[Various locations in California: 1864-1874]. Ninety-four letters, totaling pp. Mostly octavo. Leaves lightly dampstained and toned, some faded. Old folds, some separation and brittleness, a few small areas of loss or tearing. Good. Item #4492
An extensive archive documenting the activities of the Bridgeport Gold and Silver Mining Company in Sweetland, California. Sweetland is in Nevada County, about sixty miles north of Sacramento, in the heart of the Sierra Nevada gold fields. At its peak, it was home to a few hundred souls; today it is essentially defunct. In the present archive, V.G. Bell, secretary for the company, writes to John Spencer in Nevada, an agent for the company. John Spencer (1818-1891) emigrated to California in 1850, where he had some success at placer mining. After moving to Nevada in the early 1860s, he became a successful rancher and public servant. We find Bell listed as a "ditching agent" in an 1867 directory for Bridgeport Township. Writing from by turns from Sweetland, Birchville, French Corral, and North San Juan, he apprises Spencer of the business activities of various mines, including receipt of rent payments sent by Spencer, reports of shareholders and trustees, property upkeep, and mine management. Specific mines mentioned include the Vineyard Mine, the Bunker Hill Mine, and the Baltimore Mine. Over half of the letters date to the period from 1864 to 1867. Though they have been exposed to water at some point, they are mostly legible and are written in a neat hand.
In the first letter here, dated August 8, 1864, Bell discusses the Trustees of the company as well as financing options available for the venture. He writes, in part: "Dear Sir, I have rec'd three reports from you, the last of which was perfectly satisfactory; and had our supt. taken the same trouble during the latter part of last year to have made his reports as clean, there would have been none of that bickering that took place between himself & the Co. In short, the Trustees express themselves as well pleased with your mode of doing business. ... It seems to be the desire of the Co. to husband our means in the territory as much as possible and make it a self sustaining institution, as it is out of the question to raise means without resorting to borrowing; even at the rates of interest we could get money on this side for would soon eat the vitals out & have a dead concern on our hands."
Much of the correspondence seems to include concern over the company's struggling finances. In a letter from February 1865, Bell asks Spencer to cut his salary, writing, "After a consultation of the trustees I was asked to write you in reference to a reduction in your salary to a less figure, say seventy five dollars. The company is in debt here to a little over two thousand dollars borrowed money, & they feel the necessity of reducing their expenses as much as possible, and as there is so little doing with the company's business that it seems like a large salary to pay. ... For one to look after this business without any thing else to occupy their time they are ready to admit is none too much, and if your time is wholly taken up with their business do you not think it would be advisable to employ some competent person who could take time enough from other employment to see to our affairs." Bell assures Spencer that the Trustees are not unhappy with his work -- just his expense.
A letter later that year, in July, discusses the hiring of a man as a second engineer, also capable of blacksmith work. Other missives discuss the upkeep and refurbishment of a house, as well as the means to rent it out. By October, Bell has moved to discussion of the dispersal of some property, as well as the difficulty of continually raising funds. "Your suggestion to levy an assessment in the Vineyard Co. to pay it out of debt meets with the approbation of our Co. which I presume was done at your last meeting. It is the wish of some of the members of our Co. to put our property in R[?] into market & sell at some price, & close the concern up. The Board is somewhat uncertain as to the course to pursue, but the pressure is so great against the continuance of raising money by assessment that they will have to abandon that method for the time being."
These excerpts are a mere sampling of the content. Some of the later letters are shorter, asking for updates or indicating monies received, though the bulk of the archive comprises letters that are two to four pages. An interesting and important snapshot of the activities of a large mining operation in the Sierra Nevada in the 1860s and 1870s, and worthy of further research.