Sunday, August 29, 2010

Details: Jue Nui

Chinese Fisherman Monterey

China Point Fishing Village-Monterey

"Jue Joe had 4 siblings. His oldest brother was Jue Nui, the great grandfather of Jimmy and Ming Loon. Joe sent for Jue Nui and Nui got a job in Monterey in the canning and fishing industry. Later Jue Nui sailed to Alaska to work on an off-shore oil platform. There was an explosion on the platform ( or ship ) and Jue Nui perished at sea. Communication was almost nonexistent in those days and Joe heard the news only years later. In those days when you said goodbye to kin you generally never heard from or saw them again. (After that Jue Joe sent for Jue Shee, his younger brother.) "-Auntie Soo Yin

Jue Joe paid for his eldest brother to emigrate sometime in the 1880's when the Chinese finishing industry was in full swing . The history of the Chinese in Monterey is an interesting one .
"Chinese fishermen were the first to mine the rich marine treasures of Monterey Bay, and their industrious efforts as early as the 1850s helped make Monterey one of California's most successful fishing ports... These skilled Chinese seamen launched the first commercial fishing industry in Monterey, taking first abalone and later other varieties of fish including cod, halibut, flounder, yellowtail, sardines, squid and shark--as well as oysters and mussels from the bay waters. It was a common sight to see the unique Chinese fishing boats setting off from the shanty-like village at "China Point."

By 1900, some 200 to 800 pounds of fresh catch were sent daily to the busy fishmongers on Clay Street in San Francisco. The Chinese also produced a fortune in dried fish; abalone meats and shark fins. Some of this dried product found its way to the bustling mines of the Sierra Nevada mountains, but much of it was destined for shipment directly to the immigrants' home province of Canton, China.

An impressive sight in those early days of Cannery Row was the arrival of large, ocean-going Chinese junks with their massive lanteen sails. These splendid craft would anchor off China Point, where they would unload Oriental goods for the local Chinese, then load their holds with dried squid--a food staple and fertilizer much sought after in China.

Indeed, the Chinese fishermen were so successful that serious conflict developed with Italian-American fishermen who began to work the waters of Monterey Bay in the later 1800s. This conflict further contributed to the tension and prejudice against Monterey's Chinese fishing community.

Unfortunately, growing competition for fishery resources on the increasingly crowded waters of Monterey Bay--worsened by the cultural biases and anti-Chinese laws of the later 1800s--did not bode well for the future of Monterey's Chinese community.

New laws passed between 1875 and 1900 greatly restricted the ability of Chinese to fish and process or sell their catch.

Newspapers and citizens sided clearly with the non-Chinese fishermen and laborers, and some called openly for the removal of the China Point settlement. On the night of May 16, 1906, a disastrous fire of suspicious origin swept through the Chinese quarter destroying virtually every major structure expect the Joss House. Although the origin of the fire was never determined, and some non-Chinese fought valiantly to stop the flames, the fire was the final calamity for China Point. Local regulations were quickly established prohibiting the rebuilding of the Chinese settlement at its original site. Some Chinese then relocated to McAbee Beach or dispersed to other Oriental settlements--but the Chinese fishing presence on Monterey Bay never fully recovered.

Yet the determined Chinese were destined to play yet another remarkable role in our local history, in the rise of Cannery Row to international status in fish canning. When the sardine factories were eventually established on Cannery Row, many of the skilled early workers were descendants of China Point's original Chinese fishermen. "

Alaska Bound
One of the interesting questions is why did Jue Nui leave Monterey for Alaska and why did he not just work with Jue Joe on his ranch ?
I asked Auntie Soo-Yin who gives us some insight :

"I am not sure when Jue Nui emigrated. It might have been in the late 1870s or early 1880s. In Jue Joe's deposition he speaks of his older brother's time in America as happening so very long ago. Communication between the brothers must have been spotty, not only was distance communication undeveloped, but neither knew how to read or write Chinese very well. They didn't have educational opportunity in their time. Jue Joe told San Tong that the family had lost their harvest and that it was a matter of survival for the family that Jue Joe go to America and send money home. Jue Nui was to look after their mother, Lee Shee, a widow, and his siblings, until Jue Joe could send for him. So I would assume that Jue Nui emigrated a few years after Jue Joe had emigrated, but before Jue Joe owned his own farm. Otherwise, older brother would have been farming alongside with his younger brother. Instead, Jue Nui went to Monterey to make his own way, and this leads me to believe that Jue Joe was still working for others, not for himself yet. It is certainly plausible that Jue Nui lived and worked in China Point, Monterey, and that his time there coincided with the development of fishing, the growth of the canning business, and the subsequent anti-Chinese backlash that drove him to sail toward Alaska's offshore platform. San Tong had said that Jue Nui first worked as a fisherman, then briefly for a canning company, then he set sail for--and died--in Alaska. "

I do think it very plausible that the Anti Chinese sentiment in Monterey caused Jue Joe to start looking for work elsewhere , just as the Anti Chinese sentiment in St.Helena caused Jue Joe to leave and find work on the Southern Pacific railroad.
I agree that Jue Nui would have had to have left for Alaska before Jue Joe started his farming business in the San Fernando Valley circa 1896 otherwise the two brothers would have farmed together. In 1895 Jue Joe was still probably working as a houseboy for the Johnsons in Chatsworth. All this places Jue Nui's time in Monterey in the 1880's and early 1890"s and departure for Alaska around 1895, There is some confirmatory evidence from the history of the cannery business in Monterey that places Jue's Nui departure around 1895. By 1895 the Chinese fishing industry was on the decline because of prejudice and discrimination and most of the fishing in Monterey was done by Italian and Portugese fishermen . By that time Chinese were resorting to fishing at night with lanterns for squid to avoid persecution . San Tong said that Jue Nui worked in a cannery for a short time . The first commercial cannery business in Monterey was established in 1895 by an entrepreneur named Frank E. Booth. It was a salmon cannery business. It would make sense that Jue Nui went to work for this cannery for a short time before his departure to Alaska . Why Alaska ? Family history has Jue Nui departing for Alaska to work on oil drilling . I am not too sure about that .

Here is a short history of oil drilling in Alaska .
"The first oil claims in Alaska were filed in the 1890s, on the Iniskin Peninsula on the west shore of Cook Inlet, due west of Homer. In 1898 the first Alaska wells were drilled there, striking small amounts of oil, but also striking seawater. The oil flows were not enough to support the production of oil.

At the same time a group funded some drilling at Dry Bay. These also were unproductive, as were the wells drilled at Puale Bay, near Cold Bay at the end of the Alaska Peninsula.

Alaska's first productive oil drilling operation was at Katalla, on the Gulf of Alaska, south of the Copper River delta. Seepages had been reported around the shore of Controller Bay for many years. Around 1900 a group of investors asked an English petroleum expert to evaluate the area's potential. He was positive, and soon afterward, drilling began. While some wells found oil, conditions were rough and the investors decided not to continue. . "

By 1898 or 1900 when the Alaskan oil drilling was just getting started, Jue Joe would have had a pretty successful farming business and it would not have made sense for Jue Nui to leave for Alaska for work . I couldn't find any history of Chinese labor contractors sending Chinese to work on oil drilling operations around the turn of the century. . Was there any other industries that were hiring large numbers of Chinese laborers in Alaska around 1895 .? The answer is yes . The salmon cannery business was in full swing in Alaska by the mid 1890's and Chinese labor bosses were contracting to bring labor crews to Alaska .

"The first salmon canneries in Alaska had been built in 1878 at Klawock and Sitka. The North Pacific Trading and Packing Company's Klawock cannery operated for 51 years. The Sitka cannery closed after two seasons and its machinery was moved north to Southcentral Alaska.

Many more canneries were built over the next decade...

Although the value of the salmon pack increased every year, the profits did not benefit many Alaskans. Many of the canneries were owned by nonresident corporations that hired non-Alaskans.

Tlingit Indians were anxious to share in the profits of the salmon fisheries. At the Klawock cannery almost all of the work was carried out by Tlingit and Haida crews. Natives also caught most of the fish for the operations. They knew the coastal waters, the fish migrations, and harvesting methods.

At other canneries, Natives were hired only when no other laborers were available. Cannery superintendents wanted employees who would work long hours, day or night. The workers had to be willing to carry out jobs that were "tiring, dirty, smelly and wet." They had to stay for the entire fishing season and work for low wages. Cannery owners found a solution in the Chinese.Cannery operators considered them to be "meek, yielding and dependable" just the kind of workers they wanted.

Although housing for cannery workers was poor by modern standards, cannery operators tried to provide the kind of food the Chinese liked. A "China boss" contracted with the operators to feed the "China crew." A list of provisions for the canning season published in an 1890 report included Chinese salted eggs, bean cakes, bamboo shoots, sugar cane, and 453 pounds of green ginger. The same employer also provided opium, gin, tobacco, and "China wine" for the cannery crew. "

It would have been natural for Jue Nui who was already working in a Salmon cannery in Monterey to hear of better wages in the same business in Alaska and been attracted by offers of Chinese labor bosses to sail for Alaska around 1895 before Jue Joe had established his farming business.(At least that is what I think happened !)
Unfortunately , he never made it . "There was a violent storm and the ship exploded and sank, drowning Jue Nui". Much of the early history of our family is a very interesting detective job that involves piecing together oral history with the historical facts of the time to create a plausible story that fits both the family oral history , a reasonable time line, and historical facts.


  1. Very fine research! It is likely that Jue Nui sailed for Alaska in order to work in the salmon cannery business, not in oil drilling. He certainly had experience in fishing and cannery work. And he faced strong anti-Chinese backlash in Monterey, which would have caused him to seek his fortune elsewhere. In Jue Joe's immigration deposition, I cannot recall that he'd mentioned "oil drilling" as Jue Nui's intended work in Alaska. I think he'd said that his brother sailed for Alaska and died when the ship hit a violent storm and sank. It's been years since I've reviewed Jue Joe's deposition but I think this is what he'd said to immigration authorities. I don't know how "oil platform work" entered our family's oral history because the facts do not appear to match. However, the estimate of Jue Nui's timespan in America are most likely correct. He would have lived in California before Jue Joe started his own business, and he would have died before Jue Shee arrived in California. Otherwise, we would have had more accounts of Jue Nui. Auntie Soo-Yin.

  2. I reviewed Jue Joe's immigration deposition in 1918 and he states the following
    "Jew Niu, he is dead, he died in Alaska. I don't remember in what year. He was drowned on a vessel which was going to the canneries to Alaska about 20 years ago"