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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Anne Stapp

Yankee Ships Capture Pacific Trade

Shortly after the close of the American Revolution, Boston whalers began navigating in California waters, hunting the prized sea otter. Merchant ships from several nations prowled the Pacific Coast, but American merchant ships—named “Bostons” by the native citizenry—quickly dominated the trade. At the time, Spanish-owned California was a bucolic place, sparsely populated with Franciscan missions and families who lived on government land grants called ranchos. After Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821 and acquired California, more than 500 new grants were authorized in the province. A few of these land grants were enormous parcels and some were smaller, but all were intended as grazing lands for thousands of cattle. There was no commercial-scale industry, and farming outside of mission properties was limited to home gardens and private orchards. The mission priests and ranch owners traded their cattle hides to the “Bostons” at an average price of $1.50 to $2.50 per hide, plus vats of rendered beef tallow, for the necessities and luxuries carried in the holds of the American merchant ships: coffee, tea, sugar and other spices; fabrics, furniture, tableware, distilled liquor, cloaks and shawls, satin slippers, musical instruments, and myriad other goods. American ships departed with their cargoes full of hides and tallow that were transformed into candles, soap, shoes and other leather goods in United States’ factories. #History #19thcenturymerchantships

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