A Shawl Handkerchief and a Cabinet of Curiosities (1799–1806)
The sense of an “American” national identity was developing at the same time as trade with India grew. Letters between the Parsi agent-broker, Nusserwanji Maneckji Wadia, and Ichabod Nichols, a merchant mariner who was one of the founders of Salem’s East India Marine Society (EIMS) in 1799, provide insights into the commercial concerns of each community at the turn of the century. Many EIMS members brought back firsthand reports of their impressions of Bombay, including Ichabod’s son, George Nichols, who arrived there as a young supercargo in 1800. Cotton was the main focus of American trade interest in India during this period. Material examples of Parsi cultural interaction with their American counterparts formed part of the early nineteenth century collection of the EIMS, including cashmere shawls, a portrait of Nusserwanji, and a set of “Parsi” clothing donated by the broker himself. Such items were displayed in street parades through Salem before being placed in the EIMS collection.