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Ah Fong

 

John Muir and William Kent at Muir Woods Inn circa 1909
  • Most meals in John Muir's home were prepared by the family's Chinese cook Ah Fong, who worked for the Muir family from around 1897 to 1914 when Muir died. He ruled the kitchen. No one else, including women and children, were allowed in.

  • On family farms across California during Muir's time, Chinese cooks were the managers of the household and catered to the needs of the immediate family. They often became trusted family friends, exchanging gifts, caring for the children and making them toys. In the case of John Muir, Ah Fong was his sole companion, and likely the direct caregiver during his many bouts with the flu in his later years after Muir's wife died and his daughters married and moved away.

  • Muir wrote to his daughter Helen in 1909 that he was sending her a "large box of Muscat & Tokay [grapes] which I hope you will find fairly good. Ah Fong culled them from the young vines. The very best he could select." Clearly, Ah Fong worked everywhere on the family farm, not just the kitchen.

  • Further insight into Ah Fong's life with the Muir's can be found in the kitchen of the Muir house at the John Muir National Historic Site which features the original coal burning stove, using coal from the nearby Black Diamond Mine.
  • At the turn of the 20th century, in John Muir's day, almost ten percent of the population in California was from China. At one point, Chinese immigrants were responsible for harvesting two-thirds of all the vegetables in the state of California. They worked on the many California ranches, including the 2,600 acre fruit ranch where the Muir's lived. Muir worked alongside the Chinese immigrant workers to plant and harvest hundreds of tons of fruit each year on his Martinez ranch. This was during the time period of the Chinese Exclusion Acts - an era of severe anti-Chinese racism when Chinese immigrants, and those who employed them, were frequently harassed and sometimes attacked.

  • Ironically, Muir met another Chinese man of the same name who he evidently admired, on his way to Hawaii from Japan on his 1904 world tour. Muir wrote in his journal on May 17, 1904 that he "Had long talk with intelligent Chinaman, Ah Fong, of Honolulu, who was in part educated in Hartford."

  • Today, the John Muir National Historic Site celebrates Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month every May.



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