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Mss doc signed about early Chinese 1786  

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Manuscript Document Signed by Charles Biddle as Vice President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, presided over by Benjamin Franklin, offering aid to Chinese sailors in U.S.
Biddle, Charles
May 30, 1786

1 pp. 6¾x7¾".

To David Rittenhouse, Treasurer of the Council: “Pay to James McCutcheon on order the sum of Twenty four pounds one shilling and sixpence in full of his account for 963 lbs. of Beef furnished to a number of the natives of China and India under the Resolution of November the 7th, 1785” Receipt for the payment inscribed on verso by McCutcheon’s son. This historic document records charitable assistance of the new American nation to the first Chinese (and first Indian Asians) to set foot on US soil after the Revolution - sailors from the ship Pallas, an Indiaman which docked at Baltimore on August 9, 1785, being the second ship chartered by two former Continental Army officers to inaugurate trade between the United States and China. The arrival of the Pallas, with its $50,000 cargo of teas, porcelain, silks and satins, excited the ship’s owners, including Robert Morris, leading financier of the Revolution War, and even George Washington, who sent a shopping list to a Maryland friend with instructions to purchase Chinese imports “if great bargains are to be had.” A Baltimore newspaper hailed the start of this “distant but beneficial Trade” with Asia and the “pleasing sight” of the ship’s crew of Chinese, Malays, Japanese and Moors, “employed together as brethren” in commerce which “binds and unites all the nations of the globe with a golden chain.” But this rosy view faded when the Pallas, after unloading its cargo, suddenly set sail, leaving stranded 35 of its sailors – 3 Chinese and 32 East Indians. Unable to find a Baltimore ship to carry them back across the Pacific, the sailors made their way to Philadelphia, where, on October 24, one of the Indians, Sick Keesar, presented a petition to the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, complaining that he and his fellows had been “compelled by force of arms” to sail the ship from the East Indies, that on the passage they had been “much ill treated” by the Captain, being given “a very narrow allowance of provision”, that they had come to Philadelphia hoping in vain to find a ship to carry them home “to their friends and their country”, and that “they are now in a very distressed situation..." The cause of these unfortunates was taken up by Benjamin Franklin, just returned from a diplomatic embassy to France to become Council President. On November 3, Franklin told the Council that the sailors were “now without money, and at once unaccustomed to the manners, language and climate of this country, they were induced to pray for the interposition of government, and beg from it” a “supply of food and clothing”. Franklin insisted that it was “a matter of some importance that these people should not be permitted to carry home with them any well-founded prejudice against either the justice or humanity of these United States” and urged the Council to make provision “for their immediate health and comfort.” The Council agreed, and over the ensuing year approved seven expenditures for feeding the sailors – five for hundreds of pounds of beef and two for bread. The document offered here records the second of those payments, signed by Council Vice President Charles Biddle, himself a seafaring man and Naval veteran of the Revolution. But the charitable spirit wore thin after a year had passed with the sailors still left penniless in Philadelphia, and the Council decided on September 2, 1786 that Asian “natives” who had been “for some months past supported at the expence of this State”, should be sent back to Baltimore and left to their own devices. The last Council expenditure for the Pallas sailors was on October 3, to Dr. John Foulke, a friend of Franklin’s, for his treatment of several Chinese and Indian sailors who had died. It is not known how many of the sailors survived, whether they ever found passage on a ship back to Asia - or whether any remained to become the first Asian immigrants of the new nation.

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Yellowed with tiny spots of foxing; very good.
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