You’ll never be rowed up the Chao Phraya River in a royal junk crewed by green clad and red clad sailors, but Andrew Jampoler serves up the next best thing: Embassy to the Eastern Courts is less a book than a time machine that will transport you to the mid-nineteenth century, when the U.S. Navy helped open up Canton, Bangkok, and Muscat to commerce. Sit back, turn the pages, and enjoy the ride.
In 1832, New Hampshire merchant Edmund Roberts embarked in the Navy sloop USS Peacock on a secret mission to open U.S. official relations with the Far East. Roberts spent much of the next four years traversing distant seas. He met rebuff in Cochin China (Vietnam), never made it to Japan, and died at Macao in 1836, but the commercial treaties he achieved in Siam (Thailand) and Muscat (Oman) marked the first American diplomatic beachheads east of Suez. The Peacock performed two epic voyages, surviving a near wreck and epidemic disease on the second to complete a 30-month transit of the globe.
Embassy to the Eastern Courts takes readers along on Roberts’s exotic and sometimes quixotic quest. Written with jaunty verve and wry humor, Andrew Jampoler’s travelogue conveys the full flavor of extended voyaging in the age of sail—the mysteries of foreign lands, the dangers of uncharted waters, the vexations of remoteness from home and of long confinement in cramped quarters, and the constant battle to maintain the health of ship and crew. The exquisite illustrations are themselves worth the price of the voyage.— Daniel Feller, Professor of History at the University of Tennessee and editor/director of The Papers of Andrew Jackson