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COLLECTION Identifier: Mss:766 1820-1891

Russell & Co. records

The Russell & Co./Perkins & Co. collection contains letter books, order and purchase books, invoices, shipping orders and other financial material relating to the China trade merchant firms.


  • 1820-1891

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials stored onsite. Please contact for more information.


4 linear feet (23 volumes, 6 boxes, 8 mapcase folders)

The Russell & Co. and Perkins & Co. collection consists mainly of financial materials relating to the Canton, China based trading firms. The earlier material pertains to Perkins & Co. and the later material to Russell & Co. Included in the financial records are order books, invoice books, purchase books, freight books, and shipping orders for goods and materials purchased and traded by the two companies.

Order books of Russell & Co, 1872-1880. V. 3 contains small orders and letters from persons in San Francisco, New York, Boston, Hankow, Yokohama, and Amoy regarding orders for dinner sets, satin bed spreads to be embroidered in colors, black wood curio stands, and oil paintings, among other things.

Box 26a contains unbound papers including financial material, agreements, deeds, leases, legal claims, and reports. Financial material includes accounts current, promissory notes, insurance, invoices, bills, receipts, bills of lading, freight lists, and orders. Legal material includes claims, contracts, deeds, leases, certificates of inspection, and powers of attorney. Box 26b contains unbound papers includes sales accounts, orders, correspondence, petitions, and material pertaining to the steamers White Cloud, Williamette, and Eureka.

Historical Note:

Perkins & Co. was established in 1803 as a branch of the Boston based merchant trading firm J. & T.H. Perkins & Co., owned by merchant brothers James and Thomas Handasyd Perkins. Perkins & Co. was the premier American firm in China trading silk, tea, and opium. John Perkins Cushing, a Perkins nephew, was partner and head of the China branch until 1827 when he retired leaving Thomas Tunno Forbes, his protege, in charge. Samuel Wadsworth Russell, a native of Middletown, Connecticut also had established himself in China trading silk, tea, and opium. Samuel Wadsworth Russell and Philip Ammidon were partners in the firm Samuel Russell & Co., and while prosperous they did not share the close business association that Cushing had with the powerful Hong merchant Houqua. The untimely death of Forbes in 1829, uncovered a reference in his papers that if anything should happen to him the affairs of Perkins & Co. and Bryant & Sturgis should be looked after by Russell & Co. Cushing was in England at the time of Forbes' death and quickly returned to China to reorganize the business. In 1830 Bryant & Sturgis and Perkins & Co. were merged with Russell & Co. with Augustine Heard as partner and John Murray Forbes as a clerk in the Canton office.

Another American firm, with ties to Boston, operating in China at the time, Russell, Sturgis, & Company, a branch of Russell & Sturgis of Manila, was headed by Warren Delano and Russell Sturgis, later head of the London banking firm Baring, Brothers. The Chinese business affairs of Russell & Sturgis (Russell, Sturgis & Co.) were looked after by John Perkins Cushing. After Cushing departed China, Robert Bennet Forbes, then partner in Russell & Company, coordinated a merger between the Canton branch of Russell & Sturgis and Russell & Co. with Delano becoming a partner in the later in 1840. Russell & Co. continued to trade in silk, tea, porcelain, and to lesser degree opium for the 19th century until it's dissolution in 1891. Many well known China traders worked for or were partners in Russell & Co. including multiple generational members of the Sturgis and Forbes families.


Gift of Shewan, Tomes & Co., 1929, 1932.
Russell & Co. Russell & Co. Records, 1820-1891 (inclusive): A Finding Aid
Baker Library

Repository Details

Part of the Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University Repository

Baker Library Special Collections holds unique resources that focus on the evolution of business and industry, as well as the records of the Harvard Business School, documenting the institution's development over the last century. These rich and varied collections support research in a diverse range of fields such as business, economic, social and cultural history as well as the history of science and technology.

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