American Merchants in China 1860s

American Merchants in China, 1860s

The growth and production of the opium crop drew outside investors to the trade of this product, especially with the race of consumption being as it was in China, this product was in high demand. The reason for using opium was American merchants wanted the goods produced in China, such as silk and spices. Unfortunately, the merchants had trouble finding silver, like that used by the Spanish, to pay for the goods. Instead, American merchants would trade the goods for bringing in opium into the country (Downs). In 1800 the Chinese government tried to ban the trade of Opium, since most of the population was severely addicted to it; this did not hinder the products entrance into the country. Opium was smuggled into the port Whampoa (Forbes) until 1812, when local authorities allowed it to be legally imported.

Opium was not the only merchandise traded with the Chinese though, as the first-hand account of Cornelius B. Gold demonstrates: "midnight cargo (coal) shifts to starboard. All hands man the shovels till morning. Barrel of molasses gets sea sick twice during the night" (Gold). This quote describes the main cargo of the ship, Oriental, that Gold sailed on: coal and molasses. These products were valuable resources for people in China; for example coal was needed to power products of industry such as steam ships. Other sources of cargo included sugar and hemp, at one point Gold records that the merchant ship he was on unloaded 700 tons of sugar and 800 tons of hemp (Gold). It is worth noting that trade previously conducted in Canton switched to the port of Hong Kong due to perils merchants faced caused by the Arrow War, also known as the Second Opium War, that would wrack China from 1856-1860 (American Merchants in China). In the account of Cornelius B. Gold the vessel he was aboard made voyage to Hong Kong instead of Canton.

In the United States of America during the early 1860s, the civil war was starting to rage and divide the nation. Many men were trying to enlist in the military and fight for their country, but unfortunately some were not up to proper health standards to fight; Cornelius B. Gold was one of these people. A common way to get into shape was becoming a sailor; therefore Gold was hired as a sailor on the merchant vessel, the Oriental. After careful analysis of Gold's journal, one can understand why becoming a sailor is beneficial to the person's health. Not only did Gold spend about a year and a half abroad, but everyday was filled with rigorous activity, aboard a merchant vessel. This could vary from loading and unloading cargo, work on the ships such as reefing sails, or even working out in the gymnasium of the vessel (Gold). Upon his return home, Gold would have been in the best shape of his life.

- Emily Moran and Corbin Maynard

Works Cited

“American Merchants in China.” THE NATIONAL ERA, June 25, 1857. vol. XI, no. 547. Web. 4/25/15.

Downs, Jacques M. “American Merchants and the China Opium Trade, 1800-1840.” The Business History Review 1968: 418. JSTOR Journals. Web. 4/25/15.

Forbes, R.B. “Merchants of the United States at Canton, China.” Washington DC. 1840. Web. 4/25/15.

Gold, Cornelius B. "Cornelius Gold Journal." Cornelius B. Gold Papers. (1863): 4-57. Print.