He was even more sanguine in his calculations:
the initial £12,500 investment was expected
to generate net profits of £16,294 from a
very similar cargo mix in which the ginseng was
to be reduced to 6,000 pounds.
It is significant that, in all these projections, the investors expected to make far more substan- tial profits in New York from the sale of the Chinese goods brought back to the United States than from the sale of American goods in Canton. Laight expected to make only about sixteen percent profit in Canton but over eighty-eight percent in New York, while Dale projected thirty- five percent and 108 percent respectively. Given that William Laight was responsible for the sale of the Experiment's cargo, it is difficult to accept that he could have so grossly overestimated the retail value of Chinese products in the New York market. This leads one to suspect the first voyage was more profitable than it appears to have been at first sight, particularly since the majority of the partners in the new venture had participated in the E.xperiment's original voyage and would be well aware of their previous earnings. 42
Despite these rosy projections, the promoters were unable to generate sufficient further interest, and the venture lapsed. The Experiment reverted to the Albany-New York trade and became one of the more popular vessels on which to take passage. Michel-Guillaume St. Jean de Cravecoeur, the author of Letters from an American Farmer and also the French consul in New York, traveled to New Windsor aboard this vessel.
Several reasons made us prefer this sloop to those that customarily plied the river: the fineness of its construction, the unusual comfort of its staterooms, and especially the hope that the conversation of Captain Dean, who had just returned from a voyage to China in that same sloop, would be interesting. We were not mistaken; he told us that if the Chinese customs at Canton had demanded a sum
proportionate to the size of his ship, he would have made a profitable trip .... [The stateroom] was furnished in Chinese fashion, lighted by candles from that same land, each in its wide-mouthed, short-necked bottle. 43
The voyage of the sloop Experiment is valuable in illustrating a number of prominent features of the early American trade with China. Financing the venture was diffuse: the "India Company of Experiment" comprised seventeen individual or company shareholders who subscribed to nineteen shares of a little over £600 each to raise its total capital of £11,430. Simultaneously, individual risks were minimized and the relatively large investment necessary for the venture was raised rapidly. It is worth noting that only thirty-three days elapsed between the first meeting of the participants and the Experiment's departure from New York; eighteenth-century businessmen were capable of remarkably decisive and enterprising action.
A second characteristic feature was the venture's self-contained nature. Once the voyage was completed, the partnership was dissolved and all its assets sold and distributed. Those participants
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Last updated December 3, 1996