The 27

A mob forcefully expelled the Chinese population from Tacoma on November 3, 1885.[1] A mob of Tacoma citizens, including many prominent and political leaders of the town, went from door to door in the Chinese community and forcibly coerced them to leave.[2] Ultimately, twenty-seven individuals were arrested and stood trial for the events.[3] Among them was the Mayor of Tacoma, Jacob Weisbach.[4] Weisbach led the anti-Chinese movement in the city. In the end, the twenty-seven did not face punishment for their horrific actions. In many ways, the city thought of them as heroes.[5]

The presentation below includes biographies on the Tacoma 27. The men represented a wide swath of Tacoma society ranging from elected officials to working-class residents. The wide support that the Tacoma 27 enjoyed in Tacoma helps explain the relative impunity with which they acted.

 

Among the anti-Chinese fervor, there were some Tacoma residents that were staunchly opposed to the expulsion. One of the expulsion's most vocal critics was Reverend W. D. McFarland. Rev. McFarland was relatively new to Tacoma. He had just taken a position at the Presbyterian Church a few weeks before the fateful day in November.[6] Yet that did not stop him or back him down from the leaders of the city. Some members of the anti-Chinese movement visited Rev. McFarland’s house while he was absent.[7] They questioned those in the home about his associations with the Chinese community.[8] This angered Rev. McFarland and he decided to take action on the pulpit.[9] His sermon so angered T. L. Nixon (one of the 27 who would stand trial for the expulsion) and others that they walked out of the church.[10] Herbert Hunt, who chronicled a history of Tacoma in the early twentieth century, wrote that “McFarland shouted after them: ‘Go! Go! I will preach on till the benches are empty!’”[11] After that Rev. McFarland started to receive threats and began to carry two guns for protection.[12] The Tacoma Daily Ledger printed an article in response to Rev. McFarland's sermon. The articled posited that, "McFarland is a pro-Chinese fanatic of the most bigoted sort." The article ended by calling on his parishioners to stop frequenting his church "until such time as he shall depart in peace with his yellow brethren – say about November 1st."[13]

 Ezra Meeker, circa 1854. Meeker was ardently opposed to the Chinese expulsion in Tacoma.  Wikimedia Commons .

Ezra Meeker, circa 1854. Meeker was ardently opposed to the Chinese expulsion in Tacoma. Wikimedia Commons.

 

Ezra Meeker was another opponent of the expulsion. Meeker was born in about 1831.[14] Being one of the first Euro-American settlers in Washington Territory, he was very prominent in the region. Meeker was of the opinion that coercion should not be used against the Chinese.[15] He wanted the Chinese to leave Tacoma, but did not think they should be forcibly removed.[16] He wrote to local newspapers trying to win people to his side, emphasizing law and order.[17] Herbert Hunt pointed out that, "Ezra Meeker had been taking a prominent part against the anti-Chinese agitation."[18] Though the Tacoma Daily Ledger struck back at Meeker, they were much more tame in comparison to Rev. McFarland. The paper noted that "It will be seen that he differs with more than nine-tenths of our people on this burning question. But he expresses his differences in a calm, high-minded, temperate manner."[19]

While a substantive number of Tacomans supported the expulsion, there were differing opinions. Some, like Reverend McFarland, wanted the Chinese to stay. Others, like Ezra Meeker, thought the Chinese should leave but thought they should not be forced out. But on November 3, 1885, the Meeker's and McFarland's were silenced by the mob that forced the Chinese to leave.

Footnotes

[1] Murray Morgan, Puget's Sound: A Narrative of Early Tacoma and the Southern Sound (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1979), 237-244.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Herbert Hunt, Tacoma: Its History and Its Builders; A Half Century of Activity (S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1916), 378.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 383.

[6] The Tacoma Daily Ledger, September 22, 1885.

[7] Hunt, Tacoma, 369.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 370.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] The Tacoma Daily Ledger, October 13, 1885.

[14] 1880 United States Federal Census, Puyallup, Pierce County, Washington Territory, digital image s. v. "Ezra Meeker," Ancestry.com.

[15] Hunt, Tacoma, 367.

[16] The Tacoma Daily Ledger, October 6, 1885.

[17] Hunt, Tacoma, 367.

[18] Ibid.

[19] The Tacoma Daily Ledger, October 6, 1885.

Map in Tacoma 27 presentation: Glover, E. S, and A.L. Bancroft & Company. View of New Tacoma and Mount Rainier, Puget Sound, Washington Territory. Portland, Or, 1878. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/75696667/. (Accessed May 10, 2017.)