How much evidence if there of Asians & Australasians in Colonial Americas?

Oct 2017
America ??
While making up major population percentages of societies in the Americas nowadays, Asian & Pacific Islander American history only seems to begin in the mid-19th century, & really only becoming significant during the previous century, which is usually considered late for American histories aren’t they?

How much evidence is there for Asians & Australasians in the Colonial New World, since their respective European empires were highly engaged in world exploration, trade & conquest?

How connected were the Colonial Americas to Asia & Australasia? It seems that soon after the Americas were realized to not be Asia but entirely new continents in the early 16th century, Westerners largely forgot about Asia at least in context of the Americas, the two never seemed to be linked & associated together much afterwards, not until the Second World War earliest, if not even the second half of the 20th century. Sugarcane, rice, cotton, tea & bananas is of Asian origin of course, though many of which probably through Arabs. Oh yes, while not at the core of it, let’s include Middle Easterners in our reference of Asians as well!

Frankly there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of people not of Native American, Western European & West African descent in the Colonial Americas. I suppose that’s very logical since that was way before mass easy travel, which only seems to have begun in the previous century.
The only evidence I’ve found is of a few East Indians & Filipinos brought over as servants to colonial America & Mexico, including a few runaway notices for them.

How likely would Asians & Australasians have ended up in the Americas, through what means & for what reasons, & what would they most likely have been doing there? Would there have been risks to them being enslaved, & what remedies would they have had if they were?
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Forum Staff
Aug 2016
I agree with your date of mid-19th century for when the first Asians began migrating to the US in large numbers. The first lure for immigration was the California Gold Rush in 1849 and then in the late 1860s many Chinese workers came to work on the transcontinental railroad. Asians were not the last immigrant group to come to America. Eastern and Southern Europeans only began coming to America in large numbers after 1890. Some Latino groups only began migrating to the US after WW2. So I don't consider Asians to be late comers.

I'm unaware of colonial Americans having much interest in Asia or the Pacific. By the early or middle 19th century New England whalers were regularly visiting the Pacific. In the 1850s the US had enough interest in Asia to send a naval expedition to force Japan to open its borders to foreign trade, but nothing like this was happening in the 18th century.

The most likely way for an Asian or Pacific Islander to find their way to colonial America was if they joined the crew of a European merchant ship that was visiting Asia and then for that merchant ship to sail to America. This ship would probably not sail directly to America but would sail back to Europe first then later maybe sail to America. It's also possible for the Asian crewman to change ships at some point. I'm sure it happened more than once that a European ship found itself short handed in Asia and had to hire local labor. Asians probably did not understand European technology at first. For instance, the process of raising and lowering sails might be different than on Asian ships, but if the European crew was desperate enough, they would be willing to train a few Asian sailors on European techniques.