Prologue Magazine

The Voyage of the “Coolie” Ship Kate Hooper, October 3, 1857–March 26, 1858

Summer 2001, Vol. 33, No. 2

By Robert J. Plowman

When the merchant ship Kate Hooper left Hong Kong in July 1857 for Havana, Cuba, it was embarking on a journey that was expected to be a routine sailing, much like that of many ships of the time, carrying lucrative cargo to the West. The 15,576-mile journey, however, proved to be anything but normal or routine.

During the 174-day trip to Cuba, the Kate Hooper would endure official scorn, the death of its captain and some of its crew, and several mutinies by its cargo—652 indentured Chinese laborers, known as coolies,1 who thought they were going to San Francisco, not Cuba; they even set the ship on fire. And the journey would end with much of the ship's crew in a Havana jail.

This particular journey of the Kate Hooper came to light recently when the staff of the Mid Atlantic Region of the National Archives and Records Administration was performing preservation work on circuit court appellate files, 1830–1870, from the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland (Record Group 21).

At first glance, the case of James A. Hooper v. George White, et al (No. 6, November Term 1858) appeared to be routine. The crew of the ship had brought a libel for wages case against the owner, James A. Hooper, because the captain, John J. Jackson, had told them that they would receive additional wages upon completion of the voyage. Hooper refused to pay them, and the crew filed suit in district court (No. 15, April Term 1858). Judge William F. Giles ruled in favor of the crew, but Hooper appealed the verdict to the circuit court of appeals. Eventually, the case was decided by Roger B. Taney, chief justice of the United States, who was the sitting circuit judge for that area.

Intertwined among the facts of the case—coming just a few years before the United States would fight its own Civil War over slavery—was the larger question of the propriety of transporting coolies, who would be indentured laborers, like slaves.

James A. Hooper, a member of a well-known mercantile family of Baltimore, added the Kate Hooper to his fleet in 1853.2 The Baltimore firm of Hunt and Wagner of built it, and it was probably named for his wife, Catherine Hooper.3 A fairly large sailing vessel, it had two decks, three masts, was 205 feet in length, 39 feet, 6 inches in breadth, and 20 feet in depth, weighing a total of 1,488 76/95 tons.4 On June 15, 1854, it left New York bound for San Francisco, arriving there on October 25.5 It next appeared in Hong Kong and began to transport Chinese laborers to San Francisco.6 At that time the tea and rice trade was not nearly as profitable as the transportation of Chinese coolies.7 Soon, though, a slowdown in Chinese immigration to California as well as increased competition in the tea trade from the British led many large sailing ships, including the Kate Hooper, to change their destinations to the West Indies.8 Even by conservative estimates, the profit from a West Indian voyage was at least five times that which could be realized from a similar voyage to San Francisco.9

Chinese immigration to California had been the immediate predecessor to the coolie trade. For the most part, those immigrants had gone voluntarily, and American authorities had little reason to be disturbed over it. When West Indian and South American needs for labor—especially in Cuba, Peru, and Brazil—created a new demand, the coolie trade began to blossom.

The trade began in poor rural Chinese villages. Coolie agents, called brokers, would go into the countryside and procure men for which they were paid a certain sum per head. They tried to seduce the indigent villagers by offering money if they would emigrate. If the enticement of money did not work, the brokers used kidnappers to recruit for them. Although the Chinese government issued warnings to the people about these kidnappers, it is clear that kidnapping and intimidation were common, and torture was not unknown.10 The Cuban investors and prospective buyers were only concerned that their agents should have enough expertise to avoid shipping the old and the sick.

The laborers, after being "recruited," were constantly under guard. When they reached their port of embarkation, they were placed in what were called "barracoons." These were nothing more than holding jails. It was here that they stayed until they were sent on board a ship. Legally, the Chinese laborers were indentured servants. Before they sailed, each immigrant signed a contract committing himself to work for eight years. The laborer would receive four dollars a month plus food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. The contracts, which were written in Chinese and in Spanish, changed very little over the years. Their basic function would seem to have been to set the traffic in indentured laborers apart from the slave traffic, which was illegal. Technically, what was auctioned at Havana was the piece of paper containing the laborer's contract. But Cubans never talked about hiring Chinese; rather they spoke openly of "buying Chinese."11 The contract, as a legal document, merely served to facilitate the transfer of control or ownership of the laborer from importer to employer and from one employer to another. After the Chinese laborer's term of indenture was over, he would be given his freedom, but there was no guarantee of passage back to China.

Although the contracts fulfilled the owner's requirement to justify the legality of the coolie trade, the coolies themselves were unwilling emigrants. It has been estimated that anywhere from one-third to two-thirds of the passengers on any given ship were disillusioned and discontented with their lot.12 In these circumstances, it is easy to see how unfair treatment or cruelty on the part of the ship's crew could readily spark a revolt. The absence of interpreters on many of the ships impeded communication between passengers and crew, easily leading to confrontation.13

Some 124,813 Chinese laborers were imported into Cuba between 1848 and 1874.14 One scholar has stated that approximately 90 percent worked on the sugar or tobacco plantations. The remaining 10 percent worked as tailors, hat makers, cigar and cigarette makers, cooks, gardeners, waiters, or hotel and house servants.15 The estimated mortality rate of the Chinese workers was disturbingly high. During the period 1847 - 1874, as many as 50 - 60 percent did not survive their indenture.

Although the coolie trade was profitable, the U.S. stood alone among all other Western nations in its opposition to it. Throughout the 1850s, while British representatives in China generally counseled the control of Chinese emigration through legislation, American diplomats for the most part urged its complete prohibition.16

Humphrey Marshall was the first U.S. commissioner to China to take notice of this trade and express concern. He arrived in China in January 1853 and immediately requested detailed information on emigration from U.S. consuls on the China coast.17 Marshall, being a Southerner, regarded the importation of Chinese laborers into the Caribbean as a possible threat to the interest of Southern planters. He was worried that the various shipping companies would try to introduce them into the South. He even thought that it might be possible for the British to use the workers to colonize the Amazon basin.18 He therefore advised Washington to prohibit American vessels from carrying Chinese to Latin America.19

Dr. Peter Parker, a medical missionary in China who became U.S. commissioner to China in 1855, led the hardest fight to prohibit the transportation of coolies.20 As chargé d'affaires to the American legation at Canton in the early 1850s, Dr. Parker came in direct contact with the cruelties and deceptions of the trade and soon became a crusader for its abolition.21 While he was in Washington in the spring of 1855, the secretary of state advised him to denounce the "Coolie trade" at "an opportune time."22 Upon his return to China, his first official act was to issue in January 1856 a "Public Notification" calling upon all Americans on the China coast to desist from the coolie trade, classifying it as an "irregular and immoral traffic" that was disruptive of commerce and was jeopardizing Sino-American relations. He warned those who dared to persist in the trade that they would forfeit the protection of the U.S. government and be liable to heavy penalties, and he instructed United States consuls at various Chinese ports to give copies of the "Notification" to the local Chinese authorities.23 Unfortunately, Parker's notification did little to halt the trade. Parker tried in every way to arouse public opinion and continued to lobby against the trade when he returned to Washington in retirement in 1857.24

Many U.S. trading firms ignored the notification and challenged the claim that the traffic was prohibited by U.S. laws. Their position received support from Attorney General Jeremiah S. Black, who, in an 1859 letter to Secretary of State Lewis Cass, expressed the opinion that the trade in Chinese emigrants did not come under the provisions of any existing U.S. laws and suggested that Congress alone could remedy the evil.25 The number of Chinese transported to Cuba after Parker's notification clearly shows the shippers' disregard of it: 10,101 in 1857, 16,411 in 1858, and 8,539 in 1859. Between 1847 and 1856, the average numbers had been more than 5,000 a year.26

James A. Hooper, the owner of the Kate Hooper, was one of those who ignored the pleas of Dr. Parker. On August 18, 1857, Capt. John J. Jackson, the master of the ship, entered into a charter with Lydall and Still, agents for A. R. Ferran of Macao, to transport Chinese laborers to Havana, Cuba. There they would be delivered to Don R. R. Torices or his agents.27 When the ship arrived in Hong Kong from San Francisco in July 1857, it underwent extensive renovations to make it ready to transport a large number of laborers to Cuba. The ship's carpenter, Thomas Bradford, detailed these renovations in his deposition to the court:

Her between decks fore and aft were lined with bunks; all amidships as far as the hatches would permit was lined with bunks in the same way. Upon her main deck there were four large cookhouses. Three of those houses were fitted with six large pots in them built up similar to furnaces, which by everyone that saw them was fit to cook for six or seven hundred men. . . . Down in the lower hold there were two tiers of water casks filled with water, occupying a part of the hold. The fore, main and aft hatches were fitted with carlings for gratings. These were made of iron and were put on by myself when we got to Macao.28

These hatches were encircled with iron bars securely fastened to the deck, creating impregnable cages in which the members of the crew could watch over their passengers in time of trouble.29 The ship's carpenter estimated that the renovations cost more than twelve thousand dollars.30 This certainly was not an inexpensive modification, and one would believe that Hooper was planning on using his ship to carry Chinese workers more than once.

With the ship now modified, it began preparations to sail to Havana, Cuba. On September 29, 1857, the crew signed on at the U.S. consul's office in Hong Kong. The ship's company consisted of Captain Jackson; First Mate Francis Bowden; the carpenter, Thomas Bradford; the coolie master, Thomas G. Taylor; twenty-four able seamen; six ordinary seamen; one cook; one steward; and two cabin boys for a total complement of thirty-eight.31 The monthly rate of pay was $75 for the first mate, $20 for the carpenter, $60 for the coolie master, $15 for each of the able seamen, $13 for ordinary seamen, $15 for the cook, $15 for the steward, and $12 for each cabin boy.32

On the evening of October 3, 1857, the Kate Hooper set sail for the Portuguese colony of Macao. It arrived there some sixteen hours later on October 4.33 Loading the supplies—water, meat, rice, and tea—took approximately ten days. Two days before leaving for Havana, the Chinese laborers boarded. They came in lighters, small vessels that held approximately fifty men, and were well guarded by policemen. A total of 652 Chinese laborers were put on board the ship.34

William A. Macy, deputy U.S. consul at Macao, reported to the secretary of state that no certificate was required from the American consulate when the coolies were carried in an American vessel, "but it has been stated that each of the coolies must have a passport from the Spanish consul residing here, and the captain a certificate of compliance with the Spanish regulations." Macy further added: "Two vessels have loaded this year (one of which was the Kate Hooper) for Havana, with these Chinese laborers, and in the absence of any authority to restrain them, they have been simply warned of the consequences as laid down in the decree of Dr. Parker on this subject, and required to furnish evidence that they were not violating the passenger act. I trust some steps may be taken to restrain American vessels from engaging in the business hereafter."35

At this juncture, conflicting viewpoints arise on events that took place on the ship. A number of the crew said in their depositions that they had been unaware that the ship was going to carry coolies. When they signed on in Hong Kong, they said, they believed that it was going to carry cargo. When they saw the laborers being boarded, some of them went to Captain Jackson and requested that they be allowed to leave the ship so that they might talk to the American consul in Macao. Had they known it was going to be a "coolie ship," they would not have agreed to make the voyage. In their view, the ship needed a larger crew in order to maintain control of the laborers, and no provisions had been made to add additional members. Captain Jackson had refused to allow the crew to leave the ship since they were too close to leaving port and could not delay.36 Bowden, the first mate, and Bradford, the carpenter, denied this story, claiming one would have had to have been blind not to recognize all the renovations that were being made to the ship in Hong Kong and that the crew saw all the provisions that were taken on board the Kate Hooper before it left Macao. Why did they wait so long before they complained to Captain Jackson?

With the passengers on board, the ship set sail from Macao with the morning tide at 9 a.m. on October 15, 1857. The crew was given muskets and bayonets and divided into three watches of four hours each to stand guard.37 They allowed the laborers on deck rather then keep them in the hold of the ship, but those watching them were told to be watchful, and if any attempted to jump ship and swim ashore, they were to fire on them.38

Just four days out of Macao, trouble brewed. At approximately 8 p.m. on October 19, some of the laborers threatened the crew with an insurrection. Well over three hundred were on deck at the time, but the crew on watch was able to force them below deck and fasten the hatches. What caused this disturbance? Evidently the Chinese had become aware that they were not heading to San Francisco, which is what they believed to be their destination. Since the ship was sailing in a westerly course, toward the Indian Ocean and Cape of Good Hope, rather than east to North America, they realized they were heading to Cuba and rose in revolt.39 The ship's owner, responding to later accusations by the crew, denied that the laborers did not know where they were headed. He said that each one of the Chinese emigrants had signed an agreement written in Chinese and Spanish that they were indentured for a period of eight years in Cuba. Further, he claimed, all those who set sail from Macao knew this and made the trip willingly.40 The truth of these statements is doubtful because it was unlikely that any of the emigrants could read and write, which meant they were at the mercy of whatever the coolie agents had told them. Dr. Parker believed that these agents used any means they could to get poor, illiterate Chinese on board these ships.41

After this uprising, the captain of the ship felt it necessary not only to restore order but also to punish those who had led the revolt. On October 20, four men were put in irons, and three of them were flogged. One received forty-eight lashes, and two others received twenty-four each. The last escaped flogging because of his age (said to be about fifteen).42

This revolt was just the beginning of trouble on the Kate Hooper, however. Seventeen days later, on November 6, the Chinese again rose in revolt. Captain Jackson believed that sighting land while preparing to go through the Gaspar Straits (separating the islands of Java and Sumatra) had agitated them.43 When trouble began on deck, the crew forced the men below and fastened the hatches. This did not quell the uprising. Some of the men took the straw stuffing out of the sleeping mattresses, added straw hats to the piles, and then set them afire. The crew immediately placed tarpaulins over the hatches. If the passengers did not wish to suffocate due to lack of air, they had to put out their fires. This they did. The crew then removed the tarpaulins.44

The Chinese emigrants were not yet finished. On the morning of November 7, they began to break up the wooden frames of their sleeping berths, smashed the lanterns in their quarters, and lit another fire. Again the crew placed the tarpaulins over the hatches, and again the fire was extinguished. But soon after, the passengers tried to force open the hatches, and when this failed, they again set a fire below decks. Again the crew resorted to the same measures. The tarpaulins were placed over the covers, and the fires were put out.45

Captain Jackson felt that if these disturbances continued, the ship and crew would be in danger. He therefore ordered the United States flag flown upside down to show that the ship was in distress and ordered two lifeboats to get ready in case the crew had to abandon ship. One lifeboat was loaded with food supplies, charts, and a compass and lowered into the water. A second lifeboat was hanging from the davits (a crane).46

Before the crew took any further action, a ship sailing nearby spotted the distress signal. It was an American vessel, the Flying Childers. The first mate of this ship plus six or seven crewman came aboard the Kate Hooper. The first mate asked how they could be of assistance. Captain Jackson stated that perhaps the Kate Hooper should be abandoned or even blown up.47 His first mate, Bowden, disagreed. He believed the captain was too ill to render any decision of this nature.48 Jackson had taken ill soon after they left Macao, and his condition worsened as the journey proceeded.49 First Mate Bowden argued that if the crew stuck with the ship, they could restore order. Bowden asked the crew if they would support him, and they all agreed. He also suggested that Captain Jackson be transferred to the Flying Childers because of his poor health. He further asked for more arms.50 Captain Jackson agreed that the crew needed more weapons, but he refused to leave his ship.51 The first mate of the Flying Childers left and returned with his captain along with the necessary arms, which consisted of two dozen muskets, two dozen handcuffs, a dozen cutlasses, and some powder.52

With this reinforcement, the remaining fires were put out, and the hatches were raised.53 First Mate Bowden asked the Chinese to identify the ringleaders of the revolt. If they cooperated, Bowden argued, they would be able to come up on deck as before. Fortunately, some of the Chinese were able to speak English, and one of them had even served as a steward for the captain of the Flying Childers two years earlier. These men were able to identify five of the ringleaders. This time, the leaders of the uprising received much more severe punishment. One of the them was bound head and foot and thrown overboard; while he was floundering at sea, he was shot by the coolie master, Taylor. Two were shot to death on the poop deck. One was hanged by the spanker gaff, and one was shot between decks.54 Four others were flogged, three with twelve lashes and one with twenty-four lashes.55 Eighteen others were picked out and put in double irons and kept in irons until just before landing in Havana.56

The fearful crew decided not to return to their quarters but to sleep on deck. The Chinese were allowed to come up on deck, but only twenty-four at a time. The Flying Childers continued to follow the Kate Hooper until they sailed into the port of Angier Point on Java on November 13.57 Captain Jackson realized that his crew was extremely tired from standing guard over the coolies. Jackson appealed to the harbormaster for a guard of soldiers to help him. The harbormaster said that he would be unable to comply and advised Jackson to seek assistance from the American consulate in Batavia (Jakarta), some sixty miles away.58

Since Captain Jackson's condition had not improved, he sent Francis Bowden to the American consul in Batavia. Bowden appealed to Henry Anthon, Jr., the vice consul, for assistance. He presented a letter from Captain Jackson outlining the trouble the ship had just experienced. It is interesting to note that Jackson, in the first part of his request, informed the vice consul that he was transporting Chinese "passengers." Jackson further stated: "As these people all came on board of their own free will and as I told them twice publicly that any man who did not come willingly should not be taken on board."59 Anthon was at first undecided as to what course of action he should take. In a letter to the secretary of state, Lewis Cass, Anthon referred to Dr. Peter Parker's "Notification" that condemned the coolie trade "in no measured terms," but he did not have a copy in his office nor did he know if the notification was still in force. The vice consul took the easy way out—he asked the secretary of state for advice.60

Vice Consul Anthon then assisted the first mate of the Kate Hooper in his attempt to obtain more sailors to join the other crewmen. He was able to find eleven men who were in Batavia at the time, and they signed the shipping articles in the consul's office.61 After returning to Angier Point, another four sailors were found willing to sail on the Kate Hooper, bringing the total number of additional sailors to fifteen.62

After staying in Angier Point for a few days, the Kate Hooper resumed its voyage to Havana. Two days later, on November 27, 1857, Captain Jackson dictated a note to his first mate to be read to the crew on the deck. It said: "Whereas in consequence of the extra work and fatigue incurred by the crew on this passage through carrying coolies and their mutinous conduct and because of their good conduct and exertions to reduce the mutiny. I hereby agree to pay the men shipped in Hong Kong ten dollars a month over and above the wages signed for in the articles the said extra pay to commence from the time leaving Macao to continue until the arrival of the ship Kate Hooper in Havana."63 For those sailors who were aloft at the time, Bowden instructed the ship's sailmaker to read the note when they were finished with their duties.64

Meanwhile, Captain Jackson's health continued to deteriorate. He rarely rose from his bed, and he asked the first mate to perform his duties. On December 15, 1857, while the Kate Hooper was off the coast of Madagascar, Captain Jackson died. The ship's carpenter, Bradford, attributed his death to "an inflammation of the bowels."65 Captain Jackson was buried at sea.

The ship continued on its voyage to Cuba. After rounding the Cape of Good Hope and entering the Atlantic Ocean, it made only one stop— the island of St. Helena off the coast of West Africa—on January 5, 1858. It was here that the acting captain, Bowden, went to the U.S. consulate to report the death of Captain Jackson. He also reported the death of two other crewmembers who had died at sea. Bowden was then officially registered by Consul George W. Kimbell as the captain of the Kate Hooper.66 While docked in St. Helena, the ship was re-stocked with stores for the crew and the Chinese. Captain Bowden reported that another crewman fell ill and left the ship in order to be admitted to the local hospital, and an additional seaman was hired to join the ship's crew.67

The remainder of the trip across the Atlantic to Havana was uneventful. There was no reported trouble from the Chinese, although the captain did report that another member of the crew died en route to Havana.68 One day out from Havana, those Chinese who were still in irons were released.

The Kate Hooper docked in Havana on February 12, 1858. The Chinese were the first ones to leave the ship. Their eight-year indentures were sold for eighty dollars each.69 Of the 652 men who boarded in Macao, 612 survived the voyage. Thirty-eight died on the voyage, which included the five who were killed as a result of the revolt. The mortality rate for this voyage was a remarkable 6 percent. The average death rate of the coolie voyages to Cuba for the years 1857 and 1858 was 17 percent.70

It is interesting to note that even at the end of the voyage, the United States consulate was still concerned about the legality of coolies being transported on American vessels. On March 9, 1858, the consul general of Cuba, Andrew K. Blythe, wrote to John Applegate, the assistant secretary of state in Washington: "I have made no formal investigation since both vessels [the Kate Hooper was one of the two] are homeward bound. I would like very much to be instructed as to the policy of the Government in relation to this trade and my duties in connection therewith."71

The final difficulty arising out of the voyage of the Kate Hooper was a disgruntled crew. It happened that the owner of the ship, James A. Hooper, was in Havana at the time the ship docked. He came aboard and was faced with an angry crew. Most of the crew demanded that they be paid their bonus of forty dollars (the ten dollars a month that Captain Jackson had promised) and that they be permitted to go ashore for the day. Hooper agreed to this, but he demanded that the ship depart for Baltimore at the scheduled time. Hooper said that he would be back the next day with their pay.72 Before he left the ship, Hooper had a conversation with Captain Bowden. Bowden advised him not to give the crew the extra pay. He did not think the entire crew deserved it, and said that only four or five crewmen merited the bonus. Hooper told Bowden that the American consul had informed him that if the crew received their bonus, they would get drunk and not return to the ship. Hooper then informed Bowden that he was no longer the captain of the Kate Hooper. Instead, he had hired Edward P. Johnson to be the master of the ship. Hooper did offer Bowden the first mate's position, but Bowden declined.73

The next day, February 13, 1858, the new captain and a clerk from the U.S. consulate's office came aboard the ship. They informed the crew that Hooper had changed his mind. The consul's clerk said that the crew could not go ashore with so much money. Such a large sum in their hands would cause a great deal of trouble for the local authorities and for his office.74 Captain Johnson said that Hooper had instructed him to say that the crew could either take their extra pay and stay on board or not take the pay at this time and go ashore. They would be paid when they returned to their homeport of Baltimore. Captain Johnson added that, in effect, they should not receive the bonus at all since Captain Jackson had been out of his mind due to his illness when he signed the bonus pay statement.75

The crew deliberated what they should do and decided that they wanted both the bonus pay and their liberty on shore. Captain Johnson refused and informed that that if they did not concede to the owner's demands, they would be placed in jail. The crew again refused to comply. A stalemate developed between the crew and the owner. A few weeks went by without concessions from either side. On March 6 a police officer and two soldiers came on board the Kate Hooper and placed fifteen of the crew under arrest. They were kept in jail for three nights and two days.76 On March 9 Captain Johnson and Consul Blythe visited the jailed crew. They urged them to drop their demands and return to the ship. Captain Johnson promised that they would not deduct their jail fees from their wages. Eight agreed to return; seven remained steadfast and in jail. On March 10 the captain and the consul pleaded with them again. After an hour and a half of negotiations there was no change in their position. Captain Johnson needed these men back on board the ship because he could not leave Havana without a full crew. He asked the U.S. consul to personally intervene again. The next day, the remaining seven in jail were taken to the American consulate, where Blythe talked to them again. One more agreed to go back to the ship. The remaining six went back to jail. There they stayed until the Kate Hooper set sail for Baltimore on March 20, 1858.77 The American consul considered the remaining six as deserters, and all the pay due them for the voyage was forfeited.78

The captain was now compelled to hire additional crewmen to take the places of the ones still in jail. This turned out to be quite expensive. Nine new sailors joined the crew: seven were each paid twenty-five dollars, and two received fifteen dollars. Not bad for a six-day voyage!79 The crew loaded a small cargo of preserves, oranges, bananas, and some Cuban cigars on the ship, and it left Havana for Baltimore.80 The Kate Hooper arrived in its home port on March 26, 1858—174 days after leaving Hong Kong on October 3, 1857.

Upon docking in Baltimore, the crew was paid for their voyage—but they did not receive the ten-dollar-a-month bonus. It did not take the crew long to react. On April 3, 1858, sixteen members of the crew filed a libel for wages action in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. Judge William F. Giles heard the case. James Hooper, the owner, filed an answer on June 22. The case was heard in the district court beginning on June 29, and it continued until July 6, 1858, when Judge Giles issued his decision.81 He disregarded the testimony about the revolt of the Chinese, the death of Captain Jackson, and the mutiny of the crew in Havana. His only concern was Captain Jackson's note of November 24, 1857, in which he promised the crew ten dollars a month in addition to their regular monthly pay. The case was not heard before a jury. Judge Giles said in his decision that "the libellants named in the libel, do each recover the sum of one hundred dollars for extra wages and cost of suit."82

One can well imagine how Hooper received this decision. It was one thing to give them the extra ten dollars a month, but to give the crew one hundred dollars a person was too much. Therefore, on July 28, 1858, Hooper appealed the case to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Chief Justice of the United States Roger B. Taney, who was sitting as the circuit court judge in Baltimore, heard the case on November 22.83 Hooper asked that the case be delayed until he could send someone to Hong Kong to take depositions, but Justice Taney refused. On November 26, 1858, the last day of the circuit court session and before he went back to Washington, D.C., Taney issued his decision: "Decree of District Court reversed upon appeal of said James A. Hooper and instead of sum mentioned in the Decree of the District Court, the said James A. Hooper pay each and every of the libellants the sum of forty dollars with interest paid from February 16, 1858 and pay also the costs adjudged against him in the District Court. Each party to pay his own costs in this court."84 The case was marked "satisfied" on December 1, 1858.

The coolie trade continued to flourish, but not on American vessels.

The constant pressure against the trade exerted by Dr. Parker and like-minded individuals eventually paid off. An 1860 congressional report stated of the trade: "It has, however, grown up rapidly into a mammoth slave trade, abhorrent to humanity, and defiant of law, human and divine."85 On February 19, 1862, Congress passed "An Act to Prohibit the 'Coolie Trade' by American Citizens in American Vessels."86 President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill into law.

The Kate Hooper returned to China after this eventful trip. Consular reports noted it at various Chinese cities from late 1858 through 1860.87 The last reference to it that could be found was in Carl C. Cutler's book, Greyhounds of the Sea, which said that the Kate Hooper was "burned at Hobson's Bay, Australia, in 1862."88


Robert J. Plowman is the assistant regional administrator, National Archives and Records Administration–Mid Atlantic Region, in Philadelphia. He received his B.S. and M.A. degrees from Villanova University and a Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America.



1. The term "coolie" originally was of Hindu origin (kuli). It was used in this period to denote an unskilled laborer from China.

2. For information on the Hooper family, see manuscript collections #795–797 in the Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, MD.

3. Catherine Hooper, p. 82, 4th Ward, Baltimore, MD, Seventh Census of the United States, 1850 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M432), roll 286, Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group (RG) 29, National Archives and Records Administration.

4. Register #130, Vol. 111, Register of Vessels, Port of Baltimore, Records of the Bureau of Customs, RG 36, National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD (NACP).

5. Carl C. Cutler, Greyhounds of the Sea: The Story of the American Clipper Ship (1930), p. 428.

6. Kate Hooper, p. 397, Vol. 1, List of American-Flag Merchant Vessels That Received Certificates of Enrollment or Registry at the Port of New York, 17891867, National Archives and Records Service, Special List No. 22 (1968).

7. Arnold J. Meagher, "The Introduction of Chinese Laborers to Latin America The "Coolie" Trade, 1847–1874" (Ph.D. diss., University of California at Davis, 1975), p. 142.

8. Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," pp. 158–159.

9. Ibid., p. 155.

10. Mary Turner, "Chinese Contract Labour in Cuba,1847–1874" Caribbean Studies 14 (July 1974): 74.

11. Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," p. 193.

12. Ibid., p. 194

13. Ibid.

14. Turner, "Chinese Contract Labour," p. 66

15. Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," p. 234.

16. Ibid., p. 319.

17. Humphrey Marshall to Mr. Everett, Mar. 8, 1853, in Slave and Coolie Trade, 34th Cong., 1st sess., H. Ex. Doc. 105, serial 859, pp. 150–151.

18. Ibid., p. 150.

19. Ibid., p. 151.

20. Edward V. Gulick, Peter Parker and the Opening of China (1973), p. 172.

21. Ibid., p. 173.

22. Peter Parker to Messrs. Sampson and Tappan, Sept. 8, 1856, in House Committee on Commerce, Coolie Trade, 36th Cong., 1st sess., 1860, H. Rept. 443, serial 1069, p. 7.

23. Ibid., pp. 6–7.

24. Gulick, Peter Parker, p. 184.

25. Jeremiah S. Black to Lewis Cass, Mar. 11, 1859, in Coolie Trade, H. Rept. 443, p. 23.

26. Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," table 13, "Number of Chinese Imported into Cuba Annually from 1847–1873," p. 182A.

27. "Charter Party" [contract], dated Aug. 18, 1857, Admiralty Case No. 15, June Term 1858, George White, et al. v. Ship Kate Hooper, her boats, tackle, apparel, and furniture and James A. Hooper, owner, U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Records of District Courts of the United States, RG 21, NARA–Mid Atlantic Region (hereinafter cited as White v. Hooper).

28. Deposition of Thomas Bradford, May 8, 1858, ibid.

29. Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," p. 169.

30. Bradford Deposition, White v. Hooper.

31. Shipping articles, Sept. 29, 1857, ibid.

32. Ibid.

33. Libel, Apr. 6, 1858, White v. Hooper.

34. Deposition of William Wilson, Apr. 6, 1858, White v. Hooper.

35. William A. Macy to William B. Reed, Dec. 10, 1857, in Coolie Trade, H. Rept. 443, p. 19.

36. Depositions of George White, Apr, 6, 1858, and William Benson, Apr. 8, 1858, White v. Hooper.

37. Wilson and White depositions, ibid.

38. White deposition, ibid.

39. Ibid.

40. Affidavit of James A. Hooper, Nov. 16, 1858, Appeals Case No. 6, November Term, 1858, James A. Hooper v. George White, et al., Circuit Court, RG 21, NARA–Mid Atlantic Region (hereinafter cited as Hooper v. White).

41. Gulick, Peter Parker, 172.

42. Libel, Apr. 6, 1858, White v. Hooper.

43. Capt. John J. Jackson to American Consul, Batavia, Java, Nov. 13, 1857, Despatches From U.S. Consuls in Batavia, Netherlands East Indies, 18181906 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M449), roll 1, General Records of the Department of State, RG 59.

44. White deposition, White v. Hooper.

45. Deposition of Thomas G. Taylor, May 28, 1858, ibid.

46. Depositions of Charles Brown, Apr. 8, 1858, and Wilson, White and Taylor, ibid.

47. Benson deposition, Apr. 8, 1858, ibid.

48. Deposition of Francis Bowden, Apr. 30, 1858, ibid.

49. Deposition of George Powell, Apr. 9, 1858, ibid.

50. Bowden deposition, ibid.

51. Ibid.

52. Deposition of William Milton, Apr. 7, 1858, ibid.

53. White deposition, ibid.

54. White, Bowden, and Bradford depositions, ibid.

55. Milton deposition, ibid.

56. Ibid.

57. White deposition, ibid.

58. Jackson to American Consul in Batavia, Nov. 13, 1857, RG 59, M449, roll 1.

59. Ibid.

60. Vice Consul Henry Anthon, Jr., to Secretary of State Cass, No. 45, Nov. 25, 1857, M449, roll 1.

61. Ibid.

62. Bradford deposition, White v. Hooper.

63. Copy of note by John J. Jackson per Frank Bowden, Nov. 24, 1857, ibid.

64. Bowden deposition, ibid.

65. Bradford deposition, ibid.

66. Report of George W. Kimbell to Secretary of State, Mar. 31, 1858, Despatches From U.S. Consuls in St. Helena, British West Africa, 18311906 (National Archives Publication T428), roll 12, RG 59.

67. Bowden deposition, White v. Hooper.

68. Ibid.

69. "Charter Party," White v. Hooper.

70. Meagher, "Introduction of Chinese Laborers," table 13, p. 182A.

71. Blythe to Appleton, Mar. 9,1858, Despatches from U.S. Consuls in Havana, Cuba, 17831906 (National Archives Publication M898, roll 39), NACP.

72. Hooper affidavit, Hooper v. White.

73. Bowden deposition, White v. Hooper.

74. Hooper affidavit, Hooper v. White.

75. Bensen deposition, White v. Hooper.

76. Wilson deposition, ibid.

77. White, Brown, and Bensen depositions, ibid.

78. List of deserters, U.S. Consulate, Havana, Cuba, Mar. 13, 1858, ibid.

79. Shipping articles, Havana, Mar. 13, 1858, ibid.

80. Merchant Exchange Record Books, Vol. 131, March 1858, Manuscript Collection, group 610, Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, MD.

81. Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser, June 30, 1858, p. 3.

82. Decree of July 6, 1858, White v. Hooper.

83. Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser, Nov. 23, 1858, p. 1.

84. Decree of Nov. 26, 1858, Hooper v. White.

85. Coolie Trade, Apr. 16, 1860, H. Rept. 443.

86. U.S. Statutes at Large, Vol. 12 (1861–1862), pp. 340–341.

87. Eldon Griffin, Clippers and Consuls: American Consular and Commercial Relations with Eastern Asia, 18451860 (1972), p. 390.

88. Ibid., p. 428.


Articles published in Prologue do not necessarily represent the views of NARA or of any other agency of the United States Government.