This sign is awaiting installation

Ship owners with offices on India Wharf were very active in the China Trade. Like all foreigners doing business in China, U.S. traders were restricted, during the six-month trading season, to living and completing transactions in a designated area of Quangzhou (Canton) shown on this c.1800 painting.

Trade by Sea

Independence freed Americans from restrictive British Navigation Acts, and Boston merchants leaped at the opportunity to trade with any country in the world. Soon their ships were sailing for the Mediterranean, Russia, South America, and the Far East.

Starting in the late 1700s, Bostonians made fortunes in the China Trade, including Thomas H. Perkins, George Lyman, and Thomas Wigglesworth, who had their offices on India Wharf. They imported thousands of pounds of tea as well as silk and porcelain. In exchange, they initially traded sea otter and seal furs obtained from Native people in the Northwest, and later sandalwood from Pacific islands. These natural resources were quickly decimated. Most U.S. merchants then switched to opium from Turkey and India as their principal trade product—despite Chinese laws prohibiting its importation.

In the 1860s, Boston's sea trade began to shift away from the downtown wharves to other areas of the harbor. However, for decades India Wharf continued to be busy as regularly scheduled steamships operated from here to Portland, Maine, and New York City, until all commercial activity ended in the 1950s.

More...

How did the Harborwalk come to exist? [expand]

How did Colonial laws help create today's Harborwalk? [expand]

Why smuggle opium? [expand]

Where did the opium come from? [expand]

How did China address the opium crisis? [expand]

What were the Opium Wars? [expand]

Why does the opium trade matter? [expand]

Where is the "East Indies"? [expand]

What was imported from India? [expand]

For information about a replica of the Columbia-Rediviva [expand]

For the saga of one of Eastern Steamship Lines most unlucky vessels, the City of Rockland [expand]

Resources

Credits

Columbia: Illustration by George Davidson, a crew member on Columbia-Rediviva's second fur-trading voyage, 1793. Courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society

Brochure: Courtesy of Historic New England

India Wharf photo: Original 1906 photo from Library of Congress; colored image courtesy of TD Bank

About us

The Friends of the Boston Harborwalk is a group of volunteers, affiliated with Boston Harbor Now, dedicated to enhancing enjoyment of Boston's 43-mile Harborwalk. The Friends meet monthly to plan and coordinate our three main priorities.

1. Host monthly two-hour long tours connected to the Harborwalk or Boston Harbor;

2. Facilitate waterfront clean-up days to ensure that the full length of the Harborwalk is clean, safe, and inviting;

3. Create engaging interpretive signs to help people learn about and enjoy the rich stories connected to Boston's waterfront.

For more information and to join the Friends, contact Mike Manning, Chair, mmanning@bostonharbornow.org .