William Gano Pierce Collection

Manuscripts Collection 375

Overview of the Collection

Creator: William Gano Pierce (12/19/1825-12/25/1875)
Title: William Gano Pierce Papers
Dates: 1799, 1838-1889 (bulk 1849-1855)
Abstract: This collection consists of papers relating to William G. Pierce’s life, including his education and his time stationed in Shanghai, China. The collection consists of correspondence with his parents and brother, gifts sent from China to his father in Providence, Rhode Island, newspapers, journals, and other materials.
Quantity: approximately 50 items

Biography of William Gano Pierce (b.1825)

William Gano Pierce was born to Asa (9/16/1787-9/16/1868) and Theolotia (née Perrin) Pierce (9/8/1790-7/6/1867) on December 19, 1825. He had two siblings, Mary (b. 9/7/1815) and George (b. 8/12/1828). He grew up in Providence, and in 1844 graduated from Brown University. He left America through New York for China, living and working in Canton and Shanghai between 1849 and 1854. In China, he worked as a mercantile assistant for Russell & Co.  He participated in the battle of muddy flat while in Shanghai, a battle in which foreign consuls and military attacked the Qing imperial troops after they did not retreat. He left there for home by way of Europe where he visited his brother George. On June 11 1857 he married Almira (Allie) Metcalf (b. 9/22/1835). They lived in Providence, and had one son, Arthur W. Pierce (b. 8/5/1860). He died on December 25, 1875.

Scope and Content of the Collection

The collection covers 8 series comprising material primarily related to the life of William Gano Pierce. The series’ included are correspondence, books, education materials, newspapers, financial and legal material, broadsides, journals, and essays. The series are arranged according to relevance, and organized chronologically within each series. Some material may be located in oversized boxes or elsewhere in the collection. Much of the material relates to William Gano Pierce’s life in China, including books and broadsides that he picked up while abroad and letters he sent home to his parents, but it also includes material from his brother George, wife Almira, and other materials collected over the course of his life.

Index Terms


  • Palmer, Theodore D.
  • Perry, Matthew Calbraith, 1794-1858.
  • Pierce, Almira (Metcalf)
  • Pierce, Asa
  • Pierce, George
  • Pierce, Theolotia (Perrin)
  • Pierce, William Gano

Corporate Bodies (Including Vessels)

  • Russell & Co.
  • SAMUEL RUSSELL (clipper ship)


  • Canton (China)
  • Providence (R.I.)
  • Shanghai (China)


  • Brown University–Alumni and alumnae.
  • Idols and images–China.
  • Mercantile system—China—History.
  • Mercantile system–United States–History–19th century.
  • Ports of embarkation—New York.
  • Ports of entry—China—Canton.
  • Shanghai (China)—Commerce—History.
  • Shanghai (China) — history, Shanghai (China: International Settlement) — Volunteer corps
  • Young Ladies’ High School (Providence, R.I.)

Document Types

  • Account books
  • Correspondence
  • Diaries

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Coll. 375, Manuscripts Collection, G. W. Blunt White Library, Mystic Seaport Museum, Inc.

Detailed Description of the Collection

The following section contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.

Box 1 

Folder 1
Correspondence 1853-1860

Bulk of correspondence is from WG Pierce during his time in Shanghai to his father, Asa Pierce. Battle of Muddy Flat, personal topics, general goings-on, and business are discussed. Also includes letter to his brother, George, after the birth of his child, and letter from George (stationed in France) to his parents. Envelopes from various letters are enclosed. Letters are organized chronologically by sender. July 1853-August 1860 (24 pieces)

Folder 2

Journal of William Gano Pierce’s voyage to China. Begins on February 24, 1849 after leaving port in New York and ends on June 27, 1849, after arriving in Canton, China. Includes a record of rough coordinates and travel conditions for the day. 1849, Feb-Jun (1 piece)

Folder 3

Essay on idols and idolatry in China written by William Gano Pierce after his return to Providence on July 5, 1864. 1864, (1 piece)

Folder 4

Financial and Legal Materials

Includes receipts, William Gano Pierce’s Visa and Passport, a Will and Testament, and a Chinese account book sheet, among others. Account ledger can be found in Box 1/15. Materials are organized chronologically. 1837-1868, undated, (7 pieces)

Folder 5

Education Materials

Various materials relating to the education of William Gano Pierce and Almira Metcalf, including a tuition bill and commencement program. William Gano Pierce’s diploma from Brown University can be found in [oversized location!]. Materials are organized chronologically. 1838-1851, (4 pieces)

Folder 6


Newspapers include the Providence Journal and Town and Country Advertiser, the North China Herald, The Daily Scotsman, and the China Overland Trade Report. Materials are organized chronologically. 1799-1860, (6 pieces)


Volumes: Periodicals, almanacs and other published materials

Volume 1

Miscellaneous Remarks upon the Government, History, Religions, Literature, Agriculture, Arts, Trades, Manners, and Customs of the Chinese. Book detailing different aspects of daily life and history in China. 1847, (1 piece)

Volume 2

The Chinese Repository Vol XVIII no 6. Volume XVIII of The Chinese Repository, number 6, published in June 1849. Owned by Asa Pierce. June 1849, (1 piece)

Volume 3

The Chinese Repository Vol XVIII no 9. Volume XVIII of The Chinese Repository, number 9, published in September 1849. Owned by Asa Pierce. September 1849, (1 piece)

Volume 4

An Anglo-Chinese Calendar for 1850. Anglo-Chinese calendar for the year 1850, includes brief geographical description, a list of foreigners in China, and other useful information about China. 1850, (1 piece)

Volume 5

Shanghae Almanac 1853. Shanghai Almanac of 1853. 1853, (1 piece)

Volume 6

Shanghae Almanac 1853. Shanghai Almanac of 1853. 1853, (1 piece)

Volume 7

Shanghae Almanac 1854. Shanghai Almanac of 1854. 1854, (1 piece)

Volume 8

Visions of Hung Siu-Tshuen and the Origin of the Kwang-Si Insurrection. Book on the origin of the Kwang-Si insurrection. 1854, (1 piece)

Volume 9

New Testament. Gift from Almira Pierce to her husband William Gano Pierce on December 19, 1863, his 38th birthday. Later gifted to her son, Arthur, in 1885. 1863, (1 piece)

Volume 11

Chinese book (undated). Book written in Chinese. Undated, (1 piece)

Volume 12

Account ledger written by William Gano Pierce, includes tables comparing prices of goods. 1846-1853, (1 piece)

Related Material Cataloged in General Collection Database

Broadsides and Advertisements

Includes two posters from the Taeming Theatre in Shanghai and one from the Shanghae races in 1854. Also includes an advertisement from the Sung kee silk company along with a textile sample. See in Mystic Seaport General Collection Database, Accession Number 2004.3