Saturday, April 20, 2013
304. The First American Visited China and His China Dream
John Ledyard (1751-1789) was called “American Marco Polo” and arguably the first United States citizen to have visited “the most ancient Nation in History.” He was also the first American to design and promote a systematic plan for the United States’ trade with China. Amazed by Chinese economic power, Ledyard had worked on his plan when he was a crewmember on James Cook’s (1728-1779) third journey. He hoped that the United States would become a global trading center and would “like the Chinese command the commerce of all nations that find it their interests to visit her & not suffer by those who do or do not.”
In October 1780, Ledyard deserted the Royal Navy and found a safe place to write his experience in the third voyage with James Cook. In Uncle Thomas’ law office, Ledyard completed A Journal of Captain Cook’s Last Voyage in the winter of 1782 and the spring of 1783. Immediately after completion of his book, Ledyard started to implement his plan beginning in his native state, Connecticut. In his memorial to the Connecticut assembly, Ledyard said that his plan may be “essentially useful to America in general but particularly to the northern states by operating a most valuable trade across the North Pacific Ocean to China & the East Indies.” However, the governor of Connecticut, Jonathen Trumbull (1756-1843), was not impressed by Ledyard’s plan.
Ledyard attempted to win the support from the leaders of the United States. The leaders of the new nation, suffering from economic chaos, were working hard to find a way to lead the nation out of its distressed circumstances after their victory in the Revolutionary War. Ledyard convinced whoever interested in his plan by predicting such a trip to China “could save our country from bankruptcy on profit of the fur trade.” It could also, “give our United States a place in the commercial world.” He went to Philadelphia, the new nation’s economical center, where his “revolutionary new plan for China trade” attracted Robert Morris (1734-1806), one of the founding fathers. Morris, the Financier of the American Revolution, was the Superintendent of Finance of the United States when Ledyard met him.
In June 1783, Ledyard had a conference with Morris. He described his sailing route from the United States to China. In accordance with the route, a ship would sail around Cape Horn to the Pacific West, where the ship could buy furs pelts from the local Indians. Then the ship would sail to China with the furs, where those things would be “sold at fabulous prices.” Probably, Ledyard’s plan was too gigantic for the fledgling new nation due to the fact that a journey to China was unchartered and full of unknown to American sailors.
Robert Morris and his partners scaled back the ambitious plan recommended by Ledyard and decided to send the Empress of China from New York directly to Canton. Instead of furs from Northwest American Coast area, they decided to gather ginseng from Northeast and Virginian Mountain areas. The trading goods carried by the Empress of China and shipped to China consisted of entirely of ginseng roots.