America Enters the Oriental Trade

Tea box

The first American ship to reach Canton in 1784 was the Empress of China, a refitted privateerPrivateer

A privately-owned vessel armed with guns which operated in time of war against the enemy's merchant ships. Privateers were commissioned by letters of marque, which licensed them to take prizes. Privateering was abolished by the Declaration of Paris in 1856.
launched from New York harbor. The main sponsor of the voyage was Robert Morris of Philadelphia, who had been one of the major financial backers of the American Revolution. The voyage took six months, and covered 13,000 miles. The Empress of China was loaded with money, or specieSpecie

Coined money.
, and with 30 tons of ginsengGinseng

Ginseng is a plant with an aromatic root, one species growing wild in China and another found in the woodlands of the American Atlantic Seaboard. Ginseng root had been used for centuries in China as a medicine and tonic. It was believed to be a cure-all, with many healing powers for disease, as well as a tonic to restore youth and vigor and defer old age.
from the forests of New England, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

The first three millionaires in America made their fortunes in the China Trade: T.H. Perkins of Boston, Stephen Girard of Philadelphia, and John Jacob AstorAstor, John Jacob John Jacob Astor

1763-1848. Richest American of his time. He made money first in the fur trade, and he established the town of Astoria, Oregon. He engaged in import and export trade and owned his own shipping lines.
of New York. By 1841 the American China Trade was predominantly trade in teaTea

Tea comes from a shrub, Camellia sinensos, whose leaves, buds, and internodes are made into a beverage by infusion with boiling water.
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.

In the early part of the nineteenth century only a few Mainers owned ships in the China Trade: Portland shipbuilders and owners Preble and JewettPreble and Jewett

Preble and Jewett, of Portland, Maine, partnered with a Salem, Massachusetts shipbuilder to build the Portland, which cost $60,000 to build and was launched in the spring of 1796.
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, and Theodore LymanLyman, Theodore Theodore Lyman

Theodore Lyman was born in York and worked in the Kennebunk store belonging to Waldo Emerson, father of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
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of York.

 

View of Old China Street, Canton Port of Canton