4 December 2009
THE PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN
[CALIFORNIA GOLD RUSH]. Baldwin Family Gold Rush Archive, February 1849 to June 1852. Comprising four bound diaries of James Baldwin and one diary of Edward Baldwin, plus 18 pages of related family letters and documents. Together approximately 275 pages, 4to and 8vo. James Baldwin's Gold Rush diary alone comprises some 175 closely written pages.
"YOU SEE THAT EVERYTHING THAT SHINES IN CALIFORNIA IS NOT GOLD"
A moving, historically vivid archive of Gold Rush letters and diaries, chronicling the poignant and ultimately tragic story of two New York brothers, one who sailed out in the initial rush in February 1849, and the second who followed some months later. Neither found his fortune and one lost his life trying. James Baldwin came out from Utica, N.Y. aboard the George Washington in early February 1849. The portion of his diary from February to May 1849 (covering the first four months of his voyage) has not survived. We pick up his story with a diary that begins 19 May 1849. In August he's still at sea: 7 Aug. 1849: "We have been 6 months out from N. York and yet several hundred miles from the port of destination." Not until 29 Aug. 1849 does he set foot in San Francisco: "the city it presents a motly aperance, temporary frame work buildings coverd with canvas... Gambling is caried on to an immence extent..."
Tensions ran high from the combustible mix of Anglos, Mexicans, and other foreigners. 5 Aug. 1850: "Last week a little was don to drive the foreners from the mines. There was a company from the Mormon Gulch and scoured the country round, drove the Mexicans from the vicinity." He heads up country. 5 Sep. 1849: "Got to Stockton about 9 in the morning. The land is low and level, tent houses cover the land for some akers... A gallos is in site from tent where 3 men were hung for stealing. The law are very strict. Regular linch law..." 10 Sep. 1849 reports are arriving that "The gold in all the mines is getting scarce." But on 23 Sep. Baldwin has finally come upon some gold, "got about $170 which I thought quite good..."
But the gold dust was getting increasingly scarce. 18 April 1850: "I have had my eye on several spots of ground to work but they have proved to be nothing. For two days I have worked up the old Mormon gulch, with 5 of our company. Made $21 between all of us. This would go about as far as 5 in the States so you see that everything that shines in California is not gold." Prospectors were always following rumors of new, supposedly gold-rich fields. But a year of hard experience inoculated Baldwin against such delusions. He recalls an episode where he hurried to a supposedly untouched area which, upon arrival, looked "like a general muster for general training," with crowds of "gamblers in their clean linen and black sute struting about with a segar in their mouth."
Then tragedy strikes when his brother Ebenezer dies of disease. He eulogizes him in a separate document included in the archive: "He is gone! Amid the wild scenes of California, far away from his childhood's house, he fell a victim to the insatiate disease that drank up the warm life blood of enterprise & long cherished hopes, and consigned him to an untimely grave..."
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