Shanghai, China: 1854. Unbound. This two-page stampless folded letter between merchants measures approximately 16” x 10” unfolded. It was sent from Smith, King & Company in Shanghai to Dane, Danet & Company in Boston. It is datelined “Shanghai / 11th April 1854” and bears a bold “24” rate marking along with a London District postmark on its front evidencing its transport from Shanghai to London via the ship Marseilles. Subsequently it was sent to Boston via the ship Atlantic; a London forwarding agent handstamp and Boston receiving postmark are on the reverse. In nice shape. A transcript will be provided.
In this letter the Smith, King & Co. agent relates the excitement that had occurred in Shanghai’s recently established foreign business community as the Taiping Rebellion was rollicking China.
“Our community has been in considerable excitement. The Imperial soldiers in the rear of the foreign residences made several attacks upon parties of gentlemen who were out walking & some of such a serious making that the English & American officials thought as a matter of public safety that the camps nearest to foreign ground should be removed. As the Chinese refused to do this they were attacked by the combined English & American forces, but in the assault some two or three of our foreign residents were wounded and a number of Sailors & Marines killed & disabled. The Imperial camps were at once burnt, and the settlement is now held in armed possession by the foreigners . . . personally we have nothing to fear, but the natives were greatly alarmed. . ..
“Pekin gazettes have been received up to the 20th March, reporting great victories over the Northern Army of Rebels, who appear to have retreated to the Southward, this account must be taken with great allowance, but it looks as if they had experienced some reverses. . .. He also notes how the rebellion has affected foreign merchants in Shanghai.
“Trade at present is about at a stand – 40 yd Drills are quite unmarketable at $2.00 prpc and if sales are forced would not realised $1.80. Imports of all kinds are now in no demand at all and we do not think this state of compression will fairly subside until the question of the Rebellion is finally settled.
“In Exports but little has been done, and no receipts of Green Teas are reported since the date of our circular. Chops that were closest hand on the 4th have been turned back, and under any Circumstances we do not think our supply hereafter will be over 5000 packages. “There have been no departures since our last the “Rose Standish” is nearly laden for New York & the “Jacob Bell” will leave in a few days stopping at Whampon to fill up. The Golden City arrived yesterday from California & we understand will be sent to London Exchange. . ..”. Very good. Item #010102
As reported in “The Battle of Muddy Flat” which was originally published in 1890 by the North-China Herald at Shanghai,
Although the city was first opened to foreign trade in 1843, by 1853 there were only about 375 foreigner living in the port. At the time, China was in the midst of the Taiping and other smaller rebellions. One such smaller group of rebels, the Small Swords Society and the Triads dominated Shanghai. After the Imperial Army captured Nanking and Chingkianfu, it was clear that it would next head to Shanghai to reestablish Imperial control. In anticipation that it would soon be caught in the middle of a civil war, the British and Americans living in the city established a joint Shanghai Volunteer Defense Force to augment the small contingents of national forces protecting the community.
Eventually, a large force of 10,000 Imperial soldiers arrived, set up camps along the western border of the international enclave, and began to skirmish with the rebels. On April 3rd, an Imperial patrol attacked a foreign couple, severely wounding the husband, before being driven off by the Volunteer Corps. Subsequently, the leaders of the foreign community demanded that the Imperial army move their camps and refrain from attacking or drawing fire upon it. When the Imperial commander refused to do so, on April 4th British and American military contingents and the Volunteer Corps attacked and routed the much larger Imperial Army, driving them away from Shanghai. Losses to the Imperial Army are unknown, however the Shanghai foreigners suffered 18 casualties, two deaths and 16 wounded, two of whom eventually died.
The battle was significant for several reasons. It was the first time British and American forces ever fought together on a battlefield. It also established the precedent of Chinese armies ignoring the international settlement although fighting with opposing forces in and around the city. And, it fomented a desire for vengeance among both Imperialists and some rebels for the humiliating defeat of the Chinese army.
Smith, King & Company was one of the first American export firms to operate from Shanghai.
Dane, Dana & Company was a Boston, Massachusetts based import and export merchant operated by Samuel Turner Dana, Mortimer C. Ferris and J.T. Hayward. The company engaged in the China trade exporting cotton goods, lead, wood and coal and importing tea, silks and chinaware from Hong Kong and Shanghai. The firm also imported pepper from Penang, rattan from Singapore and indigo and coffee from Manila. Dane, Dana & Co. owned some of their ships and were part owners of others.” (from Harvard’s Baker Library)
Exceptionally rare, far more so than Boxer Rebellion material. This appears to be the only known first-hand original source account of the battle. At the time of listing, nothing similar is for sale in the trade. The Rare Book Hub, Worthpoint, and other meta-databases identify nothing similar as having ever appeared at auction. And, OCLC shows nothing similar in any institutional collection, although monographs of the 1904 newspaper article are held by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the British Library, Trinity College, Harvard University, and the Peabody Essex Museum..