Saturday, June 4, 2016 | By: Rudi Butt

Charles Gillespie And His Servant Maria Seise: The First American To Reside In Hong Kong And The First Chinese Woman Immigrant To The United States

Updated June 6, 2016


I have written [half-written to be precise as I've as yet finished writing them] biographies of three early Hong Kong residents, viz.: American sea captain Sandwith Drinker who came to Hong Kong in 1845 and died in Macau in 1858 allegedly from eating arsenic-laced bread on January 15, 1857 in Hong Kong; Chinese police inspector William W. Quincey who came to Hong Kong from England in 1870 and left here for Shanghai in 1898 and became a pioneer of modern police force in dynastic China; and English police inspector Samuel Job Witchell who came to Hong Kong at the age of 23 (1882) and stayed here until he died (from cancer in 1925). The Witchell story being the last, the writing of which began in April 2014. Call it blank canvas syndrome or simply indolence, as one wishes, but I haven't engaged myself in writing, of the more serious sort, since then. Yet here I am - daring myself in a new project without even knowing what got me started. Whatever it is, I hope it will keep me going.

As in the case of the Quincey and Witchell biographies, this one also features two main characters, except they weren't father-son duos. This is the story of Charles Van Megen Gillespie, the first United States citizen to reside in colonial Hong Kong and his female servant Maria Seise, who became the first Chinese woman immigrant to the United States. In a manner consistent with a bad habit I have developed, I am to publish this article while writing is still in progress. The benefits of so doing are all self-serving. First, the rough notes generated during the process of researching and writing certain fragments of the story can be rid of (nearly) immediately after the publication of these fragments. The less notes I keep, the more organized I become - theoretically. Secondly, the unfinished but published article works like a teaser; it attracts the attentions of those related to the main characters in the story and their contemporaries. Some of the descendants might come forward and extend their helping hands by providing information or pointing direction where information can be found. This, I've learned from the seventeenth stratagem in the Thirty-Six Stratagems 三十六計 theorized by General Tan Daoji 檀道濟 (d.436), namely "cast a brick to attract jade" 拋磚引玉. So, come on jade. (6/4/2016)

Charles Van Megan Gillespie

Charles Van Megan Gillespie, born in New York on August 14, 1810, was a third generation Irish immigrant. His great grandfather, Samuel Gillespie left County Armagh Ireland in ca.1740 for the New World and settled in Montgomery, New York.

The first American born Gillespie was Charles' grandfather, Samuel (b. September 23, 1742, Ulster, New York - d. September 17, 1815, Montgomery, New York), who served in the Revolution under militia commander Francis Marion[1]. There were three Gillespies among the 150 strong Marion's Men, namely, Samuel, Andrew and James. [The latter two could possibly be Samuel's brothers, although I found no records to confirm such assumption.]

- To be Completed -

Appendix I
Other United States Citizens Resided in Hong Kong between 1841 and 1850 (updated 6/6/2016)

NameHK SinceOccupationHome State
Anthon, Joseph C.1845mercantile assistant (Bush & Co.)
Ball, Rev. Dyer, M.D. (1796-1866)1843medical missionary (ABCFM[1])Massachusetts (West Boylston)
Bridgman, Rev. Elijah Coleman 裨治文 (1801-1861)1845missionary (ABCFM); founder/editor (Chinese Repository 中國叢報)Massachusetts (Belcher)
Bridgman, Rev. James Granger 裨雅各1844/2/19missionaryMassachusetts (South Amherst)
Brown, Rev. Samuel Robbins 鮑留雲1842/11/1missionary; headmaster (Morrison Education Society School 馬禮遜紀念學校)Connecticut
Bush, Frederick Thomas1845merchant (founder, Bush & Co.); U.S. Consul in Hong Kong (1850)Massachusetts (Taunton)
Dean, Rev. William 憐為仁1842missionary (ABBFM[2])New York (Morrisville)
Devan, Rev. Thomas T., M.D.1844/10/medical missionary (ABBFM)
Drinker, Capt. Sandwith (1808-1858)1846master mariner; merchant (Drinker & Heyl; later Rawle, Drinker & Co.)Pennsylvania (Philadelphia)
Fessenden, Henry (1816-1847, Hong Kong)1845mercantile assistant (MacVicar & Co.)New York (New York)
Happer, Rev. Andrew Patton, M.D. 哈巴 (1818-1894)1844medical missionary (APB[3])Pennsylvania (Monongahela)
Howell, Augustus1846mercantile assistant (Jardine, Matheson & Co.)New York (Long Island)
Rawle, Sauel Burge (1787-1858)1846merchant (Rawle, Duus & Co.; Rawle, Drinker & Co.)Pennsylvania (Philadelphia)
Shuck, Rev. Jehu Lewis 淑士人 or 叔末士missionary (ABBFM); co-editor (Friend of China)Virginia (Alexandria)
Waldron, Thomas Westbrook[4] (1814-1844)1843master mariner; Consul (United States)New Hampshire
[1] American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions
[2] American Baptist Board for Foreign Missions
[3] American Presbyterian Board
[4] Waldron was the first United States Consul in Hong Kong, unfortunately he was also the first U.S. Consul in Hong Kong to died in office. He died on September 18, 1844 after contracting cholera in Macau where he was said to travel to on official business. The United States was the first country to install a council in Hong Kong.

Selected Bibliography

An Anglochinese Calendar for the Year 1845, Canton: Office of the Chinese Repository, 1845.
Biographical Dictionary of Residents of Hong Kong, the First Ten Years (1841-1850) [online].
The Chinese Repository, Vol. XIV, January to December, 1845, Canton, p. 9 and p.351.
Gene [online].
Hong Kong's First [online].
Kerr, George H., Okinawa: The History of an Island People, Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1958.
Merchants' Magazine, and Commercial Review, Vol. 13, New York: Freeman Hunt,1845.
Rootsweb [online].
Schaefer, Mary Ann, Case Studies of Gillespie Families in Dutchess & Orange, New York 1800-1830, October 12, 2012.
Sinn, Elizabeth, Pacific Crossing: California Gold, Chinese Migration, and the Making of Hong Kong, Hong Kong: Hong Kong Uinversity Press, 2013.


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