1844: How a Yankee Weathervane Caused a Chinese Riot

Another New Hampshire Blogger, Heather Wilkinson Rojo of Nutfield Genealogy, inspired this story.  Her photographic collection of weather vanes and the stories that go with them  caused me to ponder the importance of these metal spire ornaments in our state’s history.  It is obvious that they were essential to the farmer and the sea captain in predicting the weather.  However, nowadays they seem more decorative than predictive.

While perusing old newspaper articles about weather vanes, I came across a curious one, regarding a riot in Canton, China in 1844. Although at first look, the incident noted below does not appear to have a New Hampshire connection, indeed it does.

November 9, 1844: Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics (Portsmouth NH), page 1 The Trouble in Canton–Our readers will recollect that the first row between the Americans and Chinese, at Canton, was caused by umbrage being taken by “the Celestials” at an arrow having been placed on the flag-staff for a vane. The cause of this indignant feeling of the Chinese, and why they construed it into an insult, is explained in the following extract of a letter, dated May 17, received in this city. It also appears by this letter, that the Chinese felt exceedingly hostile to the Americans. Another

View of Canton Across Canton River, from "Canton China," published by Bureau of Navigation, under Authority of the Secretary of Navy, 1920, page 22

View of Canton Across Canton River, from “Canton China,” published by Bureau of Navigation, under Authority of the Secretary of Navy, 1920, page 22

fracas was expected, which, according to the intelligence by the Acadia, actually took place from Canton will now be looked for with anxiety:  “We had a little row here a few days since,  just to kill the monotony of the place, and two or three of the Chinese were shot by the foreigners. It originated in a flag-staff (queer place) or rather the weather vane on the said staff. The Brandywine brought out a very fine staff for this Consulate–with weather vane, cardinal points, &c. &c.  Well, this weather vane was a large gilt arrow, and with the Chinese the arrow is the sign of war, sickness, famine, &c. &c. When the arrow was first put up, some of the Chinese protested against it, but little notice was taken of their remarks. But unfortunately, this season has proved very dry–a good part of the rice crop is ruined–a great deal of distress exists among the lower classes, owing to the high price of rice, and Canton and vicinity is extremely sickly. So the Chinese said the arrow caused the whole of this, and like all wise people, they knew it would be so.  At last notices were posted up, saying that if the arrow was not removed, the flag-staff would be destroyed. Mr. Forbes, the American Consul, thought best to send down the top-mast and take the arrow off; some seamen from Whampoa came up for the purpose and lowered the top-mast, when a large crowd of Chinese who had collected, made a rush for the arrow, cut the halyards which held the top-mast, and down it came by the run, but they did not succeed in getting the arrow. The Americans then mustered with their muskets, and were assailed by showers of stones–but succeeded in driving some thousands of the Chinese from the American square. Several shots were fired at the Chinese, and I have no doubt some Chinese were killed, though the Chinese only report three wounded by bullets.  The flag-staff was put all right again (minus the arrow); some soldiers came from the city to protect the factories, and all has been quiet since. But we expect another row soon, as now they want the cardinal points, gold ball, and the spear taken off, and that the flag-staff should be no higher than the former one. This will not be afforded to them, and in the event of their attempting to arrange it themselves, their Gods must protect them, as there will be no firing over their heads again–and we muster fifty Yankees, all well armed, and willing to face the whole mob of Canton–and furthermore have the mandarins on our side. Another row will be a very serious affair.” –Mer. Journal. [Added note: one death ensued of a man called Sue Aman]

Exactly who were these Yankees who posted the offending weather vane?  No doubt they were Caleb Cushing, Robert Bennet Forbes, or Lt. Charles Wolcott Chauncey.  The family origin of each follows.


Caleb Cushing, a life-long scholar, diplomat and politician, was the first Ambassador to China. He was appointed in 1843 by President Tyler, and remained in this position until 4 March 1845.  In 1844 he helped negotiate the first China-United States Treaty called the Treaty of Wang Hiya.   He later served as Attorney General under President Franklin Pierce.

Caleb Cushing has a New Hampshire connection.  He was born 17 January 1800 in Salisbury, Massachusetts and died 2 January 1879. He was the son of a wealthy shipbuilder and merchant, John Newmarch Cushing, and Lydia Dow from Seabrook, New Hampshire, who died when Caleb was ten years told. Caleb Cushing married 23 Nov 1824 to  Caroline Elizabeth Wilde, daughter of Judge Samuel Sumner Wilde, of the Supreme Judicial Court. His wife died about ten years later. They had no children. He did not remarry.

—-DOW FAMILY (the NH connection)—
-Henry Dow who m. Joan Nudd [England to Boston 1637; He d. Hampton NH 21 Feb 1659, age 52]
-Joseph Dow who m. Mary Sanborn [b 1639  MA; d. 4 Apr 1703 Hampton NH age 64]
-Jeremiah Dow who m. Elizabeth Perkins [b 1677 Hampton NH; d. 1773 Hampton NH age 95]
-Gideon Dow who m. Lydia Perkins [see below]
-Lydia Dow who m. John N. Cushing**

Gideon Dow, son of Jeremiah & Elizabeth (Perkins) Dow, and a descendant of Isaac Perkins,  was b. 20 Nov 1710 in Seabrook NH and d. November 12, 1756 while serving in the army; m. 12 Nov 1735 at Hampton, Rockingham Co. NH to his cousin, Lydia Perkins, daughter of Benjamin & Lydia (Macrease) Perkins.  She b. 1 Nov 1714 in Hampton Falls, Rockingham Co. NH, and d. in Salisbury, Merrimack Co. NH. In 1747 Gideon paid his taxes to the town of Hampton NH.
Children of Gideon & Lydia (Perkins) Dow:
1. David Dow, b. 19 July 1739 Hampton NH; m. Rebecca Brown
2. Daniel Dow, b 1736 Seabrook NH; m. Catherine –.
3. Mary Dow, b. 23 March 1741
4. Gideon Dow, b. 7 Jan 1745; m. Sarah Greeley, 11 children
5. Jeremiah Dow, b. 3 Jan 1749 in Deerfield NH; m. Rachel Chase, had 10 children
6. *Lydia Dow [see]

-Peter Cushing who m. Susan Hawes [Hardinham, Norfolk England]
-Matthew Cushing who m. Nazareth Pitcher [b 1588 Hingham England; d. 1660 Hingham, MA]
-Col. John Cushing who m. Sarah Hawke [b. 1627 Hingham, England; d. 1708 Scituate MA]
-Caleb Cushing who m. Elizabeth Cotton [b 1672 Scituate MA; d. 1752]
-Caleb Cushing who m. Mary Newmarch [b. 1703 Salisbury MA; d. 1798]
-John Newmarch Cushing who m. Lidia Dow** [see below]

John Newmarch Cushing, son of Caleb & Mary (Newmarch) Cushing married 1st) 16 March 1799 in Salisbury, Essex Co. MA to Lidia/Lydia Dow, daughter of Gideon & Lydia (Perkins) Dow. She was b. 28 Feb 1752 in Seabrook, Rockingham Co. NH and d. 6 Nov 1810 in Newburyport, Essex Co. MA.  He m2) 29 Jan 1815 to Elisabeth Johnson.  Lived originally in Salisbury MA, removing by 1805 to Newburyport MA.
Children of John & Lidia (Dow) Cushing:
1. Caleb Cushing, b. 17 Jan 1800 Salisbury, Essex, MA
2. Lydia Cushing, b. 13 Aug 1805 Newburyport, Essex, MA; d. 21 Apr 1851 Newburyport MA
3. John Cushing b. 26 Sep 1808 Newburyport, Essex, MA
4. Rebekah Cushing, b. 21 Nov 1809 Newburyport, Essex, MA
Children of John N. & Elisabeth (Johnson) Cushing
5. Mary Ann Cushing, b. 4 March 1816 Newburyport MA
6. Philip Johnson Cushing, b. 11 Dec 1818 Newburyport MA
7. John Newmarch Cushing Jr., b. 21 Oct 1820 Newburyport, Essex Co. MA; d. 12 July 1904; m. Mary Brown
8. Sarah Chickering Cushing, twin, b 10 Aug 1823
9. Henry Cushing, twin, b. 10 Aug 1823
10. Elisabeth Cushing, b. 15 July 1826 Newburyport MA


The  ‘Consular Forbes’ mentioned in the riot story, is the famed Commodore Robert Bennet Forbes, a sea captain, China merchant, ship owner and writer. He was active in ship construction, maritime safety, the opium trade and charitable activities.  His house is now a museum (Captain Robert Bennet Forbes House) in Milton, Massachusetts.  In 1849 he was awarded the medal of the Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society for gallant conduct.  As a passenger on the Cunard steamship Europa, which hit and sank the emigrant ship, Charles Bartlett, Robert reportedly jumped into the water rescuing three people.  In 1852 he was one of the founders and the first president of the Sailors’ Snug Harbor of Boston, a retirement home for “decrepit, infirm or aged sailors.” According to “Supplementary Notes to Peche Lineages,” NY, 1943,  page 97, “Commode Forbes was responsible for the government sending a ship (steamship “Jamestown” to Ireland in the great famine (1848) with 800 tons of food for the Irish and he was idolized while in Ireland and presented with a silver service by the city of Cork, while many children there were named after him and no American was ever so loved in Ireland as Commodore Forbes of Boston…”


Rev. John Forbes & Dorothy Murray  [b. Scotland; m. at Milton MA; d. 17 Sep 1793 in England] stationed at St. Augustine while the Colony of Florida was in possession of the British Government.
-Ralph Bennet Forbes & Margaret Perkins [b 1773 Milton MA;d. 5 Oct 1824 Milton MA]
-Robert Bennet Forbes, son of Ralph Bennet & Margaret (Perkins) Forbes, dau of James & Elizabeth (Peck) Perkins, b  18 Sep 1804 at Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. He d 1888 Milton MA. He married in 1834 to Rose Greene Smith.  She d. 18 Sep 1885.
Children of Robert Bennet & Rose Greene (Smith) Forbes:
1. Robert Bennet Forbes, b. 1837, d. 30 June 1891 (see)
2. Edith Forbes, m. Charles Eliot Perkins
3. James Murray Forbes, b. 17 July 1845


Lieut. Charles Wolcott Chauncey, was commanding the schooner, Brandywine, mentioned in the riot story as  follows: “The Brandywine brought out a very fine staff for this Consulate....”  Charles Wolcott was the son of the esteemed Commodore Isaac Chauncey.


– Charles Chauncey & Catherine Eyre of Yardley-Bury England & New Haven CT
-Israel Chauncey & Mary Nichols of Scituate MA & Stratford CT
-Charles Chauncey & Sarah Wolcott of Stratford & Windsor CT
-Robert Chauncey & Hannah Wheeler of Stratford CT
-Wolcott Chauncey & Ann Brown of Stratford CT

Commodore Cornelius Isaac Chauncey, son of Wolcott & Ann (Brown) Chauncey, b. 20 Feb 1772 Black Rock CT, d. 27 Jan 1840, aged 68 in Washington, D.C.  He married 30 May 1799 in NYC, NY at NY Reformed Dutch Church to Catherine Sickles/Sickels, daughter of Johannes (Zacharias) & Aaltje/Aletha (William-Gilbert) Sickels.  [her parents were witness at daughter Augusta’s baptism. Descendants of Zacharias & Marritie (Brevoort) Sickels of Austria & Albany NY 
Children of Cornelius Isaac & Catherine (Sickels) Chauncey:
1. Augusta Aletha Chauncey, b. 15 Apr 1800 New York City NY; baptized 6 May 1800 NYC, NY Reformed Dutch Church
2.+ Lieut. Charles W. Chauncey, b. 1803 [SEE]
3. John St. Clair Chauncey, sailor, b. 1805, d. 10 April 1871; he m. Dec 1838 in NYC, NY to Maria Jane Fitzgerald Graham.  5 children.
4. Rev. Peter Schermerhorn Chauncey, b. 1807 , Rector of St. James Church, NYC from 1850-1866; m. Mary S. Renshaw, daughter of Commodore James Renshaw. 4 children; [St. James’s, Hamilton sq.,E. 66th n. 3d av.]

Lt. Charles Wolcott Chauncey, US Navy, son of Commodore Isaac & Catherine (Sickels) Chauncey born abt 1803; died 10 Aug 1847 Mexican War.

***Additional Reading***

Canton China,” published by Bureau of Navigation, under Authority of the Secretary of Navy, 1920

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2 Responses to 1844: How a Yankee Weathervane Caused a Chinese Riot

  1. Heather Rojo says:

    I love it! What a terrific history, especially the weathervane and the NH connection. Just last week I wrote about Japanese-American relations before Commodore Perry, which reminds me of how China was a closed country to the rest of the world at this era, too. Thanks, Janice!

  2. Pingback: 10 Tiny Things That Caused Huge Riots | Wonder My World

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