A Maine Immigrant Scourge

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Congregational Church, Yarmouth Maine courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

The transcontinental railroads brought both of my parents to North America — my father from Denmark to Seattle, and my mother’s parents to Alberta, Canada from Ukraine. North America has always offered new lives to immigrants.

But not always without conflict. Long before they came, by the 1790s, early American churches were losing parishioners. Delancey Place’s January 6, 2017 blog features excerpts from the book, Taming Lust by Doron S. Ben-Atar and Richard D. Brown. Church ministers believed that the loss was due to the influence of Godless  “European immigrants … convicts of the worst kind, guilty of murder and rape.”

The mixture of politics and religion led to explosive rhetoric. Fears of Christian decline blended with partisan warnings about  revolutionary radicalism.

the New England elite feared European radicals might possibly turn the U.S. into New World France. A reporter noted that “Most European immigrants were convicts of the worst kind, guilty of murder, rape, and sodomy.” It was felt that the French Revolution had generated “‘evils’, which without experience, cannot be known.” Immigration had to be checked because ‘the fortune of every community must depend upon the character and conduct of its members.”

Senator Uriah Tracy stated that “these immigrants must never flood into New England because they posed political, cultural, and sexual threats.”

Cusp of 20th Century Klondike Gold Fever

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Boat on the Upper Yukon River, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

One of my favorite books of all time is Pierre Berton’s Klondike Fever, the Life and Death of the Last Great Gold Rush. My father, Hans Pederson, a Danish Immigrant to Seattle, succumbed to the Klondike fever before he returned to Seattle to become a major early 20th century builder. The April 14 Delancey Place blog quotes one passage where Berton describes some of the characters who stayed.

“Who were these men who had chosen to wall themselves off from the madding crowd in (Fortymile), a village of logs  deep in the sub-Arctic wilderness? on the face of it, they were men chasing the will-o-the-wisp of fortune . . . But they seemed more like men pursued than men pursuing, and if they sought anything, it was the right to be left alone.

“They were all individuals, as their nicknames (far commoner than formal names) indicated: Salt Water Jack, Big Dick, Squaw Cameron, Jimmy the Pirate, Buckskin Miller, Pete the Pig. Eccentricities of character were the rule. There was one, known as the Old Maiden, who carried fifty pounds of ancient newspapers about with him wherever he went, for, he said, ‘they’re handy to refer to when you get in an argument.’ There was another called Cannibal Ike because of his habit of hacking off great slabs of moose meat with his knife and stuffing them into his mouth raw. One cabin had walls as thin as matchwood because its owner kept chopping away at the logs to feed his fire; he said he did it to let in the light. Another contained three partners and a tame moose which was treated as a house pet. , , ,

“Fortymile, in short, was a community of hermits whose one common bond was their mutual isolation. ‘I feel so long dead and buried that I cannot think a short visit home, as if from the grave, would be of much use,’ wrote William Bompas, a Church of England bishop who found himself in Fortymile. . .

“Fortymile’s residents enjoyed a curious mixture of communism and anarchy.”

World War II and The Shanghai American School

U.Mich Peony Garden

Mysterious Builder of Seattle Landmarks at the University of Michigan Peony Garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

     Mike and I traveled  to the impressive University of Michigan in early May to join a reunion of the Shanghai American School (SAS) —  part of the conference, “China Between Two Worlds.”

Hans Pederson died when I was one month old. My mother remarried when I was two. We left Seattle, and so the mystery of the noted builder who was my father grew for the next 70 years. My new “Dad” took us to China where he was an agent for the Standard Oil Company.  As well as Seattle history, the “Mysterious Builder” describes my Far Eastern early childhood in Shanghai, Honolulu, and Manila, along with Dad’s attempts to do business there during the turmoil of the pre and post-war World War II years.

The Michigan conference described “China Between Two Worlds” partly through the memories and photographs of American expatriate families —the missionaries, doctors, and businessmen in China between 1927 and 1949; years that bridged the Chiang Kai Sheck and  Mao Tse Tung regimes withWorld War II in between.  We, the children of these families, had all lived in China. We had lived those photos. We had felt that sense of straddling two cultures.

Such freedom we had. Missionaries upcountry had put their children on the train for Shanghai to board at the Shanghai American School sometimes at the tender age of nine. My husband, a day student at seven, roamed freely around Shanghai with his older brother, jumping over sampans on the Whangpo River. I, however, a five-year old girl, stayed with my amah. Conscious of her bound feet, I never ran away from her, because she never could have caught me.

Most business families were evacuated from Shanghai as we were in 1939, and most expatriates as well by the time the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on  December 7, 1941. The Shanghai American School closed from 1941 to 1946. It was another story for the missionary families in smaller cities upcountry. Some of them were interred in Japanese Prison Camps.

Japanese cruelty towards the Chinese was legendary. Brutality, in fact, was a part of Japanese military training. But one or two people at our reunion had filtered out the cruelty and remembered basically happy childhoods in prison camp, even though they were always hungry.

European and American prisoners organized their camps into rotating teams with specific jobs. With plenty of teachers around, the children had good schooling. They fielded sports teams and put on plays. They always invited their captors to sit in the front row. A few western camps run by Japanese consular officials, were seemingly able to maintain discipline without excessive cruelty.

And so we learned, sometimes there is light within the darkness.

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