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Introduction of Soybeans to North America by Samuel Bowen in 1765 (1)

by Theodore Hymowitz and J.R. Harlan (2)

This paper documents the history of the introduction of the soybean (Glycine max), a domesticate of China, to North America. Henry Yonge, the Surveyor-General of Georgia, planted soybeans on his farm at the request of Samuel Bowen in 1765. Mr. Bowen, a former seaman employed by the East India Company, brought soybeans to Savannah, Georgia, from China via London. From 1766, Mr. Bowen planted soybeans on his plantation "Greenwich" located at Thunderbolt, Georgia. The soybeans were used to manufacture soy sauce and vermicelli (soybean noodles). In addition, he manufactured a sago powder substitute made from sweet potatoes. The 3 products were then exported to England. Samuel Bowen received a patent for his manufacturing inventions for producing these products. Another early introduction of soybeans to North America was by Benjamin Franklin. In 1770 he sent seeds from London to John Bartram in Philadelphia.

Soybeans [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] together with wheat and maize are principal field crops grown in the United States. The rise of soybeans to agricultural prominence within the last 60 yr in the U.S. is a remarkable story dealt with in detail by Probst and Judd(1973). However, little is known about the introduction of the soybean, a domesticate of China, to North America. In 1916, Piper and Morse reported that Mease in 1804 was credited with being the first person in the U.S. literature to mention the soybean. Mease (1804) stated. "The Soy-bean bears the climate of Pennsylvania very well. The bean ought therefore to be cultivated." For almost 70 yr the 1804 literature date has remained unchallenged. In this paper we will document a 1765 introduction of soybeans from China in Savannah, Georgia by Samuel Bowen. There the soybeans were used to manufacture soy sauce and vermicelli (soybean noodles), which were then exported to England.

Voyage to China

On February 8, 1758, Samuel Bowen signed on as a seaman on the Pitt, bound for the East lndia Company's trading post in Canton, China (Log of Pitt. 1755 1763). According to the Pitt's Ledger for Wages, Samuel Bowen received £32 9s 4d as salary advance. The Pitt, at 600 chartered tonnage, was the largest ship to make the voyage from England to China since the first ship, the London, sailed to Macao in 1635 (Morse. 1916-1929). The Pitt docked at Madras, India, on September 15, 1758 and unloaded 2 companies of soldiers (Log of Pitt. 1758-1763). On her journey, from Madras to Canton, the Pitt was accompanied by a 2-masted tender, the Success. The captain of the Pitt, William Wilson, owned thc Success, which had a crew of 1 midshipman and 12 seamen. The Success was used to assist the Pitt through uncharted waters. From Madras to Canton, the Pitt sailed via Java to Madura, around the east slde of the Celebes, passing between Buru and Sula Islands., proceeding north, east of the Philippines and then west to Canton (Morse. 1926-1929). The Pitt arrived In China on April 16, 1759 (Log of Pitt. 1758-1763).

On June 13, 1758, Samuel Bowen transferred to the Success (Log of Pitt, 1758-1763). The small tender sailed north to Ningpo and then on to Tientsin. On board was James Flint, an employee of the East India Company since 1736 (Stifer,1938), who was the company's Chinese interpreter. Mr. Flint left the Success at Tientsin on July 29, 1759, and returned to Canton via the overland route. He arrived at Canton on September 10, 1759 (Morse, 1926-1929). The voyage of the Success became a cause célèbre both in China and England because the Emperor had prohibited the English from trading outside of Canton. Ultimately, James Flint was imprisoned by the Chinese at Macao from December, 1759 to November, 1762, and then banished forever from China by the Emperor Ch'ien Lung (Auber, 1834, Fu, 1966; Grantham. 1934; Morse, 1926-1929). The Success was never heard of again (Morse. 1926-1929).

The only information on Samuel Bowen in China comes from vague comments made by Bowen himself. He claimed that he was a prisoner in China for nearly 4 yr and was carried 2,000 miles from place to place through the interior of the country (Georgia Gazette, September 17, 1766).
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(1) Received 25 October 1982: accepted 6 February 1983. (2) Contribution from the Crop Evolution Laboratory, Department of Agronomy, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL 61801-4798. Economic Botany, 39(4), 1983, pp. 371-379
©1983, by the New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY 10458


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