November 11, 2016
Some two centuries ago, during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, New England’s merchants and traders found themselves frozen out of their traditional markets in Europe and the Caribbean. Desperate for new business for their idled ships and crews, they asked President Andrew Jackson to explore opportunities for them on the other side of the globe. Prompted by the secretary of the navy, Jackson sent Edmund Roberts—an unemployed ship owner from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, with no diplomatic experience—on an “embassy” (mission) to the potentates of Oman, Siam, Cochin China, and Japan, to negotiate pioneering trade treaties.
So began an unusual and ultimately fatal adventure that twice took Roberts to exotic and dangerous places on the other side of the globe. Because the British and the Dutch were deeply interested in these same new markets, Roberts’ mission was kept secret. Sailing in the ill-fated USS Peacock, first in company with USS Boxer, then with USS Enterprise, Roberts traveled almost 70,000 miles across the great expanses of two oceans to successfully negotiate treaties with Oman and Siam.
Although he failed twice to win over the emperor of Cochin China and died miserably in Macao before departing for Japan, Roberts’ embassy was nonetheless instrumental in opening doors to new diplomatic realms and extending the commerce of the fledgling American nation.
Kept secret at the time and largely forgotten today, Edmund Roberts’ fascinating and important story is recounted in this latest book by Andrew Jampoler—retired naval officer turned maritime historian—whose previous works include Sailors in the Holy Land and The Last Lincoln Conspirator.
ANDREW C. A. JAMPOLER spent nearly twenty-five years as an active duty naval aviator including a year on the ground in Vietnam, command of a squadron and a naval air station, and service on several high level staffs. He is the author of six other Naval Institute Press books, beginning with Adak in 2003 and most recently Congo.