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American Opium Merchants

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  • George Basil Dixwell (1814 - 1885)
    Early in the Spring of 1844, George Basil Dixwell wrote from Canton, China, to his brother, John James Dixwell, in Boston, asking him to have two fast vessels built for use on the China coast. George h...
  • John James Dixwell (1806 - 1876)
  • John Dixwell nee Samuel Hunt (1777 - 1834)
    In 1804, he changed his name to John Dixwell to avoid confusion with another Boston physician named Samuel Hunt.
  • John Perkins Cushing (1787 - 1862)
    John Perkins Cushing (April 22, 1787 – 1862), called "Ku-Shing" by the Chinese, was a wealthy Boston sea merchant, opium smuggler, and philanthropist. His sixty-foot pilot schooner, the Sylph,...
  • Henry Sturgis Grew (1833 - 1910)

* Hon’ble John’s Band

  • "When we sold the Heathen nations rum and opium in rolls,
  • And the Missionaries went along to save their sinful souls."

--The Old Clipper Days, Julian S. Cutler

from The Boodle Boys RA Kris Millegan©2000

Many historians discount the American activity in the opium trade, generally concentrating on the British and their mercantilist trading syndicate, the British East India Company. Because of the Navigation Act of 1651, Americans "were not permitted to sail their own ships to the Orient," they were required as colonists and subjects to buy all their Chinese goods in London from the East India Company. The East India Company’s monopoly on the tea trade was more of a reason for the American Revolution than the cost of the tax. ...

American smugglers, many of them prominent merchants, were already buying tea and Chinese merchandise from the Dutch and others. Smuggling was big business.

After the revolution, Americans were free to embark on their own mercantile adventures and when the East India Company outlawed their own ships from carrying opium, in 1805, American companies jumped right in. The War of 1812 caused some interruption of the trade but after the war the Americans held a major portion of the trade for many years.


  • John Jacob Astor
  • William H. Russell
  • George HW Bush
  • Samuel Russell of Middleton, Connecticut
  • Thomas H. Perkins
  • Russell Sturgis
  • Robert Bennet Forbes
  • Warren Delano, Jr.