Horizon Hall, #3223
June 30, 2023, 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM
While best known for its infamous Witch Trials of the 1690s, this dissertation explores another history of Salem, Massachusetts: a global city and trading port from 1783-1820. In the wake of the American Revolution, Salem merchants began sending ships to trade in ports throughout the Indian and Pacific Oceans. This new commerce reflected early Americans’ expansive visions for the country’s future. Trade with Asia changed Salem’s local and global economy, architecture and material culture, public life, race relations, and historical memory. Global trade catapulted Salem’s merchant elite to new levels of wealth but furthered their complicity with slavery. Salem merchants had supported Caribbean plantation owners since the 1600s by selling them food for enslaved people and now began shipping Chinese tea and India textiles to the West Indies. Salem builders added Chinese latticework to local homes and the Salem East India Marine Society, a local organization for ship captains, opened a museum and sponsored an annual parade featuring cultural objects collected overseas. All Salem residents, including women, poor whites, and Black sailors, purchased imported consumer goods and participated in the city’s global economy. Trade with Asia also brought Salem’s white merchants into contact with foreign peoples and facilitated the migration of a diverse community of sailors to Salem. These interactions prompted new questions and conclusions about race and the social order. Paradoxically, as Salem’s volume of trade with Asia declined in the 1820s and 1830s, its cultural power grew. Salem residents attempted to replace the city’s “Witch Trials” identity with a new one, “global trading port,” by adopting an official city seal in 1838 which depicted a Salem ship, an Indonesian merchant, and the motto “To the farthest port of the rich East.” Salem’s local context reveals how early American culture was shaped by global exchanges.
*A review copy of this dissertation is on reserve at Fenwick library.