In 1906 Chin Ng Ten was arrested in New Orleans under the Chinese Exclusion Acts for not possessing a proper legal certificate. He was acquitted when he furnished evidence showing that he had been arrested in St. Albans, Vermont in 1896 and the charge was discharged by Felix W. McGettrick, U. S . Commissioner for the District of Vermont. Immigration Services in Boston verified that McGettrick’s seal and signature were genuine. The discharge did not include Chin Ng Ten’s photograph. Henry Chiapella, U. S. Commissioner, Eastern District of Louisiana issued Chin Ng Ten another certificate with a photo.
[McGettrick was known for being a “sympathetic judge” but the authorities in New Orleans may not have known of his reputation.]
In 1912 Chin Ng Ten and his wife applied to visit China. Mrs. Chin Ng Ten was interviewed. She gave her maiden name as Rosa Emma Pellebon, daughter of Francois Pellebon and Annie Magloui, born in Santiago, Cuba. Rosa said her father was of the Spanish race. They submitted a copy of their 1906 marriage registration showing they were married by Judge T. F. Maher in New Orleans. Witnesses for the wedding were William McDuffy and John Schroeder.
Chin Ng Ten was thirty-two years old in 1912, born in San Francisco, and had been living in New Orleans since about 1903. Before that he lived in Baltimore for seven years.
Chin Ng Ten’s 1912 application was approved and he received a certificate of identity #9834. Their visit to China was short–they left in May and came back to New Orleans in December 1912. There is no file for Rosa since she was not Chinese.
[There is no more information in the file.]
[The USCIS History Office had a webinar on Chinese Exclusion and Certificates of Discharge on June 30, 2016. They will repeat it at a future date. https://www.uscis.gov/HGWebinars. There are many McGettrick files at the Seattle facility of the National Archives.]
The Chinese Exclusion Act went into effect in 1882 and severely restricted the legal immigration of Chinese migrants, specifically laborers. There was an exemption for students, merchants, government officials, and travelers with proper documentation. U.S.-born Chinese laborers could reenter the U.S. after a trip abroad if they could prove their U.S. citizenship.
In the late 1890s and early 1900s many returning Chinese would arrive at a port on the west coast of Canada, travel by train to the east coast and enter the U.S. through the New England area. They tried to slip into the U.S. unnoticed but if they were caught and arrested they would demand a hearing to prove their citizenship so that they could obtain a “Certificate of Discharge” to be use as proof of citizenship. Word got around about which judges were sympathetic to their plight. Arrested Chinese tried to go before Commissioner Felix W. McGettrick at St. Albans, Vermont. McGettrick tried and discharged over 1,100 cases between late 1894 and 1897. Because of his high volume of discharges the Bureau of Immigration started keeping track of his certificates. McGettrick denied any misconduct and was never charged with a crime; he may have just been a poor records keeper. McGettrick stated that over 300 records from discharge cases were stolen from him but this was hard to assess because he didn’t keep a docket of his cases. So many Chinese files included McGettrick’s discharge certificates that by 1905 the Bureau of Immigration decided to keep track of the certificates with his signature. This would make it easier for the Bureau to investigate suspicious files with his signature.
A full text searchable copy of the “McGettrick Certificates” list is available online from the USCIS Historical Library
Bow Tank was arrested on 4 April 1896 at Richford, Vermont. His hearing was held 24 October 1896 before Commissioner Felix W. McGettrick. He was issued a Certificate of Discharge. Witnesses: Moy Loy; E. S. Harris; Back Fook, Back Lee, New York.
The total cost for the hearing was $26.70. That included drawing the complaint, issuing the warrant of arrest, subpoena for two witnesses, etc.
Because Bow Tank had a McGettrick Discharge Certificate from 1896 the immigration authorities were suspicious of his credentials when he left the U.S. in 1916 and when he returned in 1919. Eventually his paperwork was approved. In 1919 he was a salesman for Quong Hing Lung Chong Kee and Company at 114 Park Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland.
[More about McGettrick Certificates in the next post.]