantiated, these allegations hurt the Chinese, fueling hate and derision, making them seem less than human. They were fueled by racist stereotypes, such as that the Chinese were a dirty people. Obviously such articles deterred non-Chinese Americans from wanting to dine at Chinese restaurants.

These wild accusations continued over the years. The Flag of Our Union (MA), July 28, 1860, published an article titled, What John Chinaman Eats. It stated, “The Chinaman long since found out that he could not afford to waste anything, and so conquered his repugnances and acquired a taste for many products of Nature that we rigidly exclude from our tables.” It continued, the Chinese “...fatten dogs that are growing old and at them, and the butchers’ stalls are as regularly provided with dog’s meat as with any other kind.” In addition, “The farmers, in fact, breed a species of dog adapted to fattening, which they call ‘butcher’s dogs;’ it is a kind of wolf-dog, with erect ears, and distinguished from others by having the tongue, palate and whole interior of the throat black.” 

The article also noted, “It has been asserted that in certain of our eating-houses cats sometimes do duty on the bill of fare as rabbits;..” And the Chinese “...regard cat’s meat as excellent, and at the provision stores you see enormous cats hanging up with their heads and tails on.” Plus, “The rat, too, occupies an important place in the Chinese housekeeper’s list of delicacies. They eat it fresh or salt, salted rats being specially destined for consumption on board of the junks.” The article then concluded, “Yet the poor fellows are not to be blamed for their tastes—their teeming millions make it a necessity to live on what we should reject with abhorrence.”

The Massachusetts Ploughman & New England Journal of Agriculture, March 9, 1867, briefly noted, “Paris is to set up a full-blown Chinese restaurant. Johnny, and cats, and rats, and puppies.” This claim was repeated in the Boston Globe, April 19, 1873, which stated, “Paris has a genuine Chinese restaurant where cats and dogs are cooked for those who are fond of them.” Of course there was absolutely no proof of these racist accusations. 

Another article, in the Boston Globe, June 6, 1873, continued these wild accusations, noting, “Grasshopper short-cakes and potato-bug pies are plenty in the Chinese restaurants at San Francisco.” These types of unfounded allegations would be lodged against Chinese restaurant for many years.

Maybe the first Chinese restaurant in New York City was established around 1873. The Waltham Sentinel, August 29, 1873, reported that there was a Chinese restaurant at 72 Maiden Street in Manhattan, and that it was the only one in New York City. The article stated it was known to "few English-speaking people" and that "It will be a disappointment for some to learn that the Chinese customers do not call for bird's nest jelly, rats and other dainties popularly supposed to be indispensable to a complete feast;" It's good that some newspapers were trying to correct the racist allegations.  


Now, we start to get to the heart of the original question, and whether Hong Far Low was actually the first restaurant, established in 1879, in Boston's Chinatown.

We begin, noting that that a Friendly Inn was established at 36 and 38 Harrison Avenue in July 1877. The two buildings were arranged as one house, with the street level containing an office, reading room, and restaurant. The second floor was a site of parlors while the third floor had sleeping rooms. The Inn was a refuge for poor alcoholics, where they could get sober, and this was an idea that was being repeated across the country by women’s temperance groups.

Unfortunately, the facility couldn't raise sufficient money for their expenses, and in July 1879, they had to close one of the two houses, the one with the restaurant. The landlord then rented that building to a liquor saloon. And by October 1879, they had to close the second house as well. This address is where Hong Far Low would eventually be located but it makes little sense that it would have opened at the very end of 1879, especially as a liquor saloon had just opened at that location.

As an aside, the Boston Weekly Globe, September 9, 1879, mentioned that a Chinese Mission, or Sunday School, was established in April 1876 by Miss Henriette Carter of Cambridgeport as part of the Home Missionary Society. Classes were held on Sunday afternoons, for about 2 1/2 hours, in the vestry of the Mount Vernon church on Ashburton Place. The school taught the Chinese how to read and wrote English, as well as how to be good Christians, including refraining from gambling, drinking liquor and using opium. In July 1879, there were an average of 24 Chinese students and in August, there were an average of 31 students.

We know that in 1879 there were only about 120 or so Chinese in Boston, spread across the city, so why would anyone have started a restaurant with such a limited number of potential customers? How could such a restaurant survive with so few patrons? We have to realize that laundries, where most of the Chinese worked, were generally open 6 or 7 days a week, and only on Sundays might the workers have any free time.

Could a restaurant survive when their customer base might only be able to visit one day a week? Unlikely. In addition, as the idea of a "Chinatown" hadn't apparently been solidified yet, as an insufficient number of Chinese had yet to settle in this neighborhood, it seems logical that a Chinese restaurant wouldn't have been established on Harrison Avenue at this point in time. It doesn't seem that this would have been an opportune time for Hong Far Low, or anyone, to open a Chinese restaurant.

During the 1870s and early 1880s, the local Boston newspapers primarily mentioned Chinese restaurants in regards to San Francisco and New York. For example, the Boston Post, March 6, 1875,  reported on an annual banquet of some of the Chinese residents of San Francisco. The article stated, “The perfection to which the Chinese have carried their cooking was a matter of surprise to the American guests present.” The dinner began with an orange laid on a plate and “The orange itself seemed like any other orange, bar, on being cut open, was found to contain within the rind five kinds of delicate jellies. One was at first puzzled to explain how the jellies got on, and…how the pulpy part of the orange got out.”

In addition, “Colored eggs were also served, in the inside of which were found nuts, jellies, meats and confectionary.” Finally, it was mentioned, "A Chinese wine, resembling champagne, was also introduced, which had a peculiar odor like the scent of roses.” A positive view of Chinese cuisine. 

The Boston Globe, May 9, 1880, published an article on Chinatown in San Francisco, with a subtitle “Interior of a Restaurant—What is Eaten and How It is Cooked” The article noted that, “The Chinese are fond of the pleasures of the table, and the half dozen large restaurants in the quarter are liberally patronized.” It continued, “The shining table, the burnished pans, the cavernous ovens—all look clean and tidy. Equally neat is the main kitchen, which is reached by passing up a steep flight of stairs. It is a revelation to those who have been educated in the delusion that rats and garbage form the staple of the Chinese cuisine.”;

However, the rest of the article was negative, stating, “A Chinese dinner is not to be recommended. It is too greasy, and that Mosaic abomination, the pig, not only appears frequently as piece de resistance, and in sundry clever disguises, but contributes an unmistakable flavor to nearly every dish.” At least the restaurant was noted to be tidy and clean. 

The Boston Globe, July 19, 1885, presented an article titled, Chinese Cooking. An Interesting View into a Chinese Restaurant.  The article stated, “The average American when he first approaches the Chinese table does so in fear and trembling. Vague presentiments of ragouts or rats, mayonnaises of mice and similar luxuries float through his mind. Nine times out of ten he leaves the table with the conviction that he has learned something, and that the almond-eyed sons of the queue are the best cooks in the world.” Fortunately, this was another article to refute these racist allegations.  

The article also mentioned, “It is safe to say that in 1880 not more than 100 New Yorkers had ever dined in oriental style. In 1885 the number is far up among the thousands.” There were only six Chinese restaurants in New York City at that time, and "Each is famous for dish or style of cooking. The Delmonico of the number is Yu-ung-Fang-Lau, at 14 Mott Street." In addition, it was said, "All of the dishes are well cooked and served, and all are a novelty to the most blasé gourmet. The made dishes especially are new and strange.” Finally, it noted, “The next surprise is the bill. It is at least half, it not lower, than the price at another restaurant."

If Hong Far Low had existed since 1879, it seems likely the local newspapers would have mentioned it at least once when discussing these other cities with their own Chinese restaurants. The silence of the newspapers speaks volumes. 


More information refuting the 1879 origin of Hong Far Low is found in the Boston Globe, June 11, 1882. There was a report of a fire, caused by a drunken tenant, at Mrs Osborn’s boarding house, located at 38 ½ Harrison Avenue. This is the eventual address of Hong Far Low and it is clear that their restaurant was not yet located at this address in 1882. And this will support additional newspaper articles, noting that Hong Far Low was mostly likely established no earlier than 1888. The boarding house must have been sold at some point prior to April 1885, when the police arrested a Chinese man, Moy Jim, for operating an opium den at 38 ½ Harrison Ave.

The Boston Daily Globe, April 14, 1885, reported on a raid at 38 ½ Harrison Ave, noting it had a dirty, red front door. The police went to this location around 1:30am, finding the front door open, and they entered, soon descending to the basement. They found an opium den, and a recent law against opium smoking had recently been passed in Boston. Numerous men were arrested, including many non-Chinese. The proprietor was identified as Moy Jim, age 25, who was described as "tall, dark and ugly." Again, the newspaper didn't mention anything about a restaurant being at that location, which would be curious if Hong Far Low did exist at that time. The police would also make a raid at 110 Harrison Avenue, arresting more non-Chinese, including a several women, for smoking opium.

The evening edition of this same newspaper reported on the court appearances of these defendants. As it was a new law, the judge was willing to be lenient, with those pleading guilty generally fined $10 without costs. Moy Jim, who was also known as John Moy, claimed ignorance of the new law. The judge entered a plea of not guilty for Moy, continuing the matter for three days. The article noted that the new law made it illegal to smoke opium or be "so deeply under the influence of the drug that there can be no doubt of the symptoms," but the latter aspect was extremely difficult to prove. In addition, it wasn't illegal to be present where opium was being smoked if you were not smoking. At his next court appearance, Moy's case was once again continued, this time to May 1, and later continued once again, though I didn't locate the ultimate disposition of his case.

The Boston Daily Globe, September 26, 1885, went into much more detail about the problems with opium in Boston. The newspaper had conducted its own investigation, publicly exposing opium joints at 55 Pleasant Street, owned by Sam Lee, and 38 1/2 Harrison Avenue, owned by Moy Lee. Based on their findings, the Legislature finally passed a law profiting the sale or use of opium for smoking. Since the law passed, there had been few arrests so the Globe decided to conduct a new investigation. The journalists located a few other opium dens in Chinatown, including at 36 1/2 Harrison Avenue and 33 1/2 Howard Street. Another opium den, not run by the Chinese, was found in the West End, at 96 Court Street. And still other opium dens, owned by white people, were found in other parts of the city.


When was Boston's "Chinatown" established? The Boston Globe, April 6, 1882, discussed attempts by a local reporter to interview local Chinese about the Chinese immigration bill. As the reporter didn't speak Chinese, he realized might have some troubles and tried to locate some prominent local Chinese, especially any who spoke English. The reporter received a suggestion to interview the Chinese laundrymen on Howard Street. There apparently wasn't a "Chinatown" section in Boston yet or that is where the reporter would have journeyed. The reporter did find one English-speaking Chinese who noted there were about 400-500 Chinese in Boston.

According to the King’s Dictionary of Boston by Edwin M. Bacon (1883), in the entry for Chinese,  it was stated that there were about 300 Chinese in Boston and its immediate vicinity, and that the first one had arrived about 8 years ago. Although we know that Chinese had been living in Boston prior to that time. The book also mentioned, “As a class they are industrious, frugal, and peaceable, seldom appearing in the criminal courts except as complainants.” It continued, “The majority of them have laundries; others are engaged in selling tea, fruits, and cigars; and but three are known to be employed as servants in private families,…” 

It was also noted that “Gambling and opium-smoking are vices to which many of them are addicted;..” The entry also stated, “About 60 of the Chinese colony are known to be members of a secret society, the chief objects of which are said to be mutual protection.” Continuing, it was said, “There is a very flourishing Chinese Sunday-school, which was organized about 6 years ago by Miss Harriet Carter, with only one pupil. At present it has an average attendance of nearly 100. They meet in the chapel of the Mount-Vernon Church,…”

Delving deeper into the history of Boston and China, the entry said, “The discovery of the sea-otter on the Oregon coast brought into the control of Boston merchants a profitable business, which they continued to control for many years; the trade of China was entered upon, and became a very lucrative one;…” In addition, “The profits of the China voyages sometimes ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. A ship would frequently go to Oregon, take a cargo of otter-fur, go thence to China, load with tea, run across to Valparaiso, and exchange part of the tea for copper, and then, after voyaging to England, return home."

The first mention I found of the use of the term "Chinatown" for a Boston neighborhood was in the Boston Daily Globe, March 13, 1884. There was an article about opium smoking, and how Chinese were leaving New York City, where it was illegal, to journey to Boston which lacked a law against opium smoking, though that changed in 1885. The article mentioned the existence of "Chinatown" in Boston, noting, "The Chinese settlement on Harrison avenue is called by that nameThe Chinese there occupy several blocks. They have their own stores, their own gambling houses, and their own opium joints." The article didn't mention any restaurants being in Chinatown at this time.

As some background, the Boston Post, February 9, 1891, printed a bit of history on this area. Harrison Avenue, which was originally called Front Street, once extended from Beach Street to South Boston. It was originally referred to Front Street as it was "fronted" on salt water, and acquired its new name in homage to President Harrison. The street was a bit of an oddity as it was so long and straight, compared to most of the other streets in Boston which were short and/or crooked. The section of Harrison Avenue, between Beach and Essex, was originally known as Rainsford Lane, named after Deacon Edward Rainsford.

I found it fascinating that during the early 1880s, Harrison Avenue was also the home to a number of "Clairvoyants," such as Miss Millie, Little Adaline, and Miss Davenport. In early 1880, the Boston Globe started running a column of advertisements for clairvoyants and continued to do so throughout the 1880s. For instance, even in 1890, there were still over 50 ads for clairvoyants in the Boston Globe. In December 1880, it was noted that there were two clairvoyants at 32 Harrison Avenue, and in February 1881, it was mentioned there was a clairvoyant on the first floor and another on the second floor. Even after Chinatown was established as a neighborhood, some of the clairvoyants remained behind, and in March 1887, there were at least five non-Chinese clairvoyants within the area of Chinatown.

This also raises the issue that during the 1880s, Chinatown wasn't exclusively populated by the Chinese. During this period, the newspapers mentioned numerous non-Chinese businesses located on or near Harrison Avenue, where Chinatown was situated. You could find non-Chinese businesses such as hat makers, tailors, printers, apothecaries, and more.

Harrison Avenue would eventually undergo a widening, which, in part, was intended to force the Chinese to move out of this neighborhood. Initially, the Boston Globe, September 15, 1885, reported that the Board of Street Commissioners was requested to report to the City Council on the estimated cost of widening Harrison Avenue, from Essex Street to Beach Street. A year later, the Boston Globe, September 24, 1886, mentioned that the Board of Street Commissioners requested $10,250 for the street widening and it was granted. Work began on the widening in January 1887. The Boston Post, May 20, 1887, then reported that the final report showed the total cost of the street widening would be $125,000. I'll discuss more about this project later in this article.

Previously, the first written reference I found to a Chinese restaurant in Boston's Chinatown was in September 1887, but I've since found two earlier references.

Four years previously, the Boston Herald, July 15, 1883, published an article titled “The ‘Italian’ Restaurant,” about a reporter's attempt to find and dine at a new "Italian" restaurant, located on Cathedral Street, which might have been the first of its kind in Boston. The article noted some of the other restaurant types that could be found in Boston, including many German restaurants and several very good French restaurants. In addition, “It is hinted that the initiated may also practice with chop-sticks, and eat odd dishes in an out-of-the-way Chinese ‘dive,’ patronized by laundrymen.”

The name and location of this Chinese restaurant wan't provided. It makes sense though that at this time, the restaurant first catered to the local Chinese, and the few adventurous non-Asians who were aware of its existence. It probably didn't advertise to non-Asians, and offered very inexpensive Chinese dishes for the laundrymen and others. Since 1879, the population of Chinese in Boston appears to have roughly tripled, creating an adequate base for the establishment of a Chinese restaurant.

The first more specific details about a Chinese restaurant were provided in the Boston Daily Advertiser, May 26, 1884. There was a fire at 32 & 34 Harrison Avenue, and it was noted that the entire building was occupied by Chinese. In the basement, Ah Sam kept a Chinese supply store and opium joint. On the street level, Quong Wah had a laundry and Ah Sol ran a barbershop. The 3rd floor, 4th floor and attics were used for gambling purposes and opium smoking, and it was alleged that Sam Moy was the proprietor of those dens.

The second floor of the building was occupied by a Chinese eating-house, kept by Yung Yee. The fire started at a cooking stove in this restaurant, and the fire burned up to the third floor and down to the laundry on the first floor. The actual damage didn't seem too significant, so it seems likely the restaurant was able to continue operating. This is the first Chinese restaurant we can specifically locate in Chinatown and also have the name of the owner.

Three other local newspapers wrote about this fire as well. The Boston Journal, May 26, 1884, briefly noted there was a slight fire on the second floor of 38 1/2 Harrison Avenue. The second floor had a "cook shop" run by Hung Yee. The fire spread to the third floor, occupied by Sam Moy as a lodging house. The building had four stories and was leased by Ah Sam. On the first floor, there was Quang Wah, who ran a laundry, and Ar Soy, who ran a barber shop.

The Boston Globe, May 26, 1884, had a lengthier article, also noting the building in question was located at 38 1/2 Harrison Avenue. The Chinese there attempted to put out the fire on their own but were unsuccessful. The fire began on the second floor, where Hung Lee operated a Chinese supply store.  The fire spread to the third floor, occupied by Sam Moy as a lodging house. The building was leased by Ah Sam and the total damage was only about $150.

And briefly, the Boston Herald, May 26, 1884, noted the fire occurred at 38 1/2 Harrison Avenue, and started in the rear of the premises, causing about $300 in damage. The building was owned by William F. Watson and it is occupied principally by the Chinese.

So, at what address did the fire actually occur? It would seem that based on three newspapers against one, the correct address was 38 1/2 Harrison. The restaurant owner is listed by three different, though similar names, including Yung Yee, Hung Yee and Hung Lee. The restaurant likely hadn't existed for too long as the address contained a number of different businesses in the recent past.

The next article referencing Chinese restaurants in Chinatown was in the Boston Globe, September 12, 1887. The article focused on an annual festival by the Chinese Free Masons, noting that the area of Chinatown was, "That short block of buildings on the left side of the street (Harrison avenue) going toward the South-End is owned and inhabited by Chinese, the number finding home and shelter under these roofs being sufficiently large to people a good-sized town." Chinatown had solidified its identity, and it was noted that on Sundays, Chinese from other parts of Boston came to visit Chinatown.

Chinatown included "...laundries, lotteries, gambling room....two or three Chinese restaurants, barber shops, tailor shops, grocery, crockery and fancy goods stores, and many other varieties of stores..." The writer of the article visited two of the restaurants, the first being on the second floor of a building that was next to a barber shop and the second restaurant, a smaller one, was also located on a second floor. The writer enjoyed a meal of "chop soui," rice cakes and boiled chicken. This is the first mention of chop suey in Boston, so we know it existed at least since 1887.

Unfortunately, the writer didn't provide any identifying information about the restaurants, such as their street number, restaurant name, or the name of the proprietor. You might think that Hong Far Low could be one of these unnamed restaurants however later information will cast great doubt on that that possibility. We might actually never learn the names of these first restaurants, so the question of the identity of first restaurant in Chinatown may be unanswerable. Would later newspaper articles provide additional information which might help us answer this question?

The Boston Globe, February 13, 1888, reported on a Chinese New Year's celebration in Chinatown, discussing a number of their customs. It was noted that the Moy Auk music band, a group of five fiddlers and banjo players, was hired to perform at the celebration. Though Moy Auk was only briefly mentioned in the article, he would make his mark on Chinatown over a year later, interestingly enough in the restaurant industry.

A grand feast for a new son! The Boston Herald, January 7, 1889, reported that Sam Wah Kee, one of the most influential Chinese in Boston, owned a grocery business at 36 Harrison Avenue and also supposedly had mortgages on half the Chinese laundries in the city. He had a Chinese wife, who was one of only two Chinese women in Boston, and on December 1, 1888, she gave birth to a son. To name his son, Sam sought advice from Major Jones, “without whose advice none of the natives of the Flowery Kingdom in Boston would think of doing anything of importance,…”;  The Major recommended the name Ames Hart Kee

As the birth of a boy is a cause for great rejoicing, Sam arranged for two feasts, inviting about 700 Chinese to join in the festivities, and no non-Chinese were invited. One of the feasts was held at 36 Harrison Avenue, in a room above Sam's store, and 40 tables were set up, each which held ten people. Another six tables were set up at 39 Howard Street. A Chinese caterer had been hired, and many delicacies were to be served, and each plate cost $3. There was an initial seating at 6pm, and then at 10pm, there was a second seating. It's very interesting that this was a catered affair and wasn't held in any restaurant. 

There was another article about Chinese New Year in the Boston Globe, January 30, 1889, and it mentioned how Moy Auk and his band came from New York City to play at the celebrations. Based on other information, it appears Moy Auk chose to settle into Chinatown at this time, thinking he might be able to make a living with his band. This article also mentioned two restaurants in Chinatown, located at #26 Harrison and #88 1/2 Harrison Avenue. No names were provided for the restaurant or their owners. These also appear to have been the only two restaurants in Chinatown at this time, and Hong Far Low was not located at either of those addresses. This seems to indicate that Hong Far Low did not yet exist.

Moy Auk finally decided to get involved in food in Chinatown. The Boston Globe, June 11, 1889, reported on a banquet celebration of the Chinese Free Masons, which was held at their hall on 36 Harrison Avenue. The caterer and chief cook of this banquet, for about 500 people, was Moy Auk, who also led the band. It wasn't clear in this article whether Moy Auk actually ran a Chinese restaurant or was more just a caterer.

More information about Moy was provided in the Boston Globe, June 23, 1889. The article, titled Chinese Restaurants, indicated that there were six Chinese restaurants in Chinatown. There had been a "swell" Chinese restaurant at #24 Harrison Avenue, just over the store of the Quong Hing Wah Company, but the restaurant owner was a serious gambler. He lost much too much money and the restaurant had to close. The article then mentioned that the two best Chinese restaurants were now Moy Auk's at 36 Harrison Avenue and Hong Far Low at 38 1/2 Harrison Avenue. So, Moy had actually started a restaurant and wasn't just a caterer.

This is the first newspaper reference to Hong Far Low I found, and very little information was provided about it, except that it had an English painted sign that could be seen from the street. For how long had Hong Far Low been in business, considering it had a reputation as one of the best in Chinatown? The article doesn't answer that question though we can look through the lens of the other best restaurant, Moy Auk, which featured as the main topic of this newspaper article.

Moy was referred to as the "Delmonico's of the Celestials in this city." At this time, Delmonico's, in Manhattan, was considered one of the finest restaurants in the country so this was very high praise. Moy came to Boston, hoping to be able to play music year round, but learned that wasn't possible so he decided to open a restaurant. The talented Moy was a butcher, meat cook, and pastry chef. His restaurant, which was located beneath the hall of the Free Masons, was where the Chinese celebrities and dignitaries dined, as well as some white men, for a dish of "chop sui."

The article also stated that "Chop siu is Chinese for mixture, and it is a mixture which proved to be excellent eating. It is composed of chickens' and ducks' livers, gizzards and hearts cut into small pieces, fresh pork, celery, asparagus tops, bamboo shoots, and one or two other Chinese vegetables or greens, and dried mushrooms. These are all cut up into convenient pieces for the mouth, some sort of gravy is poured over the mass, which is then put in a spider and fried. While cooking the mixture sends out a very savory odor, and although its appearance on the table is rather against it, it is, nevertheless, very palatable." There isn't any mention that Hong Far Low was the first to bring chop sui to Chinatown, which casts doubt on their claim.

Moy's great culinary fame apparently arose within a time span of less than six months, so it wouldn't be a stretch to believe that Hong Far Low had also been in existence for less than six months. However, Hong Far Low hadn't garnered the same culinary recognition, though it was still seen as one of the best restaurants in Chinatown. If Hong Far Low had been in operation since 1879, you would likely assume that it would have been considered the premiere restaurant in Chinatown in 1889. In addition, the lack of any prior mention in the newspapers of the existence of Hong Far Low  before 1889 casts more doubt on their claim to have been established in 1879.

As a follow-up to this article, the Boston Globe, June 30, 1889, wrote that Moy Auk was very pleased with the write-up review of his restaurant. Moy just wanted to correct one point, that he did not generally keep chickens in the back of the kitchen, except for a single rooster at any time. His chickens, hundreds of them, were raised at his place in Winter Hill.

And as an aside, the Boston Daily Globe, June 13, 1889, reported that Hattie Gilman died from opium smoking at 16 Oxford Street last Sunday. The police then raided Chinatown, described as “Chinatown is on the left-hand side of Harrison Avenue between Essex and Beach street.” The police mentioned that four years ago there were many opium dens in Chinatown, and because it was such a significant problem, laws were enacted to counter it. Then they stated that it was no longer a serious problem, and there were very few opium dens in Chinatown, and few of those catered to women. During their raids, they found a few Chinese smoking but no white people.

Not everyone believed the opium problem was an insignificant issue. The Boston Herald, July 7, 1889, presented the unsubstantiated allegations of a druggist who worked on Harrison Avenue. He claimed there were many opium joints in Chinatown. He said, “Let them go to the upper floor of the Chinese restaurant any night about 8 o’clock. If they do, you can depend upon it that they will see American men and women smoking the dreadful stuff there until they are stupened from its effects. I have seen girls, 18 or 19 years old, go in there in the early afternoon with Chinamen, and they do not come out until late at night, when they would stagger about as though they were intoxicated.

He continued, stating, “These Chinamen, who are as lascivious as they are filthy, have a girl completely at their mercy the moment she enters the joint. I have heard of the most frightful stories about their orgies, which are unfit for publication in the columns of any paper, and which would not be believed if they were published.” The druggist also alleged that the police were fully aware of the opium problems but chose to ignore it.  

The Boston Globe, August 21, 1889 described the Chinatown celebrations for the Holiday of the Moon, providing basic information about the festival and its customs. There was a brief mention that Moy Auk, Hong Far Low, and other restaurant keepers did an excellent business during the festivities.

A follow-up article in the Boston Globe, August 29, 1889 wrote how Moy Wah, a laundryman who lived outside of Boston, came to Chinatown for the Holiday of the Moon and won a significant amount of money gambling at fan-tan. So, he decided to throw a banquet to celebrate. He hired Moy Auk, the "Delmonico of Chinatown," to cater the banquet, which would be for 12 people and would cost $12 a plate, quite a significant amount. An American reporter received an invite to this banquet and provided some information on the various dishes that were served.

Unfortunately, Moy's culinary reign, which hadn't even reached one year yet, was soon to end. The Boston Globe, September 10, 1889 reported that "It is the custom in China for merchants who have been successful in business to give a banquet to their customers and friends once a year." Moy Auk held one such banquet on September 9th, and the article wrote, "Moy Auk is recognized throughout New England as the crack celestial chef, and his dishes are greatly prized by the Mongolians, who say that they are prepared with a greater delicacy than those of any other Chinese cook." However, Moy was getting tired of the restaurant, and was awaiting the arrival of his brother who would take over the the restaurant, while Moy traveled the country with his band.

As 1890 began, Moy Auk's restaurant closed. The Boston Globe, January 12, 1890, reported that one of their writers had recently stopped by Moy's and found that it was closed. There was a sign there, written in Chinese, which the writer couldn't translate. He asked around Chinatown and one man told him that Moy was happiest as a musician and had left with his band. Moy's brother never arrived so Moy simply closed the restaurant. A great loss for Chinatown.

One of the first tongs which was established in Chinatown, likely around 1890, may have been the Hop Dock Tong, the "United Gains Club." Tongs were secret, sworn Chinese brotherhoods which were claimed to have been formed for a variety of social or business purposes but often engaged in criminal activities. The Chinese term for "tong" literally means "chamber," and can actually be used to refer to many different organizations, including many without any connection to criminal activity.

During the 19th century, maybe only one tong, the Hop Dock Tong, existed in Boston's Chinatown, and its power seemed more limited. There were worries about violence but they didn't seem to come to fruition. However, during the early 20th century, new tongs would assemble and cause trouble, including murder, which I will discuss in detail in my future expansion of Part 2 of this series.

The Boston Globe, July 9, 1892, reported on gambling charges lodged against Goon Dong, of 18 Harrison Avenue, and Chin Gin (also known as "Sport"), of 15 Harrison Avenue. Six other Chinese complained to the police that Goon and Chin were operating gambling dens, and one of those Chinese was Yee Sin, a West End laundryman. Yee and others claimed to have lost money at a fan tan game run by the defendants. Chin alleged that the complaining Chinese are engaging in blackmail, trying to force them to make pay-offs. There is also the allegation that "highbinders" may get involved. Highbinders were said to be the enforcers of Chinese tong society, those who would commonly be hired to kill other Chinese.

More information on this matter was found in the Boston Post, July 22, 1892, which mentioned that the Hop Dock Tong had been around for at least two years, and was run by six men, including Yee Sin, Yee Henmy, Yee Wan, Goon Doy, Yee Jung, and Goon Hoy Yow. The article stated Goon Dong owned a merchandise store at 18 Harrison Avenue, and had been paying the tong $4 a week, basically protection money. The tong then wanted Goon to join them, and he refused the offer. The tong allegedly threatened to get them charged with gambling unless Goon paid them $100, which he again refused. Eventually though, he paid $75 to make the matter go away.

The Boston Globe, February 9, 1891, referenced Chin Gin, aka Sport, noting that he was one of the best known Chinese in Chinatown, partially because he has a Chinese wife, a rarity at the time as there were allegedly only two Chinese women in Boston at that time. Chin also operated a tea store at 15 Harrison Avenue, living on the second floor. However, the Boston Globe, April 5, 1891, stated that Chin was a tailor by profession and his Chinese wife was the only Chinese woman in Boston.

The court case continued and the Boston Globe, July 18, 1892, claimed that Chinatown was divided into two groups, the prosperous merchants and the gamblers and others with little money. It's alleged there are Highbinders in Chinatown, who help to enforce blackmail schemes against the merchants. Chin Gin alleged that some time ago his cousin, who operated a laundry in Dover, New Hampshire, was shot and killed by some connected to the "Highbinder gang." The authorities investigated the matter but were unable to resolve it, and the Chinese settled the matter amidst each other with a monetary payment. The police were fearful that this entire matter could engulf Chinatown in a wave of violence.

Fortunately for Chin Gin, the Boston Globe, July 28, 1892, reported that the gambling charges against him were discharged as the judge didn't believe there was sufficient evidence against him. However, his legal woes weren't over and would eventually become much worse.

The Boston Globe, December 5, 1893, reported that Chin had fled the city, being pursued by U.S. officers. It's alleged that Chin ran an illegal operation, providing fraudulent identification documents to other Chinese, allowing them to avoid immigration restrictions. It was also claimed his tea house was fraudulent, and that he allowed other Chinese to become "partners" of the operation, so other Chinese could be seen as merchants and allowed entry into the U.S. Chin was also accused of leading a smuggling ring, bringing Chinese over the Canadian border. Finally, it was alleged he was wanted for murder in San Francisco, having killed another Chinese over a Chinese woman.

Chin married this woman, named Yum Yum, and she lived with him in Chinatown, being one of only three Chinese women in Boston. However, he eventually took up with a white girl, well known in the theater industry, who lived in an apartment on Essex Street. His wife learned of his affair and threatened to reveal everything about his illegal activities unless he gave up the white girl. He told his wife he would do so, but he didn't follow through. When the local heat on his activities got too intense, Chin and his wife fled Boston.

Chin owes plenty of other Chinese, possibly to a total of $50,000, and the U.S. authorities consider Chin to be "one of the cleverest swindlers and confidence men in the country, and that he has reaped hundreds of thousands of dollars from his unsuspecting countrymen." When the police searched his tea shop, they determined the total contents weren't worth more than about $100, with tea chests filled with old newspapers and cases supposed to be holding silks had sawdust instead.

Strangely, when Chin Gin surfaced in San Francisco, there was no mention of him being wanted for murder in San Francisco, or wanted in Boston for various crimes. Unless the newspaper was referring to a different Chin Gin, who also spent time in Boston, which is a possibility. The San Francisco Call, March 1, 1899, stated that Chin Gin, about 13 years ago, had leased a lodging house with his cousin, Chin Goey, who was also a member of the Hop Sing tong. Shortly thereafter, Chin Gin moved to Boston, returning recently and sought money from Goey from their joint venture. Goey refused to pay him anything, and Gin somehow got the landlord to sign the lease over to solely him.

Goey demanded money from Gin, threatening to have him killed if he didn't pay. Gin had Goey arrested, and even in police custody, Goey continued to loudly threaten the life of Gin. The matter was submitted to the Six Companies, who decided in favor of Gin. The death threat against Gin was supposed to be called off as well.

In the Boston Globe, March 1, 1891, and the Boston Herald, March 1, 1819, there were fascinating articles about a banquet at a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown, which was attended by some of the biggest luminaries of Boston, the "cream of society." It was surprising to see so many white people dining at a Chinese restaurant all together. The event was held at a restaurant on the second floor of 29 Harrison Avenue, which was owned by Hand Gane Quoe, who also owned a hotel at the same address. The menu at this banquet was listed in the article, and it included Tea, Bird Nest Soup, Boned Duck, Hot Rice Wine, Sturgeon Wing (Guy youk chee), Boned Chicken, Rose Wine, Chow Chop Sui, Fish Spawn, Apricot Wine, Chow Gai Pen, Rice, and Chinese cakes.

The Boston Daily Advertiser, March 2, 1891, provided more details of this event. The guests were members of the Boston branch of the American Folk Lore Society. The article noted, “This must be the first time on record of people belonging to the upper classes eating here.” It was also said that, “The only American visitors are ‘slummers’ and are ordinarily accompanied by a policeman.”

The elite guests weren't impressed with the restaurant, noting, “The restaurant is a dirty, squalid room, up two flights of winding stairs in a tumble-down old dwelling house” They also noted, that it “ furnished in the most primitive fashion, with a low, dirty table and a few chairs.” Finally, they mentioned, “The half chickens, ducks, fish bladders and other food hang upon the walls of the rooms until they acquire the requisite flavor and consistency to suit the Oriental palate.” I have to wonder how they selected this particular restaurant for their banquet. 

As an aside, in 1892, there were about 1000 Chinese men residing in the Boston area, and 70% of them worked in the 280 Chinese laundries spread across the city.


The rationale behind the proposed widening of Harrison Avenue was detailed in the Boston Globe, April 14, 1891, which noted that the avenue, at the intersection of Essex Street, was only 37 feet wide, which was "too narrow to allow the passage of teams." The idea was to make the avenue a uniform width of 60 feet, and this proposal had now received official approval. The estimated cost for the project had now risen to $250,000. And one effect would be that "...Chinatown, now an eyesore alike to pedestrians and property owners thereabout, would become a thing of the past." Fortunately, even though Harrison was eventually widened, it didn't cause Chinatown to vanish, and if anything, it helped the Chinese, making their neighborhood more modern.

More details were provided in the Boston Globe, February 20, 1893, including the above diagram of the proposed street changes. The article was titled, "Boston's Chinese Quarter. It's Squalor and Bad Sanitary Condition--Room Wanted for Rapid Transit." A city official stated, "The section of our city popularly known as 'Chinatown' is fast becoming one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in Boston." Chinatown was surrounded on three sides by "big and costly business blocks" and Chinatown was considered "huddled and congested." The price of widening Harrison Avenue had now increased to $400,000.

A council committee had been previously appointed to investigate the sanitary and general conditions of the Chinese. The committee Chairman stated that, "...Chinatown is practically one great lodging house, where...opium smoking and gambling are indulged in." He continued, "The sanitary conditions are very poor and inadequate for such a large mass of people crowded together." In addition, he emphasized the perils of potential fires, which could consume the entire neighborhood. The chairmen also stated that the city would financially benefit from widening Harrison Avenue, permitting businesses to move into the area which would increase the tax benefits to the city. The widening would also permit the addition of public transit.

In an article titled, "Chinatown Is Doomed," the Boston Daily Globe, July 1, 1893, indicated that a loan bill had been approved, and now awaited only the approval of the mayor, which would allow for the widening of Harrison Avenue. It was said this meant "the extinction of the present Chinatown" though the article was more positive about the Chinese. It continued, "In consequence Chinatown, the scene of many startling innovations, the home of not a few of the city's wealthiest residents, the joy and delight of the light-hearted and harmless celestial is seriously disturbed." The widening could mean the destruction of some of the existing buildings on Harrison Avenue, and it is though many of the Chinese might relocate to Oxford Place. Some think the Harrison buildings might be saved, but others feel the landlords would then raise the rents so the Chinese would be unable to afford to move back.

The Boston Globe, May 7, 1893, highlighted a number of "Chinatown Moguls. Harrison Avenue's Celestial Magnates, For Whom The Geary Act Has No Terrors. The article began by noting, "There are 1600 unregistered Chinamen in the State of Massachusetts." Later on, in discussing the establishment of Chinatown on Harrison Ave, it stated, "Their colonization of that district dates from 1880." It continued, "The first house to be leased to and occupied by the Chinaman was one on Oxford pl. It was in a wretched state of repair and scarcely fit for human habitation." And currently, there were "...over 1000 Chinamen have their homes and places of business in the neighborhood, and under the governorship of Sam Wah Kee they live the lives of just, orderly, law-abiding citizens."

The article went into detail about the Hong Far Low restaurant, the first time the restaurant had been described in any depth in a newspaper. "A prettily decorated room is the restaurant at No. 38 1/2 Harrison av. It is owned by Hong Far Low, who, although he has resided in America four to five years, speaks no word of English. But for all that, he is a very capable man of business, and a cook of no mean abilities. But Hong is not the chef of his establishment. He employs four men to take care of the culinary department. He himself devotes his time to keeping the books, and also an eye on his six waiters." The article continued, "From 7 o'clock in the morning until 10 at night his doors are open, and during meal hours a motley crowd of Americans and Chinamen gather around the polished, shining ebony tables and partake of the viands, tempting and otherwise, for which his oral menu calls."

What could you eat there? "At Hong Far Low's one may order roast chicken or duck, and when it is served he will find it done to a turn. Or he may call for 'k wusi,' and he will receive a dish of excellent spaghetti, perhaps accompanied with a glass of rice wine, which in color resembles whiskey, and which tastes somewhat like gin." Interestingly, one of the regular customers at Hong Far Low was Moy Auk, who lived at 25 Harrison Avenue, and continued to lead his orchestra, which still traveled across the country.

This article was fascinating for multiple reasons. First, it indicated Hong Far Low came to the U.S. no earlier than 1888, so there is no way he could have opened his restaurant in 1879. And if this was the case, Hong Far Low could not have been the first to bring chop sui to Boston as it already existed here prior to 1888. This article didn't even mention that chop sui was a speciality of Hong Far Low. It was around this time, 1893, that Hong Far Low started to acquire much of its fame, and maybe they decided to create a bit of a myth around their founding.

Back to the proposed widening of Harrison Avenue. The Boston Daily Globe, September 22, 1893, stated there would be a public hearing on the widening project on October 6. The Boston Sunday Globe, October 8, 1893, then reported that a number of people appeared at the hearing, with a number of objections lodged against the project, generally concerned that abutting estates would lose value. Not much else was reported about the hearing. The Boston Post, November 24, 1893, reported that it would cost nearly $300,000 to settle land damages for the proposed widening.

The Boston Globe, December 16, 1893, described how Hong Far Low hosted a special banquet for a newly married couple, and the event was attended by all the elite of Chinatown as well as a number of prominent whites, including government officials. The menu was provided in the article, which included items such as birds' nest soup, fried lobster, abalone, fried pigeons, and shark's fin. High quality Chinese red wine was also served.

A couple reporters in the Boston Post, December 24, 1893, wrote about their own dinner at Hong Far Low. Their article began, "Have you dined at the Chinese restaurant? No? Then you have not really entered into Boston's Bohemia; you have not experimented to the full in dinnerdom. To dine at the Chinese restaurant is really an experience worth having and it costs--well, it cost two Post reporters last week just $1.25, including a tip to the waiter." They continued, "The distinctive beauty of the Chinese restaurant is its novelty."

The reporters went to Hong Far Low, noting it had two dining rooms, and were given a menu that was written in both Chinese and English. However, the reporters weren't too adventurous, opting for very simple boiled chicken, rice and tea. So much for embracing the novelty of the restaurant. They tried to use chop sticks, though they had some difficulty. After their dinner, they enjoyed some sweetmeats and candies.

As an aside, there was an arrest of some alleged gambling Chinese in 1894. The Boston Post, February 5, 1894, reported that police arrested twenty Chinese who were playing dominoes at 29 Harrison Avenue. Though the police weren't sure that gambling was occurring, it was considered a violation of the Sabbath. The article mentions that the men were laundrymen and tea merchants.

There were then more gambling issues mentioned in the Boston Post, February 24, 1894. A civil suit, for malicious prosecution and seeking $10,000, had been brought by Goon Doon against Yee Hang, Yee Wan, Goon Doy and Yee Sin. Goon Doon alleged that he been maliciously prosecuted for allegedly owning a gambling resort at 18 Harrison Avenue in July 1892. Plaintiff also alleged that his prior criminal case had been discharged before trial. The defendants denied all the plaintiff's allegations.

Goon Doon also claimed that two weeks before he had been originally arrested, he had been approached by Yee Hang, who wanted him to join the Hop Dock Tong, the "Gain and Obtain Society." The tong was allegedly recently formed, although earlier evidence shows the tong was started around 1890, and every gambler was going to be taxed $3 a month. Goon refused to be a part of the tong. Defendant Yee Sin claimed that he played fan tan at Goon's place on Harrison Avenue.

The trial was continued until Monday, and was reported on in the Boston Globe, February 26, 1894. Yee Hang testified, denying he said anything to Goon about the Hop Dock Tong, but stated he did see Goon operating a fan tan game. At the end of the day, the matter was sent to the jury which made its decision the next day, finding for all of the defendants.

On the Sunday before, there was another gambling raid in Chinatown, and the Fall River Globe, February 26, 1894, reported how 36 Chinese were arrested, at 42 Harrison Avenue, for gambling at fan tan on the Sabbath. 51 more Chinese were arrested in another fan tan raid on May 13, 1894.

The Harrison Avenue widening was set to begin. The Boston Post, April 2, 1894, stated that the Mayor signed the order, in December 1893, to proceed with the project. It was said that the Chinese on Harrison would move to Oxford Street and Oxford Place, at least until the project is completed. The Chinese are upset about plans to oust them, and its had the effect of "banding the colony more firmly together than ever, and they do not propose to be banished or annihilated." Next, the Boston Daily Globe, April 2, 1894, stated that work would finally begin on widening Harrison Avenue on May 1, and it would be completed by June 1. The article also questioned whether this would actually destroy Chinatown or not.

Chinatown was saved, despite the desires of some. The Boston Daily Globe, July 13, 1894, reported that the new building fronts looked so much better than the old dilapidated ones that once stood on Harrison. The Chinese returned to Harrison, and there was now much beauty to be seen there, the merchants having invested money to beautify their businesses. The Chinese weren't abandoning Harrison Avenue, and they were providing multiple reasons why they were benefiting the entire neighborhood.

There was a brief mention in the Boston Post, October 6, 1894, that Moy Soy, who speaks English fluently, was the proprietor of a Chinese restaurant at 36 ½ Harrison Ave. The Boston Sunday Post, January 20, 1895, reported that a new Chinese restaurant was almost ready to open. Located at 29 Harrison Avenue, on the second floor, the restaurant was owned by Sin Cheun Low. A skilled chef, recently returned from China, would helm the kitchen, and the restaurant was expected to open in a few days. It was noted that all of the waiters would be fluent in English as the owner wanted to attract more non-Chinese.

More information about this new restaurant was provided in the Boston Sunday Post, September 1, 1895. The owner, Kim Chun Low (note the different spelling from the prior article) welcomed the reporters who commented on the "gold and silver embroidered draperies and pearl inlaid furniture,“ noting the interior decorations had cost over $2000. They stated is was “ far the most magnificent Chinese restaurant in Boston.”

For more background on Chinatown, the Boston Post, April 7, 1895, stated that most of the Chinese in Boston belong to one of six families, and the three largest include the Moys, Yees and Chins. The families sometimes engage in disputes with each other. In a recent dispute, the Chins brought a suit against the Moys in a case involving gambling. The defendants were Moy Loy, an interpreter, and his cousins, Moy Jung Du and Moy Ni Ding, both merchants. The plaintiffs were members of the Chin family who claimed they bought a lottery ticket from the Moy, which turned out to be a winner, and the Moys refused to pay. In the end, the two Moy merchants were fined $100 and they appealed the matter.

The Boston Herald, August 18, 1895 reported on a group of newspapermen that were invited to dine at a new Chinese restaurant at 32 Harrison Avenue for a dinner. Named the Oriental Restaurant, it was owned by the Bun Fong Low Company and Moy Wing was its manager. It was noted that they were served, “The Gam Ghet, which is like a small sugared orange, flourished, and was followed by boneless chicken, fried lobster, chow mein, chop sooy, soom beang and many other unspeakable dainties served in an appetizing manner.

On that same date, the Boston Post, August 19, 1895, noted that about 400 laundrymen ate at the Oriental Restaurant, celebrating the birth of Goon Dong, said to be the first male Chinese child born in Boston. The article mentioned that Chinatown can stand a fourth restaurant very well and that, “The kitchen is as clean as a whistle.” So, at this point in time, there might have only been four Chinese restaurants in Chinatown.

The advertisement pictured above, for the Oriental Restaurant, is from the Boston Post, April 5, 1896. It mentioned, "Everything in Chinese cooking served in the best of style. Imported Teas... After the theater come and try our specialty of Chop Sooy, Boiled Noodle Soup, Chow Mein, Foa Young An.

Numerous Knight Templars, from across the country, came to Boston and checked out Chinatown. The Boston Globe, August 28, 1895, reported on their visit, indicating they well patronized the three Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, including Hong Far Low. The knights enjoyed chop souey but their women generally disliked it. They also generally had difficult with chop sticks, but were provided knives and forks.

The Boston Daily Globe, October 12, 1895, noted that Anna Abbie Carroll-Fook had recently married Moy Fook, and she was thought to be the third white woman to marry a Chinese man. Anna's father had been a police officer in Peterboro, New Hampshire for 15 years. Anna herself can to Boston about three years ago, and met Moy over a year ago at a friend's home. Moy, who was 32 years old, was a laundryman, living at 8 Oxford Court, and was "a member of what is known as Chinatown’s 400.” They got married in Providence, Rhode Island, by Rev. Plummer.

Even though there were but a handful of Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, they still faced opposition. The Boston Sunday Globe, March 15, 1896, reported that George T. Perkins, the president of the "Rescue volunteers," believed that Chinese restaurants shouldn't possess a victuallers’ licenses allowing them to open on Sundays. To try to show people the problems with such restaurants, he organized a trip to visit Chinatown very early on a Sunday morning. The plans was for a group of 29 people, including a number of important people in various churches, to tour through the Harrison Avenue restaurants.

As they were fearful of what they might encounter, they obtained a police officer as an escort, leaving the police station at 12:30 am. Besides the original 29, a number of other people joined the group as they walked into Chinatown. At the largest Chinese restaurant, which wasn't identified, they witnessed an immense crowd coming and going out of the restaurant. Every seat in the restaurant was occupied, and a professional bouncer (not Chinese), was making sure the crowd kept moving. The crowd were “nearly all well dressed and eminently respectable in appearance, were eating chop suey and drinking tea,, and apparently enjoying themselves.”

At the second restaurant they visited, they found essentially the same situation. Very little intoxication was noted at either restaurant, and the police officer estimated there had been about 2000 customers from midnight to 2 a.m. It was said that the trade is then quiet for the rest of Sunday until around 9 p.m. Perkins and his group didn't visit the smaller Chinese restaurants. Even after visiting the restaurants, Perkins still felt that the licenses should be revoked because the merriment continued from Saturday night into Sunday morning. If anything, his visit showed that the Chinese restaurants were quite popular, and were being well run, with little problem.

The Boston Post, April 5, 1896 presented an ad for Kin Chun Low (which I've previously mentioned), and it was stated to be a "First-Class Chinese restaurant" and invited people to "Come and try our best Chop Sooy and all kinds of Chinese eatables."

Inspection time. The Boston Herald, March 19, 1896 reported that a legislative committee on labor visited the North End and Chinatown to assess kitchens and bakeries, especially their management and sanitary conditions. “In Chinatown the kitchens and bakeries were found to far surpass in cleanliness those of the lower part of the city.” Great to hear about the Chinese restaurants, and it should have helped people's attitudes about them.

There was a notice in the Boston Herald, November 5, 1896, that 45 members of the Architectural Society of MIT dined in Chinatown at the Oriental restaurant. The managers were stated to be Goon Doy and Bing.

A Chinese fair as a fund raiser. The Boston Daily Globe, November 16, 1896, noted that The Star in the East Chinese Mission, located on Oxford Street, about halfway between Beach and Essex Streets, was going to hold a Chinese fair to help defray expenses. Mr. and Mrs. Krumreig were in charge of the mission school while Miss Bessie Bacon was in charge of the teachers who were training the Chinese. At the fair, there was going to be a Chinese restaurant, conducted by Wong Sing Woo, where chop sooy would be served. There would also be a Chinese magician, Chinese music, and even a Chinese wedding ceremony.

Both the Boston Globe, March 22, 1897 and Boston Post, March 22, 1897 wrote about a banquet held at Hong Far Low, a send-off for six rich Chinese who were returning to China. It was quite a sumptuous feast, with no expense spared. It was most interesting that the Post referred to Hong Far Low as the Delmonico of Chinatown, a designation once held by Moy Auk in 1889. During the summer of 1897, there was a small fire at Hong Far Low.

Another gambling raid. The Boston Daily Advertiser, June 24, 1897, reported that the police raided 4 Oxford Place and 36 Harrison Avenue, arresting 11 Chinese and seizing a fan-tan layout, dice cup, playing cards, and counters.

The Boston Daily Globe, August 16, 1897, reported that there had been a fire at Hong Far Low the day before when a lit match came into contact with a pan of oil or fat. Firemen arrived promptly and put out the fire, which only caused about $25 in damage.

An intriguing article on Chinese physicians. The Boston Journal, December 5, 1897, printed a lengthy article on Yee Quok Pink, a physicians who worked, writing prescriptions and dispensing medical advice, out of a little, dingy back room at 31 Harrison Avenue. The reporter thought that it didn't look much like a doctors office, and he had difficulty finding a doctor in Chinatown. There had been some in Chinatown in the past but they didn't stay around long as it didn't pay well. Pink thought that there were currently only 2 or 3 doctors in Chinatown.

The reporter was introduced to Pink by Chung Ki Sun, a prosperous merchant, and it was noted that Pink didn't speak any English. Pink had just arrived from New York and was looking for a good place for an office. He gave a prescription to the journalist, telling him to take it to Chinese drug store and get it filled for 50 cents. He was told to take the medicine ten times a day, if he had a bad cold, and only five times if he had a little cold. Pink was 50 years old, a native of Canton, China, and also had a brother in the business. Pink had studied medicine in China and been in the U.S. for over 20 years.

Patriotic Chinatown! The Boston Post, May 18, 1898, reported on a patriotic celebration held in Chinatown, financed in part by the Chinese merchants on Harrison Avenue, who also elevated a huge American flag. Similar celebrations, by other groups, had been conducted during the previous two weeks and the Chinese wanted to outdo those events. There were over 20,000 spectators, who got to see over an hour of fireworks while listening to a Chinese band. Specials guests were also treated to various banquets at a few different Chinese restaurants, with the final feast, a 17 course meal, being at Hong Far Low.

Divorce? The Boston Sunday Globe, September 25, 1898, stated that Mrs. Hi Chang, nee Nora Sims, wanted a divorce from her Chinese husband. They had been married two years ago and had a one year old son, Patrick Henry Chang. Nora had worked in a jeweller’s factory when she first met Hi, who was a cook in a Chinese restaurant, an expert in chop sooey. Nora loved his chop sooey, but now she wanted a divorce, claiming that she had been kept nearly as a slave, allowed only to socialize with one Chinese woman in Providence. Hi is going to contest the divorce.

A new Chinese restaurant. The Boston Herald, October 16, 1898, published an ad for a new restaurant, The Canton, located at 15 Harrison Avenue. It stated, “Try a plate of Chop Sooy and a cup of nice tea. A fine menu of Chinese dishes.” The Boston Herald, November 6, 1898, then printed a review of The Canton, noting its beautiful décor, and dishes like chow mein, chop sooy, fon young an, and soo beang. It also mentioned, “Tea imported and of exceeding fine flavor is served, and no such tea can be found in Boston, to compare with it.”

Another new spot? The Boston Herald, December 19, 1898, wrote about Charley Wah, who opened a new chop house that served items like chop sooy, Oolong and Young Hyson tea. It was located on the second floor of its building on Harrison Avenue, the ground floor occupied by a Chinese store. The name of the restaurant wasn't given though it's possible this was The Canton.

An intriguing quote about chop suey. The Boston Herald, December 27, 1898, noted “The popular chop sooey is a cheap, but at the same time a filling dish, and can be eaten by opium smokers when nothing else is appetizing.

The Boston Globe, December 31, 1898, had an advertisement for a Chinese restaurant located at 31 Howard Street and owned by Kaun Heung Lowe & Co. "The very best cuisine in both Chinese and American styles. Chop Sooy a specialty. Open all night." The fact that it was open all night, like other Chinese restaurants, would become an issue about seven months later.

There was a brief mention of the existence of the Pacific Restaurant Co., at 1139 Washington Street, in the Boston Daily Advertiser, May 9, 1899. The restaurant had applied for a building permit to have an illuminated sign. 

I've already mentioned that back in 1895, the the Oriental Restaurant,  at 32 Harrison Avenue, opened and that it's manager was Moy Wing. However, the Boston Herald, June 3, 1899, reported that the manager was now Ling Bing. This enterprising man attempted to open a Chinese restaurant on the boulevard at Revere Beach. He had much support, including the Police Commissioner, but ultimately the Selectman voted 4 to 1 against granting the license. 

One of the Selectman stated their position, " is our duty to exclude places which, we fear, are of doubtful character." They simply didn't want any Chinese restaurant on Revere Beach, even admitting that Ling Bing appeared to be a person of good character. The Selectmen also noted that two years previously, they had denied a license to an Armenian restaurant. Ling noted though that he was able to secure a license at Nantasket Beach

The Boston Globe, July 3, 1899, reported that the police commissioner had ordered that Chinese restaurants could no longer stay open all night. Prior to this order, the restaurants could be open all nights except for Saturday. It was claimed this regulation was simply treating restaurants as it already did hotels, though some claimed this was part of a move to drive the Chinese out of Boston.

Those curious women! The Boston Sunday Post, July 30, 1899, published an article titled, Dangerous Sightseeing for Young Girls in Chinatown as Proven by a Fine of Ten Dollars Imposed upon a Boston Society Girl in Court. A woman named Lillie Davis or maybe Fancy Dacey, who was described as a “young woman of culture, and one who had had every advantage of a refined and wealthy home.” was arrested for being inside an opium den.

The article stated, “Curiosity, by common consent, is one of the most noticeable characteristics of woman, especially of the American woman, and certain it is that of late there has been a wave of curiosity among high-class women in Boston that has led them to ‘go slumming’ in Chinatown in the waning hours of the evening with the expressed hope of ‘seeing all the sights.’” Lillie was only an onlooker in the opium join, and didn't partake of any of the drug, and ended up being charge a $10 fine, a lesson to her and other young women to stay out of such places.

I've already mentioned the White Queen of Chinatown, but was there a White King as well? Yes, there was though there was no relationship to the White Queen. And it seems the White King designation wasn't given by the Chinese. The Boston Post, April 1, 1899, noted that Patrolman George A. Jordan was the “White King” of Chinatown. The article mentioned an incident where Jordan was in plain clothes, walking in Chinatown, when he saw an attractive blond woman, who was accompanied by an accomplice who hit the officer with a club. Jordan arrested them both, and they skipped out on their $25 bail. It was thought the two of them were wealthy young people.

The Boston Globe, March 18, 1902, provided more detail on Jordan, calling him the “Pale-Faced King of Chinatown." He was born February 7, 1867, in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, and appointed to the Boston Police Department as a reserve patrolman on January 18, 1898. On August 30, 1895, he was transferred to division 4, to cover Chinatown. He became known as the Pale-Faced King because of his intimate knowledge of Chinatown. “It was claimed that he knew personally every Chinaman in that part of Boston."

It was also stated that, "He frequently had trouble with ‘slummers’ and was several times before the police board on charges." In addition, “Owing to the character of his ‘beat,’ and the constant occasion for trouble the patrolman was reputed at this time to have been before the commissioners more often than any other man in the department.” He was brought up multiple times on charges of false arrest and assault, and found guilty only once. In September 1899, he was found guilty of assault and had to forfeit 30 days of pay. George Jordan was now resigning from the police department to go into business.

The Boston Herald, August 18, 1899, reported on the christening of a new Chinese baby in Chinatown, named Moy Ying Toy. He was born last July 16 at 20 Oxford Street. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Moy Wah June, are part of the Moy family, the wealthiest and most powerful in Chinatown. Moy Wah June and his wife are natives of China, and he is a respected businessman in Chinatown. Several hundred members of the Moy family attended the grand event.

Two Chinese prisoners in Boston. The Boston Post, December 18, 1899, stated that for only the second time in its history, the state prison in Charlestown had 2 Chinese prisoners, Yee Shing Dean and Yee Moy, who were recently sentenced to 3-4 years for holding up Dr. Yee Kawak Ping at the door of his house on Oxford Street on October 22 and robbing him of $18. Yee Shing Dean, 26 years old, had been a social and political power in Chinatown, a successful dealer in groceries, while Yee Moy had been a laundryman. The prior two Chinese prisoners were pardoned out a year before. They had originally been committed on a serious charge, but due to extenuating circumstances in their cause, they were released. While they were in prison, they worked as cooks.

Thrown down some stairs? The Boston Herald, April 17, 1900, and Boston Daily Advertiser, April 18, 1900, reported on an action of tort by Samuel F. Embree against Wong L. Ork. Embree sought to recover $2000 damages for an alleged assault and battery that occurred on December 3, 1898 in a Chinese restaurant at 29 Harrison Avenue. Embree claimed that Ork had thrown him down a flight of about 11 stairs. However, the verdict was for defendant. No additional details were provided.  

The Charlotte News (NC), August 4, 1900, published an article by M. Francis Marion who spent an evening touring Boston's Chinatown. He dined at the Oriental Restaurant, on its third floor, noting the second floor was more for Americans, not the Chinese. The article also presented the menu, which was interesting in many ways, such as Fried Lobster was the same price as Fried Boneless Chicken. Bread and butter was 5 cents, when many of us remember free bread being provided by Chinese restaurants. And Chop Sooy was only 25 cents.

The second part of the menu included "desserts" and tea, everything for ten cents. The author described how the tea was served and the mentioned they ordered Chop Sooy, "the real thing, not the kind that is served on the floor below. It contains ingredients numbering somewhere between sixteen and sixty and is exceedingly palatable." He concluded, "I never enjoyed a meal more,..."

In August, 1900, a reporter visited the Joss House in Chinatown, "the Home of Pagan Worship in Boston." The Boston Sunday Post, August 19, 1900, published the article about his explorations, noting that several hundred Chinese live on Harrison Avenue and the adjacent streets. It is a rather lurid article, hints of secret societies and strange religious practices. The reporter claimed he had difficulty finding any Chinese who would take him to the Joss House, though he eventually located and visit it.

Within the article are some intriguing tidbits. For example, the store of S.Y. Tank is considered "one of the most progressive Chinese shops in the city." It doesn't state what kind of store it was though. In addition, there was a "Canton Temple," a temple to Buddha located on the floor above the Hong Far Low restaurant, and you had to reach it through the restaurant.

Doom and gloom for Chinatown! The Boston Daily Advertiser, November 27, 1900, ran a depressing article titled, Its Glamour Gone. Chinatown Seems to Have Seen Its Best Days. The article began, “Is Chinatown on the road to ruin?” It continued, “Chinatown will undoubtedly remain for a long time, the place where Boston Celestials reside, but as a visiting place for the curious, many qualified to speak, say that it has seen its best days. Two years ago carriages of the well to do were frequently seen about Harrison Ave. Today such a turnout stopping at a Chinese restaurant would cause much wonderment.”; 

Who was visiting the Chinese restaurants now? The article claimed, “Nowadays the same faces turn up at Chinatown with a regularity that makes it plain that the place is supported chiefly by a regular set of patrons. The appearance of new faces is a thing of the past.” The article then stated, “The result is that many Chinamen who were making money two years ago have found their business at a standstill, and are leaving.” The situation was worsened, “Thus the past few months have seen the rapid decay of Chinatown. The building of the South Terminal, and the increased pressure for real estate for the business of the white man has first of all shown its influence.

In addition, it was stated, “Some predict that a few years only will see Chinatown crowded with loft office buildings.” Continuing, the article said, “Ladies of refinement who were once wont to visit that section with their escorts soon caught the spirit, and ceased to go.” And,“Even degraded American women who live about Oxford pl. have thinned in ranks to a few well known faces.” The conclusion was that, “It looks now as though Chinatown would soon be regarded as little else than a neglected Chinese quarter.” Fortunately, these negative beliefs would not come to fruition and Chinatown would only grow more popular in the new century.

A terrible tragedy. As reported in Boston Globe, December 11, 1900, Boston Herald, December 11, 1900, and Fitchburg Sentinel, December 11, 1900, Mah Sue, a laundryman, committed suicide and was the first Chinese person in Boston to have done so. Mah Sue, who was 48 years old, was said to be a Chinese “hobo.” “He is said to have been a lazy, shiftless kind of a fellow, and, because of his lack of ambition, his acquaintances in this country would have nothing to do with him.”

However, he had at least one friend, Soo Wah, who had known Mah in San Francisco. Soo Wah owned a laundry at 1 Roberts Street in Roslindale, and gave Mah a home at his laundry, and paid him $3 a week to help out in the laundry. On December 10, Soo Wah, who needed to leave the city on an errand, left Mah in charge of the laundry. A police officer happened to stop by the laundry, and found the front room empty. He heard groans from the back room, which was locked, and the officer had to bust down the door. He found Mah had hung himself, and although a doctor would try to resuscitate him, Mah died. There was no known reason for his suicide.

The police commissioners were involved in Chinatown once again. The Boston Globe, December 16, 1900, reported on a tour taken by Lieutenant Governor Bates, some police commissioners and other members of the police. They visited Chinatown, first visiting Lock Sen Low, a restaurant at 46 Beach Street. Many of the residents of Chinatown feared a raid when they saw all the police, and any contraband was quickly hidden. The tour continued on to Hong Far Low, where they had a taste of chop suey. The tour continued visiting a few other spots in Chinatown before moving on to the North End.

As the 20th century began, Chinatown would continue to grow, and new restaurants would open.

The question of the identity of the first restaurant in Chinatown will have to remain unanswered for now. The first newspaper mention of a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown was in July 1883 although the newspaper failed to provide its name or address. In May 1884, newspapers mentioned a Chinese restaurant at 38 1/2 Harrison Avenue, and the owners name might have been Yung Yee, Hung Yee, or Hung Lee. A newspaper article in September 1887 would mention two Chinese restaurants, without giving identifying information, although noting they served "chop soui," the first mention of this dish although its very likely the prior restaurants had served it. 

The first mention of Hong Far Low wasn't until June 1889, though it's possible that the restaurant opened in 1888. None of the documentation I've found supports the claim that the restaurant opened in 1879. Not a single newspaper article ever mentioned that Hong Far Low was established in 1879. And logically, there's a number of reasons why the restaurant probably wouldn't have opened in 1879. The myth of Hong Far Low may sound interesting, but it doesn't conform to the reality.

I'll leave you with a question, what do you now consider to be the Delmonico of Chinatown?

Check out Part 2 of my Chinatown Restaurant History, covering the years 1901-1920
Check out Part 3, covering the 1920s.
Check out Part 4, the tale of Ruby Foo.
Check out Part 5, covering 1930-1954
Check out Part 6, the tale of Anita Chue
Check out Part 7, the tale of Mary Yick
Check out Part 8, a Deeper Look into Two Restaurants
Check out Part 9, covering the 1960s

And also see my Compilation Post, with links to my additional articles about Chinese restaurants, outside Boston and in Connecticut, as well as a number of related matters.

(As of October 5, 2021, I've expanded this article with a number of added additional references.)


Cathy Huang said...

This is the best history of Chinese in Boston. Thankigz

Unknown said...

WOW!! I was born and raised in Boston Chinatown, and I never knew this.