1857 Remarkable ‘Primitive’ Chinese and Spanish Indentured Labour Contract from the Macau to Havana Coolie Trade With Thumbprint Signatures of Labourer

  • $4,550.99
    Unit price per 
Tax included.

On offer is a remarkable Chinese and Spanish ‘primitive’ contract for an Chinese indentured labourer (known as a coolie) in 1857 which had been sold to a plantation owner in Cuba, where the man will begin working following his voyage from Macau to Havana. This contract is particularly rare as it features a thumbprint signature of the Chinese labourer, Chen Yom, on both the front and back of the contract. 

This contract was written for Cheom Yom, age 19, of Defom (?), China. It states, in Portuguese on one side and Chinese on the other, that Yom is agreeing to work for Dn. Rafael R. Torices in Cuba for eight years, upon his arrival in Havana. The contract indicates the terms of Yom’s eight years of servitude, discussing when he will work, rest, how his medical issues will be treated, what money will be advanced to him by Torices, clothing Torices will provide (which Yom will pay for out of his wages), and more. The contract is stamped with the seal of the Consulate General of Cuba and is signed in ink by A.R. Ferran, Manuel Arito d’ Younga Procurador. It is also signed in Chinese and stamped with Yom’s fingerprint. Dated possibly March (?) 7, 1857, there is a handwritten Spanish note on the back of the contract indicating that Yom is being passed off upon his arrival in Havana and this note is dated June 20, 1857. This correlates with the arrival of the Dutch vessel Christina, which arrived in Havana from Macao on June 20, 1857, indicating that Yom may have been aboard this ship. This contract provides evidence of the conditions Chinese coolie workers faced in the colonies where they were sent to work, making it an essential piece of Chinese history. Primitive contracts were the first contracts offered to slaves following their emancipation. After completion of a primitive contract such as this one, a contrata was offered. 

The Chinese coolie trade, a system of indentured labor that targeted young, poor Chinese men, operated from 1847-1874. Throughout this period, African slavery was slowly being abolished around the world. The coolie trade was initiated by Britain and was eventually dominated by both Britain and the United States of America. Chinese coolie laborers were sent to work in British, American and Spanish colonies, and the nature of the trade changed throughout its 27-year operation, due to social and political pressures. The coolie trade took place, in large part, between the shipping port in Macao (now a part of China, then under Portuguese rule) and Havana, Cuba (then under Spanish control). As Macau was under Portuguese rule at the time of the coolie trade, they transported coolies on their vessels frequently and many of the documents related to the trade were written in Portuguese and/or Spanish. To learn more about the Chinese coolie trade and its importance in world history, click here to read our in-depth research blog on the topic.

The contract is partially printed, filled in with ink.Text on both sides of the single folio leaf, measuring 8x11.5 inches. The document exhibits age toning, small rips and tears that do not impede readability and evidence of significant folds and creases. Good+.


Please don't hesitate to contact us for more information or to request photos. (Kindly include the SKU, listed on this page above the price, in your e-mail so we can more easily answer your questions.)

We Also Recommend