Skip to main content

Opium: The Business of Addiction
On view through March 1, 2023
Forbes House Museum
Milton, Massachusetts

“Opium: The Business of Addiction” tells the story of the Forbes family’s involvement in the 19th-century opium trade, the trade’s links to the current opioid epidemic, and its lasting impact on US-Sino relations. America’s obsession with tea drove entrepreneurial merchants to smuggle opium into China in exchange for the very popular commodity. Other domestic products exported from China for American use included silk, nankeen, porcelain, and artwork. Along with the Cabots, Peabodys, Delanos, Endicotts, Coolidges and other Boston Brahmin families, eleven members of the extended Forbes family were involved in the “China Trade,” spanning the years 1784 to 1887 and including the First and Second Opium Wars.

The exhibition will be installed in the Forbes family home in Milton, and each room will tell a somewhat different facet of this complicated history. The exhibition will continue in the Historical Resource room at the Milton Public Library. There the focus will be on current events: the latest facts on the opioid epidemic, the impact of the COVID pandemic on those who have substance use disorders, and research into new treatments.

[Image: Reverse-glass painting of Whampoa Anchorage. Photo by George Bouret]