The Chinese Friendship Album was produced in 1824 by Henry Martyn A’lan (Wu Lan in Cantonese), a student at Cornwall’s Foreign Mission School. It is believed to be the earliest existing record of Chinese in America.
The album is written in a small, school notebook and is illustrated with lovely, fresh watercolors by Henry Martyn A’lan, who also includes writings in both English and Chinese. Professor Sanchez-Eppler’s work on the album results in a fascinating story of what brought Chinese youths to America, how they ended up in the Cornwall missionary school, what their lives there were like, and what happened to them when they left the school. She also reveals a possible romantic motive for the creation of this friendship album that could have caused consternation in the village, as did the marriage of two Cherokee students to local daughters; but, safely written in Chinese, no one then ever knew.
Karen Sanchez-Eppler is Professor of American Studies and English at Amherst College; her talk on July 11, 2010 was given in connection with the Society’s current exhibit, Visions and Contradictions: The Foreign Mission School, 1817 – 1826, at 7 Pine Street, Cornwall, Connecticut.