Circa 1844-1845, Ah Man was born in China to Adock Arman and Elanhoi Arman.[1] Around 1857, he made his way to the United States, eventually settling in Princess Anne County, Virginia.[2]  Ah Man’s decision to come to Virginia was unusual. The federal government began keeping records of Asian and Pacific Islanders in the western portion of the country in 1860 and counted 34,933 that year and 62,864 in 1870.[3] They did not keep numbers for Virginia in 1860, and only four individuals had that designation in Virginia, one of whom was Ah Man.[4] Consequently, Ah Man ventured far from home but also far from where others immigrant from China tended to settle

Ah Man’s first years in the United States must have been difficult given that he soon came under the auspices of the county’s overseers of the poor, who were charged with assisting those who could not support themselves by providing shelter, food, clothing, and medical treatment.[5]

On 4 June 1860, Ah Man (age 15), Avoo (age 16), and Kyhing (age 16), who were all described as Chinese, as well as Lunas (age 14), who was described as Indian, were ordered to be bound to John T. Johnson “until they attain to twenty one years of age to learn the art & business of farming.”[6]

The record does not reveal the reason for the indenture, but the law permitted a minor who was no younger than fourteen years old to bind him- or herself as an apprentice without the consent of a guardian. The overseers of the poor were permitted to bind out minors who were begging or thought to soon be in a position to have to beg.[7]

An apprenticeship indenture was drafted on 16 August 1860 between William Laird, one of the overseers of the poor of Princess Anne County and John T. Johnson, who also resided in Princess Anne County. In addition to learning the “art & business of farming” until age 21, Avoo, Kyhing, Ah Man, and Lunas were expected to live with John T. Johnson and would be given “sufficient meat[,] drink[,] apparel[,] washing[,] lodging and all other things needful and meet for an apprentice.” Johnson would also ensure that they were taught “reading writing and common arithmetic including the rule of three.”  In return, Avoo, Kyhing, Ah Man, and Lunas were expected to act “honestly and obediently in all things [and] shall behave themselves towards their said Master.”[8]

Apprenticeship Indenture between Overseer of the Poor William N. Laird and John T. Johnson concerning Avoo, Kying, Ahman, and Lunas, 16 August 1860.

Princess Anne County, Apprenticeship Indentures, 1806-1868, Barcode 7748854, Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA; Lab #20_0809_003.

By the time that his apprenticeship was complete and he was on his own, Ah Man was known as John Ahman. Initially he had only modest means, claiming no taxable personal property in his first appearance in the state personal property tax records in 1867. Despite his apprenticeship with a farmer, he claimed no livestock or agricultural produce, and he was not a landowner.[9] In fact, by 1870, he was employed as a retail grocer.[10] In following years he worked as an engineer, employed at least for a while by the City Water Works.[11] However, he had returned to farming to a certain extent by the late 1890s, owning livestock and farming implements and surely putting into practice the skills that he gained as an apprentice farmer.[12] He was literate in English as well, another skill he may have gained through his apprenticeship.[13]

 

1870 United States Federal Census

Ancestry.com, `{`database on-line`}` (Provo, UT: Ancestry.om Operations, Inc., 2009), Entry for John Armann, Kempsville Township, Princess Anne County, VA.

In his mid-twenties, John Ahman married another immigrant, twenty-one-year-old Rosanna McCourt, who had arrived from Ireland in 1866. Their wedding was performed by the Rev. Matthew J. O’Keefe in Norfolk’s Church of the Immaculate Conception (now the Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception). This church and its predecessor, St. Patrick’s Church, served some of the first Irish immigrants in the area.[14] Rosanna Ahman soon became the mother of fourteen children, only six of whom survived to 1900: John Jr. (b. 1876), Annie (b. 1881), Bernard (b. 1883), Frank (b. 1888), Rosa (b. 1889), and William (b. 1892).[15]

At the time that the Ahmans married, the concept of whiteness was important to the dominant culture in the United States, and the white elite denigrated those who were not of European descent. The Irish were also disparaged and often considered non-white, which was a legacy of how the Irish were treated by the British. Some Irish Americans joined in the contempt of those who were not of European descent, often pitting Irish against the Chinese. Yet a significant number of Irish women—often those who were impoverished—married Chinese men. Such appears to be the case for the Rosanna and John Ahman.[16]

John Ahman died of pneumonia on 31 January 1906 and was buried in the cemetery of Norfolk’s Church of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception.[17]

John Arman and Rose Ann McCourt, 18 February 1871.

Norfolk City, Marriage Licenses, 1871-1880, Microfilm Reel 74.

Following his death, the family moved from Princess Anne County to the City of Norfolk, initially residing at 267 Charlotte Street in a building that also served as the office of physician Judd J. Miller.[18] By 1910, John Jr. was a street car conductor, Annie and Rosa were dry goods store bookkeepers, Bernard was a railroad work foreman, Frank was a sheet metal worker, and William was a sign painting apprentice. They owned a home at 381 Chapel Street.[19] Rosanna Ahman passed away on 23 August 1938 and was buried with her husband, and eventually most of her surviving children, in the cemetery of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception.[20]

The Ahman family demonstrates how difficult it can be to piece together a life. Many gaps remain, including the names of all of the children of John and Roseanna Ahman, as well as where they entered the United States and when they arrived in Tidewater Virginia. Fortunately, government records combined with church records and city directories can reveal something of the successful lives that they built for themselves in a new country.

-Cara Griggs, Reference Archivist

Footnotes

[1] Princess Anne County, Apprenticeship Indentures, 1806-1868, Barcode 7748854, Apprenticeship Indenture between Overseer of the Poor William N. Laird and John T. Johnson concerning Avoo, Kying, Ahman, and Lunas, 16 August 1860; Norfolk City, Marriage Licenses, 1871-1880, Microfilm Reel 74, John Arman and Rose Ann McCourt, 18 February 1871; Norfolk City, Marriage Register No. 1, 1853-1879, Microfilm Reel 51, John Arman and Rose Ann McCourt, February 1871; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Marriage Register, Norfolk City, 1853-1935, Microfilm Reel 62, p. 18, John Aman and Rose Ann McCourt, February 1871; Ancestry.com, 1870 United States Federal Census [database on-line] (Provo, UT: Ancestry.om Operations, Inc., 2009), Entry for John Armann, Kempsville Township, Princess Anne County, VA; Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1880 United States Federal Census [database on-line] (Lehi, UT: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2010), Entry for John Ah. Man, Kempsville, Princess Anne County, VA.

[2] Ancestry.com, 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line] (Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2004), Entry for John Ahman, Kempsville, Princess Anne County, VA.

[3] Campbell Gibson and Kay Jung, “Population Division: Historical Census Statistics on Population Totals by Race, 1790 to 1990, and by Hispanic Origin, 1970 to 1990, for the United States, Regions, Divisions, and States,” Population Division Working Paper No. 56, (Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau, September 2002), Table 5.

[4] Campbell Gibson and Kay Jung, “Population Division: Historical Census Statistics on Population Totals by Race, 1790 to 1990, and by Hispanic Origin, 1970 to 1990, for the United States, Regions, Divisions, and States,” Population Division Working Paper No. 56, (Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau, September 2002), Table 61.

[5] Auditor of Pubic Accounts, Overseer of the Poor Annual Reports and Checklists, 1800-1909, APA 739, Box 11, Folder 6: Princess Anne County, 1850-1860 and Box 24, Folder 10: 1859-1860, 1877, 1879.

[6] Princess Anne County, Minute [Order] Book No. 38, 1857-1861, Microfilm Reel 49, pp. 288-289, Entry for the apprenticeship indenture of Avoo, Kyhing, Ahman, and Lunas to John T. Johnson by the Overseers of the Poor, recorded 4 June 1860.

[7] 35 Va. Code 35 ch. 126 §§1-8 (1849)

[8] Princess Anne County, Minute [Order] Book No. 38, 1857-1861, Microfilm Reel 49, pp. 288-289, Entry for the apprenticeship indenture of Avoo, Kyhing, Ahman, and Lunas to John T. Johnson by the Overseers of the Poor, recorded 4 June 1860; Princess Anne County, Apprenticeship Indentures, 1806-1868, Barcode 7748854, Apprenticeship Indenture between Overseer of the Poor William N. Laird and John T. Johnson concerning Avoo, Kying, Ahman, and Lunas, 16 August 1860.

[9] Auditor of Public Accounts, Personal Property Tax Records, Microfilm Reel 77, Princess Anne County, District of J. M. Malbone, 1867, Entry for Jno. Ahman.

[10] Ancestry.com, 1870 United States Federal Census [database on-line] (Provo, UT: Ancestry.om Operations, Inc., 2009), Entry for John Armann, Kempsville Township, Princess Anne County, VA.

[11] Norfolk City, Marriage Licenses, 1871-1880, Microfilm Reel 74, John Arman and Rose Ann McCourt, 18 February 1871; Norfolk City, Marriage Register No. 1, 1853-1879, Microfilm Reel 51, John Arman and Rose Ann McCourt, February 1871; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Marriage Register, Norfolk City, 1853-1935, Microfilm Reel 62, p. 18, John Aman and Rose Ann McCourt, February 1871; Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1880 United States Federal Census [database on-line] (Lehi, UT: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2010), Entry for John Ah. Man, Kempsville, Princess Anne County, VA; Ancestry.com, 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line] (Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2004), Entry for John Ahman, Kempsville, Princess Anne County, VA.

[12] Auditor of Public Accounts, Personal Property Tax Records, Microfilm Reel 1942, Princess Anne County, Kempsville, 1894, Entry for John Aman; Auditor of Public Accounts, Personal Property Tax Records, Microfilm Reel 2419, Princess Anne County, Kempsville, 1899, Entry for John Ahman; Auditor of Public Accounts, Personal Property Tax Records, Microfilm Reel 2519, Princess Anne County, Kempsville, 1900, Entry for John J. Ahman, Sr.; Auditor of Public Accounts, Personal Property Tax Records, Microfilm Reel 2725, Princess Anne County, Kempsville, 1902, Entry for Jno. J. Ahman, Sr.; Auditor of Public Accounts, Personal Property Tax Records, Microfilm Reel 2813, Princess Anne County, Kempsville, 1903, Entry for John Ahman.

[13] Ancestry.com, 1870 United States Federal Census [database on-line] (Provo, UT: Ancestry.om Operations, Inc., 2009), Entry for John Armann, Kempsville Township, Princess Anne County, VA; Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1880 United States Federal Census [database on-line] (Lehi, UT: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2010), Entry for John Ah. Man, Kempsville, Princess Anne County, VA; Ancestry.com, 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line] (Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2004), Entry for John Ahman, Kempsville, Princess Anne County, VA; Princess Anne County, Apprenticeship Indentures, 1806-1868, Barcode 7748854, Apprenticeship Indenture between Overseer of the Poor William N. Laird and John T. Johnson concerning Avoo, Kying, Ahman, and Lunas, dated 16 August 1860.

[14] Norfolk City, Marriage Licenses, 1871-1880, Microfilm Reel 74, John Arman and Rose Ann McCourt, 18 February 1871; Norfolk City, Marriage Register No. 1, 1853-1879, Microfilm Reel 51, John Arman and Rose Ann McCourt, February 1871; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Marriage Register, Norfolk City, 1853-1935, Microfilm Reel 62, p. 18, John Aman and Rose Ann McCourt, February 1871; “Our History,” Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, accessed 14 May 2020, https://www.basilicaofsaintmary.org/our-history.

[15] Ancestry.com, 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line] (Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2004), Entry for John Ahman, Kempsville, Princess Anne County, VA; Find a Grave Memorial for John J. Ahman Jr., accessed 19 May 2020, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/67717592/john-j-ahman; Find a Grave Memorial for Annie A. Ahman, accessed 19 May 2020, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/67717338/annie-a-ahman; Find a Grave Memorial for Bernard Luke Ahman, Sr., accessed 19 May 2020,

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/67717429/bernard-luke-ahman; Find A Grave Memorial for Frank Paul Ahman, accessed 19 May 2020, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/67717494/frank-paul-ahman; Find a Grave Memorial for Rosa M. Kuhn, accessed 18 May 2020, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/66692310/rosa-m-kuhn.

[16] Gary Y. Okihiro, American History Unbound: Asians and Pacific Islanders (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2015), 84-85; Gregory B. Lee, “Dirty, Diseased and Demented: The Irish, the Chinese, and Racist Representation,” Journal of Global Cultural Studies 12 (2017), accessed 18 May 2020, https://journals.openedition.org/transtexts/1011.

[17] Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception (Norfolk, VA), Miscellaneous Microfilm Reel 4649, Baptisms, Burials, and Marriages, 1888-1971, p. 41, Entry for John Ahman.

[18] Norfolk, Portsmouth and Berkley, Va. 1906 Directory, Vol. 39 (Norfolk, Richmond, and Newport News, VA: Hill Directory Co., Publishers, 1906), 34, 375, 700; Norfolk and Portsmouth Virginia 1907 Directory, Vol. 40 (Norfolk, Richmond, and Newport News: Hill Directory Co., Publishers, 1907), 37, 431, 823.

[19] Ancestry.com, 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line] (Lehi, UT: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2006), Entry for Rosana Ahman, Ward 1, Norfolk City, VA.

[20] Find A Grave Memorial for Rosanna McCourt Ahman, accessed 19 May 2020, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/67717636/rosanna-ahman.

Image Citations

Header Image
St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Virginia Historical Inventory Photographs, Works Progress Administration Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA, Lab #VHI/P/19/0015.jpg.

Featured Image
Princess Anne County, Apprenticeship Indentures, 1806-1868, Barcode 7748854, Apprenticeship Indenture between Overseer of the Poor William N. Laird and John T. Johnson concerning Avoo, Kying, Ahman, and Lunas, 16 August 1860, Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA; Lab #20_0809_001.

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