02 September 2013

The Ar Foon Family of Chelsea and Scituate, Massachusetts

Why I am Researching a Chinese Family
Gravestone of Henry S. and Grace Ar Foon,
Mount Hope Cemetery, North Scituate,
Massachusetts; taken by Polly Kimmitt,
15 Sep 2008.
.
Scituate, Massachusetts, a suburb on the South Shore of Boston, "the most Irish town in America," is 97.9% white, according to the 2010 census. It has a sprinkling of other races, with Asians now accounting for 2.1% of the population. [1] In the first half of the 20th century the demographics were much the same, but there was one man who stood out for being different, and that was Henry Smith Ar Foon.

Henry's gravestone is near my own ancestors in the Mount Hope Cemetery in Scituate's West End. It turns out he was a neighbor and friend of my family, and I remember hearing his name when I was little. I have one photograph of my grandmother's large yard with a seated figure in the distance, labelled as Henry Arfoon. I'd love to show it to you, but of course, I can't find it right now... Anyway, being the curious sort, I've done a little research to see how Henry came to plant himself in Scituate. I didn't really figure it out, but I learned an awful lot about him.

If you're not from the Boston area, you won't be pronouncing Henry's name as I heard it when I was little. What I heard was Henry AH Foon, almost as if the speaker had stopped to sigh in the middle of saying his name. When I figured out how the non-rhotic Boston accent was interfering with my understanding, I assumed it was written as Henry R. Foon. The pronunciation is important because it impacts how you search on his name. Eventually I determined the actual spelling (sometimes Ar Foon, sometimes Arfoon, sometimes Smith--read on...), and am told that may be significant in learning where his family was from in China. [2]

Basic Framework
Henry turns up regularly in the censuses, and between those, newspapers on GenealogyBank.com, and the marvelous Massachusetts vital records system, we have a nice window into his life. You can set aside any preconceived notions about him now. No, he didn't run a laundry, whereas my own father did, which sort of turns stereotypical notions on their head now, doesn't it!

Henry Smith Ar Foon and Gracie E. (Lloyd) Moffatt, both of Holbrook (an inland town south of Boston), were married on Saturday, 14 Dec 1918, in Boston. Henry was 46, a clerk, born in Boston about 1872, the son of Robert S. Ar Foon and Lottie, both Chinese. Gracie, 34, was born in Worcester to Philip Lloyd and Martha O. Chapman. This was her second marriage. They were married by minister Jason F. Chase of West Roxbury. Henry was Chinese, Grace was white. [3] I wonder how they pulled that off and what life was like for them.

Boston Herald, 15 Dec 1918
The same year they married Henry bought property in North Scituate. See the article here. [4] I don't know if he kept the chickens, though. In the 1920 and 1930 censuses there are no children in the Ar Foon household, so I'm assuming they never had any. Lottie moved to Scituate with them and appears in the 1920 [5], but not the 1930 census [6]. Grace died in 1935, according to her gravestone, and Henry in 1955. I wish I knew was how they chose Scituate. How did Henry meet Grace, who was from Holbrook? So far I haven't discovered that.

For that matter, how did Robert Smith and Lottie Ar Foon came to America? I went back through the censuses and found Henry living with his parents in Chelsea, a small, coastal city adjacent to Boston. His birth was difficult to find, and hard to read, but eventually I found it: Henry R. Fon, born 28 Mar 1872 in Chelsea to parents Robert, a cook, and Lottie, both Chinese. They lived at 88 Cedar Street. [7] I had no luck finding Robert and Lottie's marriage.

In 1880, "Smith Ar Foon" is 50, and runs a cigar and fruit store. Lottie is 38, son Henry is 8, and they live at 92 Winnisimmet, right near the water. They have two boarders––Ming C. Tong, 18, and Ten Moon Chung 25, both b. China and attending school. Could these be relatives? [8]

Each census presents us with new clues, so I looked at 1900. They had moved to 129 Division Street in Chelsea. They were listed under the surname Smith, so it took a little hunting to dig them out, but I was rewarded with the news that Robert was naturalized and had immigrated in 1860, Lottie in 1859. [9] But to and from where?? My searches online have revealed nothing so far, but I haven't dug in too deeply.

Boston Herald, 24 Dec 1900
Robert Smith Ar Foon died of paralysis in 1900. His parents are not listed on his death certificate, unfortunately. His occupation is laborer. [10] He is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett, but I do not find any entries on FindAGrave for him or Lottie. I haven't yet searched out Lottie's death information. From a short article on his funeral we learn that he was a well-loved member of the Mt. Vernon Congregational Church. The writer goes out of his way to point out that his those who attended his funeral were "all American neighbors and friends of the family," aka not Chinese. [11] Did Robert make it a point, as some immigrants do, to separate himself from his native community in order to completely assimilate? I'm thinking that he made a conscious effort to do so, and his son Henry followed by marrying a Yankee. Just a theory, of course, but sometimes you just have to stop thinking and listen to the evidence in a more intuitive way.

The Interesting Bits
More fun than actually tracking vital records and census is putting some meat into the story of someone's life, and I found out a few things about the Ar Foons by reading the newspaper. Of course I also got more clues to chase down, but for now I'll just report on a few interesting tidbits.

The Life of a "Chinaman" in Boston in 1876
Chinese-American
Library of Congress, American Memory
Digital ID codhawp 10021654
In reaction to "ill treatment which the poor Mongolians receive in San Francisco," an attempt was made in Boston to "teach the Chinese with religious influences to show them that Christian civilization is not all a mere thing of adjectives." Invitations were quietly sent out to "some seventy Chinamen in Boston and vicinity"to attend a private affair at the YMCA. There was an exhibition of Chinese stereopticon pictures with a talk by missionaries, an elaborate tea was served, and the guests were entertained by a large choir performing "some grand old chorals, such as "Jerusalem, my Happy Home, the Hallelujah," and more. They offered English as a second language courses and introduced the guests to ladies who held an evening language school for Chinese scholars. Most of the Chinese had arrived within the past two years: "Sixty of them are engaged in laundry establishments, of which there are about thirteen in all, and their average income is about ten dollars a week, as near as can be estimated, and as they are frugal in their habits and live on a small sum, they are doubtless enabled to save a great part of their earnings. Most of them are young men, very pleasant looking, quiet and polite." Wow. Some forty Chinese attended the event, "attired in their neat and inexpensive home costume," including Mr. Ar-Foon, who "keeps a store on Winnisimmet street in Chelsea." [12]

The article describing the event gives us one clue as to Robert and Lottie's origins: "...explanations were repeated in Chinese by Mr. Ar-Showe, in a clear and distinct voice. The dialects of different parts of China are so different that few present would have understood Dr. Treat's Peking language, since nearly all were from the south of China, and a few from the centre."

The Bombs Bursting in Air
Henry was one of four people severely injured by a wayward firework bomb at a 1888 Republican rally. The 16-year old sustained a deep gash to his left thigh, and was taken to his home to recover. "It was a fortunate circumstance that more persons were not injured." [13] In 1891, at 19 years old, he sued Benjamin Wedger for his injuries, and the court was "asked to decide if the maker of fireworks is responsible for a premature explosion of the fireworks in the hands of a third person." [14] Well now. I haven't followed this up, but I can't wait to do so!

According to His Mother
A stroke of luck brings us the words of Harry's mother, quoted during a Women's Festival celebrating various nations: "Mrs. Ar Foon, in Chinese costume, who has lived here since her childhood, told what the public schools had done for her, and what they are doing for her young son, who is to be one of this year's graduates from the Chelsea high school."[15] Again I say, wow!

Assimilation
Boston Herald, 25 Feb 1897
Next thing you know, Capt. "Harry" Ar Foon and Manager J. B. Hewes are leading the Winnisimmet Cycle Club's baseball team to victory in the ACC tournament, with eyes firmly fixed on winning a pennant! [16] Young Harry was taking Chelsea by storm, and in an upset victory was elected president of the same Winnisimmet Cycle Club in 1897. [17] He was only 25 years old at the time. His parents must have been so proud of him.

Finally (because really, I must stop), a 1911 article mentions Harry as a member of the Chelsea Yacht Club" and the only Chinaman yacht owner in this city" with a boat that was 32 feet long with a 16-24 horsepower motor--and this wasn't his first boat! "The new boat will be used about Boston this summer and her owner plans a cruise to Florida for next winter."[18] So by the time he met Grace, he was an extremely eligible bachelor and probably ready to settle down. I still want to know what got him down to Holbrook, though.

Unanswered Questions Plus More Questions!
I haven't even come close to finding how Henry's parents got here and where they were from. If Lottie was 12 when she came over in 1859, did she come over with her parents? But now I also want to know how Henry acquired so much wealth. Was it his industrious father, living a disciplined life and slowly accumulating enough money to pass on to his son? Did Harry win the fireworks case and get a handsome settlement? In the various censuses his occupation is listed as stenographer, "private secretary to a rich man" (!), or clerk, so perhaps he just made his own fortune? Does there exist a photo of Henry or anyone else in his family?

There are plenty of records left to explore, but I just thought it was fun to delve in a little and see what the lives of this family were like in Boston 100-150 years ago. Though I don't think Henry's life was typical, it was fun to uncover. It is very strange to research someone who left no descendants. Does anyone care but me? Henry was an only child. Maybe Grace had siblings who left descendants that remember Uncle Henry. I hope so, because from what I can tell, he was quite a guy.

Addendum: Since I originally published this post I have heard from some family members with what they remember about Henry. In particular, my Aunt Abbie, who was very firm that I should not use the term "hanging around" to describe Henry's relationship with my grandmother. I meant nothing untoward, just that he was friends with and associating with our family!

Abbie's memories validate my research: "Henry was a secretary to a big shot in Boston. They were very intelligent, and perhaps visited Scituate in the summer time. They had a lovely home on the salt creek right near the Cohasset line. I think Grace was in mother's bridge club. Then she and Henry used to play bridge with my parents. They both seemed to like our family of five kids. I think they had no children.

Once a year our Dad, Henry and two other men used to go to a lodge in N.H. for a week of fishing.

When we were about 10 or 12 [ie, ca 1934-36] our father got Aaron Bates (I think) of Cohasset to build a flat-bottomed boat for us kids to use in the creek. Well, the ArFoons let us moor the boat behind their house on the creek.

What took them from Chelsea to Scituate, I do not know. Most anything  I would think."

And my sister, Ann Vernetta, remembers that Henry had a friend named Eddie A. Tick! Oh no!!! Here I go again!!


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1. United States Census Bureau, US Department of Commerce, American FactFinder, "Scituate town, Massachusetts," drawing on data obtained in 2010 US Federal census; (http://factfinder2.census.gov : 2 Sep 2013).

2.   I'm hoping my friend Alice Kane will read this and give me some tips on the meaning of the name, Robert and Lottie's origins and how to track their arrival in the US. Alice is a genealogist at the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston, specializing in Chinese genealogy. Alice has already told me that Ar is an honorific title, intended to indicate respect.

3. "Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988," Ar Foon-Lloyd, 14 Dec 1918, Holbrook,  p. 85, image 654; Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : 15 Aug 2013).

4. "Hall Active in Real Estate," Boston Herald, 15 Dec 1918, 20; GenealogyBank.com (http://www.genealogybank.com : 2 Sep 2013).

5. 1920 US census, Plymouth Co., Mass., Scituate, ED 144, sheet 12A, image 781, Blossom Street (no number), dw. 302, fam. 209, household of Henry Ar Foon; Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : 15 Aug 2013).

6. 1930 US census, Plymouth Co., Mass, Scituate, ED 98, sheet 14B, dw. 402, fam. 412, household of Henry Arfoon; Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : 2 Sep 2013).

7. "Massachusetts Vital Records, 1841-1910," Births, 1872, 243:32,  Henry R. Fon, 18 Mar 1872, Chelsea; AmericanAncestors.org (http://americanancestors.org : 15 Aug 2013).

8. 1880 US census, Suffolk Co., Mass., Chelsea, ED 787, sheet , 92 Winnisimet, dw. 239, fam. 341, household of Smith Ar Foon; Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : 15 Aug 2013).

9. 1900 US census, Suffolk Co., Mass., Chelsea, Ward 1, ED 1551, 129 Division St.,  dw. 65, fam. 93, household of Robert Smith; Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : 16 Aug 2013).

10. "Massachusetts Deaths, 1841-1915," Robert S. Ar Foon, 21 Dec 1900, Chelsea, mf 004289814, image 667; FamilySearch.org (http://www.familysearch.org : 15 Aug 2013).

11. "Chelsea Chinaman Buried," Boston Herald, 24 Dec 1900, 4;  GenealogyBank.com (http://www.genealogybank.com : 15 Aug 2013).

12. "Chinamen in Boston," Boston Traveler, 2 May 1876,  2;  GenealogyBank.com (http://www.genealogybank.com : 15 Aug 2013).

13. "An Unfortunate Accident: the Bursting of a Bomb Causes the Injury of Four Persons in Chelsea," Boston Journal, 27 Sep 1888, vol. 15, iss. 18171, 2; GenealogyBank.com (http://www.genealogybank.com : 15 Aug 2013).

14. "Law and Equity: Interesting Cases That Are to Come Before the Full Bench of the Supreme Court," Boston Traveler, 3 Nov 1891; GenealogyBank.com (http://www.genealogybank.com : 15 Aug 2013). 

15. "Loyal Women's Festival: Unique Entertainment Being Held in Faneuil Hall," Boston Herald, 20 May 1890, 4; GenealogyBank.com (http://www.genealogybank.com : 16 Aug 2013). 

16. "Winnisimmet Cycle Club," Boston Herald, 19 Jul 1896, 24; GenealogyBank.com (http://www.genealogybank.com : 15 Aug 2013).

17. "Beaten By a Chinaman," Boston Herald, 25 Feb 1897, 3; GenealogyBank.com (http://www.genealogybank.com : 15 Aug 2013).

18. "Inter-Club Wants Trophy," Chinese Owner of Yacht, Boston Herald, 18 Jun 1911, 4S; GenealogyBank.com (http://www.genealogybank.com : 15 Aug 2013).