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.