Nature and Scope

China, America and the Pacific explores the cultural and trading relationships that emerged between America, China and the Pacific region between the 18th and early 20th centuries. Manuscripts, rare printed sources, visual images, objects and maps from international libraries and archives document this fascinating history.

The project covers the following themes:Grandeur-The Yangtze Gorges, Canadian Pacific Railway Poster, courtesy of University of British Columbia Library

  • Old China Trade (roughly 1783-1844)
  • Early commercial development of New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Salem, Providence,
  • Maritime routes between East and West Coasts (before overland trails)
  • Development of Hawaii as key American trading post before annexation
  • Chinese-American cultural exchange (including 19th century Chinese immigration)
  • Commodities of the China trade
  • Fur Trade in Northwest Pacific
  • Diplomacy and politics of America and the Far East

Source Libraries:

Archival content has been sourced from leading libraries and archives, including:

Nature of the Material:Asterion Clipper Ship Sailing Card, courtesy of Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum

  • Ship’s Logs (valuable records recording stopping points, commodities and other trading
  • A wide range of other manuscript sources, including family correspondence and business
  • Rare newspapers
  • Rare printed books
  • Visual material (including paintings, illustrations and photographs)
  • Historic maps
  • Objects
  • Ephemera, including Clipper ship cards

Library Details

American Philosophical Society
Included are manuscript materials from the Bancker Papers and the Elisha Kent Kane Papers.

Boston Athenaeum
A collection of manuscripts and rare printed books, including private papers and correspondence, that reveals fascinating insights into the trading relationships and cultural exchanges that emerged as part of the China trade.

California Historical Society
Included are manuscripts and rare books including memoirs, narratives of voyages, prices current and diaries that document aspects of the China trade as well as the fascinating development of the fur trade.

Hagley Museum and Library
The resource features manuscripts from the impressive Samuel Francis Du Pont Collection. Du Pont played a key diplomatic role in opening Japan to American trade and investment. Visual and rare printed materials relating to the America-China trade from the Imprints and Pictorial Collections complement the manuscript selection.

Hawaiian Historical Society
Manuscript items and rare printed materials from the Hawaiian Historical Society shed light on the role Hawaii played in the Old China Trade and later the Pacific whaling industry. The Sandwich Islands were a crucial part of the Old China Trade, with ships stopping at port there en route to Canton. It later became the centre of the Pacific Whaling Industry. The selection includes account books, newspapers, broadsides, maps, visual material, and rare books documenting the Hawaiian experience.*Please note that the resource currently features part of the materials from the Hawaiian Historical Society. The rest of the collection will be available shortly.

Massachusetts Historical Society
The resource includes a wide range of manuscript material including correspondence, memoranda, diaries, logbooks, notebooks, accounts and shipping papers. Much of this material comes from the renowned Forbes collection. The Forbes family were key participants in the China trade and the documents throw light on the fascinating commercial activities in which it was engaged. Other highlights from the collection include the Samuel Shaw (1754-1794) papers (Samuel Shaw sailed as supercargo in 1784 aboard the ship Empress of China, the first American-flagged ship at Canton); the log of the Columbia, the first ship to circumnavigate the globe; a letter book of Houqua, a Canton trader; and trade letters from King Tamoree and Queen Charlotte Tapoolee of Kauai (Hawaii).

Nantucket Historical Association
The collection includes manuscripts, rare books and visual material, in particular account and waste books, correspondence and ships’ logs providing valuable records of commodities and trading information.

Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum
The Peabody houses some of the most important material relating to the America-China trade. We have sourced a wide range of manuscript materials including family manuscript collections and ship logbooks. The family and business papers relate to individuals or entire families engaged in trade in East Asia. Other manuscript content includes diaries, invoice books and ephemera, including Clipper ship cards.

University of Alberta
The resource includes manuscript items associated with the fur trade in Canada. The collection helps document the beginnings of the fur trade in New France during the French Colonial Period; westward expansion by the North West Company and British merchants of Montreal, and the monopoly over Western Canada and British Columbia by the Hudson’s Bay Company.

University of British Columbia
The resource includes selections from the general manuscript and map collections, the Charles Spring Archive and the Chung Collection. The Spring Archive helps document the growth of the sealing industry in the late nineteenth century, its workings and business practices, the practice of hunting and the extent of native involvement. A significant part of the collection also focuses on the impact of the modus vivendi agreement and subsequent claims. The Chung Collection includes rare printed texts, visual material, objects and ephemera connected to the history of Chinese immigration and settlement in Canada, the history of early British Columbia and the Canadian Pacific Railway Company.

University of California, San Diego
The resource includes a selection of rare books from the Hill Collection of Pacific Voyages, as well as manuscript material for the Alaska Commercial Company Records.

Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library
The selection includes a collection of Chinese Export Watercolours, selections from the Latimer Family Papers, a sea journal, a beautiful swatch book and the John Haskell Papers. The Chinese export watercolours, painted for the American market, are a particular highlight and cover a variety of subjects: studies of Macao and Canton; paintings of flora and fauna; and even an album depicting the punishment of Chinese criminals.