Empress of China

The Empress of China

In 1784, the Treaty of Paris freed American trade from British control. Robert Morris hired a ship and through USCA President Thomas Mifflin's Congress, and the efforts of Virginia Delegate and future President James Monroe, the United States in Congress Assembled (USCA) granted the necessary ship’s papers to the Empress of China opening U.S. trade to the Far East on January 30, 1784:
We the United States in Congress assembled, make known, that John Green, captain of the ship called the Empress of China, is a citizen of the United States of America, and that the ship which he commands belongs to citizens of the said United States, and as we wish to see the said John Green prosper in his lawful affairs, our prayer is to all the before mentioned, and to each of them separately, where the said John Green shall arrive with his vessel and cargo, that they may please to receive him with goodness, and treat him in a becoming manner, permitting him upon the usual tolls and expenses in passing and repassing, to pass, navigate and frequent the ports, passes and territories, to the end, to transact his business where and in what manner he shall judge proper, whereof we shall be willingly indebted. 



The Empress of China was actually three-masted, square-rigged 1783 privateer ship that was refitted for commercial purposes due to the cessation of hostilities between Great Britain and the United States. The ship left New York harbor on George Washington's Birthday, February 22, 1784, transporting the first official representative of the American government, Samuel Shaw, to China.  The ship cargo was lead, 30 tons of ginseng, cotton, camel cloth, 2,500 animal skins and several barrels of pepper. The ginseng, which grew wild in North America, was the most profitable cargo as the Chinese valued its healing powers.

 

Professors Yong Yang and Minglu Yu from the Northwestern Polytechinical University, Shaanxi Province, China at the National Collegiate "Just Honors" Conference holding up the 1776 Journals of Congress opened to the July 2nd, 1776 Resolution for Independency with a Richard Henry Lee signed Document and the 1777 Journals of Congress opened to the November 14, 1777, the passage of the Articles of Confederation with a Thomas Mifflin signed document. Below, Northwestern Polytechinical University students are holding up the Journals and a 1776 United States Lottery ticket issued by the Continental Congress to help fund the Revolutionary War at the 2017 National Collegiate "Just Honors" Conference. It was USCA President Mifflin that signed the 1784 US State Ship's Papers for the Empress of China on January 30th, 1784.
 


On August 30, 1784 the Empress of China reached Canton, China. Samuel Shaw, Captain Green and the crew were not free to roam in China.  They were limited to compounds called hongs where the Chinese merchants called to trade. The trade was successful and the ship returned to New York City in May 1785 filled with a cargo of tea, tableware, silks, exotic plants, new metal alloys and nankeen (Chinese cotton) netting Robert Morris over $30,000 inspiring a host of U.S. merchants to enter into the Far East trade. Empress of China Partner and business agent Major Samuel Shaw, who was in charge of 1784 mission, kept a meticulous journal and submitted his report to Foreign Secretary John Jay on May 19, 1785.   Jay summarized the lengthy report to President Hancock as follows:

On reading over the letter of Mr. Shaw, in which he gives an account of his voyage in the ship Empress of China to Canton, I observe some paragraphs which, in my opinion, merit the further attention of Congress. They are the following:"We came to an anchor in the Straits of Sunda on the 18th July. It was no small addition to our happiness on this occasion, to meet there two ships belonging to our good allies the French. The Commodore, Monsieur D'Ordelin, and his officers, welcomed us in the most affectionate manner; and as his own ship was immediately bound to Canton, gave us an invitation to go in company with him. This friendly offer we most cheerfully accepted, and the Commodore furnished us with his signals by day and night, and added such instructions for our passage through the Chinese seas as would have been exceedingly beneficial, had any unfortunate accident occasioned our separation.""On our arrival at the Island of Macao, the French Consul for China, Monsieur Vieillard, with some other gentlemen of his nation, came on board to congratulate and welcome us to that part of the world, and kindly undertook the introduction of the Americans to the Portuguese Governor.""Three days afterwards we finished our outward-bound voyage." "When the French sent their officers to congratulate us, they added to the obligations we were already under to them, by furnishing men, boats, and anchors, to assist us in coming to safe and convenient moorings; nor did their good offices stop here—they furnished us with part of their own bank-sail; and insisted further, that until we were settled, we should take up our quarters with them at Canton." "Notwithstanding the treatment we received from all parties was perfectly civil and respectful, yet, it was with peculiar satisfaction that we experienced, on every occasion, from our good allies, the French, the most flattering and substantial proofs of their friendship. 'If,' said they,' we have in any instance been serviceable to you, we are happy; and we desire nothing more ardently than further opportunities to convince you of our affection.'"As the purpose for which that letter was committed, did not probably extend to these paragraphs, I take the liberty of suggesting whether it would not be proper to send a copy of that letter to Mr. Jefferson, and instruct him to express to the French Minister, the sense which Congress entertain of the friendly offices and civilities shown by the French officers in question to that American ship; to request the favor of him to signify the same to them; and to assure his most Christian Majesty that the people of the United States will, on their part, be happy in opportunities of acknowledging these pleasing acts of kindness, and of cultivating and continuing the same spirit of mutual friendship which has hitherto so happily subsisted between the two nations.

National Collegiate Honors Council President at the "Just Honors" toasts China at the November 7-12, 2017, Conference Exhibit by the primary source case containing the Journals of the United States in Congress Assembled Containing  the Proceedings From the Third Day of November, 1783 to the Third Day of June, 1784 and the American Museum, Or Repository Of Ancient And Modern Fugitive Pieces, Prose And Poetica, Volume I, Number III, first edition, March 1787, which has published in its entirety, on page 194, the Letter from Mr. Shaw to Foreign Secretary John Jay being a report on the Empress of China.
Three months later, on January 20, 1786, Foreign Secretary Jay recommended to the USCA that 


As the attention of American merchants begins to turn to the China and India trade, and several of their vessels will probably be employed in it in the course of this year, 1 take the liberty of submitting to the consideration of Congress, the propriety of appointing a Consul and Vice Consul General for Canton, and other parts in Asia. Such officers would have a degree of weight and respect which private adventurers cannot readily acquire, and which would enable them to render essential services to their countrymen, on various occasions. More credit would be given by strangers to men who bring such evidence of their merit, than to others whose characters cannot be so soon and so certainly known; and their commission would give them more ready access to, and greater influence with, Princes, Governors, and Magistrates, than private merchants can in general expect. 

On January 30, 1786, with the USCA approval, Foreign Secretary John Jay sent Samuel Shaw his commission as first U.S. Counsel to China.

I have the honor of transmitting to you herewith enclosed, a commission constituting you Consul of the United States at Canton, in China. You have my best wishes, that you may derive advantages from this office equal to the honor and propriety with which I am persuaded it will be exercised. Although neither salary nor perquisites are annexed to it, yet so distinguished a mark of the confidence and esteem of the United States, will naturally give you a degree of weight and respectability which the highest personal merit cannot very soon obtain for a stranger in a foreign country. It will not be necessary for me to dwell on the advantages your country may derive from the information you may acquire. Permit me, however, to request the favor of your correspondence, and that you will transmit to me, by proper conveyances, whatever intelligence and observations you may think conducive to the public good. The mercantile and other regulations at Canton respecting foreigners; the number and size of foreign vessels, and of what nations, which annually enter there; their cargoes, and what articles of merchandise answer best; are matters which merit attention. It might also be useful to know whether foreigners do, or can, carry on a circuitous trade in that part of the world, either on their own account, or by being carriers for others, whether Asiatic or European. Accurate information on all these points, will probably require time to collect; and as accurate information only can be useful, I cannot flatter myself with receiving ample details from you very soon after your arrival, unless on such of these subjects as may not require much time to investigate. I shall not omit writing to you by every opportunity, and will do myself the pleasure of sending you such information respecting our country, as, though perhaps not very essential to you either as a Consul or a merchant, cannot fail of being interesting to an American citizen early and strongly attached to his country.      

Unfortunately, the State Department forgot to inform the President of the United States, Barack Obama.  On the night of November 15, 2009 President Obama addressed a Shanghai China town hall meeting and spoke of the 1784 Empress of China trade mission. The President said in part: 
However, America's ties to this city -- and to this country -- stretch back further, to the earliest days of America's independence. In 1784, our founding father, George Washington, commissioned the Empress of China, a ship that set sail for these shores so that it could pursue trade with the Qing Dynasty. Washington wanted to see the ship carry the flag around the globe, and to forge new ties with nations like China. This is a common American impulse -- the desire to reach for new horizons, and to forge new partnerships that are mutually beneficial.


President Obama was correct on the year but the U.S. President who signed Empress of China’s papers was Thomas Mifflin and not George Washington.  For a video of President Obama’s speech go to:  https://youtu.be/uqUtMVg-UFE

Stanley Yavneh Klos, Visiting Professor
Loyola University, New Orleans -
http://www.thomasmifflin.com/



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