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Guide to the Ah Quin Diary Collection MS 209
MS 209  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Arrangement
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Conditions Governing Use
  • Processing Information
  • Preferred Citation
  • Comments
  • Immediate Source of Acquisition
  • Scope and Content
  • Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements
  • Biographical / Historical Notes

  • Title: Ah Quin Diary Collection
    Identifier/Call Number: MS 209
    Contributing Institution: San Diego History Center Document Collection
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 1.0 Linear feet (3 boxes)
    Date (inclusive): 1876-1902
    Abstract: The collection contains the diaries of Chinese migrant Ah Quin from 1876 through 1902.
    Language of Materials: Collection materials are in English and Chinese.
    creator: Quin, Ah


    Collection is arranged by series:
    Series I: Diaries
    Series II: Photocopies and Transcripts of Diaries
    Items within each series are arranged chronologically.

    Conditions Governing Access

    This collection is open for research.

    Conditions Governing Use

    The San Diego History Center (SDHC) holds the copyright to any unpublished materials. SDHC Library regulations do apply.

    Processing Information

    Collection processed by Katrina Oko-Odoi on December 21, 2012.
    Collection processed as part of grant project supported by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) with generous funding from The Andrew Mellon Foundation.

    Preferred Citation

    Ah Quin Diary Collection, MS 209, San Diego History Center Document Collection, San Diego, CA.


    This finding aid only refers to the English portions of the diaries. The portions of the diaries in Chinese will be addressed upon completion of the annotated version.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    Accession numbers 861224A, 991104, and 2001.023.

    Scope and Content

    This collection contains ten handwritten diaries of Ah Quin during his years residing in Alaska, Santa Barbara, San Francisco and San Diego. The diaries date from 1876 to 1902 and are written in both English and Chinese. Also included is a handwritten English-Chinese Chemicals and Minerals Dictionary.

    Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

    Several diaries and their bindings are fragile and should be handled with care. Copies of the diaries are available for use.

    Biographical / Historical Notes

    Ah Quin was born on December 5, 1848 in a small village in the Hoiping (Kaiping) District of Guandong Province of southern China. He was the eldest son of parents who were farmers. His family moved to Canton when he was young providing him with an opportunity for an education, which included English at an American missionary school. Like many Cantonese of the period, his family sent him to California in 1868. The family name was Tom, but as is often the case with Chinese immigrants, government officials misinterpreted their names, and he became known as Ah Quin. He spent his first six years in San Francisco’s Chinatown, where he continued his studies at a Christian mission and worked at a variety of jobs including that of houseboy and cook. Around 1873, Ah Quin moved to Santa Barbara where he began to learn merchandising from an uncle, continued his mission studies, served as a houseboy, and developed contacts with important men of the area, such as Judge Charles Huse. In Santa Barbara he decided to sign on for a year as a cook with a company that mined coal in Alaska. While in Alaska he cut off his queue, which was a demonstration that he was planning to make America his home.
    On returning to Santa Barbara, Ah Quin began to survey the job possibilities elsewhere in California. He visited San Diego in 1878 and established contacts with friends and relatives, and also met George Marston and Reverend Camp. He spent two years in San Francisco working at a number of odd jobs and eventually he took a job at the Presidio as a cook and servant for two officers.
    In 1880, he received letters from George Marston and Reverend Camp asking him to come to San Diego to serve as labor broker for the California Southern Railroad. He started a store in San Diego’s Chinatown as a base of operations and worked for the railroad for five years procuring their Chinese labor, supplying the work gangs with goods from his store. He returned to San Francisco to marry Sue Leong, whom he had met at the Presbyterian Mission. Ah Quin and his wife, Sue, raised twelve children in their two story home on Third Street in San Diego. After he left the railroad, he began to expand his merchandising business and branch out into real estate. He acquired property around the city and county and leased land to farmers to raise vegetables in Mission Valley and in Bonita along the Sweetwater River. Ah Quin was an influential and highly respected member of the early Chinese community and was given the unofficial title of “Mayor of Chinatown.” In 1914, he was struck by a motorcycle near his home and died at the age of 66.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    California Central Railroad Company (1857-1964).
    California Pacific Railroad Company.
    California Southern Railroad Company.
    Camp, Henry J., Rev.
    Dyer, H. B.
    Gourley, E. T.
    Grant, Ulysses S. (Ulysses Simpson), 1822-1885
    Harrison, Benjamin, 1833-1901
    Hayes, Benjamin, 1815-1877
    Hi, Wong
    Huse, Charles, Judge
    Kimball, Frank
    Leong, Sue
    Mannasse, Joe
    Marston, George White, 1850-1946
    Monteith, G. W.
    Otis, H. G.
    Quin, Ah
    Quin, Anna
    Quin, Franklyn
    Quin, Horton Louis
    Quin, Lily
    Quin, Maggy
    Russell, James
    Sessions, Frank
    Stearns, John P.
    Thompson, A. K.
    Victor, Jacob Nash
    Cabrillo National Monument (San Diego, Calif.)
    Colton (Calif.)
    Fort Point (San Francisco, Calif.)
    National City (Calif.)
    Presidio of San Francisco (Calif.)
    Riverside (Calif.)
    San Diego (Calif.)
    San Francisco (Calif.)
    Santa Barbara (Calif.)
    Stockton (Calif.)
    Temecula (Calif.)