Silk at Alphadelphia

A. C. Van Epps, the writer of the note below on silk, I find mentioned in “The Romance of China”, chronicled as having visited a Chinese junk on “exhibit” in New York’s harbor, with Chinese crew, and interviewing a Chinese artist about silk production in China. The adventure of that particular junk, a business venture undertaken by an enterprising Westerner that made virtual kidnap victims and slaves of the Chinese crew, was interesting enough that I became caught up in reading about the West’s attitude toward China in the 19th century and its metamorphosis from, with the first Opium War of 1839-1843 (China didn’t want the British importing it), a land of mystery to one made much fun of and viewed as particularly degraded in every way. Adherents of looking to phrenology and physiognomy for revelations on the intelligence and morals of a people found the Chinese to be simian and debased, while travelers to China racked up large on the prestigious lecture circuit with their pseudo-scientific observations. One wonders if Epp’s reference to silks fall from grace is in part due to this.

Later, Victor Noyes, son of James Allan Noyes, would travel in his youth to China and cultivate silk at Liberal, Missouri, at least for a time, as a hobby and not a profession.

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United States Congressional Serial Set

First Session of the 29th Congress
Begun and Held
At the City of Washington
December 1 1845

We are informed by a note from the editor of the ” Alphadelphia Tocsin,” that their association will commence their arrangements next spring for making the silk business a regular and permanent pursuit, and that they have every convenience for making it extensive and profitable. We would refer similar associations to the German society, at Economy, to show to what extent it may be carried, where not less than 500 to 600 pounds of reeled silk have been produced in a single season; and this they manufacture into the finest and most beautiful fabrics—thus rendering it not merely an ornamental, but one of the most lucrative pursuits of the community.

Now that there can be no longer a doubt as to the feasibility and profit of the silk business, how long will men refuse, as many do, to embark in it, for no other reason than that it was once connected with speculation and humbugging?

A. C. VAN EPPS

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