Prologue Magazine

The Voyage of the "Coolie" Ship Kate Hooper, Part 2

Summer 2001, Vol. 33, No. 2

By Robert J. Plowman

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

The Voyage of the "Coolie" Ship Kate Hooper - October 3, 1857 - March 26, 1858, Part 1

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, 1789 - 1867, 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, 1818 - 1906 (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, 1831 - 1906 (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, 1783 - 1906 (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, 1845 - 1860 (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.