18th Century Sloop
When the American Revolution broke out, Dean joined the Navy and captained several ships in battles against the British. He fought bravely in the war and was wounded and even taken prisoner in the name of American independence.
After the war, Dean found continued success as a mariner. On the banks of the Hudson River in Albany Dean built a 60-foot sloop he christened “Experiment.” The aptly-named vessel was part a grand experiment that was taking shape in Captain Dean’s mind: to sail a small ship with a minimal crew on a hazardous journey from America to China and back.
For centuries, Europe had traded with China over land via the Silk Road. But a water route to Asia had long been a dream of Europeans and the sea trade with China was still new in the 18th century. The long trip from the newly independent United States to China was considered extremely dangerous at the time, especially for a small ship like Experiment which was built for river navigation and which had a tiny crew of only seven men and two boys.
Undaunted, Dean embarked in the Experiment from New York for China on December 18, 1785. Much to the surprise of many New Yorkers, he returned on April 22, 1787 with an exotic cargo of Chinese tea, dishware and silk. The Experiment was greeted by large crowds, and Stewart Dean was praised for successfully completing the long and treacherous 14,000-mile voyage.
Captain Stewart Dean was celebrated as a hero of the American Revolution and for his bold voyages to China for the rest of his life. He died in 1836 at the age of 89 in New York City and his gravestone can still be seen by Manhattan’s Trinity Church.