For the Love of Gold

From Gazette editions of 1850:

From letters received in town from a member of the “Vineyard Mining Company,” who proceeded to California in the bark Sarah:

We dropped anchor before the city of San Francisco after a passage of twenty thousand miles, performed in 192 days. Those green hills and valleys after entering the Bay, especially to one who has just left old ocean’s scenery, appear indescribably beautiful. And the shipping too! Instead of the lone sail, like a speck in the distant horizon, squinted at with interest by all on board, we now find ourselves surrounded by hundreds of these ocean rangers.

This is a large place, but I think its prosperity has been of an unhealthy nature, and is now suffering a reverse. One half of the buildings are unoccupied, and great loss is sustained on many kinds of merchandise. But this is not the case with everything, especially with fruit, and many articles of food.

There are five churches: one Methodist, Baptist, Congregationalist, Episcopal, and Roman Catholic. The average size of these is about 20 by 35 feet. They are well filled. The numerous gambling houses, which meet the eye on every side, produce another impression. Some of these are very large, measuring 50 by 100 feet; a gallery in one end, in which a band of musicians performs; in the other, a bar filled with all the variety of bottles, glasses, cigars, etc. About a dozen tables are arranged upon the floor, for cards, dice and several other games. I noticed around these tables men from some 70 years of age, down to boys of twelve and thirteen.

From an officer of bark Sarah: Gold is as plenty here as we were told it was. At a meeting all the company to a man determined to hold together. We intend to look out for the health of our company, we have not yet heard of the death of any Vineyarder here. We shall mine of the Toualanie River and tributaries, or about 80 miles southeast of Stockton, and the healthiest place among the mines. A large proportion of the Vineyard boys will be there.

From Joseph W. Holmes, who sailed from here in the schooner Two Brothers, of Nantucket:

We arrived here after a long and tedious passage of nearly seven months from Holmes Hole. The city of San Francisco is a perfect Babel: the population is composed of every nation, tongue and kindred, although its principal ingredient and general character is American. The Americans are the onions, and season and flavor the whole dish. There are as many different castes as one ever dreamed of from the fiery, hot-blooded Italian, who lowers his brow and growls out a deep “diablo” through his teeth, if one jogs his elbow, to the solid German, with his little blue cap and enormous visor, who mutters while he inhales the tobacco smoke from his Dutch pipe “Mein Gott, vat a contree.” Yet there is no clashing, no national or sectional feeling engendered. Gambling is carried on here to an alarming extent. I have seen twenty thousand dollars, in gold, on a table in a number of instances, with some pieces of gold weighing 3 or 4 pounds. The greatest evil here is intemperance with liquor as plenty as water. Theft is punished here by hanging, and a more honest community I never saw.

From Mr. Richard B. Marchant, who went to California in the ship Splendid:

I would say it is like to a whirlpool here, which though dangerous to encounter, attracts thousands upon thousands, who on their arrival are so disappointed in the appearance of things and their prospects of success, that they would gladly turn about and return home, had they the means of doing so. Business men of capital, and mechanics of different orders, together with the shrewd and artful gambler, who arrived here at the commencement of the excitement, have reaped a golden harvest. But now you can see, while walking the streets, many tenements advertised to let. Many there are, who supposing they have obtained work for months, find themselves in a few days, destitute of a situation. As to the mining business, there are conflicting reports. The heat is almost suffocating at the mines in the summer months, and in some parts attended with much sickness and prostration.

From Charles W. Pease, captain of the Walter Scott:

I tell all friends never to think of coming to California. From the best information that I can get, not more than one in 40 gets better paid by gold digging than he would at home, at $1.50 per day. The deprivations are so great that no man should leave a comfortable home to come to this country. I consider it a misfortune to any man to be connected with mining companies. Men become entirely selfish and lose that fellow-feeling for each other that they seem to have before landing.

Compiled by Cynthia Meisner