[Panama, San Francisco, & Sacramento: 1849-1850]. Four manuscript letters, pp. total. Previously folded, with some wear, heavy in places, and loss along folds; one letter with more significant separations and loss, but not affecting sense; a second letter with a tear from upper fold into first leaf. A few small chips at edges and corners. Mild foxing, discoloration, and dust soiling. One letter incomplete. Good. Item #1501
An interesting set of four manuscript letters by Samuel McCullough to his parents that describe the final leg of his emigration to California in 1849 and the first six months of his life there while he established himself as a farmer near Sacramento. McCullough and his future business partner, whom he only calls Coleman, seem to have bartered the cost of their journeys in exchange for working on the ship for a period of time. In his first letter, written from Panama and dated November 4, 1849, he describes a harrowing sea experience prior to his arrival, and goes on to discuss the scene there and his prospects upon arrival in California:
"Fever & Ager when first coming out to work prevents them [i.e., other passage seekers] from working three or four days...we both stand it first rate and are quite sure of a passage which is greatly in our favour as near as we can learn. There is about one thousand people at Panama waiting a passage up [who] will give three or four hundred dollars premium on tickets but cannot get them at any price. Many agree to go up to San Francisco working their passage two trips in order to go through. I advise none to leave home without tickets through to San Francisco. The news from California is very favourable for us. If I reach their safe and have any health every one says I can soon be an independent fortion [i.e., fortune] for us all. A friend of Mr. Coleman's has made some five or six hundred thousand dollars in less than two years is now willing to give up his business wants friend Coleman to take his place which he thinks he will if I will engage with him. He has not told me what the business is, so I have not made up my mind yet."
His second letter, written on December 29th after his arrival in San Francisco, is evidently incomplete; nevertheless, it provides a good account of his voyage from Panama and his impressions of the California coastline, and then his impressions and experiences of the city during his time there. In part:
"We had tolerable fine weather all the way up the coast and for a few days after we landed but since has rained right straight ahead without intermission. The streets are now about eighteen in. from that to three feet deep with mud so you may judge their cannot be much business done at present. Still people will work, Mechanics generally are of great demand carpenters wages rates from twelve to sixteen dols. per day. They command they highest wages of any other class of mechanics. Rents are very high one small room will rent for two hundred and fifty does per month say not larger than ten by twelve and some cannot be got at that though there are a great many buildings up. The place is about four times as large as I expected to find, about fifteen thousand inhabitants.... I have been working on a house twenty by thirty, fourty six berths one above the other, up stairs twenty tables with a plane bar, rents for sixteen hundred dollars per month.”
McCullough's third letter is dated February 26, 1850, from a place he calls New Orleans, Alta California, which seems to be a short distance north of Sacramento across the American River, from internal context. This letter relates a great deal concerning the establishment of his farm, its operations, and his hopes for their business. It reads, in part:
"Notwithstanding our expenses have been great but we have got through buying for the present. We have everything necessary for farming, our seeds cost a considerable [amount]. We have several acres planted -- some of the things are up and look fine. We intend to plant few acres more of late vegetables after we finish our house. We want to compleat that so as to be ready for the miners when they start teeming to the mines. That will be in about one month if the river continues to fall so the boats cannot run. We want to be ready to supply them with provisions also to lodge and board them when they come down. It will save them quite a sum to buy of us -- they will save forage which is ten dols., going and coming over the American fork, a river which lays between us and the city.... We have splendid grass now. By the first of July it will be ready to cut and we are going into that quite extensively. Hay is very dear after August owing to people not taking time to cut it. They think they can do better at the mines, well perhaps they can. We have made up our minds we can do better on the farm."
The final letter present here, dated June 23, continues to discuss McCullough's farm operations, the news of the area that impacts his new livelihood, and his prospects for the summer and fall:
"We hear of a large migration across the planes. At their arrival this fall hay will be of great demand, their being no grass at that season of the year on account of the dry weather hear. We have had no rain since the first week in April; we shall stack it and keep it until fall. You may think everything would parch up with the sun before coming to maturity but this Valley is low and flat, holds the moisture long enough for things to ripen. Our garden has done extraordinarily well considering the small piece we had planted. We have sold over one thousand dols. worth of small vegetables.... We have our house about completed. The high water washed the bridges away which were erected across the sloughs (as they are called here) or rivers, but will soon be completed again. Then we shall do a considerable business in way of accommodation to teamsters -- as they will pass by our door they will want a glass of liquor and a lager or something to cut. We will also accommodate them with lodging and almost any thing for the dust -- we understand the miners are doing well, making new discoveries every day...."
Excellent content from one of the atypical but clever Forty-Niners who understood that provisioning the miners and prospectors could be more lucrative than becoming one.