It’s the height of the 19th-century California Gold Rush. A Chinese man called John John is bent over a wooden tub filled with miners’ filthy clothes. He’s working hard, scrubbing away to get the garments clean before they’re dried and neatly pressed. He does all this for free. The miners think he’s crazy. But he knows something that they don’t. And it will make him a rich man.
We’ll come back to the story of John John. By the way, that’s not his real name, just a nickname habitually handed out to Chinese people by white folks. But before we tell the tale of this immigrant, let’s find out about the extraordinary gold rush that convulsed California in the years following 1848.
It was on January 24, 1848 when a 37-year-old man called James Wilson Marshall sparked the Californian gold rush. Strictly speaking, California was still Mexican territory at that point. It wasn’t until the February 2 signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that year, ending the Mexican-American War, that it became an American possession. But to all intents and purposes California had already been effectively American for some time.