This week we feature a recent donation related to Chinese immigration history in the New York area: a jail log book of detainees received by the Port Henry Jail once located in Essex County, New York. The 300-page log book was generously donated anonymously and features roughly 151 entries with names, photos, and details regarding the detention of Chinese migrants trying to cross into the United States by train from Montreal, Canada between 1904 and 1907. Based on the provenance notes attached to the donation, the Port Henry Jail was known locally as “The Chinese Jail” even up to the 1950s and early 1960s. The book was written and kept by the local railroad station manager, who was also tasked with maintaining the jail. Following the passing of the station manager, his wife gifted the log book to a local neighbor and friend and it ultimately was passed on and donated to MOCA.

As a century-old book, it has held up surprisingly well, with the binding intact and entry pages still robust and legible. In addition to being a historically important book, it can also give serve as a useful research tool for families researching their ancestry. Here we will feature a sampling of what the book has to offer for researchers. This book is recently accessioned, so we haven’t had time to process and catalog all the images yet. However, we have scans from an earlier accession of two logbooks that were also from Port Henry dated 1901-1903 that is available for access in our online database.

First entry description: “Lot of 5 chinamen brought to Essex Co. jail at Pt [Port] Henry N.Y. by A.S. Spring Dep [Deputy] U.S. Marshal of 11-25 pm train from the north January 6th 1904[.] Arrested upon warrants issued by U.S. Commissioner [Leon] Dudley dated January 6th 1904. Commited upon warrants dated January 6th 1904. All charged with being chinese laborers unlawfully within the United States.” All sections in this log book feature similar introductions entered in “lots” of arrests by date. Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection.
Entries also appear to show that individuals with the same family names would often try to cross into the United States together. Sing Ton and Sing Guay might potentially be related. Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection.
Docket No. 3029, Kong Tong, supposedly died during his month-long custody. Logbook notes that he was “released by death 4 am, cause”. Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection.
While many individuals were discharged following long periods of detentions, others were less fortunate and were deported by order of the U.S. Marshal. Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection.
Interesting features that one can draw from the images include the dress of the individuals detained, with a mix of men dressed in both traditional and western clothing. Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection.
Docket No. 3416, Mr. Lee was detained but ran away after seven months in jail. He was later caught in Brooklyn but released on bail. Lee was ultimately deported in 1907 by order of the U.S Marshal. Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection.
The logbook also features non-Chinese individuals, for example, Gerryn Richards who was detained in 1905 for attempted larceny and breaking into the Port Henry Post Office. Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collections.