Port of New York

New York merchants and sea captains went after the Latin American trade with gusto—the Erie Canal (1825) giving them a critical edge over other U.S. competitors. Latin Americans prized high-grade flour, and the waterway linked New York directly to the wheatfields of the Midwest.
 
To service the canal barges and sea-going vessels, neighboring (and still independent) Brooklyn
built the Atlantic Docks and Erie Basin. A workforce, swelled by European immigrants, unloaded coffee shipped north from Venezuela and Brazil, hides from Argentina, sugar from Cuba, and guano from Peru. Goods processed and manufactured in New York sailed, and later steamed, back south. The explosion in the north/south trade (as well as the east/west traffic to Europe and China) expanded ancillary businesses like marine insurance and banking.

Charles Gerard Davis, Model of clipper ship: Sea Witch, 1936. Courtesy of Mystic Seaport, Mystic, Conn., #1940.377. In order to bolster efficiency and profit, merchants like the Howland brothers extended their business from Latin America to China. Commissioning the Sea Witch from a Manhattan shipyard, Howland & Aspinwall—an offshoot of the original firm, G.G. & S.S. Howland—devoted this sleek clipper to the China trade and installed Captain Robert Waterman at the helm.
 
Waterman’s voyages to China broke multiple world records. En route to Canton, the Sea Witch exchanged goods in silver-rich Spanish America and “Gold Rush” California, collecting the coin needed to trade with Chinese merchants who refused credit. Under Captain George Fraser, the clipper also transported contract laborers called “coolies” from China to Latin America. On March 28, 1856, the ship wrecked and sank near Havana with approximately 500 Chinese laborers on board who had been consigned to Howland & Aspinwall. All the passengers survived.
Charles Gerard Davis, Model of clipper ship: Sea Witch, 1936. Courtesy of Mystic Seaport, Mystic, Conn., #1940.377.

John Penniman (United States, 1817–50), Novelty Iron works, Foot of 12th St. E.R. New York. Stillman, Allen & Co., Iron Founders, Steam Engine and General Machinery Manufacturers, 1841–44. Lithograph printed in colors with hand coloring. Lent by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Edward W. C. Arnold Collection of New York Prints, Maps and Pictures, Bequest of Edward W. C. Arnold, 1954 (54.90.588). Imports and exports sustained not just the sugar enterprises, but New York's wider manufacturing sector as well. Faced with a burgeoning and accessible Latin American market, local industries tailored goods to suit their needs. The Novelty Iron Works built sugar-mill machinery for plantations and steam engines for ships. Its clients included the Mexican, Peruvian, and Spanish governments.
John Penniman (United States, 1817–50), Novelty Iron works, Foot of 12th St. E.R. New York. Stillman, Allen & Co., Iron Founders, Steam Engine and General Machinery Manufacturers, 1841–44. Lithograph printed in colors with hand coloring. Lent by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Edward W. C. Arnold Collection of New York Prints, Maps and Pictures, Bequest of Edward W. C. Arnold, 1954 (54.90.588).

Soluble Pacific Guano, 1857-83. Courtesy of Mystic Seaport, Mystic, Conn., #1994.5. Beginning in the 1840s, commercial farmers clamored for a potent fertilizer made from bird droppings (guano) obtained from Peru’s Chincha Islands. William R. Grace—who came to New York via Ireland and Peru—made a fortune shipping the stuff to market. In 1880 he followed the lead of William Havemeyer and went into politics, becoming New York’s first Irish-Catholic mayor. 
Soluble Pacific Guano, 1857-83. Courtesy of Mystic Seaport, Mystic, Conn., #1994.5.
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