Maritime Log #45 Young Men from Newburyport Joined the Gold Rush

By Dyke Hendrickson, Outreach Historian for the Custom House Maritime Museum

Newburyport’s vibrant port in the 18th and 19th centuries enabled many local young men to travel the world.

This usually meant boarding trading trips to the West Indies or Europe.

But numerous Newburyporters journeyed to California to search for gold in the mid-19th century.

Pictured her is a local vessel with plenty of room on deck for passengers.

The Gold Rush took place long before the construction of the Panama Canal, and the trip around the tip of South America took weeks.

Here are lines from a letter local resident Daniel Edward Plumer sent home when he was traveling in 1849. It comes from archives in Newburyport.

At sea off the Coast of Patagonia, June 22, 1849:

Dear Mother and Father,

It is 28 days since we left Rio Janeiro. I do not think any ship would be more comfortable than the Areatus. About all labor in Rio is done by slaves. I saw some with iron collars that were larger than the abolitionists carry around to get sympathy for slaves at home. The slaves carry everything on their heads. I saw 25 carrying coffee; there could have been not one load under 200 pounds. The law there is that if a slave tenders 200 dollars to his or her owner, the owner is obliged to give them their freedom. That is better than in our slave states.

San Francisco, Sept. 27, 1849

I have arrived after a passage of 170 days. I have seen a number of Newburyport men here, including Capt. Bradbury, Bard Plummer, two of the House sons, John O.W. Brown, Anthony Hale. Dr. Smith is here. W. Moulton is here.  He fell in the Duxbury’s hold, and hurt is head badly.

Father, you cannot know the anxious hours I have passed since leaving my friends. If I had known what my feelings were going to be before I left home, I would not have left. As I am here, I do not want to regret coming.

My love to you and mother, Mary and Green and all their children; Abraham, Sarah and the girls; Uncle Joe and wife and all the cousins.

Your ever-affectionate son, Daniel

If you would like me to speak to your organization, I can be reached at dhendrickson@thechmm.org.