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Call No.: Mss:766 1863-1872 K69
Repository: Baker Library Historical Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University
Creator: Albert M. Knight
Title: Albert M. Knight papers
Quantity: 0.5 linear feet (1 box)
Language of materials: English
Abstract: The Albert M. Knight papers are letters written by an American businessman in China to his fiancée, 1863-1872.
Albert M. Knight was working for his father in South Reading, MA, in the early 1860s. His father's business appears to have been a store selling goods, possibly textiles. He traveled a fair amount, perhaps for business purposes, and made trips to London, Cadiz, and the Canary Islands in 1863 and 1864. His brother, Francis P. Knight, was already working in China then, and Albert decided to join him there in 1865. Sailing from New York to London on the ship Kangaroo, then from London to Shanghai on the ship Peterborough, Albert eventually rejoined Francis in Newchwang, or modern-day Yingkou, in August 1865. His brother was a successful and esteemed merchant there, also playing a role in consular affairs, having been appointed American Consul in 1862. Albert hoped to find success there too, joining the community of foreigners operating in China at that time. Likely names of companies in which Francis, and perhaps Albert too, were involved are Knight & Co. and Knight, Bandinel and Co. In 1872 Albert returned to Boston. Before leaving for China, he had been engaged to Abigail Jane Knight, his first cousin, but the engagement was broken off sometime between 1868 and 1872.
The Albert M. Knight papers consist of letters written by Albert to his fiancée Abigail Jane Knight, "Jennie," from 1863 to 1872, and include one letter from her to him. From 1863 to 1865 Albert lived in the Boston area and the letters describe his daily activities, his health, his spiritual beliefs as a member of the New Church congregation, working for his father, textiles and fashion, and current events such as his being drafted (and exempted) for the Civil War.In early 1864 Albert sailed to Cadiz and the Canary Islands, and his letters from this trip describe the landscape, houses, local dress, fruits, and climate. He also visited London, in early 1863 and again in 1865, with a brief visit to Paris, on his way to China, and described visits to monuments such as the Westminster Abbey and artwork he had the chance to see. In March 1865 he sailed to China from London, with stops in Algiers and the island of Java, and his letters recorded the journey, the arrival in China, impressions of China, names of people he encountered, descriptions of the lifestyle of the foreign community, and mentions of trade-related topics such as exports (beans, bean oil, beancakes and peas), imports (cottons, rice, opium and cheeses), and ship traffic.While Albert was in China, Abigail Jane Knight left her home in Lancaster, MA, to go teach at a Freedmen's School in Edisto Island, SC; from then onwards she did not write him as often and his letters to her became increasingly focused on this point. It is unclear what happened between them but there was a break in correspondence until 1872, when Albert returned to Boston and wrote to request the return of his gifts and letters to her.