Late in 1856 two American sloops-of-war arrived at Canton, tasked with protecting American lives threatened by the outbreak of the Second Sino-British Opium War. Their landing was peaceful but, on their departure several days later, they took fire from the Pearl River Forts. This led to several days of increasingly intense battle waged by the two sloops, now joined by a steam frigate, and the Chinese garrisons. Ultimately, after the Americans had captured several of the forts and the Qing Army had sent ground troops, diplomatic negotiations began, resulting in an American commitment to neutrality in the Opium War that lasted several years.
This picture descended in a New England family with China Trade connections on both sides, through the Graves of Newburyport (Captain William Graves, 1811-77, a ship owner and investor and also Mayor of Newburyport) and the Perrys of Essex (Rev Gardner Braman Perry, 1783-1859, and his sons, Charles and Gardner of Samuel B Hale & Co). Captain Graves was an owner of the Thomas Perkins during its East Indies voyages of the 1840s as well as a rumored investor in the famed clipper Red Jacket; this subject might well have appealed to him.