I first came across a story about Ah Fat over two years ago. An article with the headline “The Last Chinaman” grabbed my attention, and it was a story of the a Chinese cannery worker in Point Roberts at the turn of the 20th century. It was quite rare to find a story about a Chinese cannery worker, with name and photo, depicting his life through the era of anti-Chinese movements. This photo, taken between 1911 and 1913, is the only photo that shows Ah Fat sitting in front of his house at Point Roberts, Whatcom County, Washington, and he was the Last Chinaman.
I was very impressed by his story and I wrote a blog in Jan. 2021 about him. I wrote: “According to the article, the main character of the story is Ah Fat who was born in China, and migrated to British Columbia in the late 19th century. He came to the US by following the Northern railroad to Bellingham, where he worked at at a salmon cannery. At the time, many Chinese were employed in salmon canneries and as cooks, servants, and other manual laborers.”
Also, based on what I knew at the time, I came up with the following scenario in the 2021 blog:
- In 1900s, Ah Fat was the lone strange Chinese living in the neighborhood. He worked at the Point Roberts cannery and tended his vegetable garden.
- Back in 1880s, Ah Fat was living in Bellingham, and worked at a salmon cannery.
- In 1885, at the height of anti-Chinese movement, the editors of Bellingham local newspaper ‘The Whatcom Reveille’, Thomas Nicklin and Will Jenkins, bitterly blamed the Chinese for taking aways jobs from the white workers.
- Nicklin and Jenkins then plotted to expel all Chinese residents from the county.
- On Nov. 7th, 1885, ALL terrified Chinese residents were expelled from Bellingham.
- To get away, Ah Fat boarded a tender, crossing the Strait of Georgia, and headed for Point Roberts.
- Ah Fat settled down and worked at APA cannery, and changed his name to Charlie Chinaman.
- Later, Nicklin was rounded up and prosecuted, but he was eventually exonerated.
- Years later, Charlie was seen flying a giant bamboo kite, symbolizing his freedom in the remote corner of the Whatcom County… he was the last Chinaman.
But that scenario was far from the truth. After I wrote that blog in 2021, I started doing some research and contacting others in order to collect more information about this mysterious Last Chinaman. I received a lot of help from some researchers I have never met, and started to piece together the rest of the story behind Ah Fat in a webpage. Even though I never found the key evidence of why Ah Fat moved from Semiahmoo to Point Roberts, there is enough circumstantial evidence to show that he did not flee to Point Roberts to escape the Bellingham Chinese Expulsion. Instead, he was trying to escape from the immigration officers due to his sudden “alien” status after 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and 1892 Geary Act, which required Chinese to register as an alien. For the full story, please click on “Ah Fat” under the Personal Accounts tab.
Photo source: Point Roberts Historical Society.