On November 4th, one day after the expulsion, three members of the Committee of Fifteen visited the Chinese buildings in Old Tacoma. Soon after, the buildings were set on fire.[1] According to Chinese resident Mow Lung, who was in his office packing business records at the time the fire broke out, no attempt was made by the fire department, nor anyone else, to save the buildings: “I did not see any fire engines nor firemen on the ground at any time. No one tried to put out the fire in my houses.”[2] People did, however, manage to protect the nearby railroad tracks: “some tried to keep the fire from burning the railroad timbers by making connections with the water pipe by means of a hose.”[3] The railroad was saved while the physical memory of Chinatown was completely destroyed. Chinese resident Ah Chung Charley, also known as Jim Kee, was charged with arson by Tacoma police following the incident, but was soon acquitted, as it was widely known and accepted that the fire had been set by white residents.[3][4] Reports of the destruction of Tacoma’s Chinatown appeared in several publications nationwide.[5][6][7][8]

News articles from across the U.S. responded to the Tacoma riot with mixed reactions.  In places where Chinese prejudice was high, such as San Francisco, the expulsion of Chinese was warmly received. The Overland Monthly gave praises to the mob, proudly dubbing their actions as “The Tacoma Method,” while the San Francisco Bulletin used this incident as an ultimatum to the Chinese in Santa Cruz.[9][10]  Some papers, like the Philadelphia Inquirer and New Haven Register, downplayed the violence upon the Chinese, instead focusing their attention on its affect on the other communities.[11][12] But others condemned the expulsion and perpetrators involved. In Portland, The Oregonian compared it to the expulsion of the Jews and Moors from Spain while the Seattle Chronicle raised concerns that the rioters had harmed Chinese residents with British citizenship. On the east coast, major newspapers such as The New York TimesNew York HeraldNew York Sun and New York Tribune all denounced Tacoma, highlighting the reports of Chinese mistreatment from Tacoma officials as well as criticizing the federal government for not taking further action.[13]

After the expulsion, citizens of Tacoma wasted no time in celebrating the expulsion. On Thursday the 7th, the local Turnverein gave a ball in honor of Mayor Jacob Weisbach and the Committee of 15. On the same day, the mayor and 26 other Tacomans were indicted.[14] After their arrest on Nov. 9th, the Tacoma 27 were to be taken to Vancouver, Washington Territory for prosecution. The citizens of Tacoma, having told the 27 would not plead guilty, cheered the train taking their mayor and fellow citizens to Vancouver.[15] Shortly after, the residents started to donate money for the bail fund, and quickly raised enough money to cover the cost.

The 27 were back in Tacoma on the 12th of the same month, and were welcomed back as heroes. A band was waiting for their arrival, and festivities ensued in the following days.[16][17] Even though they had a central part in the unlawful expulsion of the Chinese, many of the 27 remained leaders in the local community for years to come.[18] 

The Seattle Riot of 1886

An artist’s rendition of the Seattle riot of 1886, from  The West Shore  magazine, March 1886.  Wikimedia Commons .

An artist’s rendition of the Seattle riot of 1886, from The West Shore magazine, March 1886. Wikimedia Commons.

M.P. Burger, one of the leaders of the Tacoma riot, moved to Seattle and joined the Knights of Labor. Along with other like-minded individuals, he urged the residents to expel the Chinese from Seattle.[19] On February 7th, 1886, Seattle residents formed numerous committees, and marched into Chinese residential areas. They forced the Chinese out of their homes and onto the wharf. Governor Squire, fearing potential violence, ordered Sheriff John McGraw and a Seattle militia to protect the Chinese residents from harm. The mob managed to put 97 Chinese onto a steamer, while 350 remained in the city.[20] The following day, after word broke out that the 97 deported Chinese were allowed to return to Seattle, the rioters returned and clashed with the militia, injuring 5 people. Governor Squire was forced to call in the national troops and declare martial law, while Burger was forced to flee back to Tacoma.[21]

Repercussions with China

After the Tacoma expulsion, President Grover Cleveland became concerned that anti-Chinese violence occurring in the U.S. would negatively affect trade relations with China. As a formal apology and compensation for the damages caused by these anti-Chinese episodes, the U.S. paid $276,619.75 to the Qing government under the Deficiency Act of October 19, 1888.[22][23] The Chinese government concluded that the U.S. was not protecting their citizens’ interests, and demanded a new Sino-American Treaty to be drafted in 1886.[24] But Cleveland believed that Chinese culture, not anti-Chinese sentiments themselves, was to be blamed for the endangerment of the Chinese immigrants.[25] Against the Qing’s wishes, he decided to strengthen the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, culminating with the passage of the Scott Act of 1888, which permanently banned the immigration or return of Chinese laborers to the United States.[26] The Qing government, angered by the Cleveland’s handling of the situation, refused to recognize the legitimacy of Scott Act.[27]

Reconciliation Park


In 1991, Tacoma resident David Murdock submitted a Citizen Suggestion Award Application to the City of Tacoma, which stated that “it would be appropriate to set aside an area of reconciliation (small park with a Chinese motif) and a monument acknowledging the incident, noting Tacoma’s regret and desire to move ahead in unity and respect.”[28] A citizen’s committee, which came to be known as the Chinese Reconciliation Project Foundation, was soon formed in order to turn the park into a reality.[29] On November 30th, 1993, the Tacoma City Council unanimously approved Resolution No. 32415, which acknowledged that the 1885 Chinese expulsion was “a most reprehensible occurrence,” authorized the construction of a commemorative park located at a former National Guard site on Commencement Bay, and set aside $25,000 for preliminary site plans.[30] The park is a 3.9-acre shoreline plot located at 1741 N. Schuster Parkway in Tacoma, within a half mile of the site of Little Canton, where many Chinese residents of Tacoma lived before they were expelled in 1885.[31] The park, which officially opened in 2011, currently includes a waterfront trail, a bridge with a Chinese motif, and a pavilion donated by Tacoma’s sister city, Fuzhou, China.[32]



[1] Murray Morgan, Puget’s Sound: A Narrative of Early Tacoma and the Southern Sound (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1979), 245.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Herbert Hunt, Tacoma: Its History and Its Builders; a Half Century of Activity. (Chicago: S.J. Clarke, 1916), 377.

[5] The Nation, November 12, 1885, 390.

[6] “Burning Chinamen’s Shanties,” The New York Times, November 7, 1885.

[7] “Riotous Chinamen,” Wheeling Register, November 6, 1885.

[8] “The Mongolian Exodus,” Duluth Weekly Tribune, November 6, 1885.

[9] George Dudley Lawson, "The Tacoma Method," Overland Monthly, March 1886.

[10] "Anti-Chinese Move," San Francisco Bulletin, November 13, 1885.

[11] "Orderly Violence," Philadelphia Inquirer, November 5, 1885.

[12] "No Blood Shed," New Haven Register, November 18, 1885.

[13] Morgan, Puget's Sound, 250.

[14] Lorraine Hildebrand, Straw Hats, Sandals and Steel: The Chinese in Washington State (Tacoma: Washington State American Revolution Bicentennial Commission, 1977), 58,

[15] Morgan, Puget’s Sound, 248.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid, 249.

[18] Jean Pfaelzer, Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans (New York, NY: Random House, 2009), 225.

[19] Herbert Hunt, Tacoma: Its History and Its Builders: A Half Century of Activity. (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1916), 381.

[20] Carlos A. Schwantes, “Protest in a Promised Land: Unemployment, Disinheritance, and the Origin of Labor Militancy in the Pacific Northwest, 1885-1886,” in The Western Historical Quarterly 13, no. 4 (1982): 373.

[21] Clayton D. Laurie, The Role of Federal Military Forces in Domestic Disorders, 1877-1945. Army Historical Series. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, U.S. Army (1997).

[22] Jean Pfaelzer, Driven Out: The Forgotten War against Chinese Americans (New York: Random House, 2007), 229.

[23] Herbert Hunt, Tacoma: Its History and Its Builders: A Half Century of Activity (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1916), 383.

[24] Robert Kennedy, "Justice for the Chinese," New York Times, 2001, accessed May 9, 2017,

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] “The History of the Foundation,” Chinese Reconciliation Park Foundation, accessed May 1, 2017,

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] “Tacoma Chinese Park,” Chinese Reconciliation Park Foundation, accessed May 1, 2017,

[32] “'Reconciliation' and the Park,” Chinese in Northwest America Research Committee, last modified October 17, 2011,