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General Sherman Incident and Robert J. Thomas revisited in the context of Foreign Relations in the mid-1860’s

Park, Myung Soo 1

1서울신학대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This paper examines the process and purpose of the US vassal General Sherman and the British missionary Robert Thomas’s approach to Joseon amid the international circumstances of Northeast Asia in 1866. The acting French minister in Peking, Henri de Bellonet seized upon ‘Byung-in persecution’ as an opportunity to conquer Joseon and transform it into a Catholic country. The Qing government, cautious of this potential change of situation, sought to establish alliance with Great Britain in order to prevent the French from taking any further actions. Great Britain especially displayed interest in opening trade relations with Joseon and the incident regarding U.S. schooner General Sherman and Robert Thomas occurred in this context. Thomas boarded the General Sherman with the intention of conducting transactions with Joseon, preaching the protestant gospel, and preventing a potential military conflict between Joseon and France. However, due to the ambiguous policy of the Qing authorities and firm resistance against opening ports from Joseon, such attempts made by Thomas could not succeed. Previous studies have described the General Sherman and Thomas as an example of Western imperialistic invasions upon Joseon, but this study revealed that Robert Thomas’ attempt was aimed to prevent French’s monopoly through free-trade, avoid military struggle, and secure freedom of religion in Joseon.

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