A collecting strength for Baker Library is the extensive records of American firms engaged in trade with and in nineteenth-century China. Encompassing some of the most influential American trading houses and leading individual traders of that era, these collections offer rich professional and personal perspectives into early Sino-American relations, as well as insight into the complexities of the business lives of American traders in the treaty ports. The ongoing, close business associations between American firms in China during this period are evident through a survey of Baker’s China trade records, which illustrate that many traders worked for more established operations and then struck out on their own as entrepreneurs in a country full of opportunity.
Heard Family Collections The business records and personal papers of several generations of the Heard Family of Ipswich, Massachusetts, constitute the most comprehensive and detailed collection held by Baker Library on the China trade. Engaged in the China trade principally from 1840 to 1877, Heard & Co. records include business correspondence, financial records, shipping papers, and invoices, as well as personal letters, diaries, and journals that cast light on the world of doing business in nineteenth-century China.
Heard Family business papers
800 volumes, 272 boxes, 103 cartons
Full texts of selected Heard Family business papers available as networked resources:
Elizabeth Heard papers
Mss:766 1832-1864 H435
Records of Leading American Trading Firms in China
Russell & Company records
25 volumes, 1 box, 1 carton
Russell & Co., founded in 1824, was one of the most prominent commission merchant firms operating in Canton, China. Merging with Perkins & Co. in 1831, Russell & Co. rose to become the largest American commission house in China until the firm’s demise in 1891. The collection includes order books, invoices, freight books, insurance documents, and letter books. The earlier material consists of Perkins & Co. letter books from Canton prior to the merger. Many prominent American China traders worked for and made fortunes at Russell & Co. throughout the nineteenth century.
Forbes Family business records
107 volumes, 44 boxes
The Forbes Family was one of the most influential Boston merchant families engaged in the China trade during the nineteenth century. This collection consists of account books, letter books, and correspondence documenting the trade activities of Forbes family members. The papers relating to the creation of the Shanghai Navigation Company, a steamboat company operating on the Yangtze River, are noteworthy not only for documenting a significant technological innovation, but also for illustrating successful American entrepreneurship in seeking innovative ways to acquire the necessary capital.
John Perkins Cushing business records
16 volumes, 1 box
John Perkins Cushing was a Boston merchant engaged in the China Trade for nearly thirty years. He first sailed to China at the age of sixteen, and later became the sole agent in Canton for Perkins & Co. He became the wealthiest foreign agent in China and for a time served as the American consul there. The collection contains material relating to his extensive investments and correspondence with Russell & Sturgis, another prominent China trading firm. Cushing, eager to return to Massachusetts, made arrangements to dissolve Perkins & Company by merging with Russell & Co in 1831.
William Shepard Wetmore papers
Mss:766 1821-1846 W541
William Shepard Wetmore established the merchant firm Wetmore & Co., one of the leading American firms in China doing a brisk business in Chinese tea, silk, opium, and other goods throughout the 1830s. The collection consists primarily of correspondence he received while living and working in Canton, China, between 1834 and 1839. The correspondence details the trade of silk, tea, and spices; business conditions including market fluctuations and business climate; financial affairs and the marketing of goods; and the shipment of goods to and from ports.
Records of Merchant Firms Engaged in Trade with China
Bryant & Sturgis (Boston, Mass.) records
Bryant & Sturgis was a Boston-based merchant shipping firm engaged in China, trading mostly in lumber, tea, and opium. The records of Bryant & Sturgis include waste books, journals, ledgers, letter books, and correspondence, including dealings with many of the prominent American firms located in China. The collection also contains one letter book of China trader John Perkins Cushing.
Comstock Family business records
119 volumes, 116 boxes
Samuel W. Comstock started working for the New York trading firm G. G. & S. Howland (later Howland and Aspinwall) at a young age and eventually rose to become partner in the firm. Comstock’s younger brother, William, also became associated with the company and served as US Consul in Hong Kong. Much of the material in this collection relates to Howland and Aspinwall’s global merchant shipping business. The Comstocks spent much of their time in China. The correspondence in the collection illustrates the complexities of international trade and association with American firms in China such as Russell & Co.
Dane, Dana & Co. records
15 boxes, 2 cartons
Dane, Dana & Co. was a Boston-based commission merchant and trading firm engaged in exporting cotton goods, lead, boards, spars, and coal to and importing tea, silks, matting, and chinaware from Canton, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Dane, Dana & Co. records contain letters, accounts of ships expenses, and accounts of cargoes bought and sold from 1852 to 1855. Included are letters from partner Samuel T. Dana's brother Richard while he was in Canton as an agent for Russell & Co. The material highlights the costs of importing and exporting goods, business decisions, and transactions.
William Appleton & Co. records
143 volumes, 101 boxes
William Appleton & Co. was a Boston-based shipping merchant firm organized in 1841. The company exported textiles, raw cotton, grains, and lumber to China and imported tea, silk, matting, and rice to the United States. The records contain journals, ledgers, invoice books, letter books, check books, correspondence, and accounts current pertaining to the company’s business in China. William Appleton & Co. was associated with the Canton trading firms Augustine Heard & Co. and Russell & Co. and Shanghai-based Wolcott, Bates & Co.
Personal Papers of American Traders in China
William Judson Blydenburgh papers
Mss:766 1864-1876 B661
William Judson Blydenburgh was a Shanghai-based agent for American trading firms during the mid-nineteenth century. Blydenburgh chiefly worked for New York merchant firm A. A. Low & Brother, but also was an agent for the smaller Smith, Archer & Co. His papers include letter books containing correspondence to his employers and business partners in China regarding business dealings and goods and supplies. Also included are letters from Blydenburgh to his brother commenting on his work, life in China, and news from home.
R. S. Dana letter book
Mss:766 1867-1869 D171
Richard Starr Dana entered as a clerk in Russell & Co., an American commission house in the China trade. He eventually rose to the position of general manager of the concern in Hong Kong and retired from the company in 1869. His letter book contains a wealth of correspondence on business matters in China regarding tea, cotton, silk, shipping, and other concerns, but also covers domestic matters in the United States. Correspondents include various members of the Forbes family and other business associates at Russell & Co.
Thomas Hunt & Co. records
Mss:761 1863-1869 H943
26 volumes, 1 carton
Thomas Hunt & Co. was a Canton-based commission merchant with business connections to many of the large American firms trading in China, including Augustine Heard & Co. Thomas Hunt & Co. papers include accounts current, bills, account stock and deliveries, invoice books, day books, sales, and letters sent, illustrating the brisk level of business conducted by even the smaller merchants.
Benjamin Newton papers
Mss:766 1843-1864 N561
This collection contains the business dealings of Captain Benjamin Newton, an American engaged in trade with China in the mid-nineteenth century. Captain Newton acted as supercargo and merchant for the cargoes of many vessels rather than as master of a single ship. In 1844, he sailed to Canton. He worked closely with Augustine Heard & Co., Olyphant & Sons, and other merchant companies. The collection includes business and personal letters, charters, agreements, account sales, accounts current, invoices, and bills of lading.
J. Howard Nichols papers
J. Howard Nichols was sent to China in 1857 and remained in China until 1873, working for John L. Gardner & Co., Augustine Heard & Co., Olyphant & Co., and Russell & Co. He served as an agent, predominantly in Hong Kong, buying tea, cloth, hemp, opium, and other dry goods, and shipping them back to the United States. The collection contains a large amount of correspondence detailing competition for trade, price of goods, the general business atmosphere, and his views on social affairs in China, 1857-1873.
Gideon Nye, Jr. papers
Mss:766 1858-1898 N994
Gideon Nye sailed to China in 1831 to serve as agent for the New Bedford whaling firm Messrs. Hathaway, and was Vice-Consul at Canton for much of the time he lived there. He later formed the house of Nye, Parkin & Co. and prospered until the firm dissolved in 1856. This collection includes day books, correspondence, and statistics on goods exported from China to the United States. Two day books kept from Macao and Canton detail expenses and credits and dealings with American China trading firms Olyphant & Co. and Russell & Co.
George U. Sands business records
16 volumes, 2 boxes
The George U. Sands business records contain account books, letter books, and unbound papers reflecting Sands’ activity in the management of the Patent Slip and Dock Company, the Novelty Iron Works, and the Hong Kong, Canton and Macao Steamboat Company. He was very familiar with the river trade and steamboat navigation, having been a captain himself. The collection highlights the transportation industry and the introduction of steamboats to China. The collection includes correspondence relating to shipment of iron, instructions to steamboat captains, and business transactions, including meetings with American merchant agents.
Gustavus Tuckerman, Jr. papers
Mss:766 1847-1898 T896
13 boxes, 2 volumes
The Gustavus Tuckerman, Jr. papers consist of correspondence related to his work for the Boston merchant houses Curtis & Greenough and Tuckerman, Townsend & Co., where he was a partner doing business in Hong Kong. The collection includes letters written to merchant houses, forwarding agents, and his business partners about the current economic climate of the regions where he was operating, purchasing goods and securing ships for transport, currency and exchange markets, potential trade avenues, observations on Asian culture, statistical information on goods, and the variety of goods available for purchase.