Caleb Smith letters sent from Hong Kong to Ethelbert Marshall Smith in Amoy (Xieman), China
- 1864 May 28
- 1864 December 3
- Smith, Caleb Tangier (Person)
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Conditions Governing Use
.167 Cubic Feet (1 legal-sized folder)
Biographical / Historical
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.
Scope and Contents
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.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Part of the Special Collections Repository
The Sheridan Libraries
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