Diseased Goods: Global Exchanges in the Eastern Pacific Basin, 1770–1850

On February 4, 1804, the American brigantine Lelia Byrd departed from Canton’s markets, sailed down the Pearl River estuary past Macao, tacked northeast through the East China Sea toward Japan and turned east into the Pacific Ocean. The ship arrived at the Columbia River three months later after a voyage, according to William Shaler, “not with much comfort … and a constant succession of hard westerly gales.” Shaler, the ship’s master and half owner, immediately turned to the business at hand. He bartered “trifling presents” for sea otter pelts from the “rude savages” near the mouth of the Columbia before turning the Lelia Byrd south down the coastline. [1] Shaler again traded for sea otter pelts along the Alta and Baja California coast, hit ports as far south as Amapalla, Guatemala, and finally ventured north again to complete his cargo on the coastal islands off Alta California. By summer’s end, 1805, the Lelia Byrd dropped anchor in the Sandwich Islands, and Shaler transferred his valuable cargo to the New England frigates Atahualpa and Huron for shipment back across the Pacific to Canton’s lucrative markets.

Shaler spent the next three months in Hawai’i. “The Sandwich islanders are a large, well made, robust race of people, and many of their women are perfectly beautiful,” he wrote. “Fortunately the good constitutions and temperance of these islanders prevents their having often occasion for the skill of their physicians.”[2] Most likely, Shaler noted the Hawaiians’ “good constitutions” with some relief, because the previous year of trading had acquainted him with the ravages of smallpox, syphilis, and tuberculosis among native peoples of the Pacific coastline. Shaler, however, was mistaken in his estimation of the Hawaiians’ good health. Like many early European visitors to the Sandwich Islands, he failed to see the destruction brought by recently introduced diseases that accompanied Hawai’i’s rise as the Pacific’s commercial entrepôt.

Shaler’s voyage coincided with the expansion of global commerce across the entire Pacific Basin. As European, Asian, American, and native populations converged for trade during the decades around 1800, they linked isolated Pacific communities to global trade systems. The eastern Pacific, in particular, encompassed an immense and largely unfamiliar waterscape where social and economic systems collided in specific ports and coastal regions—the most prominent included Callao (Peru), San Blas, and Acapulco (Mexico), Alta California, the Northwest Coast, Sitka (Alaska), Hawai’i, and, on the Pacific’s western rim, Canton (China). The future American Far West, I will argue, occupied a central position in this newly internationalized ocean basin prior to its annexation as the nation’s western boundary. But Shaler’s voyage coincided with a second layer of global exchange that transformed the Pacific during these decades: the spread of epidemic diseases from trading vessels to native communities. This influx of diseased goods arrived centuries after the initial “Columbian Exchanges” in the Atlantic world, and yet, unlike some disease introductions to the Americas, it rarely produced far-reaching pandemics because of the Pacific’s geographically isolated islands and disparate landmasses.[3] Instead, diseases struck specific populations over decades of commercial growth, gradually culminating in demographic catastrophe for native peoples. Commercial and epidemiological exchanges constituted a deadly set of relations during this period due to the way new trade contacts entangled native communities with foreign biological agents.

Two hundred years after Shaler’s voyage, historians are well acquainted with disease and commerce as global historical processes, but few studies examine these intertwined factors in a Pacific Basin context. One problem may lie in the Pacific Basin as a spatial concept, or in this case, the eastern Pacific. To what extent does the eastern Pacific Basin hold together as a historical and geographic entity? This concept would have made little sense before the late eighteenth century. The silver trade between Spanish-American ports and the Philippines initiated cross-Pacific commodity exchange in the sixteenth century, bringing the “Spanish Lake” into world commodity markets. In the western Pacific, China and Southeast Asian polities had also formed strong economic connections with European traders long before 1800.[4] Thus global commodity flows already transected the southern Pacific and Southeast Asia prior to 1800. But the economic integration of the entire Pacific Basin and the emergence of something approximating a “Pacific world” relied on developments in the ocean’s eastern and northern portions, which followed Cook’s “discovery” voyages and the subsequent expansion of British, Spanish, Russian, and U.S. commercial ventures along the American coastline. When European and American traders met native communities in Hawai’i, Nootka Sound, or the Marquesas, and also brought international trade to Spanish ports such as San Francisco or Callao, the ramifications for trans-Pacific trade and cross-cultural interactions were tremendous. A geographic construct like the “eastern” Pacific Basin begins to cohere in light of these developments, and yet the relationships between different Pacific ports, trading nations, and indigenous populations remained fluid during this period. The eastern Pacific cohered as a region so long as an open and inclusive waterscape provided the primary connection between the disparate borderlands. The California Gold Rush and U.S. annexation of its initial Pacific territories forever altered these connections; and, by 1850, California, Oregon, and Washington had stronger commercial and new political ties to the transcontinental nation.[5] Quite simply, much of the eastern Pacific was now the American West.

While historical scholarship on various parts of the Pacific has grown in recent years, too little of this work is cast in a comparative, transnational, or transoceanic mold.[6] A similar critique applies to Atlantic studies, although the “Atlantic world” concept has gained currency due to a range of factors, such as the millions of free and enslaved transatlantic migrants who repopulated the Americas, the significant imperial struggles and colonial revolutions around the Atlantic, and the valuable quest by U.S. scholars for the nation’s international origins.[7] Indeed, U.S. colonial history now employs an international cast and crew. “The new account of American history in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,” Karen Kupperman recently argued, “demonstrates that America was international before it became national.”[8] Kupperman set her stance firmly on the Atlantic coast, and yet we find a remarkably similar international convergence of nations and peoples by moving a century forward in time and 3,000 miles to the west. The future American Far West bordering the Pacific—meaning California and the Northwest Coast, as well as Hawai’i and Alaska[9]—was also “international before it became national.” Stated another way, the Far West entertained international commerce, cultures, and biologies long before it became the nation’s expansionistic proving ground. While this essay primarily addresses the meeting of international agents in the future American Far West, I contend we can only understand those regional developments in a trans-Pacific and international framework.

World history offers many analytical frameworks in which to place these Pacific encounters. Akira Iriye argues that some subjects provide better instruments to reconceptualize world history, such as “human migrations, economic exchanges, technological inventions and transfers, and cultural borrowing and transformation.”[10] Richard White and other environmental historians would hasten to add ecological exchanges to this brief list, with the important reminder that concepts such as international, transnational, and local are “matters of scale,” and “relationships between things shift at each scale.”[11] Thus global exchanges—such as trade relations—took place throughout the Pacific Basin, but those exchanges were contingent on regional settings and local populations. In a 1996 American Historical Review forum, Jerry H. Bentley emphasized “cross-cultural interactions” as an instructive way to understand and periodize world history, noting three processes as especially important: mass migrations, campaigns of imperial expansion, and long-distance trade. Patrick Manning took issue with the term interaction: “In a word, it is not sufficient to identify ‘interactions’ in world history—one must also identify the type and character of interactions.” For instance, Manning continued, “If trade was central to cross-cultural interaction, what dimension of trade was the locus of contact?” My focus on trade deals largely with the growth of European and American maritime commerce with native communities and how these exchanges often relied on indigenous laborers and trade networks. The spread of disease, meanwhile, was both a result as well as a context for this mounting trade between Pacific natives and outsiders.[12]

With this in mind, the first part of this essay examines one ecological factor—human disease—that flowed within and between populations. Disease introductions linked the individual to local, regional, and global scale systems. These overlapping systems enabled the transfer of natural resources, cargoes, personnel, and germs—a fact not lost on Pacific natives who found their lives and landscapes severely disrupted (and in many cases devastated) by outside forces. This essay next turns to international commerce in the eastern Pacific, drawing on information from every known vessel that approached the coast of Alta California between 1786 and 1848. Such traffic illustrates the early connections between today’s American Far West, hemispheric (Mexico and Peru), trans-Pacific (Canton), and Atlantic markets. Commercially isolated from one another prior to the late 1700s, these areas soon became linked through trade and deeply enmeshed with the world economy.

By the time Shaler and the Lelia Byrd arrived at the island of “Owhyhee” in 1805, Hawaiians already suffered from diseases recognized today as tuberculosis, typhoid fevers, and venereal disorders. This first wave of disease introduction substantially thinned their numbers, due in part to the widespread female infertility resulting from syphilis and gonorrhea. [13] Indeed, the Lelia Byrd had traversed a waterscape of death during its Pacific journey. From the Columbia River to San Francisco, the Baja Peninsula to Guatemala, and back to the California islands—Shaler’s vessel engaged in trade with a highly select group: the native survivors of the worst plagues Europe had to offer. Shaler speculated as to the cause of the dreadful results he encountered. On one occasion, he reported the decline of a California Indian community from 7,000 to 50 “souls,” and he found it “difficult to imagine what [could] have been the cause of this extraordinary depopulation” if not for the “loathsome [venereal] disorder.” [14] Far from “extraordinary,” such extreme death tolls could be found throughout the eastern Pacific’s new commercial borderlands.

On one level, disease transmission represents an extremely intimate and deadly encounter; on another level, it entails a simple transfer of biological goods. Germs spread in order to survive. They require new bodies as carrier agents, and they fulfill their genetic purpose by surviving from one carrier to the next. Disrupt that propagation chain and the disease perishes with its last victim. Yet this epidemiological reasoning sheds only dim light on the social experience and historical explanations of disease transmission. The pioneering historical works on international disease transmission by William H. McNeill and Alfred W. Crosby show how germs thrive in new contact situations where diseased outsiders met “virgin soil” populations.[15] This scenario perfectly describes the Pacific borderlands traversed by the Lelia Byrd and countless other vessels, especially for those isolated islands visited by trading ships. Beyond the exceedingly high rates of death and declining health, however, a key issue not addressed by much of the literature involves the particular factors that channeled successive waves of disease between populations. Three historical contingencies explain why the death toll mounted during the decades around 1800: sexual relations between newcomers and Pacific natives, the pre-contact trade and social networks of indigenous communities, and the increasing frequency of trade encounters with outsiders.

Most crew members on Pacific voyages eagerly anticipated the opportunities for “recreation,” or “refreshment and recruitment” with Pacific women.[16] Nearing Owhyhee on August 19, 1805, the ship’s crew noticed that “great numbers of the natives, of both sexes” approached the Lelia Byrd, and Shaler observed how they “brought us refreshments, &c.;”[17] Shaler’s thinly veiled reference to sexual opportunities represented a common experience for Pacific voyagers; in fact, sexual contact proliferated everywhere that European and American ships dropped anchor. Ashore for just one day on Easter Island in 1786, the French explorer Jean François Galuup de La Perouse commented: “Not a single Frenchman made use of the barbarous right which was given him; [but] if there were some moments dedicated to nature, the desire and consent were mutual, and the women made the first advances.”[18] “Consent,” of course, was a highly relative term to describe these cross-cultural encounters, and nowhere was this truer than along the North American coastline. As Russian trade privateers (promyshleniki) established beachhead settlements along the Aleutian Islands during the late eighteenth century, they forced the male hunters to gather sea otter pelts by taking Aleut women as hostages and sexual consorts. Spanish soldiers and sailors used barter and force for their amorous encounters with native women from Baja California up the coast to Nootka Sound. Other Europeans capitalized on the slavery system of Pacific Northwest tribes and had sex with enslaved native women.[19] European and American sailors perceived more willing consorts in Polynesia—most notably on Hawai’i, Tahiti, and the Marquesas, where British and American sailors openly fornicated with native women on ship deck and shore. Ranging from “consensual” encounters to mass rape, sexual relations permeated contact situations throughout the Pacific. Sex functioned simultaneously as commodity, shared experience, and assertion of power.

In crossing these sexual boundaries, shipping crews inevitably and knowingly transmitted their exceedingly high rates of venereal disease. The English crews aboard the ships Resolution and Discovery, for instance, were so debilitated by venereal disorders that Captain Cook delayed the ships’ departure from Tahiti in 1777.[20] Reaching the southern shore of Kaua’i in January 1778, Cook feared the epidemiological impact his men would have on Hawaiian women. Due to the “venereal complaints” suffered by his crew, he “gave orders that no Women, on any account whatever were to be admited on board the Ships,… also forbid all manner of connection with them, and ordered that none who had the venereal upon them should go out of the ships.” But “connections” inevitably took place, and Cook was left with the knowledge that “the very thing happened that I had above all others wished to prevent.”[21] Sailors, traders, and missionaries far less famous than Cook also recognized the deadly effects of “recreation” with native peoples. In 1792, the naturalist José Mariano Moziño observed Indians in the Nootka Sound region “consumed by the raging syphilis which the sailors of our ships have spread among them.”[22] Three decades later, the missionary Francisco Troncoso noted the “frightful mortality” at Baja California’s Rosario Mission “from very active syphilis [which] has caused its almost total ruin.”[23] In the decades between Cook’s and Troncoso’s observations, venereal disorders wreaked havoc on most eastern Pacific indigenous communities, in large part because of their previous isolation from Europeans. The international germ pool had seeped into these localities with devastating results.

Endemic among European and American sailors, gonorrhea and syphilis turned epidemic when let loose among the eastern Pacific’s virgin soil populations. Both diseases caused debilitating sickness and increased sterility and infant mortality rates, creating a reproductive time bomb. Syphilis, in particular, led to rampant infections and slow death. Detailed records and individual anecdotes confirm the immediate and lasting devastation from sexual contact. Venereal disease spread across Hawai’i’s 300-mile long archipelago in less than a year from Cook’s arrival, according to the Discovery surgeon’s second mate William Ellis.[24] Franciscan records of neophyte births and death in the California missions offer horrendous testimony of infertility and declining Indian birthrates.[25] William Shaler described Central American coastal natives as “universally infected with the venereal disease; they have no physicians among them, and consequently perish miserably.”[26] In the first census of worldwide disease prevalence, published in the 1860s, German epidemiologist August Hirsch mentioned syphilis as endemic throughout the eastern Pacific due to the increase of “active traffic with other countries”—a traffic in both commercial and biological goods.[27]

What drove the active sexual relations that resulted in widespread infection, infertility, and death? The answer is fairly self-evident from the perspective of European and American shipboard workers, who spent months or years away from home on transoceanic voyages. The participation of indigenous women is far more complicated and involves varying levels of coercion. On the Pacific coastline from Baja California to Alaska, women were taken hostage, bartered as sex slaves, and some also entered temporary liaisons in exchange for trade goods (although the power dynamics in this scenario are endlessly complex). Anthropologists of Polynesia, however, emphasize greater reciprocity in sexual relations between European and American sailors and female islanders. Nicholas Thomas argues that, “in the most-visited parts of Polynesia, such as Tahiti and Hawai’i, island women were eager to enter into sexual relations with sailors” during the early contact period.[28] Historian Caroline Ralston suggests that “ordinary” (or non-noble) Hawaiian women initially “threw themselves into the embrace of foreign sailors in what was an enactment of their established cultural practices and beliefs.” This practice soon became an “avenue to foreign goods and thus one of many agents of widespread cultural change.”[29] Marshall Sahlins emphasizes the role played by Hawaiian men in these exchanges: “Men brought their sisters, daughters, perhaps even their wives to the ships. Call it hospitality. Or call it spiritual hypergamy.”[30] Contemporary observers also noted these gender dynamics at work, often with brutal consequences. Johann Reinhold Forster, the naturalist on Cook’s second voyage, recorded how Maori men “sell the favours of their females to those of our ship’s company, who were irresistibly attracted by their charms; and often were these victims of brutality dragged by the fathers into the dark recesses of the ship, and there left to the beastly appetite of their paramours.”[31] An expanding market exchange of sex for trade goods (such as any metal object) developed across Polynesia, bringing death and declining health to countless native women and men. The Hawaiian writer John Papa ‘I’i—whose life spanned the first seven decades of the nineteenth century—pondered the entanglements of sex, love, and deadly disease: “Death … is like love/That flees at my angry reply./It reels, it staggers,/When it comes, it comes like a sudden sickness.”[32]

If sexual activity constituted a primary transmission route for one category of disease, the pre-contact trade and social networks within and between native communities reveal the customary avenues for disease spread in general. Disease often entered a community through a single individual and then spread rapidly along native trade routes and social hierarchies. One brief and well-documented example from Fiji sheds light on what transpired throughout the Pacific: When the HMS Dido dropped anchor in Levuka Bay, Fiji, in 1875, it carried the Fijian chief Cakobau, who reportedly “look[ed] anything but well after his trip.”[33] Cakobau and his two sons had contracted the measles virus during an official visit to New South Wales—a fact unknown to the large Fijian welcoming party that immediately boarded the Dido upon arrival, or the high-ranking chiefs from the outer Fijian islands who arrived in the following days to greet Chief Cakobau, or the group of 800 subjects from the main island who gathered in audience a week later. Measles spread fast and furious from Chief Cakobau down the social hierarchy and outward across the Fijian islands as chiefs and commoners returned to their home villages. Between one-quarter and one-third of Fiji’s population died within six months.[34] The Dido, meanwhile, departed for the Solomon and New Hebrides islands filled with contract laborers who carried the measles virus with them. According to one study, “it is hard to imagine a diffusion hierarchy more calculated to accelerate [the] spread of the virus.”[35]

In fact, this is precisely the type of diffusion hierarchy that typified disease exchange throughout the Pacific when global biological agents entered local populations. For native peoples, contact and trade with outsiders was always an important event—goods changed hands, information was gathered, and the incident was told and retold in communal settings. Tribal chiefs came together in close quarters to assess the meaning of the encounter. Community members—such as the 800 subjects who gathered in audience for Chief Cakobau—arrived to hear the stories and returned home to spread the news to their neighbors. Each stage of this process involved physical and sometimes intimate contact, allowing for the dissemination of viral, bacterial, and other deadly infections. The operative issue is therefore not how disease spread so rapidly but, rather, why isolated outbreaks did not always create massive pandemics.

Regional outbreaks frequently took hold in the eastern Pacific Basin. When the smallpox virus arrived on the Pacific Northwest coast in the late 1770s, what Indians termed the “spirit of pestilence” moved quickly through the region.[36] Viral infections such as smallpox thrive in closed settings in which airborne transmissions can enter new carriers through the nose or mouth. The virus especially proliferates in new genetic material, so long as the host survives long enough to pass it to a new carrier.[37] Like other groups throughout the eastern Pacific, the Northwest coastal Indians provided the perfect social environment for disease diffusion: relatively high population densities, frequent community gatherings, special potlatch ceremonies often held within the confines of a cedar longhouse, and constant interaction with neighboring groups. Within one year, the virus bounded through the coastal and inland communities of Tlingit, Haida, Salish, Upper Chinookans, Nez Perce, Flathead, and Tillamooks, killing one-third of the population. The survivors bore the visible pockmarks. Another smallpox outbreak ran its course between 1800 and 1808.

The Lelia Byrd hit the Northwest Coast during this latter outbreak, but Shaler made no mention of the smallpox epidemic because his vessel quickly sailed south of the infected area. Nonetheless, his trading practices illustrate the forms of contact and trade through which disease could first enter and then spread beyond a community. Anchored in Trinidad Bay on May 11, 1804, “the savages came on board [the Lelia Byrd] in great numbers” to trade furs for cargo. Three days later, Shaler “seized and confined in irons” four Indian hostages aboard the ship while crewmembers landed on shore to replenish water and wood supplies, briefly battling with Indians in the process. During his week anchored in the bay, Shaler wandered through an Indian village and entered individual huts, examined several women closely enough to see their “teeth filed down to their gums,” and observed that “the young girls … have of course a much more interesting appearance than the matrons.” Crewmen made “offers” for the young women but found their advances rebuffed.[38] Shaler’s account sheds no light on possible pathogens left behind at Trinidad Bay, but the various forms of interaction reveal how germs were typically introduced through fairly ordinary contact events. Crew members brought disease from their ships into local villages, leading some Northwest Indians to describe foreign vessels as “disease boats.”[39]

Through international trade, previously isolated Pacific communities began to share experiences with specific infections, creating a deadly coherence to the region’s diverse social geography. For instance, Cook’s 1778 visit introduced tuberculosis to Hawaiians; tuberculosis first appeared in the Aleutian Islands in the 1780s, Fiji in 1791, Nootka Sound in 1793, and the Cook Islands in 1830. Tuberculosis—more commonly termed consumption or scrofula during the period—survived in an active state during long voyages and quickly spread among the villages through personal contact.[40] The disease appeared frequently during the 1820s and 1830s from Sitka south to Oregon, where trading vessels quite likely carried it to California’s coastal missions and trading ports. By the 1830s, dozens of ships annually connected Sitka to California, and this increased traffic brought tuberculosis, smallpox, and other diseases in its wake. The British ship Lama left Sitka in August 1836 en route to Fort Simpson, British Columbia, where it introduced smallpox. By February 1837, the Lama arrived on the California coast, and either it or the Russian ship Sitka carried the smallpox virus to northern California.[41] Smallpox—that “most terrible of all the ministers of death”—made a quick advance to California’s interior along centuries-old Indian trade routes, where it circulated among the Miwok, Wappo, Yuki, Wintun, and Pomo communities.[42] Death estimates range widely between 10,000 and 100,000 individuals. Two factors made this outbreak especially virulent. First, California’s northern and interior native groups were relatively buffered from the disease introductions that had already ravaged the mission Indian populations south of San Francisco Bay. Second, these northern native groups maintained active trade and communication networks within their region. Indigenous networks in northern California therefore operated exactly like those in the examples of the Northwest Coast (smallpox) and Fiji (measles), and disease spread on the heels of contact situations similar to Shaler’s brief trading stopover at Trinidad Bay.

As native community structures assisted the spread of disease in local and regional settings, the rapid expansion of global-scale traffic increased the variety and speed of biological encounters. Quite simply, the disease transmission routes became far more efficient and widespread during the early 1800s. Many variables (which I will address below) contributed to this situation, including the growing number of Pacific trading vessels, the reduction of travel time (which relates to disease incubation period), the sheer size of carrier populations, and the mixing of multi-ethnic labor forces. Transnational commerce united all these variables in the Pacific, and together they telescoped both time and distance for disease transmission. Indigenous Pacific peoples quickly grasped the connection between disease and trading vessels. Cook islanders who fell ill developed the phrase kua pai au, or “I am shippy,” to describe both their suffering as well as the obvious agent of their illnesses: the trading ships.[43] Other native peoples attempted even greater specificity. Some Indians on the Northwest Coast called the smallpox virus “Tom Dyer” after a European sailor who they believed had infected them.[44] Neither sailors nor natives understood the precise epidemiology or etiology of these viruses, but most everyone recognized the deadly biological goods carried by trading vessels. Agents of disease transmission on the one hand, these ships also provide a way to understand the emerging trade patterns that connected local, regional, and global systems.

That some native groups used the neologism “disease boats” to describe foreign vessels provides us with a snapshot of indigenous formulations linking trade to disease. “Disease boats” exposes a reductionist logic: if exogenous diseases often arrived with trading vessels, then all such ships carried disease. Of course, not all ships carried sailors infected with smallpox, measles, influenza, or other diseases. But enough ships did arrive with deadly pathogens that this native logic contained an internal truth for those communities struck by epidemics. Most important to the spread of disease was the increasing frequency of possible transmissions through encounters with outsiders. Furthermore, as trade increased during the decades around 1800, commercial activity itself underwent dramatic changes that removed previous barriers to disease spread.

What was the nature of commercial activity in the eastern Pacific, and which vessels plied its waters during the early modern period? Let us return to William Shaler’s voyage aboard the Lelia Byrd. A 175-ton brigantine, the Lelia Byrd sailed under the U.S. flag and was privately owned by Shaler and his partner Richard Jeffry Cleveland. In addition to twenty-four crewmen, it carried an “Otaheite girl” named Harriet, the “wife” of the carpenter’s mate. Shaler provided only scant information on Harriet, but the presence of native women on board Pacific vessels was not uncommon, and they frequently succumbed to shipboard diseases.[45] Equipped with a chronometer to allow accurate longitude readings, this trading vessel carefully navigated the Pacific’s vast geography in a fashion that would have been impossible two decades earlier. Shaler also outfitted the Lelia Byrd with six small cannons that he had previously used to beat a hasty retreat from the San Diego port during his first contraband expedition to Alta California in 1803. The voyage route took Shaler and his crew from Canton to the American Northwest Coast, south to Alta California, Baja California, mainland Mexico, and Guatemala before turning north again for Alta California. Fearing the impoundment of his ship and cargo, Shaler carefully avoided major Spanish harbors and instead trafficked along beach settlements, coastal islands, and budding contraband ports such as San Pedro in Alta California. The Lelia Byrd finally sailed for Hawai’i loaded with cargo, where Shaler sold the leaking and unseaworthy vessel to Chief “Tamaihamaiha” (Kamehameha) after transferring his goods to the American ships Huron and Atahualpa. Shaler took passage aboard the Huron back across the Pacific, and his large supply of sea otter pelts brought high prices in Canton’s luxury market. While remarkable for the years 1804–1805, the Lelia Byrd‘s trans-Pacific voyage reveals a commercial trend in the eastern Pacific that became increasingly common during the next two decades.[46]

To understand various aspects of Pacific commerce, I assembled a database for every known vessel entering California waters between 1786 and 1848, with information on nationality, ship type, voyage route, personnel, and cargo.[47] In all, at least 953 vessels either stopped in Alta California or approached its coast prior to the Gold Rush, making it one of the most visited parts of the eastern Pacific. The vast majority of these vessels continued on to the Northwest Coast, Alaska, and/or Hawai’i, illustrating the network of commercial ports that linked the future American Far West long before the United States annexed its Pacific territories. International voyages from ports in the Atlantic Ocean comprised the largest share of traffic in this regional network. Using California as one point of reference, a broader picture emerges of the eastern Pacific as a free trade waterscape—a vast geography where independent traders competed for the goods and natural resources harvested from commercial borderlands.

Three components of this commerce are most relevant: the increasing number and international cast of vessels, the developing system of unrestricted ports around the Pacific, and the types of cargo carried by Pacific ships. (The first and third components held the most direct repercussions for disease spread.) Based on the 953 ships entering California waters, 6.8 percent arrived between 1786 and 1799, 5.7 percent in the decade after 1800, 7.6 percent in the 1810s, 24 percent in the 1820s, 22 percent in the 1830s, and 34 percent in the first eight years of the 1840s.[48] ( In short, trade gradually increased each decade until the 1820s, when it swelled due to developments in California and throughout the Pacific, including Mexican independence, the termination of trade restrictions in many ports (especially Canton and previously Spanish-controlled ports), and the global dissemination of the news about Pacific trading opportunities. The surge in trade also coincided with general improvements in transoceanic sailing vessels, the sandalwood and bêche-de-mer trade between Pacific islands and China, and the entrance of the American whaling fleet into Pacific waters during the 1820s (whalers comprised 26 percent of ships in California during the decade, and larger numbers docked in Honolulu). These factors allowed international trade to flourish in ports throughout the Pacific Basin—and this rising traffic also brought increased disease exposure to native communities.

As the number of vessels increased each decade, so grew the international cast of participants. The largest share of ships entering California were American (44 percent), British (13 percent), Spanish (12 percent), Mexican (12 percent) and Russian (7 percent), but trading vessels from at least seventeen other Pacific and European nations also visited California in the first half of the nineteenth century.[49] These statistics raise two important issues. First, while Spanish supply ships from Mexico made up the largest share of California traffic before 1800, U.S. vessels soon surpassed all other trading nations by a large margin. U.S. commercial interests in the Pacific therefore long predated and ultimately influenced its geopolitical and military interests of the mid-nineteenth century. Second, despite the strong position attained by U.S. trading vessels in California and the eastern Pacific, at least 527 ships sailing under more than twenty different flags also entered California waters. The point here deserves emphasis: California’s commercial activity was international prior to the worldwide convergence of gold seekers, and, perhaps more important, this internationalization of commerce mirrored developments throughout the Pacific Basin.

The voyage routes (including all stops) of these 953 vessels provide a strong indication of which ports rose or declined in prominence during the early nineteenth century. Based on vessels entering California, the most frequently visited ports were Hawai’i (42 percent of ships), Callao (22 percent), San Blas (19 percent), Acapulco (18 percent), the Russian port at Sitka (12 percent), and Canton (7 percent). In addition, 13 percent of ships stopped somewhere along the Northwest Coast (primarily Nootka Sound, Fort George, or Fort Vancouver). The island Pacific—beyond Hawai’i—also witnessed increased trade, with the Galapagos, Marquesas, Tahiti, and Philippine islands leading all others. Over 50 percent of ships visiting California had also stopped at a Pacific island, a figure that speaks to the volume of transoceanic trade as well as to the exceedingly high rate of introduced diseases on Pacific islands. By the 1820s, this group of major ports had begun to systematize commodity flows and market activity in the eastern Pacific. A closer examination of selected ports shows not only increasingly open trade but also how commercial shipping created a new trans-Pacific network of markets.

San Blas and Sitka (or Novo-Arkhangel’sk) were the only ports that declined in significance during the first half of the nineteenth century. San Blas, a naval base in the Gulf of California designed for Spain’s expansion up the North American coast, was located in a mangrove swamp brimming with mosquitoes, which carried malaria and other diseases. San Blas’s large population of 20,000 residents by 1800 more than served the needs of Spanish supply ships that ran the Pacific coast from Baja California to Nootka Sound. But, following independence, Mexican shipping quickly reverted back to the healthier climes of the old silver-trade port at Acapulco, and San Blas steadily declined as a trade port.[50] The presence of malaria (which afflicted both European and American sailors) was one factor contributing to the decline of San Blas. Sitka served a similar function for Russia. The Russian-American Company, created in the 1790s, dominated the Alaskan fur trade based in Sitka and ran supply ships to the eastern Siberian port of Kamchatka and other ships to the Russian outpost at Fort Ross, California. By the 1820s, however, the company’s yearly harvest of sea otter pelts and other furs dropped precipitously, as did the population of Aleut and Kodiak contract hunters, who succumbed to smallpox, influenza, and other maladies.[51] Russian traders remained at Sitka, but their participation in international trade steadily declined.

The other major ports (after San Blas and Sitka) witnessed trade expansion in the developing system of Pacific markets. This, of course, seems perfectly logical given the growing number of trading vessels and improvements in navigation. What merits particular emphasis in this trend is that the very nature of economic conditions—and who benefited from trans-Pacific trade—had also changed by the 1820s. Since the time of the Spanish galleon trade, imperial powers and government-sponsored companies had monopolized and regulated specific regions, markets, goods, and Pacific trade routes. The Russian-American Company, the English East India Company, the Dutch East India Company, the Royal Philippine Company, and the Spanish crown’s trade restrictions exemplify these controls of regional trade. Historians have generally followed suit and studied how European empires divided the Pacific into spheres of influence (for instance, the Dutch and British in Southeast Asia, Spain along the North American coastline, and so on).[52] While these geopolitical demarcations are important, I would suggest that a different economic climate emerges during the early 1800s, especially in the eastern Pacific. This new market environment found expression in open markets, burgeoning commercial ports, entrepreneurial shipping ventures designed to exploit specific commodities, and private traders who paid little attention to geopolitical boundaries.

The Hawaiian Islands received a steady annual supply of exploratory and commercial voyages prior to 1820. In the period between Cook’s “discovery” in 1778 and the arrival of the Russian ship Kamschatka in late 1818, ninety-four vessels docked in Hawai’i (primarily British and American, with a few Russian and French ships).[53] Hawai’i’s traffic quickly multiplied. It became the hub of trans-Pacific shipping due to its central location, abundant natural resources, and merchant houses established by American and British traders who forged strong alliances with Hawaiian royalty. King Kamehameha II (Liholiho) and these merchants turned the Honolulu harbor into the ocean’s Great Exchange, the meeting point of the China trade, the Northwest fur trade, Pacific whaling fleet, and Hawai’i’s own exports, which included agriculture, sandalwood, and shipboard laborers. Despite Hawai’i’s seemingly isolated location in the middle of the ocean, Honolulu merchants carried on active correspondence with their counterparts in Canton, California, Callao, Boston, and London during the 1820s and 1830s—demanding cleaner hides from California, complaining of bloated warehouses, and inquiring of market prices everywhere.[54] As international trade flourished in Hawai’i, the material “gifts of civilization” spread among the ruling elite and commoners alike, while the biological “gifts” devastated all segments of Hawaiian society.[55]

The port of Callao, just north of Lima, had served the Spanish silver trade since the early 1600s and remained “a stronghold of Spanish authority” until 1818, when the viceroy officially opened the port to British trade.[56] And yet, similar to California, contraband trade steadily increased in Callao during the previous two decades—numerous ships stopped each year in this Peruvian port for clandestine trade before sailing north along the American coastline. Callao was opened to all international traffic in 1820, a year when over 200 American ships and nearly an equal number of British vessels plied the Pacific ports.[57] British and American traders quickly established merchant houses in Callao to capitalize on the new commercial opportunities, and Callao or Lima merchants now owned many ships flying the British flag. (Almost two-thirds of British ships that stopped in California after 1820 had this distinction.) Peruvian free traders and protectionists waged political warfare throughout the 1820s, and the protectionists reigned supreme by 1828, but Pacific vessels continued to frequent Callao despite high import tariffs. Even though Charles Darwin expressed grave doubts about the prospects of this port city during his visit in 1835—he especially noted the prevalence of diseases, “anarchy,” and the “depraved … mixture” of various racial groups—Callao and nearby Lima soon teemed with international commerce and by 1850 became a South American center for wheat, copper, and guano exports.[58]

Changes in the Canton marketplace—and the declining fortunes of the English East India Company (EIC)—exemplify the Pacific-wide trends toward internationalism and unrestricted trade during the early 1800s. Canton drew ships and commodities from the Pacific and beyond: sea otter pelts from the North American Coast, sandalwood from Hawai’i, bêche-de-mer (sea slugs) from Fiji, silver from South America, and textiles from India and England. Quite simply, Canton was the Pacific’s luxury marketplace, where traders exchanged specie and natural resources for Chinese tea, silks, and other goods. Only 7 percent of ships entering California eventually crossed the Pacific to China, but this figure understates the significance of Canton to trans-Pacific commerce. Many cargoes that were gathered in the eastern Pacific—such as William Shaler’s furs aboard the Lelia Byrd—were reassembled in Hawai’i or other ports before shipment to Canton. Furthermore, only the most seaworthy vessels would attempt to cross the entire Pacific prior to the 1820s.

The EIC permanently established its Canton “factory” (or commercial house) in 1751 as one of dozens of such factories stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to China. Working closely with the powerful Hong merchants, the EIC Canton representatives carefully monitored all business rivals as part of its mission, according to the EIC’s Lord George Macartney, to “spread the use of British manufactures throughout every part of Asia.”[59] Textile and other imports from England to Canton provided “sure profit” to the company during the early 1800s, counterbalancing the losses faced by the company’s operations in India.[60] This global commercial framework, carefully designed in London and protected by parliamentary action, worked exceedingly well in a restricted market environment.[61]

This all changed in the winter of 1821–1822, as detailed in reports from the EIC’s “Select Committee” in Canton to the “Secret Committee” in London. “The Honourable Company,” wrote the EIC secretary in Canton, N. H. C. Plowden, “this season is incurring a very serious loss [in textile] investment, in consequence of the large importations” by American vessels.[62] Plowden meticulously listed every American ship in the port of Canton, with details on home port, destination, cargo, tonnage, and arrival/departure dates. More than doubling the previous year’s arrivals, forty-two American vessels were anchored in Canton Bay carrying imports valued at $7,413,096, while the “Honourable Company’s” own imports for the season tallied $6,199,242.[63] The American trans-Pacific ships brought pelts, furs, sandalwood, quicksilver, and specie gathered from around the ocean. But the EIC showed equal concern about the U.S. ships filled with American and British-made textiles of “decidedly inferior description to those of the Company’s.”[64] Panic soon filled the missives from Canton to the EIC’s London headquarters: “Unless some measures can be devised to prevent the introduction of these goods into China from Great Britain, by any ships besides those employed by the Honourable Company, it is difficult to calculate upon the effects of such a ruinous competition.”[65]

No such “measures” could be devised to prevent European or American goods from entering Canton outside EIC channels. By the early 1820s, Canton’s Hong merchants actively encouraged the opening of foreign agency houses to create new markets for Chinese products.[66] French, Portuguese, Spanish, and (non-EIC) British traders increasingly sought business in Canton during the 1820s, while merchants from New York and Boston established some of the most active agency houses, including Perkins & Co., Russel & Co., Augustine Heard & Co., and W. S. Wetmore & Co.[67] During the 1820s, the once-dominant “Honourable Company” struggled for advantage in the new market environment—it failed to restrict American trans-Pacific shipping in and out of Canton and unsuccessfully defended its monopoly in Parliament for the China trade against non-EIC British traders.[68] Facing new competition, EIC correspondents in Canton secretly planned to increase its narco-trafficker trade in highly addictive Patna opium—hardly an honorable direction for maintaining company profits and one that eventually sparked the Opium Wars.[69]

Canton, obviously, is a long way from California, and the two places are separated by the earth’s largest feature—the Pacific Ocean. But those two places began to share certain characteristics. As the orientation and nature of Canton’s markets shifted during the early 1820s, these changes paralleled developments across the ocean in Hawai’i, Peru, California, and the Northwest Coast. Trade restrictions crumbled, and independent operators challenged monopolistic companies, resulting in larger numbers of commercial vessels entering previously closed ports and also allowing more opportunities for disease transmission. Canton’s commercial activity remained overwhelmingly directed toward the east (Southeast Asia, India, and Europe), but that would also change with the California Gold Rush and the introduction of steamships in the Pacific Ocean. By the 1850s, Dennis O. Flynn and Arturo Giráldez argue, the ocean between China and California had “ceased to be a barrier; rather, it was a freeway.”[70]

The opening of markets in specific ports (Callao, Hawai’i, California, and Canton) contributed to the expansion of Pacific trade during the early 1800s, and yet the question of cargo remains vitally important. What did Pacific vessels actually carry in their hulls? Were they filled with American and European cargo of the manufactured and technological variety? Jared Diamond suggests this scenario in Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, through the question posed by his New Guinean friend, Yali: “Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?”[71] For Diamond (and presumably Yali), “cargo” signified manufactured goods ranging from steel axes to umbrellas. From this perspective, we might imagine trans-Pacific vessels as floating department stores bound for material-deprived ports. But such an image only partially captures the nature of commerce in the early nineteenth-century eastern Pacific, and it fails to account for those items that attracted traders into this region. Instead, the commodities that lured international traders to the eastern Pacific were the natural resources and goods they could directly gather from native communities or indirectly through commercial ports.

Ships entering California arrived and departed with many different items. Spanish ships from Mexico (prior to 1821) primarily shuttled supplies to the California missions and returned with items produced by native laborers, such as hemp.[72] Russian traders brought pelts and returned with the barest foodstuffs and specie to their miserable settlement at Sitka, while American whaling vessels came and left with a singular natural resource, namely whale oil.[73] But California served as a trade depot for a variety of other resources, due in large part to its increasing connections with Hawai’i, Alaska, and the Northwest Coast. Prior to 1848, 15 percent of ships arrived and/or left with sea otter pelts destined for Canton’s markets, while another 11 percent of vessels carried pelts or skins from other land and sea animals. Introduced diseases played an important role in the expansion of this fur trade, which was based largely in the Pacific Northwest. Recall José Mariano Moziño’s observation of Nootka Sound Indians being “consumed by the raging syphilis,” and consider the effects such a plague had on social relations and previous restraints on individual hunting practices.[74] California’s legendary “hide and tallow” trade accounted for 29 percent of ship’s cargoes and dried meat for 6 percent. Timber, dried fish, precious metals, giant tortoises, and native-grown crops also filled the hulls of California outbound vessels.[75] Beyond California—in Hawai’i, Alaska, and the Northwest Coast—a similar set of exchanges took place. In the major ports, ship captains off-loaded trade items and specie for furs, timber, and crops; but outside of the ports, they swapped beads, iron pieces, and what Shaler called “trifling presents” for natural resources and goods acquired directly from native groups.

And therein lies a primary connection between trade and disease: these exchanges frequently required a level of sustained contact with native workers that facilitated the introduction of epidemics. The sea otter trade provides a perfect example. The habitat of the North Pacific sea otter ranged from the Aleutian Islands to the coast of Baja California, well over 4,000 miles of coastline inhabited by countless sea otters in the 1770s, when Russian, British, and Spanish converged in the Gulf of Alaska and Nootka Sound.[76] A lively trade for almost every land and sea fur-bearing animal continued for the next fifty years—but the sea otter’s sleek and glossy fur brought the highest returns in Canton and other markets. As early as 1789, Alexander Dalrymple publicized individual sea otter pelts selling in Canton for forty Spanish dollars; by 1821, the price had dropped by only two dollars per skin, according to EIC records.[77] Killing sea otters, however, was a very specialized skill and demanded the labor of native hunters, which explains why Russian promyshleniki initially took Aleut women and children hostage and forced the male hunters to gather the pelts. By 1800, the hostage system transitioned into a contract labor arrangement, whereby British and American traders hired Aleut hunters through the Russian-American Company, shuttling the workers as far south as Baja California. The entire coastline soon became an extended killing field. Imported hunters pursued their prey in coastal bays and offshore islands, while traders like William Shaler filled their ships with the valuable pelts. Between 1800 and 1820, over 90 percent of American and British ships left California with sea otter pelts comprising some portion of their cargo. The region’s sea otter population soon faced extinction, despite Mexican officials’ last-ditch efforts to conserve the species in California.[78]

The traffic in sea otter pelts—and the manner in which native workers and traders turned them into cargo for Pacific vessels—typifies the process of resource extraction around the eastern Pacific. As furs (sea otter, beaver, etc.), marine species (dried fish, bêche-de-mer, and whale oil), timber, and many other resources became valuable commodities for exchange, traders increasingly relied on native peoples as hunters, laborers, and crew members. Native workers inevitably succumbed to disease through their close association with traders. The Aleut men and women (who often prepared the pelts for shipping) brought south for sea otter hunting worked in close quarters with their Russian, British, and American bosses; these Aleuts also had occasional contact with California Indians and Hawaiian, Kanaka, and Kaigani shipboard workers.[79] As a result, Aleuts perished in such large numbers that the Russian-American Company had to seek out a new labor pool, Kodiak Eskimos, for sea otter hunting.[80] Migrant workers aboard ships—whether Aleut hunters or Polynesian sailors—faced a particularly disease-ridden environment. In 1844, the captain of the schooner California reported the death from smallpox of three Kanakas en route from Mazatlán to Monterey, California; three years later, influenza broke out on the Monarch, and a large number of white and native crewmembers perished. Examples such as these appear in countless ship logbooks. While no concrete estimates exist for the number of native laborers that died aboard Pacific vessels, we do know they worked on most ships and frequently encountered disease.[81] The process of “seasoning” separated those who died aboard ship from those who survived for another voyage.[82]

Furthermore, the dialectic of trade and disease worked both ways: trading vessels spread disease and thereby diminished native communities, while native depopulation brought changes to emerging trade patterns. The end of Hawai’i’s direct Kamehameha royalty line—through deaths caused by measles and tuberculosis in addition to low fertility rates—assisted political liberalization, enabled U.S. annexation, and extended foreign control over island commerce.[83] The spread of diseases and rising native mortality rates in Hawai’i also sparked debates over the recruitment of healthy native men as sailors at a time when Pacific traders and whalers relied extensively on islanders to fill their crews. By the 1840s, the Hawaiian government took the preventive step of forcing ship captains to post bonds for the safe return of native sailors.[84] In California, native depopulation attended new commercial opportunities during the 1830s and 1840s. The booming trade in cattle hides and tallow destined for New England markets brought wealth to resident Yankee merchants such as Thomas Larkin and Abel Stearns as well as to some rancheros, and yet increased California livestock production relied on the expansion of privatized property (in massive land grants) previously occupied by native communities.[85] Disease during the Spanish period had already shattered these communities, and new outbreaks continued during the Mexican period. The sporadic resistance to Mexican rule by the interior Indian groups was wiped out by violence and disease during the next commercial upheaval—the Gold Rush. Thus native depopulation paved the way for significant commercial changes in Hawai’i, California, and many other places around the eastern Pacific.

This essay began with the assertion that new trade relations in the eastern Pacific entangled native communities with foreign—and exceedingly deadly—biological agents. More specifically, trading vessels provided the primary means for diseases to travel around the Pacific’s vast waterscape, reach isolated island populations, and strike various communities along the American coastline. Of course, some infections traveled to the Pacific by overland routes, and other diseases arrived on non-commercial voyages; missionary activities certainly spread germs, and Spanish conquests had dispersed deadly germs in parts of the Americas and Pacific prior to the late eighteenth century. Yet, for the period between the 1770s and the 1840s, trading vessels were the main agents of disease, creating in the Pacific what Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie has called a “paroxysm” of the “microbian unification of the world.”[86] By 1850, the microbes of Europe, Asia, and Africa circulated in almost every Pacific population.

While trade and disease interacted with one another throughout the world in all time periods, context remains exceedingly important, and the eastern Pacific offers a diversity of actors, geographies, and ecological factors that is both similar and distinct from the better-known Columbian Exchanges in the Atlantic world. Any comparison between the Pacific and Atlantic basins must begin with the oceans themselves. The Pacific is twice the size of the Atlantic, contains a majority of the world’s populated islands, and is separated from European and U.S. markets by a tremendous distance. These geographical factors made Pacific voyages dangerous, highly speculative, and filled with “first” encounters. Islanders and mainlanders alike knew their neighboring groups, but contact with Europeans initiated radical and sudden changes. “[W]hen Europeans arrived in Polynesia,” writes I. C. Campbell, “they were not simply a variation on a theme. With the coming of Europeans, the unthinkable happened.”[87] Explorers and traders from numerous nations entered the eastern Pacific during a relatively brief contact period—the 1770s to the early 1800s—but, unlike the Atlantic Basin, few European settler societies arrived until the late nineteenth century (with the exceptions of Australia, New Zealand, and California). Trade in natural resources did thrive, though on a different scale from Atlantic trade, due to the sheer distance from Atlantic ports, the available commodities, and the lure of Chinese markets. Pacific trade revealed a highly entrepreneurial nature in terms of the types of voyages, the opening of new ports, and the need to rely on indigenous populations as trading partners. The character of disease transmission followed from some of these characteristics. The Pacific’s vast waterscape protected some populations—especially island populations—from deadly pathogens until explorers and traders had reached those native communities. When disease struck, it struck hard and repeatedly due to the constant inflow of sailors, missionaries, and beachcombers.

The contingent interactions between trade and disease may call for tremendous specificity on the local scale, because particular diseases arrived on certain ships carrying individual diseased bodies. For example, Captain Cook’s Discovery and Resolution brought venereal disorders to Hawai’i in 1778; the Hudson’s Bay Company’s brigantine Lama introduced smallpox to Fort Simpson in 1836; the poorly named missionary ship Messenger of Peace imported influenza to Samoa in 1830; and the HMS Dido brought a devastating measles outbreak to Fiji in 1875. On this local scale, we know many of the ships that carried disease to Pacific populations, the arrival dates, the disease dispersion routes, and, in some cases, the body counts. Given the time and inclination, one could chart similar information for hundreds of ships that arrived at different ports carrying trade goods and their “shadow trade” of deadly viruses. These connections provide the specific links between ships and infected populations, but they also exemplify the global process of exogenous disease entering local communities and triggering waves of death throughout a larger region.

On a more general and transoceanic scale, trade and disease inaugurated severe dislocation in native communities around the Pacific by virtue of the way these forces complemented one another. Disease introduction did not typically result in immediate and far-reaching pandemics. Rather, wave after wave of different diseases struck Pacific populations and caused varying results, and these repeated introductions increased in frequency and shifted geographically due to the steady rise in commercial activity. Alta California’s commercial traffic, for instance, grew substantially after 1800 as it became linked to a system of Pacific ports. Each vessel entering California waters carried highly diverse crews and equally diverse microbes. Each vessel represented a cultural and epidemiological grab bag as it traveled from one Pacific port to another, and these ports redirected the flow of diseases to commercially profitable points around the ocean. The formerly disparate Pacific borderlands gradually came to share many characteristics, and one characteristic was native depopulation rates ranging between 60 and 95 percent by the mid-nineteenth century.[88]

Though victims of disease and colonization, indigenous Pacific peoples actively pursued the range of possible actions in their localities.[89] They attacked ships, took white hostages, and sometimes compelled advantage in the middle grounds created by trade. Natives frequently sought alliances with traders and personal profit from the Pacific’s burgeoning commerce in their roles as producers, consumers, sexual partners, and shipboard workers. Disease and depopulation certainly influenced how native survivors responded to new commercial opportunities. The community disruptions that followed epidemics forced an array of unpredictable actions. Some natives fled to neighboring groups or inland away from a disease outbreak.[90] Others maintained functioning communities, while some chose to join ship crews. As Pacific workers, they possessed varying degrees of autonomy. Fiji’s Indian migrants were indentured laborers, while the Aleuts who killed California sea otters worked under contract for limited time periods.[91] Many indigenous island people willingly joined American crews and labored aboard ships around the Pacific, while others were captives who died on ship from horrendous diseases far from home. Ultimately, native agency on the one hand and dependency on the other must be assessed in light of the new environment created by international trade and abrupt population declines.

Economic globalization—with a decidedly entrepreneurial nature—arrived in the Pacific through voyages like William Shaler’s. Historians of the eastern Pacific have largely ignored this internationalism and instead focused on specific imperial nations and their conflicts over geography: Russian Alaska, the British and Spanish along the Northwest Coast, American interests in Hawai’i, and Spanish-turned-Mexican control of California. These geopolitical demarcations were clearly significant to empires in the early nineteenth century, and yet those demarcations were far less meaningful to the ascendant interests of international trade. Traders from numerous nations converged in the eastern Pacific and competed for profitable goods. They enlisted and sometimes enslaved local populations in the pursuit of profits. By and large, traders like Shaler successfully circumvented existing imperial laws and gave little credence to international borders. Thus it was the visible hand of global commerce that extended the most powerful—and deadly—reach into this region and forged the strongest links within and between the future American Far West, the Pacific Basin, and beyond.

My thanks to the University of California Irvine’s School of Humanities and the University of Utah’s Department of History for their generous support of research. I would also like to acknowledge the indispensable suggestions offered by Thomas Andrews, Stephen Aron, Bill Deverell, Eric Hinderaker, Becky Horn, Richard Tucker, Lissa Wadewitz, Richard White, Cynthia Willard, Anand Yang, as well as the AHR editors and anonymous readers.


David Igler is an assistant professor of history at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of Industrial Cowboys: Miller & Lux and the Transformation of the Far West, 1850–1920 (2001) and co-editor (with Clark Davis) of The Human Tradition in California (2002). His article “The Industrial Far West: Region and Nation in the Late Nineteenth Century” (Pacific Historical Review, May 2000) won the Ray Allen Billington Award from the Western History Association and the biennial article prize awarded by the Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. He is currently writing a book on the ecological, cultural, and economic history of the eastern Pacific Basin prior to 1850.


1� William Shaler, Journal of a Voyage between China and the North-Western Coast of America, Made in 1804 (Philadelphia, 1808), 138, 139.

2� Shaler, Journal of a Voyage, 166, 168.

3� Historians and anthropologists have hotly debated the rate of depopulation in the Pacific islands, as on the American mainland. See A. D. Cliff, P. Haggett, and M. R. Smallman-Raynor, Island Epidemics (Oxford, 1998); David E. Stannard, “Disease, Human Migration, and History,” in The Cambridge World History of Human Disease, K. F. Kiple, ed. (Cambridge, 1993), 35–43; John Miles, Infectious Diseases: Colonising the Pacific? (Dunedin, N.Z., 1997); David E. Stannard, Before the Horror: The Population of Hawai’i on the Eve of Western Contact (Honolulu, 1989); O. A. Bushnell, The Gifts of Civilization: Germs and Genocide in Hawai’i (Honolulu, 1983); Alan Moorehead, The Fatal Impact: An Account of the Invasion of the South Pacific (New York, 1966); and A. Grenfell Price, The Western Invasions of the Pacific and Its Continents (Oxford, 1963). Pacific “islander-oriented” scholars who comment on (and sometimes contest) the effects of population decline include K. R. Howe, The Loyalty Islands: A History of Culture Contact, 1840–1900 (Honolulu, 1977); Howe, “The Fate of the ‘Savage’ in Pacific Historiography,” New Zealand Journal of History 11 (1977): 137–54; David Hanlon, Upon a Stone Altar: A History of the Island of Pohnpei to 1890 (Honolulu, 1988); Lilikala Kame’eleihiwa, Native Lands and Foreign Desires: How Shall We Live in Harmony? (Honolulu, 1992). The literature on disease in the Atlantic World and the Americas is vast, including Alfred W. Crosby, The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 (Westport, Conn., 1972); Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900–1900 (New York, 1986); Elizabeth A. Fenn, Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775–82 (New York, 2001); and Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, “A Concept: The Unification of the Globe by Disease,” in The Mind and Method of the Historian, Le Roy Ladurie, ed. (Brighton, 1981), 28–83.

4� Dennis O. Flynn and Arturo Giráldez, “Spanish Profitability in the Pacific: The Philippines in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries,” in Pacific Centuries: Pacific and Pacific Rim History since the Sixteenth Century, Flynn, Lionel Frost, and A. J. H. Latham, eds. (London, 1999), 23–37; Flynn and Giráldez, “Cycles of Silver: Global Economic Unity through the Mid-Eighteenth Century,”Journal of World History 13 (Fall 2002): 391–427; O. H. K. Spate, Monopolists and Freebooters (Minneapolis, 1983); K. N. Chaudhuri, The Trading World of Asia and the English East India Company (Cambridge, 1985); Yen-p’ing Hao, The Commercial Revolution in Nineteenth-Century China: The Rise of Sino-Western Mercantile Capitalism (Berkeley, Calif., 1986); Kenneth Pomeranz and Steven Topik, The World That Trade Created: Society, Culture, and the World Economy, 1400 to the Present (Armonk, N.Y., 1999); Pomeranz, The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy (Princeton, N.J., 2000), 166–205.

5� This argument echoes the frontier/borderland framework developed by Jeremy Adelman and Stephen Aron: “[A]s colonial borderlands gave way to national borders, fluid and ‘inclusive’ intercultural frontiers yielded to hardened and more ‘exclusive’ hierarchies.” Adelman and Aron, “From Borderlands to Borders: Empires, Nation-States, and the Peoples in Between in North American History,”AHR 104 (June 1999): 816.

6� Recent trans-Pacific and comparative studies include Ian Tyrrell, True Gardens of the Gods: California-Australian Environmental Reform, 1860–1930 (Berkeley, Calif., 1999); Richard P. Tucker, Insatiable Appetite: The United States and the Ecological Degradation of the Tropical World (Berkeley, 2000); David A. Chappell, Double Ghosts: Oceanian Voyagers on Euroamerican Ships (Armonk, N.Y., 1997); Defining the Pacific: Opportunities and Constraints, Paul W. Blank and Fred Spier, eds. (London, 2002); and Thomas R. Dunlap, Nature and the English Diaspora: Environment and History in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (Cambridge, 1999). Transoceanic studies include J. R. McNeill, “Of Rats and Men: A Synoptic Environmental History of the Island Pacific,”Journal of World History 5 (Fall 1994): 299–349; Donald Denoon, ed., The Cambridge History of the Pacific Islanders (Cambridge, 1997); Herman R. Friis, The Pacific Basin: A History of Its Geographical Exploration (New York, 1967). Ethnographic literature on the island Pacific includes Greg Dening, Islands and Beaches: Discourse on a Silent Land, Marquesas 1774–1880 (Honolulu, 1980); Nicholas Thomas, Entangled Objects: Exchange, Material Culture, and Colonialism in the Pacific (Cambridge, 1991); Marshall Sahlins, Island of History (Chicago, 1985); Sahlins, How “Natives” Think: About Captain Cook, For Example (Chicago, 1995); and Gananath Obeyesekere, The Apotheosis of Captain Cook: European Mythmaking in the Pacific (Princeton, N.J., 1992). On the United States in the eastern Pacific, see Jean Heffer, The United States and the Pacific: History of a Frontier, W. Donald Wilson, trans. (Notre Dame, Ind., 2002); Arrell Morgan Gibson and John S. Whitehead, Yankees in Paradise: The Pacific Basin Frontier (Albuquerque, N.M., 1993); on Spain in the region, see Warren L. Cook, Flood Tide of Empire: Spain and the Pacific Northwest, 1543–1819 (New Haven, Conn., 1973).

7� For assessments of scholarship on the Atlantic World, see Joyce E. Chaplin, “Expansion and Exceptionalism in Early American History,”Journal of American History 89 (March 2003): 1431–55; Nicholas Canny, “Writing Atlantic History; or, Reconfiguring the History of Colonial British America,”Journal of American History 86 (December 1999): 1093–1114; Peter A. Coclanis, “Drang Nach Osten: Bernard Bailyn, the World-Island, and the Idea of Atlantic History,”Journal of World History 13 (Spring 2002): 169–82; and Robin D. G. Kelley, “How the West Was One: The African Diaspora and the Re-Mapping of U.S. History,” in Rethinking American History in a Global Age, Thomas Bender, ed. (Berkeley, Calif., 2002), 123–47. An excellent study of Atlantic world influences in eighteenth-century colonial society is Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century (Baton Rouge, La., 1992).

8� Karen Ordahl Kupperman, “International at the Creation: Early Modern American History,” in Bender, Rethinking American History, 105.

9� For persuasive statements on including Hawai’i and Alaska in this regional definition, see Victoria Wyatt, “Alaska and Hawai’i,” in The Oxford History of the American West, Clyde A. Milner II, Carol A. O’Connor, and Martha Sandweiss, eds. (Oxford, 1994), 565–601; Stephen Haycox, Frigid Embrace: Politics, Economics, and Environment in Alaska (Corvallis, Oreg., 2002); and John Whitehead, “Hawai’i: The First and Last Far West?”Western Historical Quarterly 23 (May 1992): 153–77.

10� Akira Iriye, “Internationalizing International History,” in Bender, Rethinking American History, 51.

11� Richard White, “The Nationalization of Nature,”Journal of American History 86 (December 1999): 977–78; Donald Worster, “World without Borders: The Internationalizing of Environmental History,” in Environmental History: Critical Issues in Comparative Perspective, Kendall E. Bailes, ed. (Lanham, Md., 1984); J. R. McNeill, “Of Rats and Men,” 299–349; and Paul Sutter, “What Can U.S. Environmental Historians Learn from Non-U.S. Environmental Historiography?”Environmental History 8 (January 2003): 109–29.

12� Jerry H. Bentley, “Cross-Cultural Interaction and Periodization in World History,”AHR 101 (June 1996): 749–70; Patrick Manning, “The Problem of Interactions in World History,”AHR 101 (June 1996): 777, 781.

13� Bushnell, Gifts of Civilization, 126–33; David E. Stannard, Before the Horror: The Population of Hawai’i on the Eve of Western Contact (Honolulu, 1989), 50–58; Andrew Bushnell, “‘The Horror’ Reconsidered: An Evaluation of the Historical Evidence for Population Decline in Hawai’i, 1778–1803,” Pacific Studies 16 (September 1993): 115–61.

14� Shaler, Journal of a Voyage, 152.

15� William H. McNeill, Plagues and Peoples (New York, 1977); Crosby, Columbian Exchange. On disease epidemiology, particularly as it applies to island contact situations and human migrations, see Cliff, Island Epidemics; and Stannard, “Disease, Human Migration, and History,” 35–43.

16� David A. Chappell, “Shipboard Relations between Pacific Island Women and Euroamerican Men, 1767–1887,” Journal of Pacific History 27 (December 1992): 131–49.

17� Shaler, Journal of a Voyage, 171.

18� J[ean]. F[rançois]. G[alaup]. La Perouse, A Voyage round the World in the Years 1785, 1786, 1787, and 1788 (London, 1798), 2: 18, emphasis added.

19� Winston L. Sarafian, “Smallpox Strikes the Aleuts,” Alaska Journal 7 (Winter 1977), 46–49; Robert H. Jackson, “Epidemic Disease and Population Decline in the Baja California Missions, 1697–1834,” Southern California Quarterly 63 (Winter 1981): 308–46; Robert Boyd, The Coming of the Spirit of Pestilence: Introduced Infectious Disease and Population Decline among Northwest Coast Indians, 1774–1874 (Seattle, 1999), 65–74; Cook, Flood Tide of Empire, 309–10.

20� Stannard, Before the Horror, 70; McArthur, Island Populations of the Pacific, 244. Cook blamed the outbreak of venereal disorders among his sailors on Tahitian women, and presumed those women received the disease during the previous year from French sailors under the command of Louis-Antoine de Bougainville. The French ultimately blamed either Cook’s crew or that of the British ship Dolphin, which arrived in Tahiti just prior to Bougainville.

21� James Cook, The Journals of Captain Cook, Philip Edwards, ed. (New York, 1999), 532, 535. For a detailed discussion of these events, see O. Bushnell, Gifts of Civilization, 135–41.

22� José Mariano Moziño, Noticias de Nutka: An Account of Nootka Sound in 1792, Iris Higbie Wilson, ed. and trans. (Seattle, 1970), 44.

23� Jackson, “Epidemic Disease and Population Decline in the Baja California Missions,” 337.

24� William Ellis, An Authentic Narrative of a Voyage (London, 1782), 73–74.

25� On disease and infertility in Alta and Baja California missions, see William Preston, “Serpent in Eden: Dispersal of Foreign Diseases into Pre-Mission California,” Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 18 (1996): 2–37; Jackson, “Epidemic Disease and Population Decline in the Baja California Missions,” 308–46; and Jon M. Erlandson and Kevin Bartoy, “Cabrillo, the Chumash, and Old World Diseases,” Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 17 (1995): 153–77.

26� Shaler, Journal of a Voyage, 147.

27� August Hirsch, Handbook of Historical and Geographical Pathology, 3 vols. (1864; London, 1883), 2: 74.

28� Thomas, Entangled Objects, 91. Thomas’s most recent book offers a marvelous rethinking of Polynesian sexual encounters, specifically those in which Tahitians may have parodied British sailors’ awkward acts. See Nicholas Thomas, Cook: The Extraordinary Voyages of Captain James Cook (New York, 2003), 155–59.

29� Caroline Ralston, “Changes in the Lives of Ordinary Women in Early Post-Contact Hawaii,” in Margaret Jolly and Martha Macintyre, eds., Family and Gender in the Pacific: Domestic Contradictions and the Colonial Impact (Cambridge, 1989), 64. A useful synthesis of this issue across Polynesia is Chappell, “Shipboard Relations,” 131–49.

30� Sahlins, Islands of History, 7.

31�Observations Made during a Voyage round the World, Nicholas Thomas, Harriet Guest, and Michael Dettelbach, eds. (Honolulu, 1996), 260.

32� John Papa ‘I’i, “Expression of Aloha for Matthew Kekuana’oa,” cited in O. Bushnell, Gifts of Civilization, 265.

33�Fiji Times (Levuka), December 13, 1875.

34�The Times (London) reported 50,000 deaths, while demographer Norma McArthur estimated 27,000 deaths. See The Times, June 9, 1875; McArthur, Island Populations of the Pacific, 34–36.

35� Cliff, Island Epidemics, 156.

36� Robert T. Boyd’s comprehensive study of this outbreak suggests three possible introduction routes: a Russian origin through Kamchatka, where smallpox was prevalent in the late 1760s; a Spanish origin through trading vessels between 1774 and 1776; and a Great Plains–Columbia River route in the late 1770s. The Spanish route is the most widely cited, particularly in regard to the Spanish schooner Sonora in 1775. Warren L. Cook notes that there was no reference to active smallpox aboard the Sonora (though a great deal of scurvy and general illness), but the virus could survive for years in a latent or dry state on trade goods like textiles. Elizabeth Fenn’s work on smallpox in North America during the 1770s and 1780s favors the Great Plains–Columbia River route. See Boyd, Coming of the Spirit of Pestilence, 21–45; Boyd, “Demographic History, 1774–1874,” in Handbook of North American Indians (Washington, D.C., 1990), 7: 135–48; Cook, Flood Tide of Empire, 79–81; and Fenn, Pox Americana, 226–32.

37� Charles F. Merbs, “A New World of Infectious Disease,” Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 35 (1992): 28.

38� Shaler, Journal of a Voyage, 139–42.

39� Boyd, Coming of the Spirit of Pestilence, 54.

40� Captain Charles Clerke, Cook’s second-in-command for the third voyage, carried tuberculosis with him throughout the trip until he died at Kamchatka in 1779.

41� Boyd, Coming of the Spirit of Pestilence, 123, 130.

42� Thomas Babington Macaulay, The History of England from the Accession of James the Second, Charles Harding Firth, ed., 6 vols. (London, 1914), 5: 2468; quoted in Elizabeth A. Fenn, “Biological Warfare in Eighteenth-Century North America: Beyond Jeffery Amherst,”Journal of American History 86 (March 2000): 1559; Sherburne Cook, “Smallpox in Spanish and Mexican California, 1770–1834,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 7 (1939): 185; Boyd, Coming of the Spirit of Pestilence, 131.

43� Wyatt Gill, Life in the Southern Isles: or, Scenes and Incidents in the South Pacific and New Guinea (London, 1876), 106, cited in Lange, “Plagues and Pestilence in Polynesia,” 332. See also Cliff, Island Epidemics, 245.

44� Jonathan S. Green, Journal of a Tour on the North West Coast of America in the Year 1829 (New York, 1915), 39, cited in Gibson, “Smallpox on the Northwest Coast,” 64.

45� Shaler mentioned Harriet again when the Lelia Byrd docked at Trinidad on the Northwest Coast: “Those poor savages greatly admired Harriet, and when we were at peace she had a constant train of admirers round her. The young bucks were at great pains to paint and decorate themselves to please her; one of them carried his gallantries so far as to present her with an otter skin: a striking instance of the influence of the fair sex on man, in his rudest state.” Journal of a Voyage, 137, 143; Richard Jeffry Cleveland, Voyages and Commercial Enterprises of the Sons of New England (New York, 1857), 206–17.

46� Less than ten commercial ships had previously attempted this trans-Pacific voyage with cargo from California, the Northwest Coast, or Hawai’i.

47� David Igler, “Database of California Shipping.” This database is compiled from the unparalleled records of historian Adele Ogden, “California Trading Vessels, 1786–1847,” Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. Ogden’s sources for each vessel include the original shipping logs, travel accounts, Mexican and Spanish archival collections, and an extensive survey of secondary literature. I entered each record into a spreadsheet with forty-four possible entry fields (including ownership, flag, types of cargo, and destinations) and used Stata to analyze the data. While Ogden’s records may not be entirely complete, they represent by far the most comprehensive (and unexamined) compilation of California shipping prior to the Gold Rush.

48� This decadal increase masks a few important peaks in Pacific shipping, including the end of the War of 1812, Mexican Independence in 1821, and a particular rise of American voyages in 1844. While all the vessels in this database entered California’s coastal waters, they did not all enter a California port. This important distinction sheds light on the nature of Spanish rule in California prior to 1821. Vessels involved in the sea otter trade often avoided Spanish ports in California and Mexico for fear of having their cargoes (and sometimes ships) impounded. Therefore, many ships remained offshore and dropped anchor near the coastal islands, where the majority of sea otter hunting was conducted. By virtually barring these vessels from California ports, Spain lost out on the opportunity to regulate and profit from this valuable trade. See Adele Ogden, The California Sea Otter Trade, 1784–1848 (Berkeley, Calif., 1941), 32–45.

49� Adele Ogden’s complete list of vessel ownership by nation/region included Spain, England, Peru, Russia, Mexico, United States (Boston, New York, Hartford, Baltimore, Philadelphia), France, Hawai’i, California, Bengal, Canton, Columbia, Hudson’s Bay Company, Germany, Sardinia, Mauritius, Ecuador, Chile, Sweden, Canada, Central America, and Denmark.

50� Edward Inskeep, “San Blas, Nayarit: An Historical and Geographic Study,” Journal of the West 2 (1963): 133–44; Cook, Flood Tide of Empire, 48–51.

51� Ogden, California Sea Otter Trade, 45–65; Sarafian, “Smallpox Strikes the Aleuts,” 46–49; Ivan Teniaminov, Notes on the Islands of the Unalaska District (1804), 248–58.

52� This tradition is mostly rooted in national and/or imperial histories; see Cook, Flood Tide of Empire; Heffer, United States and the Pacific; Gibson, Yankees in Paradise; Basil Dmytryshyn, E. A. P. Crownhart-Vaughn, and Thomas Vaughan, eds., To Siberia and Russian America: Three Centuries of Russian Expansion (Portland, 1988–89).

53� “Ships to Hawaii before 1819,” http://www.hawaiian-roots.com/shipsB1880.htm, July 2002. By comparison, 188 ships entered California waters between 1786 and 1819, but 102 of these voyages were Spanish ships that only sailed between San Blas, California, and the Northwest. Thus California and Hawai’i received approximately the same number of transoceanic voyages (overwhelmingly British and American).

54� Adele Ogden assembled thousands of these letters from various merchant collections held by the Bancroft Library, Harvard Business School, and Houghton Library. Ogden, “Mexican California: Topics Found in Maritime MS Materials,” Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

55� O. Bushnell, Gifts of Civilization, 215–64; Stannard, Before the Horror, 50–52.

56� Dorothy Burne Goebel, “British Trade to the Spanish Colonies, 1796–1823,”AHR 43 (January 1938): 318.

57� Goebel, “British Trade to the Spanish Colonies,” 319.

58� Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle, Leonard Engel, ed. (New York, 1962), 365–68; W. M. Mathew, “The Imperialism of Free Trade: Peru, 1820–70,” Economic History Review 21 (December 1968): 562–79; Mathew, “Peru and the British Guano Market, 1840–1870,” Economic History Review 23 (April 1970): 112–28.

59� Lord George Macartney to Erasmus Gower, July 27, 1793, “China Embassy Letters Received,” Box G/12/92, East India Company Collection, British Library.

60� C. H. Philips, The East India Company, 1784–1834 (Manchester, 1940), 302; John Keay, The Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company (London, 1991), 430.

61� Hao, Commercial Revolution in Nineteenth-Century China, 337.

62� N. H. C. Plowden to Joseph Dart, Secret Committee/Department, June 27, 1821, “Secret Letters Received from China, 27 June 1821 to 6 February 1823,” Box G/12/284, East India Company Collection.

63� “List of American Vessels at the Port of Canton, Season 1821, 1822,” and “Estimate of the Import Trade on American Vessels at the Port of Canton, Season 1821, 1822,” in “Canton Diary for Season 1821/1822,” East India Company Collection.

64� Plowden to Dart, April 10, 1822.

65� Plowden to Dart, June 27, 1821.

66� On market activity in Canton and Guangdong province during this period, see Robert Marks, Tigers, Rice, Silk, and Silt: Environment and Economy in Late Imperial South China (Cambridge, 1998), 163–94; Yong Chen, Chinese San Francisco: A Trans-Pacific Community (Stanford, Calif., 2000), 11–41.

67� Jacques M. Downs, The Golden Ghetto: The American Commercial Community in Canton and the Shaping of American China Policy, 1784–1844 (Bethlehem, Pa., 1997), 44; Hao, Commercial Revolution in Nineteenth-Century China, 28.

68� Downs, Golden Ghetto, 46.

69� See letters between the Select Committee and Secret Committee, March 19 and April 18, 1822, Box G/12/284; “Statement of Opium Imported into China Season 1821, 1822,” Box G/12/225, East India Company Collection. Americans were also smuggling Turkish opium into China during this period.

70� Dennis O. Flynn and Arturo Giráldez, introduction, European Entry into the Pacific: Spain and the Acapulco-Manila Galleons, Flynn, Giráldez, and James Sobredo, eds. (Burlington, Vt., 2001), xi.

71� Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (New York, 1997), 14.

72� On California hemp production during Spanish rule, see Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of California, 7 vols. (San Francisco, 1886–90), 1: 717; 2: 178–81.

73� Spanish supply ships between San Blas and California account for less than 10 percent of voyages, Russian ships (largely from Sitka to California) account for 7.24 percent of voyages, and whalers (mostly U.S.) account for 22.24 percent.

74� On relations between traders and Indian hunters in the Puget Sound region, see Alexandra Harmon, Indians in the Making: Ethnic Relations and Indian Identities around Puget Sound (Berkeley, Calif., 1998), 43–71. For comparative information on the fur trade in Northeast America, see John F. Richards, The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World (Berkeley, 2003), 463–516.

75� Manufactured goods became more common as “in-cargo” to California after 1820, but less than 14 percent of ships recorded the nature of these items.

76� The Spanish had first hunted sea otters off the Baja California coast in the 1730s and sold those pelts in China. The first Russian expedition, under Vitus Bering, returned to China with 900 pelts in 1741. Cook, Flood Tide of Empire, 41–43.

77� Alexander Dalrymple, Plan for Promoting the Fur-Trade, and Securing It to This Country, by Uniting the Operations of the East-India and Hudson’s-Bay Companys (London, 1789), 27; “Estimate of the Import Trade on American Vessels as the Port of Canton, Season 1821, 1822,” East India Company Collection.

78� See Manuel Victoria, “Victoria al Ministro de Relaciones,” Archives of California, Departmental Records (1831), 135–36.

79� These work relations are described in most firsthand accounts of early Pacific trade; see Petr Aleksandrovich Tikhmenev, “Historical Review of the Origin of the Russian American Company,” transcript and translation in Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 180–192; Georg Heinrich Von Langsdorff, Voyages and Travels in Various Parts of the World, during the Years 1803, 1804, 1805, 1806, 1807 (London, 1813–14), 215–22; Eliab Grimes, “Logbook of the Eagle,” Bancroft Library.

80� Gibson, “Smallpox on the Northwest Coast,” 72.

81� “Log of Schooner California,” in “Mexican California: Topics Found in Maritime MS Materials,” Adele Ogden Papers; Hirsch, Handbook of Geographical and Historical Pathology, 1: 20. On the risk of disease for recruited laborers, as well as the estimate that one-quarter of native voyagers died while at sea, see Chappell, Double Ghosts, 66–67, 160.

82� Ralph Shlomowitz, “Epidemiology and the Pacific Labor Trade,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 19 (Spring 1989): 585–610.

83� King Kamehameha II (Liholiho) died from measles in 1824; Kamehameha III (Kauikeaouli) died childless in 1854; Kamehameha IV (Alexander Liholiho) died from chronic asthma in 1863; Kamehameha V (Kapuaiwa) died childless in 1872; and William Charles Lunalilo (the adopted son of Kamehameha III) died the following year of tuberculosis. See O. Bushnell, Gifts of Civilization, 202, 210; and Jonathan Kay Kamakawiwo’ole Osorio, Dismembering Lahui: A History of the Hawaiian Nation to 1887 (Honolulu, 2002), 147, 151.

84� Chappell, Double Ghosts, 162; Chappell, “Indigenous Beachcombers in the Pacific Islands,” 4.

85� On the hide and tallow trade, rancho expansion, and native dispossession, see Paul Wallace Gates, Land and Law in California: Essays on Land Policy (Ames, Iowa, 1991), 24–120; David Igler, Industrial Cowboys: Miller & Lux and the Transformation of the Far West, 1850–1920 (Berkeley, Calif., 2001), 19–59; and George H. Phillips, Indians and Intruders in Central California, 1769–1849 (Norman, Okla., 1993).

86� Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, “A Concept: The Unification of the Globe by Disease,” 29, quoted in I. J. Catanach, “The ‘Globalization’ of Disease? India and the Plague,”Journal of World History 12 (Spring 2001): 131.

87� I. C. Campbell, “The Culture of Culture Contact: Refractions from Polynesia,”Journal of World History 14 (March 2003): 65.

88� Stannard, “Disease, Human Migration, and History,” 41. For comparative figures on depopulation rates in the Americas, see Stannard, “Disease and Infertility: A New Look at the Demographic Collapse of Native Populations in the Wake of Western Contact,” Journal of American Studies 24 (December 1990): 325–50; Wilbur R. Jacobs, The Fatal Confrontation: Historical Studies of American Indians, Environment, and Historians (Albuquerque, N.M., 1996), 77–89; and Ann F. Ramenofsky, Vectors of Death: The Archeology of European Contact (Albuquerque, 1987), 1–21.

89� On native agency, rationality, and victimization, see Chappell, “Active Agents versus Passive Victims,” 204–28; Dorothy Shineberg, They Came for Sandalwood: A Study of the Sandalwood Trade in the South-West Pacific, 1830–1865 (London, 1967); and Campbell, “Culture of Culture Contact,” 63–86.

90� Dening, Islands and Beaches, 212.

91� K. L. Gillion, Fiji’s Indian Migrants: A History to the End of Indenture in 1920 (Melbourne, 1962).




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