The Coolie Trade
In 1861 Cuba was an important trading partner of the United States: third behind only England and France. (ChinaChina
During the period of the China Trade, when Mainers were sailing to ports in China, the Qing (or Ch'ing) Dynasty (1644-1911) was in power. The Qing Dynasty was established by the Manchus in northeastern China, and expanded to surrounding territories of Inner Asia, establishing the Empire of the Great Qing.Read more. was number five.) Cuba is close to the U. S., and it produced highly desirable products: sugar and molassesMolasses
A thick syrup produced during the sugar refining process.. For many years Cuban sugar growers had relied on Black slaves, but with the slave trade cut off, they turned to China for laborers.
By the late 1860s, about 150,000 Chinese cooliesCoolie
An unskilled laborer, working for very poor wages, usually from Asia. had sailed for Cuba. About 15% died en route.
Penobscot Marine Museum has a collection of papers of a Rockland captain, Thomas Pillsbury, who carried a full load of about 500 Chinese workers from Macao to Havana. The log of the coolie master on this voyage may be found on this website under Special Features, and a chapter with more background on the coolie trade is also included on this site.
There is some question about whether these Chinese men were forced or voluntary emigrants. In any case, Abraham Lincoln signed a law in 1862 forbidding American citizens to carry Chinese coolies in American ships.