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Caleb Smith letters sent from Hong Kong to Ethelbert Marshall Smith in Amoy (Xieman), China

 Collection — Box: BW-6
Identifier: MS-0796

Scope and Contents

Rewritten from dealer description: This collection consists of two autograph letters dated May 28, 1964 and December 3, 1864, from Caleb Smith in Hong Kong to his brother Ethelbert Marshall Smith, in Amoy, China. The first letter mentions dealings in cotton and Bengal rice, (on British vessels) and asks: "What do you think of the prospects at Amoy?"

The second, more significant, letter predicts imminent Union victory in the Civil War and Lincoln's re-election, talks about other family members who were coming to China, and addresses a quandary in which Ethelbert found himself: "My dear Brother, ... I have thought somewhat of the matter you allude to and at the moment can only say that it strikes me it would not be wise for you to change again so soon unless there are things that go against the conscience in your position. For my own part I don't like dealing in opium and should not do it on my own account but situated as you are, you cannot of course be the chooser of what articles shall be sold. My advice is to remain where you are for the present, at any rate till something better turns up. I am sorry there are unpleasant things to endure but they exist everywhere and it is impossible to avoid all. My views may be erroneous but such as they are you have the benefit of them ..." The letters are folded quarto and octavo, and consist of seven pages.


  • Creation: 1864 May 28
  • Creation: 1864 December 3


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is housed off-site and requires 48-hours' notice for retrieval. Contact Special Collections for more information. Collection is open for use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright.

Biographical / Historical

Rewritten from dealer description: Caleb Smith had come to Hong Kong, China at the age of thirty in the later 1850s as partner in a small merchant firm. His younger brother Ethelbert joined him for a time, but at the start of the Civil War moved to on to the port of Amoy (Xieman), where at age twenty-three he began serving as unofficial United States Vice-Consul. President Lincoln's official Consul at Amoy was Thomas B. Bradford, an ardently anti-slavery Presbyterian Minister whose Pennsylvania home had been an active station of the Underground Railroad. Bradford, appointed in July 1861, did not actually reach China until the beginning of 1862 and then remained at Amoy for less than a year, departing because of ill-health. In his place, he left his twenty-six year old son Oliver as Vice-Consul, who in turn, soon moved on to Shanghai, where, thirteen years later, he was impeached as Vice-Consul-General and convicted of vast government fraud.

Throughout the War, the one stable consular official at Amoy was the younger Smith, who never had any official appointment at all. Smith was still acting as Vice-Consul when he received the first of these letters in May, but by December, when the second letter arrived, he had joined an unnamed private company. In the meantime, in October, Dr. William Irvin, a politically connected Pennsylvania physician, had arrived as Lincoln's substitute for the long absent Bradford. Irvin lasted less than a year, dying in a cholera epidemic in 1865.

It is clear from Caleb's first letter that the brothers were closely connected in business, notwithstanding Ethelbert's position as Vice-Consul. This was not unusual in the mid-eighteenth century, when United States consular officials were tasked to assist private American entrepreneurs in overseas business. Whether or not Caleb gave special treatment to his brother's affairs is unclear; however, it is clear from the second letter that Ethelbert had moral principles because whatever firm he had joined after giving up the Vice-Consulship was dealing in opium, which so disturbed Ethelbert that he thought immediately of resigning. Perhaps he was dissuaded by advice from his more experienced brother. It was not long before he settled in New York to become, like his brother, a China tea merchant who did not stoop to profit from more "unpleasant" business.


.167 Cubic Feet (1 legal-sized folder)

Language of Materials



This collection consists of two letters written on May 28 and December 3, 1864 from Caleb Smith to his younger brother Ethelbert Marshall Smith. The letters describe business dealings overseas during the 19th century, as well as personal matters. Caleb Smith worked in Hong Kong at a small merchant firm, and Ethelbert worked in Amoy (Xiamen, China) as the United States unnoficial Vice-Consul before moving to work at an unnamed private company.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from Michael Brown Rare Books in February 2016.

Processing Information

Processed by Kristen Diehl in January 2018.


Caleb Smith letters sent from Hong Kong to Ethelbert Marshall Smith in Amoy (Xieman), China
Kristen Diehl
January 2018
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

The Sheridan Libraries
Special Collections
3400 N Charles St
Baltimore MD 21218 USA