Guiding Question:

How did the importation of Chinese workers affect the shoemakers' union the Knights of St. Crispin's ideals of worker solidarity, economic justice and civic equality?


The Knights of St. Crispin faded from the scene not long after the failed action at the Sampson shoe factory. Sampson had demonstrated a successful, if controversial, means of breaking the strike.

Despite the fact that Sampson had shown the method to beshoe ad effective, and although the Chinese were making more and better shoes for less money than the union, hiring Chinese workers to break strikes did not become widely used. That may in part be true because the mere threat to do so by a factory owner was sufficient to bring a strike to an end, but also was due to the fact that very few citizens were comfortable with the idea.

Sampson was vilified by both unions and factory owners for his efforts. Prejudice against the Asian immigrants was stronger than the economic need to break strikes. The French-Canadian and Irish immigrants did not hesitate to claim alignment with "Americans" bent on nativist exclusion of the Chinese laborers. They felt no kinship with the Chinese as the new immigrant group, rather the other workers and nativists unequivocally denounced the Chinese workers as bad for America.

The combination of fledgling government policies supporting labor and regulating industry safety and the lack of immigration laws assuring immigrants the benefits of what laws there were in place led to an intolerable solution.

Image Credits:

Top: Courtesy of Boston Public Library, Rare Books Department

Bottom: Thomas Nast, "Blaine Language," Harper's Weekly, March 15, 1879, p. 219