who wished to follow up the enterprise had to
form a fresh partnership on similar lines, as
occurred in this instance. The vessel and its
commander might be the same, as also with the
second voyage of the Empress of China and
Captain John Green, but the company's composition
would have changed.
Although most future U.S. vessels in the China trade would be larger than the Experiment, the sloop's size typified American merchants' preference for using much smaller ships than the massive European East Indiamen. During the first thirty years of U.S. trade with Canton, the majority of American ships were under 400 tons, while very few approached the size of their European competitors. 44 Initially, relatively limited capital availability inhibited American merchants from employing large vessels with greater cargo capacity because of their excessive expense and risk. Experience later led them to deliberately select smaller vessels as more suitable for the trade: a 400-ton ship was more economical to operate, handier in confined or inadequately charted waters, and offered a faster turnaround. 45
The over-riding problem facing American merchants was their search for goods suitable for the Chinese market, so as to minimize the quantity of specie they had to ship to Canton. China's economic self-sufficiency rendered this a formidable task, which was exacerbated by Chinese fickleness; a market could evaporate without warning. The Experiment's promoters discovered this with rum and Madeira, and the ginseng market collapsed by 1790-91, when prices fell to 35 cents per pound, prompting British East India Company officials to complain that "Since the Independence of America of which country Ginseng is the product so much has been sent that the Chinese pretend to have discovered that it has no Virtue, and it is actually become unsalable." 46 This cycle of boom and bust in the marketability of commodities remained a feature of the American trade with China into the 1840s.
Finally, the voyage of the Experiment epitomizes the eagerness with which Americans embraced foreign trade after independence.
In early December 1786, the following vessels were
"lying at Whampoa, at Captain Dean's departure.
American Ships. Empress of China, [John]
Green, New-York; Canton, [Thomas] Truxton
[Truxtun], Philadelphia; Hope, [Jonas] M'Gee,
New-York; Grand Turk, [Ebenezer] West, Salem,"
all of which had cleared from the United
States during that year. The same newspaper
report clearly portrays the views of these contemporary
It was.a matter of surprise to the natives, and Europeans in that quarter, 'to see so small a vessel arrive from a clime so remote from China; and must have given them an exalted conception of the enterprizing spirit of the citizens of these United States. The successful and safe return of Captain Dean, has taught us, that fancy oft times paints danger in much higher colours than is found real!y to exist, and that by maintaining a spirit of enterprize, diligence and activity, we are enabled to surmount difficulties, which, on a cursory view, are deemed fraught with dangers. 47
Paul Fontenoy received his B.A. in History from King's College, University of London, studied at the Frank C. Munson Institute for American Maritime Studies, and was awarded an M.A. in Maritime History by East Carolina University. At present, he is working at the North Carolina Maritime Museum and simultaneously engaged in research and writing his Ph.D. thesis at the University of London. His work has been pub- lished in both American and European journals, including American Neptune (Summer, 1994). Mystic Seaport Museum Publications produced his book, The Sloops of the Hudson River: A Historical and Design Survey, in 1994.
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