New Castle, Delaware
Community History and Archaeology Program 
William Read

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William Read   (1767-1846)

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Title/OccupationConsul General, Kingdom of Naples
Opium merchant with China
Address42 The Strand
Samuel Sartain (1885?)
Date painted
CreditMartyn Gregory Gallery,
MarriedAnn McCall (1796)
ParentsGeorge Read & Gertrude Ross
ChildrenGeorge Read (1797-1889), William (1800-1865), John (1802-1846), Samuel (1810-1860), Mary (1799-1875)

According to the Martyn Gregory 2013 catalog

"t his portrait by Spoilum (fl. c.1774 - c.1805) is an outstanding example of the distinctive work of the Cantonese artist Spoilum. The sitter, William Read (1767-1846), made several voyages to China. His father, George Read, was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence; he served as President of Delaware, then U.S. Senator and finally Chief Justice of Delaware until his death in 1798.

In 1789 William Read sailed to Canton on the ship Union belonging to Mordecai Lewis & Co. In 1792 William applied to return to Canton as supercargo aboard the ship Samson; his father recommended him as being "of the best disposition, strict integrity and probity" ( Life and Correspondence of George Read by William T. Read, Philadelphia, 1870, 530).

In 1805 William Read became a pioneer of the American opium trade with China, sailing to Canton via Batavia as supercargo on the Bingham. Imports of American opium from Smyrna to China had been initiated the year before by the ship Pennsylvania. The Historical Society of Philadelphia holds letters written by William Read in Canton in November 1805 and January 1806: these record that the Bingham was carrying opium (from Smyrna), but two opium vessels had arrived shortly before her, and others followed soon after, resulting in a something of a glut on the market for Turkey opium. The price of opium in Canton fell sharply, but Read was still able to make a profit of over $11,000 on the opium in his charge (see Jacques M. Downs, The Golden Ghetto, 1997, 114-15).

In this venture William Read was in the employ of the well- established Philadelphia firm of Willings and Francis. The families of Willing, Meredith, Read and Clymer, all linked by marriage, constituted an influential Philadelphia-based political and mercantile grouping; the present portrait was passed down by the descendants of George Clymer, another signatory to the Declaration of Independence. "

Jim Meek
nc-chap.org 2014, 2015