Terry Douglas Goldsworthy <terrygoldswo@sbcglobal.net>



“Our Progressive Spirit Has Been Glad to Convene:

The Presence, Residence and Jurisprudence of Chinese Americans

in Antebellum Chicago”




            As early as 1853, persons of Chinese descent were present in the life and economy of the burgeoning city of Chicago.  All of the known persons of Chinese descent that were present in Chicago before the Civil War were involved in the theater: as jugglers, magicians, or knife throwers.  The earliest known Chinese theatrical troupe to perform in Chicago arrived in July of 1853.  The “China Troupe” was quite celebrated in China having performed over one hundred consecutive nights in Hong Kong before going abroad.  Prior to their performance in Chicago, they were quite well received in cities throughout the United States.  Cities included in their tour were:  San Francisco, Sacramento, New Orleans, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington.



THE CHINESE COMPANY.---It was announced that these celestial Jugglers would perform here on the 4th inst., but owing to some difficulties with their agent, they were prevented from fulfilling the engagement he made.  We are now assured by their new agent, that they will perform here on Friday as advertised.  The company has now been in the country nearly a year, and their astonishing feats have drawn crowded houses wherever they have been.  The fame of the Chinese in the various departments of legerdemain and magic arts is as familiar as China Ware and Old Hyson.  A Chinese Juggler used to be in the picture book, right opposite to the Chinese huckster of edibles in the shape of strung up rats and mice.  We expect much from our thirteen celestial brethren, and from the accounts given in the New York and other eastern papers, together with some private statements which we have heard, we have no fear of being disappointed.

Chicago Daily Tribune, July 13th, 1853.





Commencing on



Troupe of Chinese Artists

Whose performances have created the liveliest sensation in all the principal cities of the United States will give one of their National Entertainments

Consisting of Tricks of Magic, Legerdemain, Jugglery, and Dexterity, &c,

never before performed but in the Celestial Empire.

In addition to the great variety of Tricks of Magic, Legerdemain, Jugglery, &c, will be given the wonderful and startling


which for daring, dexterity and skill, exceeds any thing every attempted before a public audience.


This Company has acquired considerable celebrity previous to their departure from the Celestial Empire, having performed over 100 consecutive nights in the city of Hong Kong alone.  They have subsequently exhibited in the cities of San Francisco, Sacramento, New Orleans, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington , composed of the most ___________ and intelligent citizens, eliciting unqualified ___________ and almost unbounded applause.  Their _____   _____ have been witnessed by at least ________________.

________________________________ of the incredibly dexterous ______________, their exhibition will be found  __________________ from the opportunities they will ___________________ impressions concerning the peculiar character, __________ and customs of a nation whose history is more remarkable and worthy of investigation, than that of any other people in the world.


For full part ______ see small bills.


Admission 50 cents.  Children under 12 years of age half price.  Doors open at 7 ½.  Performance to commence at 8 o’clock.


E. T. Sherlock.

Manager China Troupe.

Chicago Daily Tribune, July 13th, 1853.


It is unclear from neither the “The Chinese Company” or the Tremont Hall advertisement in the July 13th, 1853 edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune who is the “new agent” or the former agent. The Tremont Hall advertisement of Wednesday, July 13th, 1853 lists E. T. Sherlock as the manager of the “China Troupe”.  According to the Johnston's Detroit city directory and advertising gazetteer of Michigan of 1857, E. T. Sherlock resided in Detroit where he was the proprietor of the “Milwaukee Exchange”, a hotel.  The 1860 census lists E. T. Sherlock as the manager of a theater in Detroit. A “James Sherlock” ran a theatre saloon in Detroit according to the Johnston's Detroit city directory and advertising gazetteer of Michigan of 1857; the relationship between James & E. T. Sherlock has not been established.


The troupe that performed in Chicago in July of 1853, having “been in the country nearly a year”, may be the “troupe of Chinese Jugglers” that the December 14th, 1852 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune states was “lately brought to New Orleans” via the steamship Falcon. The “company” was comprised “of twenty persons, male and female” in New Orleans whereas, the “China Troupe” that performed in Chicago in 1853 was comprised of thirteen “brethren”.



Evidence of Chinese jugglers performing in Chicago also exists for the year 1857.  Although the July 1853 Tremont Hall performance appears to be a one-day performance, a performance accident at North’s Amphitheatre in November of 1857 with “Chinese jugglers” does not list a performance date or dates and may or may not have been an extended stay performance.


ACCIDENT. -An accident occurred on Wednesday evening at North’s Amphitheatre.  One of the Chinese jugglers, in his feats, stuck a knife into the calf of the other’s leg.

Chicago Daily Tribune, November 28, 1857.


In July of 1857, the Chicago Daily Tribune published an article entitled “What May Be Seen in Lake Street”.  The unknown author of this article describes Lake Street as an “Exposition of the Industry of all Nations” and a “World’s Fair” where “The labor of the artisans and artists of all the nations are represented”.  In addition to Native American women, a German man, a French man, a Ohioan, a New Englander, “a western man”, and Southerners, the author describes the presence of two persons of Chinese descent on Lake Street in what is presumed to be mid-1857.  The author uses the terms “Celestials” and “Chinamen” in reference to these two men.  The author does not describe the diversity of persons traversing and working on Lake Street in 1857 with reference to interracial, ethnic or regional tensions.  The author, in fact, equates Lake Street to a “World’s Fair” in “which nations, like so many workshops, have felt it of vital importance to contribute to, and which our commercial and progressive spirit has been glad to convene.”


“Passing before us are people from every corner of the world, different in feature, color and costume.  Here comes a pair of Celestials, in queerly shaped blues dresses, with toes turned up as if in wonderment at the ever changing scene before them, and with complexions very like the color of boarding house tea; there they go, stalking along with a wondering chain of boys at their heels quite as long as the tails which form the object of their juvenile amazement and fun.  The coming of the Chinamen has broken up the knot of idlers congregated around those Indian women….”

Chicago Daily Tribune, July 11, 1857.


This multicultural view of antebellum Chicago leaves many unanswered questions:  Were these two men of Chinese descent residents of Chicago or itinerant theatrical performers?  What were the occupations of these two unnamed men?  The author states: “The labor of the artisans and artists of all the nations are represented here” which leaves the occupational arena of these two men open to possibly either an artisan or an artist (i.e. juggler or other theatrical performer).





The latest known antebellum itinerant performance of Chinese jugglers was advertised in several early June, 1859 editions of Chicago Press and Tribune.


CHINESE JUGGLERS !---The greatest Wonder of the age! 

The only original Chinese Jugglers will give one of their grand and original Entertainments,

in full and rich Oriental costumes.

In Metropolitan Hall,

On Friday and Saturday Evenings, June 3d and 4th.

Dorming, Proprietor.

Chicago Press and Tribune, June 1, 2, 3, & 4, 1859.


The Chinese Jugglers repeat their wonderful performances at Metropolitan Hall this evening.  They are a great curiosity in their way, and we advise all who are fond of the wonderful or marvelous to go and see them.

Chicago Press and Tribune, June 6, 1859.


ONE NIGHT MORE. --- The famous Chinese Jugglers

---the only real Chinese Jugglers in this country---will repeat their wonderful entertainment at METROPOLITAN HALL,

THIS (MONDAY) EVENING, and for the last time.

DOR-MING, Proprietor

Chicago Press and Tribune, June 6, 1859.


Who indeed were these “original Chinese Jugglers”?  Were these “originals” the same troupe that performed in Chicago in 1853?  Although we have evidence of a Chinese presence in Chicago as early as 1853, the earliest known full name of a person of Chinese descent residing or visiting Chicago is John Dorming in 1860.  The following article that appeared in the February 2nd, 1860 issue of the Chicago Press and Tribune details the full name and occupation of the first known Chinese American resident in Chicago.




JOHN CHINAMAN IN QUEST OF JUSTICE AND DUPLICATES    It is a fixed fact that every male Celestial (we refer, of course, to the mundane species with almond-shape eyes and two braided occipital tails) is to be called John.   In the Police Court yesterday afternoon, Justices Akin and Milliken sitting quietly and running the institution under easy steam, appeared one John Dorming, a Chinaman, of the well known itinerant company of experts in the pleasant little arts of throwing knives, heavy and sharp, within as few hairbreadths as possible of each other’s corporeal systems, and in other ways manifesting rare powers of sleight of hand.

            John and his comrades have been in the country ten years. His troupe was broken up last year, and only three of them are here.  They had, at the solicitation of the proprietor, added the attractions of their performance to the evening programme in a saloon kept by one Michael Gaule, whereby a claim accrued which John urged yesterday morning in earnest tones, calling on Gaule to come down with the dust.  The latter brought his fist so near John’s chin, that he did not miss it, but dealt a solid rap on that part of the Celestial scenery.

            John Chinaman went at once to Justice Diehl and sued out a warrant, had Gaule arrested and fined.  Very good.  John was satisfied but only so far, and deeming that one cannot easily have too much justice, he went at once to Justice Hoisington and had a warrant made out for the arrest of Michael Gaule.  Thence he went to Justice De Wolf and procured a warrant for Michael Gaule, and then he dropped in as stated upon the Police Court and made out a complaint and got out a warrant for Michael Gaule.  The officers all came down upon Michael, who was horrified in the extreme, and looked upon himself as in a bad way.  He rallied enough, however, to introduce in evidence Justice Diehl’s docket into each case, and the whole batch was despatched with a laugh.

            John Dorming waxed a little indignant, but being a quick-witted fellow, and not ill-natured, paid for his warrants and let Michael Gaule go.


The proprietor of the “Chinese Jugglers” in 1859 was a person named “Dorming” and likewise “Dor-Ming”.    Was this “Dorming” or “Dor-Ming” John C. Dorming who sought justice in 1860 or another member of the Dorming family?  Regardless of which Dorming was the proprietor of this troupe in 1859, we can assume that a person of Chinese descent ran this troupe.  It is possible that the June 1859 performance of Dorming’s troupe at Metropolitan Hall in Chicago may have been their last, as this troupe disbanded sometime in 1859.


The 1860 census provides us with some validation of names & places in the “Justice and Duplicates” article; the census of 1860 also provides us with information of the Dorming family’s post-Chicago residence.  The 1860 census of the third ward of Chicago was recorded in early June of 1860. Justices of the Peace Conrad Diehl and C. De Wolf were both residents of the third ward of Chicago in June of 1860.  A saloon owned by Michael Gaule was not located in the 1860 census of Chicago; a saloon by a Henry Gaule was, however, located in the 1860 census in the third ward of Chicago. Did John Dorming, “his comrades” and his family reside in the third ward of Chicago also?






Sometime between the publication of “John Chinaman in Quest of Justice and Duplicates” in February of 1860 and early June of 1860, the Dorming family moved to Rochester, Pennsylvania where they were enumerated by the census in early June of 1860.  It appears that the Dorming family resided in a hotel kept by Adam  Johnson in Rochester, Pennsylvania.  It also appears that John C. Dorming, age 42, was married to a non-Chinese woman (Margaret, age 25), and they were parents to one daughter.  A “Charles Dorming”, age 21,  is also residing in this hotel.  The familial relation between Charles and John C. Dorming is uncertain.  Margaret Dorming was born in Maine. John & Margaret’s daughter (listed as “S. E. F.”) was born in Kentucky and is listed as one year old in  early June of 1860.  S. E. F. Dorming could have been in Kentucky as early as mid-June of 1858.  It can be deduced from S. E. F.’s age and birthplace listed in the 1860 census that John, Margaret and S. E. F. resided in Chicago sometime between mid-June of 1858 and May of 1860.  It is more likely, however, that Margaret, S. E. F., and John C. (and possibly Charles) Dorming resided in Chicago sometime in 1859 after the early June performance at the Metropolitan Hall and May of 1860.


John C. & Charles Dorming both have their occupation listed as “Chinese Juggler” and their birthplace listed as “China” in the 1860 census.  John C. Dorming is the owner in 1860 of real estate valued at $2,000 and personal property (personal estate) valued at $100.  What real estate did the Dorming family own? Adam Johnson, the hotel owner where the Dorming family resided, owned the same dollar amount of real estate as John C. Dorming.


Another Chinese juggler resided in Pennsylvania in 1860, also.  Chip Moon, age 39 and a native of China resided in a tavern in the 5th ward of Philadelphia where his occupation was listed as “Juggler”.  Other natives of China residing in this tavern were Margaret Moon (24 years of age), Charles Tower (age 36), and Sarah Tower (age 28).  Charles Tower’s occupation is listed as “laborer”.  Is it possible that Moons and Towers were members of the “Chinese Jugglers” that disbanded sometime in 1859 after performing in Chicago?


The historical exploration into the life of early Chinese Americans east of the Mississippi is in its infancy.  With the current documentation of persons of Chinese descent in the Midwest & Northeast that has surfaced, we can ask questions never before imagined.  Despite the abundance of questions that exist, we have established documentation in the arenas of antebellum migration, familial relations and interracial marriage, legal justice, economics (occupations and business/real estate ownership), and multicultural coexistence.