Getting to The Gold Fields Selections from The Alice Phelan Sullivan Library
Letter sheet. Miner’s Coat of Arms, c. 1850-60. San Francisco: Britton & Rey
Once the news of the discovery of gold – on January 24, 1848 – was announced by President Polk on December 5, 1848, not only did people from beyond the shores of the Pacific leave for the gold fields, but those that had made the journey began to write.
Those who had visited the mining camps and growing towns wrote guides for others to follow. Maps were drawn and published, songbooks were compiled for the miners, and people – men and women – wrote about their experiences travelling to Alta California and what they found when they arrived.
There are guides on how to find gold, how to mine for gold – and in the end, how to make a living if you do not find gold. Dame Shirley – the pen name for Louise Amelia Clapp – wrote a series of letters to her sister describing life in the mines where she resided with her husband. The letters were eventually published in the Periodical The Pioneer from 1854 to 1855. Miners and others wrote back to those left at home on illustrated letter sheets – like the one above – and told them about the gold rush.
The journeys from the East coast (usually via ship), Missouri (usually via wagon trains), and across the Isthmus of Panama (via train, wagon or by foot) and up the coast to San Francisco (by ship), were often documented in diaries, and in books published afterwards. Those making the journey from Europe had the additional voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to contend with. John Sutter himself was originally from Switzerland.
Through diaries, letters and published works we are – even many years later – given a clear and rich picture of the Gold Rush era. ~
Patricia Keats, Director of The Library
Early Gold Region Guides and Accounts
Anstead, David T. Gold-seeker’s Manual New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1848 Charles B. Turrill Collection
Calling card Autograph of Jas. W. Marshall, Jan. 19th, 1848
Johnson, Theodore T. Sights in the Gold Region and Scenes by the Way New York: Baker and Scribner, 1849
Diary, Decker, Peter “A Journal of …on a Trip to California Overland” Columbus, Ohio April 4, 1849 to San Francisco, Nov. 5, 1849. Wagon trains were the common overland route to the gold fields. Peter Decker made a list of food to take with him – it is at the beginning of his diary and notes: “Coffee and tea used freely are indispensibles”. These diaries described the daily events, landmarks, and their daily experiences. Maps Lead The Way
Mason, Richard B. Positions of the Upper and Lower Gold Mines on the American River, California Washington: July 20th, 1848 This map accompanied the message from Polk announcing the discovery of gold – making it one of the earliest maps of the gold regions.
Jackson, William A. Map of the Mining District of California New York: Lambert & Lanes Litho, 1849 This is an example of a pocket map – small, compact and leather encased against the weather. What Every Miner Needs
Scale with weights and carrying case
Aldrich, Lorenzo D. A Journal of the Overland Route To California! and the Gold Mines Lansingburgh, N.Y.: Alexr. Kirkpatrick Printer, 1851.
Put’s Golden Songster San Francisco: D.E. Appleton & Co., 1858 Every miner carried various items with him when travelling to the gold regions: a pocket map like the one above, a small scale and weights to weigh his gold, one of the many small guides to the gold regions which noted routes, supplies, etc., and perhaps – to keep him amused – a pocket songster like Put’s. The New England Connection
Leavitt, Dudley Leavitt’s Farmer’s Almanack, and Miscellaneous Year Book, …1853 Franklin, N.H.: Peabody & Daniell, 1853. Recent acquisition. A Farmer’s Almanac was a common and useful publication in the 19th century. This one happens to include a map of the California Gold Regions, “drawn and engraved expressly for this work”. (see below) On the opposite page, there are brief descriptions of the then major cities in California. (also below) In his Preface, Leavitt notes: “Within a few past years the tide of emigration has been so great from the New England States to the shores of the Pacific, that at the present time there is scarcely a family in our midst but what is represented by some one or more of its members or relatives in the golden region. We have judged it not inappropriate to insert in this number of the Almanac a new, correct and reliable map of California…”
Auger, Edouard Voyage en Californie, (1852-1853) Paris: Hachette, 1854 Series: Bibliothèque des Chemins de Fer Purchase 2007. Guides to the gold regions quickly began to proliferate once the word spread about the gold discoveries. Guides appeared in English as well as French, German, Italian, Danish and other languages. Editions of American guides were also published in London and elsewhere in Great Britain – such as Marryat’s Mountains and Molehills. Auger’s guide was one of a series of small books published in Paris, and sold mainly at railway station kiosks (see image below), to train passengers on various topics. Hachette created these various guides especially to be read by passengers on a train trip – so they were suitably short and small – easy to read on a train.
On Board Ship
Ships Card Grace Darling – For San Francisco, 1850-60. Gift of Dixon E. Heise The trip around the horn, from the East Coast to the West Coast, took less time than overland – but was still long, arduous and often dangerous. Ships advertised their sailings via a card – always using imagery of speed to sell their particular ship. The date of sailing was never noted – they would just depart when the ship was full.
[Hall, John Linville] Journal of the Hartford Union Mining and Trading Company… On board the Henry Lee: Printed by J.L. Hall, 1849 Gift of W.E. Bushnell, 1896 The book is an account of one of these trips leaving February 17, 1849 at Sag Harbor, New York, arriving in San Francisco on September 13 of the same year. It was printed “On Board ship” – since the ship carried 3 printers, and 4 papermakers and a printing press. During these trips, the passengers often celebrated holidays, had concerts and dances – the menu shown here (tipped in the back of the book), makes note – in jest, but not completely – of the fate of food on the ship. Across the Isthmus and on to San Francisco
The Panama Star, Nol. 1, no. 17, August 25, 1849 Gift of G.M. Burnham For those who did not choose to join a wagon train overland, nor board a ship to journey around the horn of South America, the only other choice was to sail from an eastern port of the United States (Boston, New York and often stopping in New Orleans) and head for the narrowest part of the Isthmus of Panama. There, the journey could only continue at first by dugout boats on the Chagres River and then by mules for the final 20 miles over the old Spanish trails. This trip took anywhere from 4 to 8 days. The arrival in Panama City, on the Pacific Ocean, usually meant a wait for a steamship to take one on the final leg of the trip – up along the coast north to San Francisco. The newspaper, The Panama Star, was published mainly for those hundreds of travelers waiting for a place on the steamers to San Francisco. The Panama Railroad was begun in 1850, and completed in 1855 – the fare for one passenger was $25 for a one-way for a trip of 47 miles – and it shorted the trip by up to a week for those weary of sea travel.
Ships Card Through in 100 days – Panama
Marryat, Frank Mountains and Molehills: or, Recollections of a Burnt Journal London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1855 Gift of Charles S. Cushing
Marryat, Frank Mountains and Molehills: or, Recollections of a Burnt Journal
Long Tom, pseud. Journal of a Voyage from Callao to San Francisco, California and back to Panama in the Steamer, “Ecuador” Liverpool: Printed by R. James, South Castle Street, 1852. Inscribed to Anthony Easterby by the Author. Published Accounts and Returns East
Borthwick, J.D. (John David) Three Years in California Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood, 1857 Those who survived the voyages – whether it be by wagon train, horseback, ship, foot or steamer – often felt inspired to write up an account of their trip. Borthwick was a Scotsman, who was seized with the gold fever in May of 1851 – and travelled via the Isthmus of Panama. Being an artist, the illustrations are excellent and the descriptions of the many places he travelled to are also well written. It is considered by many one of the most important, if not the best, accounts of the Gold Rush. He notes: “People lived more there (San Francisco) in a week than they would in a year in most other places.”
Ships Card Asa Eldridge – for Boston Direct, c. 1850-60 Gift of Dixon E. Heise This ships’ card reminds one that many gold seekers – in the end – returned to the East.
Getting to the Gold Fields (exhibited in Pioneer Hall at The Presidio, January 21 to February 15, 2015)