JOSEPH CLAYPOOLE FITHIAN
The history of California as the state of today began in 1849, when from the central and eastern portions of this country men of enterprise, individuality, and strong purpose made their way by land or water to the Pacific slope, there laying the foundation for the present development and advanced position of this commonwealth. It is now an honor to be number among the “49ers,” the honor to which Mr. Fithian is entitled. His residence in Amador County dates from 1856, and as one of its pioneers he well deserves representation in this volume.
He was born in Green Township, Hamilton County, Ohio, on the 18th of September, 1826. The family is of French origin and was founded in America by Amos Fithian, the grandfather of our subject who left his home in France and located in Bridgeton, New Jersey, where he was married to Miss Sarah Filer of that city, and probably one of the earliest families there. Their son, Ephraim Fithian, the father of our subject, was born in New Jersey and was married there to Miss Nancy Claypoole, also a native of the same state. Removing westward to Ohio they established their home in Green Township, Hamilton County, where they reared their children. In 1852 the father came to California by way of the Isthmus of Panama, accompanied by his wife and their daughter Matilda. They located at Ione, and thence moved to Petaluma, bought and settled on a fruit farm, where he lived for a number of years, but subsequently removed to Anaheim, in the southern part of the state, where he spent his remaining days, passing away in his eightieth year. His wife died at about the same age. They were Baptists in religious faith and were people of the highest respectability.
Mr. Fithian of this review was the eldest of their five children. He enrolled as a volunteer for service in the Mexican War, but the quota was filled before he was mustered into service and consequently never went to the front. Like hundreds of other young men, the discovery of gold in California filled him with a desire to make his fortune upon the Pacific coast, and in 1849 he crossed the plains with a wagon and mule team. With two companions he prepared an outfit and they started with a large company. They had not been long upon the way when one of the party shot an Indian. They were followed by a band of red men who demanded the murderer. The man who fired the shot was given over to them and undoubtedly met his death at the hands of the savages. Mr. Fithian and his friends decided it was not best for them to travel with such a large company and together they came on alone.
After reaching Hangtown they proceeded to Sacramento, where they arrived on the 7th of August, having completed the journey in three months. While the party were on their way to California, as they were one day riding along they were hailed by two men who were sitting under a bush. One of them was ill and had been left to die. Mr. Fithian and his companions put the sick man into their wagon and brought him with them. When they arrived at the south fork of the Bear River our subject rode one of the leading mules into the stream for the purpose of finding a fording place, and as soon as the party got into the water their mules and wagon were carried down the stream and the sick man was thus upset in the water. It took some time to secure their things and the man stood in the stream with water almost to his neck. This involuntary bath, however, cured him of his fever and he was soon well again. He was William Bolt, and his companion was Joseph Shepherd. They were from Illinois and were well off. Mr. Fithian says he believes this was the beginning of the “water cure!”
Mr. Fithian engaged in mining at Goodyear Bar, eight miles below Downieville. While prospecting he got lost and while roaming in search of his company he met another man who also was lost. While they were eating supper a third man came to them and offered to sell his claim and show them how to mine. They gave him one hundred dollars for the claim and rocker and the former proprietor showed them how to work it. He had not worked very far down into the water and was not very successful in gaining the gold. Mr. Fithian, however, got into the water and he and his partner made eighty dollars the first day. They worked there until fearful that the snows of winter would prevent them from leaving their claim and accordingly they went to Sacramento, Mr. Fithian taking with him two thousand dollars as the result of his labor.
In the capital city he purchased a lot of General Sutter and engaged in the manufacture of brick. He agreed to pay for his lot in brick to be taken the next spring at market price, and when the time came the price of brick was ninety dollars per thousand. The General thought this an enormous price to pay for brick, but he was compelled to live up to the condition of the bond. That proved a profitable venture of Mr. Fithian and he was making money rapidly when he was taken ill. Later he returned to the mine which he had previously worked and aided in the construction of a flume. There he again prospered, but he lost much of his money in mining speculations, retaining only seven thousand dollars, which he had buried.
In 1852 Mr. Fithian returned, by way of the water, to his old home and was married to Miss Leanora Fowler, a native of Hamilton County, Ohio. In 1856 he again came to California, bringing his wife and three little children, and again the journey was made by water. Five children have been born to them in California. Of the family of eight sons and daughters seven are now living, namely: Ephraim; Mrs. Ella Gregory; Matilda, the wife of J. M. Hammel; George, Elmer; William and Edward. Mr. Fithian came with his family to this state in 1857 and located on what was supposed to be state land, but after he had made payment thereon and improved the property to a considerable extent he was ejected and lost all he had made with the exception of one thousand dollars. He then borrowed money and purchased a sawmill, after which he engaged in the manufacture of lumber, and soon after he had completed the payment on the mill it was destroyed by fire and he again lost all. He then turned his attention to freighting and farming. He purchased a tract of land in the edge of town and has since resided there for the purpose of educating his children. Renting a ranch of eight hundred acres, he left his family at Ione while he lived on the ranch and continued its operations for nine years. His home is a pleasant residence near the banks of Sutter Creek, and there he and his wife are living.
In early life Mr. Fithian’s love of liberty was very strong and led him to advocate abolition principles. At the time of the Civil War he was a staunch Republican, but it was under Republican management that he was dispossessed of his property and he has since been a Democrat. He has never been an office-seeker or secret society man. His life has been one of marked industry, and when many men of ordinary resolution would have been discouraged by the difficulties and hardships he has met, he has worked on with determined purpose and at last has secured a comfortable competence for himself and wife in their declining years.
Of Mr. Fithian’s maternal ancestry we give the following outline: James Claypoole, who died October 16, 1599, had two sons: James, who was knighted in 1604, and Adam, who died in 1634. The children of the latter were Edward, John, Winfield, Richard, Robert, Henry, Joanna, Dorothy, Robert (2d), Morton, James, Adam and Jane. Of these James, born in 1621, immigrated to Pennsylvania in 1683 and died at Philadelphia in 1687. His children were John, James, Nathaniel, George, Joseph, Mary, Helen and Priscilla. Joseph married Edith Ward and their children were George, Joseph, Rebecca, John, Josiah, Edith and James. George married Mary Morris and their children were Rebecca, George, Joseph, John, Hannah, Mary and Deborah. Their father died May 19, 1809. Of the children of Joseph, who was born July 15, 1734, married Mary Wilkinson and died May 19, 1809. Their children were Sarah, Hannah, Mary Morris, Deborah, Ann, Rebecca, Joseph and Elizabeth. Of these, Joseph, born in 1770, married Ann Woodhouse and died in 1802. Their children were William, George, Hannah, Rebecca, Joseph, Ann, Harriet, Mary and Julian (twins) and Elizabeth. Hannah, born 1803, married Ephraim Fithian and died in 1887. Mr. Fithian was born in 1799 and died in 1878. Their children were Joseph Claypoole (the subject of the foregoing sketch), Sarah, William, Thomas and Matilda. Joseph C. Fithian, born in 1826, married Leanora Fowler, who was born in 1833, and their children have been: Ella, born in 1853; Ephraim, 1855; Matilda, 1857; George, 1861; Elmer, 1863; Charles, born in 1868 and died in 1870; William, born in 1871; and Edward, 1874.
Transcribed by Gerald Iaquinta.
© 2010 Gerald Iaquinta.