CHINESE CIVILIZATION AND THE UNITED STATES: TEA, GINSENG, PORCELAIN WARE AND SILK IN COLONIAL AMERICA Dave Wang
St. John’s University
The connection between China and North America can be traced the inception of the American colonies in May of 1609. British colonists, sent by the Virginia Company landed on the north bank of a river they named James Fort (later to be renamed Jamestown), for they believed the river’s headwaters to be “the shortcut to China.”1 The choosing of Jamestown as the landing spot was not a chance decision, but was made in accordance with instruction given by the Virginia Company.2 Even the “decisive and stern leadership” of John Smith (1580-1631) was not given “the authority to override” the instruction from the Company, which believed that the James River could lead the colonists to “a shortcut to China.”3
It seems a historical irony that China, the ancient and far away empire, also had an impact on the founding of the United States. Military support from France was one of the key factors in the colonists’ victory in the American Revolutionary War. One reason the French royal court fought the British in North America was to prevent a British from monopoly of trade with China. The French court understood that the French needed a victory in order to “destroy British hegemony, not only in North America but in the sugar-rich West Indies and the even richer market of India and China”4
During the formative age of the United States, China was not unknown to the North American colonies. Knowledge about China "was almost as widespread and as readily available there as in Europe."5 During the 18th century only two Chinese literary works of importance were translated into Western languages; "both were available in North America."6
Certain Chinese products, such as tea, had become deeply involved in the colonies and became an indispensable element of colonists’ daily life. The British control of tea and the colonists’ struggle against this control changed the historical course of the colonies. The tax on tea and the resentment with the tea monopoly by the East Indian Company was one of the factors that led the colonists to rebel. Immediately before the successful 1784 sailing of the Empress of China, the first American commercial ship to reach China, the President of Yale College told George Washington:
Navigation will carry the America flag around the globe itself, and display the thirteen stripes and new constellation, at Bengal and Canton, on the Indus and Ganges, on the Whang-ho and the Yang-ti-king; and with commerce will import the wisdom and literature of the East. 7
However, the Americans had difficulty finding goods that would sell in the Chinese market. Interestingly enough, the plant Ginseng, was found to grow in North American mountains, and helped the fledgling United States to trade with China and enter the international commerce. Chinese porcelain greatly enriched American life. In order to establish the silk industry in North America, Benjamin Franklin made great efforts to introduce Chinese silk technology, revealing the founding fathers’ drive to use Chinese civilization to facilitate the development of the colonies.
Tea: The Leaves that Triggered the American War for Independence
On December 17, 1773, a week away from Christmas Eve, colonial patriots, disguised as Indians, secretly entered Boston Harbor under the cover of night. They boarded three British ships in the harbor and dumped some 350 chests of Chinese tea into Boston Harbor. Their action was a protestation of taxation without representation and the monopoly granted the East India Company (among other complaints against the British regime). George Washington stated: “Is it against paying the duty of three pence per pound on tea became burthensome? No, it is the right only, we have all long disputed.”8 This protest brought “Anglo-American relations to a boiling point
The incident was an indicator that the importance of tea had developed into such a degree that impacted the historical course of the North American colonies. Tea had become a basic element in North American colonial society. In the 18th century, drinking tea in the morning at home and socially in the afternoon or early evening became an "established custom" in northern America. According to Benjamin Franklin “at least a Million of Americans drink Tea twice a Day.”9 Another contemporary estimated that one third of the population drank tea twice a day.10 Some foreigners who visited there left us vivid records about tea drinking in Pennsylvania and New York. “The favorite drink, especially after dinner, is tea.”11 The tea ceremony, with tea drinking, became the core of family life. A Swedish traveler found that there was “hardly a farmer’s wife or a poor woman, who does not drink tea in the morning.”12 In Philadelphia the women would rather go without their dinners than without “a dish of tea.”13 S George Washington’s teapot and tea cups in his Valley Forge Headquarters.
Courtesy of Valley Forge National Historical Park. ince the early 1700's, tea had been used as a social beverage in the colonies. Judge Samuel Sewall had a good record of Boston life in the turn of the 17th century. The guests enjoyed tea in a meeting at the residence of Madam Winthrope, he wrote on April 15, 1709.14 According to Peter Kalm, who toured North America in the mid-18th century, tea had not only replaced milk as a breakfast beverage, but also was drunk in the afternoon.15 From the letter that Ms. Alice Addertoungue wrote to Benjamin Franklin in 1732, we can tell that tea was widely used in social gatherings. Alice told Franklin, “The first Day of this Separation (with her mother—writer) we both drank Tea at the same Time, but she with her Visitors in the Parlor.”16 During the tea hour, social and economic affairs were discussed. Interestingly, since teatime provided an ideal opportunity to get acquainted, young men and women enjoyed it very much. Tea had become the excuse for many a social gathering. Being invited to drink tea became a special thing for the colonists. Benjamin Franklin wrote a note showing his appreciation for Mr. Fisher’s “Company to drink Tea at 5 o’clock this afternoon, June 4, 1745.”17 Through reading of Benjamin Franklin’s paper I have found that Franklin also published the advertisement for tea traders. In August 1745 the colonists read in The Pennnsylvania Gazette, “Choice Bohea Tea to be sold by the Dozen or half Dozen Pound, at the Post-Office, Philadelphia.”18 Realizing that it would be a great source for its national revenue, in the 1760s, the British government began to impose a tax on tea, first through the Stamp Act of 1765 and later with the Townshend Act of 1767. Given the monopoly of the tea business, the British East Indian Company profited greatly. Benjamin Franklin reported that “in the five Years which have run on since the Act passed, would have paid 2,500,000 Guineas, for Tea alone, into the Coffers of the Company.”19 The acts created serious dissatisfaction of colonists. They tried to boycott the acts by not drinking tea and drinking herbal infusions Benjamin Franklin tried to find some alternatives to Chinese tea. Peter Kalm had an interesting conversation with Franklin. He commented:
Benjamin Franklin, a man now famous in the political world, told me that at different times he had drunk tea cooked from the leaves of the hickory with the bitter nuts. The leaves are collected early in the spring when they have just come out but have not yet had time to become large. They are then dried and used as tea. Mr. Franklin said that of all the species used for tea in North America, next to the real tea from China, he had in his estimation not found any as palatable and agreeable as this.20 Two weeks before the event in Boston Harbor, Benjamin Franklin, then the
representatives from North American colonies, found that the colonist’s “steady refusal to take tea from hence for several years past has made its impressions”21 in the British parliament. Franklin worked hard to make the parliament to issue “a temporary licence from the treasury to export tea to America free of duty.”22 They could gain nothing through peaceful negotiation. Smuggling tea couldn’t meet the demand of the consumers.
Outraged colonists, including merchants, shippers and general masses started demonstrations, culminating in the famous Boston Tea Party of December 1773. Just a year and a half after the colonial patriots dumped the tea in Boston Harbor, Paul Revere's ride and the first shots fired at Lexington. The conflict caused by the justified right to drink tea without extra economic burden led to political hostilities, which were in due course led to the American war for independence.
After independence, Americans enjoyed their gatherings again around the tea table. Moreau de Saint-Méry, a foreign visitor to Philadelphia in the 1790s, noted the warmth and hospitality of these events.” Since then Philadelphia families would usually unite at tea, "to which friends, acquaintances and even strangers are invited."23 Nancy Shippen, a Philadelphian, mentioned in her journal between 1783 and 1786 that one afternoon of December 1783 she and other people “were honored with the Company of Gen Washington to Tea.'24 As soon as the Americans got rid of British control, they sent the ship of the Empress of China to Guangzhou (Canton) to bring tea back to North America.In 1785, the ship, carrying 300 piculs of Hyson and Bohea Tea, returned to New York. The era that Britain monopolized the tea trade in North America had gone for good. The Chinese-American tea trade increased steadily after 1785.25 With the increase of population and becoming wealth, the American people demanded larger and larger quantities of tea. Exports of tea from Guangzhou (Canton) to the United States increased from 6.6 million ton pounds in 1922 to 19 millions pounds in 1840.26 Ginseng: the Herb that Helped the United States to Enter International Commerce 27 Back in 1784, when the first American trading ship, the Empress of China, entered your waters, my country was unknown to you. We were a new republic, eager to win a place in international commerce.28 One day in the mid-seventeenth century some Chinese soliders of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) started to build a Willow Palisade along the entire south boundary of Northeast China. The Willow Palisade was built under the order of Emperor Shunzhi (r. 1644-1661) to discourage Ginseng diggers from other parts of China to search for Ginseng in the region. Emperor Shunzhi and his soldiers never thought that their action had an impact on the effort of the United States to win a place in international trade.
After seven years of severe fighting against the British Empire, the colonists in the North America won their formal independence. In 1783 the British signed the Paris Treaty with the colonial representatives. The colonists celebrated and enjoyed their hard won victory. However, the hilarious feeling of victory was quickly shadowed by economic difficulties. The economy did not go along with the political victory, but marched towards the opposite direction. Depression and inflation seemed to grab the happy feeling away from the founding fathers and the fighters of the Revolutionary War. Britain, which had just lost the war, was trying hard to win the colonists over through economic coercion. All old trade routes were forced to close to the Americans. Britain adopted the strategy of seeking to put enough economic pressure on individual states to force them, one by one, to “return to Mother England.” 29
In the early period, it seemed that the British policy was really working. The Americans were feeling bitter over the victory. They hardly had time to enjoy their freedom from Britain when the national fiscal system was on the brink of collapse. Inflation was unbearable. For example, a pound of tea cost $100. By comparison, an army private’s salary was $4 per month. People were using the paper money as wallpaper. In the streets of Philadelphia men were seen in a procession wearing the bills as cockades in their hats accompanied by a dog covered with a coat of tar in which the paper money was thickly set. When Congress demanded people pay tax, it was paid in its own money, a worthless paper from its own printing machine.30
There was no encouraging news from continental Europe. American representative Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) wasn’t able to secure any more loans from the French government. There was no good news from John Jay (1745-1829), the American representative in Madrid, and John Adams, the American representative in the Netherlands.31
Trade! Trade! Americans desperately need to trade. Political independence without economic independence might well prove an unfruitful victory. As the first Minister of Finance of the United States, Robert Morris (1734-1806) worked hard to find a new trade partner, which was beyond Britain’s control. China became his first choice. However, what could Americans trade with China? As an agricultural society, the United States lacked the capability to provide anything that would sell in China. Ginseng became the main commercial good that the Americans could trade with the Chinese. It would be unthinkable for the journey of the Empress of China to Guangzhou without Ginseng.
Since the Chinese imperial government closed Northeast China, the main source for Ginseng, the Chinese merchants had to look for Ginseng from other sources. This created an opportunity for North America. In 1709, French Jesuit priest, Father Petrus Jartoux (1668-1720) was hired by Emperor Kangxi (1661-1722) to survey the Changbai Mountain in Northeast China. During that time he learned about the value of Ginseng and wrote a letter, in which he predicted that Ginseng could be found in Canada due to the similar environment of French Canada to Northeast China.32 In 1714 Father Lafitau received the letter and started to look for Ginseng in French Canada. He discovered Ginseng growing near Montreal area. Realizing the potential profit with the trade with China from Ginseng, Jesuits sent missionaries to Canada to collect Ginseng. For many years the Jesuits shipped tons of Canadian Ginseng to China.33 Ginseng had become profitable a commercial good for French Canada. The Ginseng was available at 25 cents a pound in Canada and sold at 5 dollars a pound in China.34
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) reported the availability of Ginseng in the British colony for the first time. On July 22, 1738, Franklin told his fellow Americans “We have the pleasure of acquainting the World, that the famous Chinese or Tartarian Plant, called Ginseng, is now discovered in this Province.”35 Dr. Robert Johnston, the surgeon of the Empress of China, assumed the tedious task of gathering Ginseng. He walked through numerous mountains in Pennsylvania and Virginia to gather 30 tons of Ginseng. 36
Ginseng helped promote the formation of the notion of international trade in the US. The entire country was connected to trade with China. Not only merchants in New York, Boston and Philadelphia, but isolated farmers in deep mountains had learned that they could be paid by something grown in the northern slope of the mountains. About the same time when the Empress of Chinaunloaded the Ginseng at China, George Washington met some people who were doing Ginseng business in Virginia. He recorded it in his diary, “I met numbers of Persons & Pack horses going in with Ginseng: & for salt & other articles at the Market Below.”37
The Empress of China left New York on February 22, 1784 and returned triumphantly to New York on May 11, 1785. Her successful voyage brought a measure of prosperity and was seen as an American economic salvation. The voyage had been a remarkable financial success. It was a win-win two-way trade. The ship profited on her investment about 30%.38 The success of the ship stimulated American merchants. Other merchants were quick to see the value of the trade. Her great success aroused so much attention that the report about her sail was read in Congress. Three years after the sail, George Washington happily stated, “The Maritime Genius of this Country is now steering our Vessels in every ocean, to the East Indies.”39 Since then the US government encouraged China trade by maintaining favorable tariff policies.40 Under the support of the political leaders of the nation, American trade with China grew rapidly. By the first half of the 19th century the Chinese port saw about 40 American ships a year loading and unloading. The America’s purpose to win a place in international commerce was realized successfully.41 Naturally, the sail of the Empress of China has been claimed as “the brightest chapter in the maritime history of the United States.”42
The Founding Fathers of the United States and Chinese Porcelain Ware
The Chinese porcelain ware, also called Chinaware, was very important to colonial life in the North American colonies. How important was it? From Benjamin Franklin’s “beautiful simile of the ‘fine and noble China Vase the British Empire’” we can tell its importance in colonial Americans’ mind43. By comparing the North America Colony as a “noble china vase,” Franklin warned the British parliament it should deal with the colonial issue with a fair attitude and reasonable policy; otherwise, sooner or later, the colony would no longer belong to the Empire:
Long did I endeavour with unfeigned and unwearied Zeal, to preserve from breaking, that fine and noble China Vase the British Empire: for I knew that being once broken, the separate Parts could not retain even their Share of the Strength or Value that existed in the Whole, and that a perfect Re-Union of those Parts could scarce even be hoped for.44 After the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, the colonists won their desired independence and became the owners of the “noble china vase.” Franklin told the American people, who were joyous over their victory, that now the colony was yours. “There is sense enough in America to take care of their own china vase.”45
Benjamin Franklin’s simile indeed reflected the historical reality of the treasured nature of Chinese porcelain ware in colonial America and the fledgling United States. In the following I will introduce you to the founding fathers’ fondness for and their effort to obtain Chinese porcelain for it is believed that their love of chinaware "attested to individual and national taste in a pivotal period of American cultural history."46
If you visit Colonial Williamsburg you will find that the Chinese porcelain ware distinguishing the name of China in world civilization had been in North American colonies through Europe during the eighteenth century. In the mid-eighteenth century, New Englanders also learned about Chinese porcelain wares. The direct trade between China and the United States opened the channel that allowed the flow of large quantities of chinaware into North America. Chinese porcelain, "standing preeminent in its picturesqueness and grace," almost "wholly displaced all other wares, whether metal, leather, or glass."47 For instance, in Elias Hasket Derby's house in Salem, Massachusetts, almost every corner "was adorned with Chinese pottery, while one closet contained china estimated as worth $371."48
A personal story that Benjamin Franklin told in his well-read autobiography reveals us the chinaware’s popularity in the colonial society:
Being call’d one Morning to Breakfast, I [Benjamin Franklin—writer] found it in a China Bowl with a Spoon of Silver. They had been bought for me without my Knowledge by my Wife, and had cost her the enormous Sum of three and twenty Shillings, for which she had no other Excuse or Apology to make, but that she thought her Husband deserv’d a Silver Spoon and China Bowl as well as any of his Neighbours. This was the first Appearance of Plate and China in our House, which afterwards in a Course of Years as our Wealth encreas’d augmented gradually to several Hundred Pounds in Value.49 Together with Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson also showed their affection for Chinese porcelain. Throughout his life, Washington loved Chinese porcelain. The history of his fondness for Chinese porcelain can be traced back as early as his youth. Prior to the founding of the United States, from 1757 through 1772, he sent orders for Chinese porcelain to Bristol and London.50 During this period Washington had bought Chinese porcelain from a famous Chinese dealer51. A survey of the invoices sent to Washington by Robert Cary (1730-1777), Virginia merchant of London and Hampstead, from 1759 to 1772, reveals that Richard Farrer (1692/93-1775) supplied an extraordinary range of Chinese porcelain to Washington.52
Washington’s use of Chinese porcelain ware for his wedding ceremony at his wedding at "White House” on the Pamunkey River53 set "the vogue for men of means to celebrate their wedlock with beautiful collections of chinaware."54
Among Chinese porcelain ware, Washington had a special fondness for blue-and-white porcelain. I have found at least nine recorded references to his purchase of blue-and-white Chinese porcelain in Washington's Papers.55 Samuel Fraunces (ca 1722-1795), realizing that Washington loved this, found an assortment of blue-and-white china for Washington.56 As the War of Independence came to an end and the focus of American officers and troops turned toward their civilian futures, Washington began to search for a large set of chinaware for Mount Vernon. He wrote to Daniel Parker (a partner with William Duer and John Holker in a company formed to provision the Continental Army) in occupied New York and requested "a neat and complete sett of blue and white table China."57 With the help of Samuel Fraunces, Parker collected 205 pieces of blue-and-white porcelain before September.58 Edward Nicole, Jr. also provided some blue-and-white pieces for Washington.59 Washington learned through an advertisement in The Maryland Gazette and Baltimore Advertiser on August 12, 1785, that the Pallas, which was coming directly back from China, would be selling its cargo, including blue-and-white Chinese porcelain. He wrote to Tench Tilghman, his former military aide, and asked him to inquire about the conditions of sale and price.60 Five days later Washington, at Mount Vernon, learned that "the Cargo is to be sold at public Venue, on the first of October," and wrote a letter to Tench Tilgman in which Washington asking him to buy “a set of large blue and White China Dishes with the badge of the Society of the Cincinnati" and the best Hyson Tea, one dozen small blue-and white porcelain bowls and best Nankeens.61 In July 1790, when two ships had just arrived in New York from Canton, Tobias Lear asked Clement Biddle to purchase and send to Mount Vernon blue-and-white china tea and coffee services for twenty-four persons with three or four matching slop bowls for tea dregs. A week later Biddle sent to Mount Vernon a box marked GW containing 3 dozen china cups & saucers, 2 dozen coffee cups & saucers, & 4 slop bowls by the sloop Dolphin, Captain Carhart, on 6 August, 1790.62 Washington used Chinese porcelain as precious gifts to his friends and guests. In 1797 he gave Mrs. Samuel Power a Chinese porcelain cooler, liner, and cover, underglaze-blue river scene with gilt handles and rims.63 On June 9, 1798, Mrs. Washington made Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, a Polish journalist then visiting Mount Vernon, a gift of Chinese porcelain cup with her name and the name of the United States.64 As Washington’s reputation in then North America during the formative age of the United States, his appreciation for Chinese porcelain ware produced a great influence on other people since a stream of visitors to the headquarters had been served with the ware at the Commander in Chief's table. George Washington once called his home as a well-resorted tavern” and existing records confirm his statement. According to household documents, Washington dined with his wife alone only twice in the last 20 years of his marriage. Ordinary American citizens and friends “flocked to see the President, and with customary grace, he welcomed them to home, not only for meals but to spend the night.” 65 Before the direct trade between China and the United States, Europe was the main source of Chinese porcelain for Americans. Thomas Jefferson made a good use of his opportunity in France to acquire Chinese porcelain wares. On May 7, 1784, Jefferson was appointed to the European commissioner, replacing John Jay. In August 1784, Jefferson went to take his position in Paris. As soon as he arrived in Paris he bought some Chinese porcelain wares including one dozen coffee cups, saucers, and teacups when he still lived “in temporary quarters."66 In the following year he ordered more Chinese porcelain wares.
On March 6, 1786, Jefferson left France. Before departing he acquired "larger quantities of Chinese export porcelain" in Paris. Among the things he wanted to take back with him to the United States, included "a set of table furniture consisting in China, silver & and plated ware."67
Like most who ordered stock Chinese porcelain in the eighteenth century, Jefferson relied on the tenacity of the middleman, and the nature of the current inventory in China. After he came back from Paris, Jefferson gave a "second large order of Chinese export porcelain."68
The process that Thomas Jefferson transported Chinese porcelain from Europe to North America served as an indicator of demonstrating the value of the Chinese porcelain ware. Interestingly enough, in order to protect Chinese porcelain ware from being broken in the process of transportation, Jefferson bought cream ware made by English potters. He clearly stated out that the purchase was to protect the Chinese porcelain ware from harm. Then he put them outside of the Chinese porcelain ware as protective layer. Jefferson's action led to the conclusion from an author that the role of English cream ware was changing and its "aesthetic and qualitative value was waning."69
Later, in 1789, Jefferson ordered more Chinese porcelain from Edward Dowse, a Boston merchant engaging in Chinese trade. In April 1790, Dowse sent the porcelain ordered by Jefferson to New York where Jefferson was serving as the first secretary of state.70 In the interim, the porcelain wares he ordered in France arrived, including 120 porcelain plates, 58 cups, 39 saucers, 4 tureens, saltcellars, and various platters. He used these in New York and Philadelphia, and what remained was eventually shipped to Monticello.71 In 1793, Jefferson had all his Chinese porcelain transported to Monticello.72 The above examination of the founding fathers’ attitudes towards and efforts to obtain Chinese porcelain ware reflects the importance of Chinese porcelain in the American’s life, which demonstrates how Chinese porcelain left a deep mark in the Americans’ life during the formative age of the United States.
Benjamin Franklin’s Efforts to Promote Sericulture in North America
Americans have loved silk. By the 20th century the United States became the leading customer for raw silk, and New York had become the leading international silk center.73 According to the Silk Association of America’s report, the United States had imported about 60% of the total trade internationally.74 Benjamin Franklin would be very happy by the following fashion headlines as the marriage of Alice Roosevelt in a wedding gown of American silk,75 or the selection of a new range of silk colors for the inaugural gown of Mrs. Woodrow Wilson and her three daughters, sent the silk manufactures into ecstasy.76
Benjamin Franklin had worked tirelessly and consistently to promote the sericulture, or silk production, in North America. As early as 1729; at the age of 23, Franklin found the value of silk production to the economic and social progress of the colonies. He told his fellow colonists that if they thought that “raising Wheat proves dull, more may (if there is Money to support and carry on new Manufactures) proceed to the raising and manufacturing of silk.77 He told the colonists:
If it is asked, what can such farmers raise, wherewith to pay for the manufactures they may want from us? I answer, that the inland parts of America in question are well-known to be fitted for the production of hemp, flax, potash, and above all silk.78 In order to make his proposal more valid and attractive, Franklin used the success of sericulture in China as an example to urge the colonists to engage in the business. He told them sericulture was so developed in China that the country “clothes its Inhabitants with Silk, while it feeds them plentifully and has besides a vast Quantity both of raw and manufactured to spare for Exportation.”79 Franklin realized that encouragement with the example of China was not powerful enough to have sericulture developed in North America. People would say that sericulture had developed in China for 2500 years already. It was crucial to borrow the experience from other countries that had introduced Chinese sericulture successfully. In 1749 Franklin took the opportunity in England and visited the Derby silk factory.80 He published his description of the achievements the British businessmen has achieved in the Pennsylvania Gazette, “there are 26,586 wheels, 97,746 movements; 73,728 yards of silk wound every time the water-wheel goes round, which is three times every minute; 318,504,960 yards of silk in one day and night; and consequently 99,373,547,550 yards of silk in a year.”81 For the purpose of inspiring the colonists to be interested in the sericulture in the colonies, Franklin relayed the colonists of history that the silk culture transmitted from China to the other parts of the world. He wrote an essay, in the title of “Memoirsof the Culture of SILK” based on his research and published it in the Pennsylvania Gazette. Franklin told his readers:
About 2500 Years before Christ, the Empress Siling began the Culture of Silk in China, where it was confined near 2000 Years, before it reached India and Persia.
A.D. 555 This Silk Culture first brought into Greece, particularly Athens, Thebes, and Corinth.
1130 Roger, King of Sicily, established it at Palermo and Calabria, by Work men brought from Athens and Corinth, at the Time of the Crusades.
1300 The Italians received it from Sicily.
1600 It was established in France.
1740 Begun in America.82
In the meantime, Franklin further pointed out the significance of the sericulture to the economic flourishing of the colonies. Franklin told the colonists that the sericulture had been an important economic factor in China and that would be a great factor in the colonies’ economical life.
That Part of the Imperial Revenue in China paid in Silk, amounts to above 955,000Ib. Troy, and perhaps this is not the twentieth Part of the Produce of that Empire. One Million of Trees disposed into Mulberry Walks, in Pennsylvania, would in a few Years, enable a yearly Remittance to Great-Britain of a Million Sterling, and no Ways interfere with the other necessary Branches of Labour in the Community.83 Knowing the history and understanding the economic significance of the sericulture were important for promoting the sericulture. However, the more important factor was to provide them with the Chinese technology of sericulture for the colonies. Without it, to develop silk industry in North American would be an empty word. Franklin paid particular attention to silk cultivation technology in China. He introduced the colonists the Chinese technology in sericulture. Tree leaves are important elements in keeping silkworms strong. Over a long period of time the Chinese silk keepers had developed rich experience in keeping the leaves good for silkworms. Franklin had learned the Chinese way through his studies. He shared his knowledge with the colonists. He told them that the Chinese “prune their Mulberry Trees once a year as we do our Vines in Europe, and suffer them not to grow up to high Trees, because thro’ long Experience they have learn’d that the leaves of the smallest and youngest Trees make the best Silk.” 84 He also told the colonist how to find “a good deal on the Chinese Management of the Silk Business.”85 Franklin tried everything he could to help the colonists with their efforts to master the Chinese technology in silk cultivation. He provided with them all related information he could obtain. On December 7, 1763, Franklin sent Ezra Stiles “the Prints copied from Chinese Pictures concerning the Produce of Silk”.86 In 1764, Franklin followed up the pictures he sent and made sure that Mr. Stiles had received “a Set of Chinese Prints, or rather Prints taken from Chinese Pictures, relating to the Culture of Silk in that Country.”87 In February 1772 Franklin told Cadwalader Evans that he had some information on the technology of Chinese silk in the format of pictures. He told Mr. Evans, that “Dr. Fothergill has a number of Chinese drawings, of which some represent the process of raising silk, from the beginning to the end.” 88 Franklin told him that he had tried to obtain the pictures and Dr. Fothergill promised to “send them as a present to the Silk Company.” 89 In 1773, Franklin tried to make an arrangement for Joseph Clark, a silk technician, to go to Philadelphia to help with the development of its sericulture. He wrote a letter to the Committee of the Managers of the Philadelphia Silk Filature:
I beg leave to recommend him to the Notice and Encouragement of the Silk Committee, as far as they may find him deserving. For tho’ it may be most advantageous for our Country, while the Bounty continues so high, to send all our raw Silk hither; yet as the Bounty will gradually diminish and at length cease, I should think it not amiss to begin early the laying a Foundation for the future Manufacture of it; and perhaps this Person, if he finds Employment, may be a means of raising Hands for that purpose. His Name is Joseph Clark.90 With Franklin’s inspiration, the sericulture started to grow in Pennsylvania. In November 1771, the Managers of the Philadelphia Silk Filature reported to Franklin the progress of silk industry there. According to the report, “Managers of the Contributions for promoting the Culture of silk in Pennsylvania” had achieved such a great success that “in the course of the last Season,” they had secured “at the Filature erected here such a quantity of Cocoons as have produced about 155 lbs. of raw Silk proper for Exportation.”91
There was no rosy road for the colonists to have the silk industry developed in North America. Franklin had realized that they need constant support and encouragement. He urged them not to be discouraged by difficulties:
I hope our People will not be disheartened by a few Accidents, and such Disappointments as are incident to all new Undertakings, but persevere bravely in the silk Business till they have conquer’d all Difficulties. By Diligence and Patience the Mouse ate in twain theCable. It is not two Centuries since it was as much a Novelty in France as it is now with us in North America, and the People as much unacquainted with it.92 The ultimate goal for an industry is to find a market for its product. It was no different for the silk industry. In order to facilitate the sericulture, Franklin personally looked for markets for the silks for the silk managers in North America. The reader will find through the following quote Franklin’s efforts at finding a market for the silk products in North America.
Two Months Time was given to the Buyers, and I have now received the Money. You may therefore draw for the Ballance of the Account £210 10s. 5½d. on me, or in Case of my Absence on Browns & Collinson, Bankers, with whom I shall leave an Order to honour your Bill. I hear by several Hands that our Silk is in high Credit; we may therefore hope for rising Prices, the Manufacturers being at first doubtful of a new Commodity, not knowing till Trial has been made how it will work.93 With a very busy schedule in Europe, Franklin did not have time to find potential buyers; therefore, he worked with brokers in promoting the sale of silks. One time he told the silk company that
Our Silk will be sold next Thursday. The Broker was with me yesterday and tells me he thinks it improv’d in the Winding Part, and that some of it is equal to almost any brought to Market here. He has sorted it into 4 Parcels, according to his Opinion of its Difference in Perfection. I inclose his Advertisement, and as soon as I can get it shall send his Account of Sales .94 In 1782, at the age of 76, Franklin was still concerned about the marketing of the silk produced in North America. He told Edmund Clegg the information on the silk price in Europe. He told him that “When I was in London I had several Trunks of it consign’d to me for sale, and I remember it fetched at a publick Sale as high a Price within 6d. in the pound weight, as the Italian sold at the same time.95 Franklin’s efforts in promoting silk production in North America won him appreciation and respect from the silk businessmen. Rebecca Haydock Garrigues, a silk business woman in Philadelphia, expressed their feeling by saying that “I shall always esteem myself much obliged by Doctor Franklin’s kindness, in taking so much Trouble as he has done in getting the Silk made.”96 The Committee of the Managers of the Philadelphia Silk Filature were moved by Franklin’s efforts and showed their appreciation in their letter to him, “We are sensible how much the promoters of the Culture of Silk are Obliged to Doctor Franklin for the trouble he has taken in the business; in their behalf, we thankfully Acknowledge it, and remain with perfect Esteem, his Assured ready Friends “97
Franklin had the whole of North America in his consideration when he promoted the sericulture. For Franklin, to have silk in Philadelphia and New England was not enough. He tried to push the production throughout the colonies in North America. He pointed out that in Carolina and further south, “there is good hope for silk, as mulberry trees can grow even in New England. The bounty for silk culture continues.”98 In order to promote sericulture in New Jersey, he wrote to his son from London in May 1772; “I am glad to find such a Progress in [the making?] of Silk in Pennsylvania. I hope your Pro[vince will] take a Part in it. I think you sh[ould encou]rage the raising Cocoons in all your Towns.”99
In 1831, 40 years after Benjamin Franklin’s passing away, J. H. Cobb published a manual on sericulture. The Congress of the United States bought copies of the manual and distributed to its members. From that point on, “there was a determined effort to establish silk culture on a firm basis in the United States. This interest in silk culture soon led to what was known as the ‘Mormus multicaulis craze.’”100
The reader has learned from the above Franklin’s great contribution to sericulture in North America. A question comes to a reader’s mind would be why Franklin made such a great effort to promote the sericulture in North America. The readers who are familiar with Franklin know that silk had contributed to Benjamin Franklin’s scientific research in the field of electricity. In 1752 Franklin made an important experiment of electricity. The important instrument — the kite was made of silk for Franklin realized that, “Silk is fitter to bear the Wet and Wind of a Thunder Gust without tearing.”101 However, this story can not answer this question. From his correspondence with the Committee of the Managers of the Philadelphia Silk Filature, we can tell that Franklin regarded the silk enterprises highly. In Franklin’s mind, the sericulture was “great service to our country.” 102
The above examination tells us that Chinese civilization had an impact on the history of the United States. Its influence started with the moment the first group of colonists stepped on the soil of the new world. The desire to find a short cut to China had prescribed where the new residents should land. Colonists’ efforts to acquire Chinese products influenced the historical course of the North America. The trade relations between the two countries started with the mutual need—Americans’ need of Chinese tea and Chinese need of American Ginseng. The founding fathers of the United States, with the vision and wisdom of respecting opinions of mankind, took the lead in use Chinese civilization to build a new society in North America.
1 Bob Deans, The River Where American Began: A Journey Along the James, Lanham and New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 2007, p.59.
2 Should they happen upon more than one suitable river, the colonists were instructed to if the difference be not great, make choice of that which bendeth most toward the North-West for that way you shall soonest find