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The Empress of China
was a three-masted, square-rigged sailing ship, initially built in 1783 for service as a privateer
A privateer is a private person or ship authorized by a government by letters of marque to attack foreign shipping during wartime. Privateering was a way of mobilizing armed ships and sailors without having to spend public money or commit naval officers...
. After the Treaty of Paris
The Treaty of Paris, signed on September 3, 1783, ended the American Revolutionary War between Great Britain on the one hand and the United States of America and its allies on the other. The other combatant nations, France, Spain and the Dutch Republic had separate agreements; for details of...
brought a formal end to the American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...
, the vessel was refitted for commercial purposes . It became the first American ship to sail from the newly independent United States to China, opening what is known today as the Old China Trade
The Old China Trade was the name given to the early commerce between the Qing Empire and the United States under the Canton System, spanning from shortly after the end of the American Revolutionary War in 1783 to the Treaty of Wanghsia in 1844...
and transporting the first official representative of the American government to Canton.
The first American merchant vessel to enter Chinese waters left New York harbor on Washington's birthday, February 22, 1784. The Empress
returned to New York on May 11, 1785 after a round voyage of fourteen months and twenty-four days. The success of the voyage encouraged others to invest in further trading with China.
The ship's captain John Green (1736-1796) was a former U.S. Naval officer, its two business agents (supercargo
Supercargo is a term in maritime law that refers to a person employed on board a vessel by the owner of cargo carried on the ship...
s), Samuel Shaw (1754-1794) and Thomas Randall (17__-1811), were former officers in the U.S. Continental Army, and its syndicate of owners, including Robert Morris (1734-1806) were some of the richest men in the new nation.