With the arrival of February, numerous holidays provide ample opportunities to celebrate, including the Chinese Lunar New Year and St. Valentine’s Day. In honor of these auspicious occasions, historical accounts of the matrimonial sort occurring within the former Napa County Chinese communities are in order.
The first story about the wedding of Sing Ling and Ah Gow reveals how cultural differences resulted in an awkward yet humorous event. According to an 1869 Napa County Reporter article, this ceremony was the first Chinese marriage service for Napa County Judge Crouch who was somewhat naive about the differences between the cultures.
Apparently, following the exchange of vows, Crouch “informed the happy groom that to constitute a genuine, high-toned, moral marriage he (Ah Gow) must kiss his new made spouse,” the article stated.
Wanting a legally binding marriage, Gow attempted to kiss Ling. The Reporter continued, “the coy bride was not ‘willin,’ and here ensued a scene that was interestingly ludicrous. She, conscious that all eyes were upon her, sought to evade the proffered salute, Gow pursued her eagerly, bent upon performing the concluding rite of the ceremony which was to make her his forever.”
He was unsuccessful “until our kind-hearted County Clerk, realizing the situation, caught and held the damsel, fast, while Sheriff Walker seized the groom...” They then positioned the couple face-to-face and in close proximity to guarantee “the kiss was an accomplished fact.” The Reporter continued, “Everything having thus terminated, the couple departed, duly married in point of fact and point of law.”
A kiss during another local Chinese wedding was also an issue but for an entirely different reason. A late-1881 Reporter article began, “The gentle sounds of the marriage bells, or, more correctly, the clamor of the marriage gong, caused a ripple on the placid bosom of Celestial society in...Chinatown, Tuesday, where a marriage in high life took place.”
The groom, Ah Ti, was highly regarded by his fellow Chinese residents of Napa as he was a “boss” at Sawyer Tannery. He was also envied as he wooed and won the heart and hand of the beautiful and charming Moi.
Ti wanted a legally binding marriage. So, they “first secured the necessary license at the County Clerk’s office..On being assured that the only way to make it stick was to have it done by authorized personnel, they repaired to Judge Gridley’s and he tied the knot.”
However, Gridley’s congratulatory expressions nearly ruined the happy occasion. The newspaper continued, “We are informed that the groom seriously objected to the Judge exercising his prerogative of kissing the bride.” Although, Ti quickly calmed down when he was assured the kiss was a customary expression of warm regard and best wishes.
The Reporter added, “The newly made couple then proceeded to their future residence near the tannery, and held a brief reception...”
The final matrimonial story to be told was printed in a late-1890 Napa Register issue. This particular wedding differed from the others as it was a traditional Chinese arranged marriage and ceremony that took place in Rutherford.
The entire Napa County Chinese community was filled with excited anticipation. Some of that excitement was due to the social status of the bridal party. “The bride’s father is the ‘boss’ of the China house in Oakville,” The Register reported. “He escorted his daughter from her home in Oakville to her future home in Rutherford. The conveyance used was a closed carriage brought from Napa for the especial purpose. The bride sat alone in the hack completely covered by a costly garment of red silk.”
As the bridal party approached Rutherford, the San Francisco Chinese band was given the signal to begin playing traditional Chinese wedding tunes. “The calvacade halted” and “the hack was immediately surrounded by an immense crowd of friends of the bride,” said the Register.
Then two Chinese men “appeared with peculiar instruments in their hands and chased one another around the hack pell-mell through the crowd three times,” the article continued, “then the groom appeared dressed in all the customary fantastic colors of the Celestial costume, struck the hack with his forehead, turned to the west and made three elaborate bows, nearly to the ground with his arms spread out, gave a grunt and dashed back to the house.”
At that point the bride exited the carriage “as best she could, blindfolded as she was, being assisted by two Chinese ladies who led her through the throng and into her cottage.” The ceremony concluded with a barrage of firecrackers and the band playing one final number.