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Chinese Presbyterian Church (New Orleans, La.) records

 Collection — Container: 4 tapes
Identifier: 087

Scope and Contents

The records of the Chinese Presbyterian Church in New Orleans, Louisiana, consist largely of photocopied correspondence, monthly and annual reports, church bulletins, financial reports, attendance records, news clippings, and other church records, as well as photographic negatives and oral histories with members of the church.

The materials comprising the collection date from 1882 to 1984. The majority of the materials consist of photocopies of documents with some original materials present. The correspondence, dating from 1893 to 1982, consists mainly of letters addressed to or written by Lois Garrison and Rev. Dayton Castleman. Church documents include attendance records, possibly from the Chinese Mission and Church, and documents related to the construction of the Bienville Street Church. Committee and financial reports include those spanning the entire tenure of Lois Garrison during the 1930s and 1940s and annual reports from Rev. Castleman from the 1950s and 1960s. Church bulletins and flyers for events, including church anniversaries, date from the 1930s up through the 1970s. Newspaper clippings regarding the church and New Orleans' Chinese population date from the 1890s to 1984.

Also present are research materials for and typescripts of Walter Dale Langtry's 1982 book, History of the Chinese Presbyterian Church. Photographic negatives and contact sheets are also included, as are oral histories. The latter include interviews recorded by Rev. Dayton Castleman in the late 1970s of Grace Yao, Lin Oye Gee, Sylvia Ching-Bing, Mrs. Chin [De Hoy Sr.?] , and Mrs. Lung [Mary James] Chin Bing.


  • Created: 1882-1984
  • Other: Date acquired: 01/01/1986


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright to these papers has not been assigned to the Amistad Research Center. It is the responsibility of an author to secure permission for publication from the holder of the copyright to any material contained in this collection.

Historical Note

On July 4, 1870, one hundred and forty one Cantonese laborers arrived in New Orleans by steamship to work as contract laborers at the Millaudon Sugar Plantation, on the West bank of the Mississippi River in what is now Gretna, Louisiana. They were among the first of thousands of "sojourners," men who migrated to New Orleans and the American South in search of work while sending most of their income back to their families in China. A decade later, on February 12, 1882, a Congregationalist missionary named Lena Saunders began teaching English and scripture at her home on South Liberty Street to five Chinese laborers who had traveled from San Francisco to work in New Orleans.

The Chinese Mission quickly attracted other Chinese and grew far beyond what Ms. Saunders could manage alone. In 1884, the Chinese were adopted by the Canal Street Presbyterian Church and the New Orleans Presbytery as one of their home missions. Saunders' Mission also attracted local New Orleanians from other churches as teachers--not only Presbyterians and Congregationalists, but also Methodists, Baptists, and other Protestants. By the 1890s, as many as one hundred Chinese and nearly as many English teachers could be found at South Liberty Street on any given Sunday.

The Chinese Presbyterian Mission was founded at the height of the Christian missionary movement to China. The original objective of Lena Saunders' Mission was to evangelize the Chinese in New Orleans, in the hope that a few would convert to Christianity and transmit their faith back to China. The Mission was founded at a time when the Chinese population in the South was rapidly expanding. As many as two thousand Chinese lived in New Orleans alone by the end of the 19th century, but it was an often shifting population. They often traveled to other states, back to China, or even other countries in search of work.

Chinese laborers, often uneducated peasants from the Guangdong province, were attracted by low-skilled jobs, including the dried shrimp industry in Southeast Louisiana and the hand-wash laundry industry, an industry that the Chinese dominated in New Orleans for many decades. The laborers were quickly followed by merchants, from San Francisco and other American cities, who provided goods and services to the growing Chinese population, and also profited from trade at the Port of Orleans. They imported tea and luxury goods to Louisiana, and exported cotton and dried shrimp to Asia. Merchants and laborers alike hoped to improve their English, and in its first three decades, the Presbyterian Mission was primarily an English school for Chinese men.

However, the Chinese Presbyterian Mission was also founded in the same year that the U.S. Congress passed the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. As the Federal Government began restricting immigration from China, the Chinese population in New Orleans collapsed, but the Chinese community survived. The remaining Chinese chose to live in the United States permanently and sent for their wives and children to join them in New Orleans. By the 1920s, the Chinese Mission had moved from South Liberty Street to a new building on South Roman Street. It had transformed from a "bachelor" club for sojourners to a community of young families. Although the number of Chinese families was small, the number of children for each family, especially American-born children, was quite large.

The Sunday school evolved into a scripture school for English-speaking Chinese children, while smaller groups of Cantonese-speaking adults held bible studies and social events. This Chinese American community endured the Great Depression; sent their children to "White" segregated public schools and universities, such as Tulane University and H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College; served in the military; and worked in the factories of the Second World War. They migrated to the suburbs as the city grew beyond the boundaries of Orleans Parish, and became entrepreneurs, teachers, physicians, and engineers.

In 1952, the Chinese Mission moved to a new campus on Bienville Street, and in 1957, the Chinese Mission was turned into an independent church. The Chinese Presbyterian Church of New Orleans not only became a spiritual home for the city's Chinese Christians, but a community center for all Chinese in the Gulf South region. The Chinese Presbyterians evangelized to all Chinese visitors in the city, including Chinese sailors at the Port of Orleans, Chinese soldiers at nearby military bases, and Chinese students at universities throughout the American South. They sponsored cultural events, such as the annual Chinese New Year celebration, and they supported charitable missions, like the annual Christmas visit to Chinese patients at the Leprosarium in Carville, Louisiana.

When the Immigration Reform Act of 1965 was passed, it removed all earlier restrictions on immigration from Asia, and allowed new waves of immigration from the Chinese-speaking world. These new immigrants included Chinese who had been Christians in their home countries, and carried with them the regional languages, customs, and religious practices from their native country. In 1982, Mandarin-speaking immigrants formed the New Orleans Chinese Baptist Church. They purchased their own building on Continental Drive in Kenner, Louisiana in 1997, and have surpassed the Presbyterians as the largest Chinese Christian church in Louisiana. The Chinese Baptists sponsor their own bible studies on Fridays, including a bible study at Tulane University, and another bible study at the University of New Orleans. In 1987, the Taiwanese-speaking immigrants also formed their own church, the Evangelical Formosan Church of New Orleans on Georgia Avenue in Kenner.

In 1997, the Presbyterians moved to their current campus near the corner of West Esplanade and Power Boulevard in Kenner. The elderly generation of Cantonese-speaking immigrants from China is dying out and the Church today consists mostly of their American-born descendants, converts from among the recent immigrants from Mainland China, and non-Chinese New Orleanians who have married into the church. With over 130 years of history, the Chinese Presbyterian Church of New Orleans is one of the oldest continuously existing Chinese churches in North America.


1.60 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Technical Access Requirements

Audiovisual materials stored offsite. Digital copies available. Please contact Reference Desk of the Amistad Research Center for inquiries.

Source of Acquisition

Dayton Castleman

Method of Acquisition


Related Materials

The records of the American Missionary Association, particularly annual reports and issues of American Missionary, contain some additional information on the Chinese Mission in New Orleans. The Amistad Research Center also holds copies of the Chinese Presbyterian Church Newsletter and a vertical file on the Chinese Community in New Orleans.

Related Publications

Langtry, Walter Dale. History, Chinese Presbyterian Church of New Orleans, 1882-1982. [New Orleans, La. : The Church, 1982].

Processing Information

Processing January-June 2017.

Chinese Presbyterian Church (New Orleans, La.) records
Christopher Harter and Winston Ho
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Amistad Research Center Repository

6823 Saint Charles Avenue
Tilton Hall, Tulane University
New Orleans LA 70118 US
(504) 862-3222