In a cemetery in Boston Common, a simple grave marked with the name Chow Manderien is more significant than it might seem. The Central Burying Ground gravestone serves as documentation of the first Chinese person in the United States.
In 1794, a Chinese teenager was brought on board the Union, a ship commanded by John Boit, Jr., a merchant sailor. The then-17-year-old was acting as Boit’s servant. Onomastically, his name should be Zhou Libei, but “Chow Manderien” was a colloquial attempt to spell out his name.
According to the New England Historical Society, Boit’s family helped pioneer trade between the U.S. and China after the end of the American Revolution. In 1794, at the age of 19, Boit Jr., sailed the world in the Union. Chow came on board in December of that year, when the ship arrived in Guangzhou. Not long after they returned to Boston, Chow died after falling from the mast of another vessel.
The headstone is engraved with the name “Chow Manderien” and a dedication that reads: “Here lies interred the body of Chow Manderien, a native of China, aged 19 years, whose death was occasioned on the 11th of Sept 1798 by a fall from the masthead of the ship Mike of Boston. This stone erected to his memory by his affectionate master John Boit Jr.”