Before I give details about the latest Phuketia local post stamp release, I am pleased to announce that the Republica Phuketia government is no longer “in-exile”. After nearly a month in the wilds of Phang Nga Province, I was allowed to return to the much more civilized (we have a mall!) and familiar surroundings of Phuket. As a result, there are no provisional postal markings noting the temporary location — meaning that I never had a chance to get to the post office while in Phang Nga. Thus, the Phuketian definitive set was not released until November 30 when the first day covers were delivered to the post office in Phuket (and have yet to complete the vast 2-kilometer distance back to Posta Phuketia headquarters).
With the definitive first day covers still in transit, another set is prepared and ready for the December 12, 2018, release of three commemorates marking the 200th anniversary of Thai-U.S. Friendship. Observant readers will notice that this is a change from the previously-announced date of December 10. This is due to the fact that the Thailand Post facilities will remain closed on that date (tomorrow) for the Constitution Day holiday. Yes, the kingdom still observes this as a government and banking holiday although they still haven’t adopted a new Constitution since the latest military coup back in May 2014. However, they did announce this week (as they do every year) that elections to vote on a new Constitution will be held in the near future (February 2019, according to the latest announcement). I suspect that, as they do every year, they will find some excuse to again delay these elections.
History doesn’t record the name of the first ship to have reached Siam, as Thailand was then called, other than the fact that this occurred on June 24, 1818. It is also unclear as to who as actually the first American to set foot onshore upon arriving in the new capital city of Bangkok (which was then still referred to as Krung Sri Ayudhya in official documents to stress the new kingdom’s lineage with the previous one). Most accounts published in the West name Captain Stephen Williams (born in Roxbury, Massachusetts in 1781) as having sailed up the Chao Phraya River. However, Siamese chronicles mention a “Captain Hale” or a “Captain Han” arriving that same year, a name also mentioned by British envoy Henry Burney who visited Siam in 1825 to negotiate a trade treaty.
The earliest documentation of American-Siamese contact is a letter mentioning Captain Williams found amongst the papers of President James Monroe at the Library of Congress. A Siamese nobleman by the name of Dit Bunnag (who at the time held the royal title and name of Phraya Suriyawong Montri), port and trade manager for Bangkok, wrote the letter in Portuguese:
To His Excellency, Mr. James Monroe
President of these United States of America
I, Phraya Suriyawong Montri, Chief Minister for Foreign Affairs for His Majesty the King of Siam, make these few matters to be known to Your Excellency that in the present year of 1818, on 24 June, a ship arrived at this city of Siam, Krung Sri Ayudhya, which brought Captain Estephan Willem to purchase sugar in the aforementioned city and who provided the information that he is a citizen and a resident of the American homeland and that he came to trade in this city of Siam.
Thus, we determined to take the aforementioned Captain to an audience with His Majesty, Prince Kroma Tha Chestsadabodin, as is customary in this land. Thus, the aforementioned Majesty granted him protective measures and ordered me to request any Contacts the said Captain chooses and to act promptly, and since the ship was anchored outside the harbor, ordered me to take the merchandise on board the ship in small vessels and that it should be exempt from all necessary costs applied to all traders and boatmen as well as other expenses. His Majesty the Prince ordered the vessel officers not to take any measures that would prevent, in the future, the Captain from returning to trade.
Thus, I hereby inform your Excellency that should any other trader or boatman want to send his boats to enter into contracts in this land that he should bring as many good rifles as can be carried since they are the most procured for contracts that we use to serve our land.
In the letter, it is mentioned that Captain Williams had an audience with Prince Chestsadaboin who, in another six years, became the third king of the Chakri Dynasty which rules Thailand to this day. Foreign trade in Siam at the time was conducted under a system of royal monopolies controlled by select members of the nobility and a few Chinese merchants who were not interested in having Westerners compete with them for a share of the kingdom’s wealth. “All money and commerce is in the hands of the king, the princes, the merchants, and the Chinese.” wrote the Portuguese Archbishop Bruguiere from Bangkok in 1829. (It is interesting to note that, 200 years later, not much has changed with a recent report — Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook 2018 — revealing Thailand to be “most unequal country” in the world.) In 1818, for all intents and purposes as far as foreign trade with foreigners was concerned, the private sector did not exist.
As foreshadowed by the request for rifles in the letter to President Monroe, the trade in weapons would form an important component of future relations between the two nations. From flintlock muskets to F-16 fighter jets, the United States would become a major — and at times the dominant — of armaments to the kingdom.
The “Captain Hale” or “Han” referred to in the Siamese chronicles also arrived in 1818 (the date is not mentioned), but apparently returned in 1821 with guns for the king. Pleased by the offering, King Buddha Lertla Nabhalai (Rama II) bestowed the minor title of Luang Pakdiraja (“a person loyal to the king”) on this captain in recognition of his good deed. Some accounts state that President Monroe gave this captain a letter to present to the Siamese king but this has never been found. Nor are there any other records of a “Captain Hale” in Bangkok during this period. It has been suggested that Captains Williams and Hale/Han are the same person with the names having been misreported or misspoken over time. Another account mentions that 12 American ships visited Bangkok between 1818 and 1821. This early trade appears focused on the exchange of guns for sugar.
The Bangkok that the first Americans encountered in 1818 was a city built on the water, with canals (khlong) serving as the main thoroughfares. No paved roads existed at this time. Once a sleepy, fortified riverside town, it was rapidly becoming a key trade center buzzing with commercial activity. The two-mile stretch of the Chao Phraya River that was Bangkok was lined with junks. The royal quarter of the capital on Rattanakosin Island was packed with temples and palaces. At least half of the population (variously cited as between 50,000 and 400,000) consisted of Chinese merchants and laborers. Prisoners of war and forced laborers also made up a significant percentage.
Trade between the U.S. and Siam remained modest for many years. In 1832, President Andrew Jackson sent his envoy Edmund Roberts in the U.S. sloop-of-war Peacock, to the courts of Cochin-China, Siam and Muscat. On March 18, 1833, King Phra Nang Klao (Rama III) granted an audience to the American Envoy. Roberts concluded a Treaty of Amity and Commerce on March 20 with the Chao-Phraya Phra Klang, representing the king, with ratifications exchanged on April 14, 1836, and proclaimed on June 24, 1837. Naval surgeon William Ruschenberger accompanied the return mission for exchange of ratifications. Thailand, thus, became the first Asian nation to have a formal diplomatic agreement with the United States; eleven years before the Great Qing and twenty-one years before Tokugawa Japan.
On May 29, 1856, Townsend Harris, a representative of President Franklin Pierce, negotiated a modified Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation with representatives of King Mongkut (Rama IV) that granted Americans additional extraterritorial rights. Stephen Mattoon, an American missionary who acted as Harris’s translator, was appointed the first United States consul (representative) to Siam. On February 14, 1861, King Mongkut wrote a letter to President James Buchanan in which he offererd domesticated elephants to be used as beasts of burden in the event of war. President Abraham Lincoln respectfully declined the offer in a letter received the following year.
On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of relations, it was revealed that President Andrew Jackson had given the king (Rama III) a gold sword with a design of an elephant and an eagle chased on a gold handle. The king had also been presented a proof set of American coins, which included the “King of Siam” 1804 dollar struck in 1834. The set, minus a Jackson gold medal, was purchased for a record price of US $8.5 million by Steven L. Contursi, President of Rare Coin Wholesalers of Irvine, California on November 1, 2005. The set had been sold by Goldberg Coins & Collectibles of Beverly Hills, California, on behalf of an anonymous owner described as “a West Coast business executive,” who purchased it for over US $4 million four years before.
The 180th anniversary of Thai-U.S. diplomatic relations was commemorated with a single Muang Phuket Local Post stamp issued on December 11, 2013 (MPLP #5). The new set includes three se-tenant stamps laser-printed by Yourstamps of Germany in sheets of 15. The 50-farang red and blue stamp portrays the Statue of Liberty (MPLP #Ph47), the 75-farang black and white value pictures an Asian elephant and American bison facing each other (MPLP #Ph48), and the 2-eth denomination bears a right-facing Bangkok-style tuk-tuk (MPLP #Ph49). This tuk-tuk also appears (left-facing) on the 4-farang and 28-farang (MPLP #Ph37 and #Ph40) definitives released on November 30. Each of the stamps also include the U.S./Thai Bicentennial logo in the upper right corner and the “Two Heroines” emblem of Phuket in the lower left.
As usual, a very limited number of first day covers will be prepared on the issue date of December 12, 2018.