U.S. Characters

  • Harriett Low
  • Dr. Peter Parker
  • Warren Delano

Warren Delano

The head of Russell & Co and the American counsel, Warren Delano lead the anti-war party. But he was opportunistic enough to buy and ship tea to the British ships charging exorbitant rates and sold warships and munitions to the Chinese.

In 1823, the 24 year old Yankee, Warren Delano, sailed to Canton, where he did so well that within seven years he was a senior partner in Russell & Company. Delano’s problem, as with all traders, European and American, was that China had much to sell but declined to buy. The Manchu emperors believed that the Middle Kingdom already possessed everything worth having, and hence needed no barbarian manufactures.

The British struck upon an ingenious way to reduce a huge trade deficit. Their merchants bribed Chinese officials to allow entry of chests of opium from British ruled India, though its importation had long been banned by imperial decree. Opium imports soared, and nearly every American company followed suit, acquiring "black dirt" in Turkey or as agents for Indian producers but were prohibited from using buying directly from India because of the British Navigation Act.

Writing home, Delano said he could not pretend to justify the opium trade on moral grounds, "but as a merchant I insist it has been . . . fair, honorable and legitimate," and no more objectionable than the importation of wines and spirits to the U.S.

When Lin Zexu confiscated the opium, he required that traders sign a bond to forego smuggling opium. Delano and most of the Americans signed the bond, once the death penalty clause was removed. This allowed Delano to buy tea while the British banned. He shipped the tea downriver and sold it to the British traders charging exorbitant rates. Later he sold warships and arms to the Chinese as they prepared for the British invasion.

Warren Delano returned to America rich, and in 1851 settled in Newburgh, N.Y. There he eventually gave his daughter Sara in marriage to a wellborn neighbor, James Roosevelt, the father of Franklin Roosevelt. He lost most of his money in a bank panic and returned to China to rebuild his fortune.