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Forbidden Friendship

 Finding the Facts Behind the Historical Fiction

Ms. Austin's Fourth Grade Class
Gabriel Abbott Memorial School
Florida, Massachusetts 01247


WHAT? The number one question we had about the book, Forbidden Friendship, was WHAT really happened? WHAT were the reasons that brought Chinese immigrants to North Adams to break a strike? WHAT happened to them? WHAT was life like for them? WHAT influence did this event have on the rest of our country? WHAT was it like to work in a shoe factory?

In order to answer our questions we consulted with the archivist at the North Adams Public Library, Katharine Westwood. Since we had called ahead with many of our questions, Ms. Westwood had many of the primary and secondary resources available to answer our questions. We looked at primary resources, such as photographs from 1870, newspaper articles from that time, and maps. We also saw secondary resources, such as magazine articles, and non-fiction writing, written shortly after this event. Check out WHAT we saw and WHAT we learned by clicking on any of the thumbnail pictures.


We learned, through an 1870s newspaper article in the North Adams Transcript, and other secondary resources, that yes, Chinese immigrants did come to North Adams to break a strike at the Sampson Shoe Factory in 1870. They arrived by train into the North Adams 'Fitchburg" Train Depot on June 13, 1870 and were greeted by an estimated crowd of 500 to 1000 curious and somewhat hostile residents. We even read that Sampson himself came out of the train 'packing' six pistols along with a group of armed guards. Some in the crowded called the Chinese contract workers names, including rats and worse, and two people were arrested. This was a big event and was reported in many newspapers across the United States. there were 75 Chinese contract laborers, which is what these immigrants were called because they were contracted by Calvin Sampson to replace the striking shoe factory workers, some French-Canadian and Irish immigrants themselves. We even saw an original photograph of the first 75 Chinese workers, poising right out front of the Sampson Shoe Factory. Sampson and others were afraid of how the townspeople would treat these workers and so he had a special kitchen and dormitory built inside the shoe factory and a large fence erected around the factory, to keep the workers in and the strikers out.

We saw an illustrated etching of the original Sampson Shoe Factory. We read an article from the Farmer's Cabinet, July 21, 1870, from Amherst Massachusetts, that tells about the daily life of the Chinese workers. In an article in Scribner's Monthly, by  James L. Bowen, from March, 1870, entitled Celestials in Sunday School, we learned that it was true that many North Adams' residence, including children, tutored the Chinese workers in reading, writing and Bible skills, as a way to convert the Chinese from their native religion of  Confucianism to Christianity.

We also found other evidence that there really were Chinese immigrants in North Adams in 1870 when we looked through the 1870s census. The census is when all the people in the United States are counted. This happens every ten years. We clearly saw that in 1870 there were 75 Chinese men living in North Adams and working in a shoe factory. Within ten years most of these workers would be gone a anew group of immigrants, French Canadian and Polish immigrants, replaced them. We saw this pattern happening across the United States. When we learned about Ellis Island we saw that there were many immigrant groups who, due to different "push and pull" factors came to our country for better opportunities - some finding them and some not.

At the North Adams Library we saw pictures of the train depot, called the Fitchburg Depot, where the Chinese immigrants first arrived. Today, the  North Adams Historical Museum is located in an old train depot but we learned that this was not the original train depot.  We also saw old photographs of "Chase Hill" mentioned in Forbidden Friendship and later drove by the house once owned by George W. Chase, treasurer of the Sampson Shoe Factory, and the man that negotiated the deal and went to California to bring back the Chinese workers.

We saw great photographs of what North Adams looked like during the 1870s to 1890s and loved seeing everyone riding around on horse and carriages. We learned that although North Adams seemed to be in the middle of nowhere in the mid to late 1800s it really was a busting town, with a growing industrial center, manufacturing goods such as shoes, carriages, wool, cloth, and paper.

We read excerpts from magazines published during the late 1800s that had etchings of the Chinese workers in the factory and explained the process of shoemaking during this time period. We found all of these etchings from the June 23, 1870 Harper's Weekly Magazine. This magazine turned out t be a great primary resource. Just click here to learn more about it.


Another helpful magazine of this time period was North Adams and Vicinity Illustrated. We read some interesting articles about North Adams, including this one. 













We read a lot of other books, magazine articles, documents, and web sites that were all written well after the 1800s. That makes these types of historical documents secondary resources. To see some of the secondary resources we used click on our Read What Others Say About This Topic link.

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