Tuesday, March 25, 2008

China connections

I clipped a column from the paper today about historic trade relations between China and the U.S. One paragraph grabbed my attention, as it bears most interestingly upon the history of the LDS Church.

"U.S.-China trade began in 1784, when the ship Empress of China set sail from New York, bound for Canton -- now Guangzhou -- with a cargo of fur and ginseng, prized in Asia for its healing properties.

"It turned a handsome profit," said [Craig] Canning, historian at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. "And right away, other Americans went out to seek their fortune."

One of those Americans, was Joseph Smith Sr., father and namesake of the future Mormon prophet.

Writes Richard Bushman, in "Rough Stone Rolling," a biography of the prophet, p. 18:

"It was a fateful turning point in the Smith family fortunes."

The man entrusted by Smith to transport his ginseng, one Stevens, turned out to be a rascal who fled to Canada with all the profits. The Smiths, who had been getting by relatively well until this time, were unable to pay their debts and were reduced to destitution. They were forced to move several times during the next few years, finally settling in Palmyra.

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