THE PIONEER STEAMER
ESTIMATED NUMBER OF PASSENGERS
TAKEN ON AT PANAMA
IN THE Crosby Manuscript we read:
About 250 passengers were taken on at Panama, and with those already on board made up about 425, the officers and crew included, and these with considerable freight and passenger baggage filled the steamer to its full capacity.
Bancroft, on the other hand, positively states that the number of passengers received on board exceeded four hundred. Evidently, in place of passengers, Bancroft should have said 'persons'.
Crosby's statement agrees with the opinion expressed in the letter¹ of Stephen H. Branch, correspondent of the New York Herald:
The California will sail on Monday at farthest on her long and solitary journey through a wilderness of tranquil and maddened waters. When the passengers of the Orus and the Isthmus arrive with all others between this place and Chagres, I think we shall number 500, perhaps 550, all of whom will soon be on their journey to the rich mines of California. Some 200 or 250 will leave in the California and among them will be your correspondent who will write you by the California return and ever after.
Still another figure appears in a letter² published in the New York Herald of March 4, 1849:
From Dr. Hayes who left Panama on the night of the 11th of [February] we learn that the California sailed from Panama on the 1st with 375 passengers – 40 Peruvians among the number whom she brought from Valparaiso.
¹Panama, January 25, 1849.
²February 17, 1849.
In later advices contained in letters from Acapulco the number of passengers varies from 325 to 380.
We have a number of sick on board with the Panama fever. Thank Heaven we have no cholera. About a dozen Americans died on the Isthmus, and it is fortunate we have so far escaped, as our vessel is crowded with 325 passengers. [Acapulco, February 10, 1849.]¹
We arrived at this place on the 8th inst. being eight days from our watering place near Panama. We have on board 380 passengers for California, among whom are General Postmasters, English Consuls, etc. We will be the first, if not the first arrivals from the States. Many who left New Orleans months since in the Falcon and other vessels are yet at Panama, but few having been able to procure passage on our steamer. [Acapulco, Feb. 11, 1849].²
Quoting a paragraph from the New York Daily Tribune of March 19, 1849:
We hear that the California when she steamed out of Acapulco had 350 passengers, which was one hundred more than she could accommodate.
In conclusion, a few lines selected from a letter dated Mazatlan, February 15, 1849:
We number in all on board 400 souls, i.e. 325 passengers and 75 crew.
On account of such a bewildering variety of estimates, both the number of passengers received at Panama, and the total number of persons on board the California when she reached San Francisco, have for years remained much-disputed questions. Nevertheless, from these contradictory statements we can draw conclusions, namely:
1. The total number of passengers when the steamer left Panama was not less than 325 nor greater than 350, excluding officers and crew.
2. Of these 350 passengers about 250 were received at Panama.
3. Bancroft's assertion that 'over 400 were received on board' is misleading. He may have had in mind the total number of persons on the California when she entered the Golden Gate.
¹New York Herald, March 20, 1849.
²Ibid., March 20, 1849. See also Buffalo Commercial Advertiser.
4. That we should also reject the testimony of Dr. Stout, namely: 'with an overloaded ship carrying nearly 500 souls we steamed out of the harbor of Panama.' This statement is flatly contradicted in a letter written at San Francisco March 3, 1849:¹
'We sailed from Panama on the 1st of February and arrived here (San Francisco) on the 28th of February, touching at Acapulco, San Blas, Mazatlan and Monterey. We had on board more than 400 souls.' (At arrival at San Francisco.)
The revised roster, discussed in the next chapter, proves the correctness of the above statement.
¹See New York Herald, May 19, 1849; also New Orleans Delta, may 10, 1849.
TOTAL NUMBER OF PASSENGERS ON THE CALIFORNIA ON HER
ARRIVAL AT SAN FRANCISCO
FOR the settlement of this question we have today two important documents. First, a roster of the passengers, including officers and crew, who were on the California when she arrived at San Francisco, prepared in 1880 by Thomas De Lancy, a veteran of the Spanish War and for many years a resident of San Francisco. Later, the author presented the manuscript to his friend Robert E. Cowan, the able scholar and historian, at present the Librarian of the Clark Library of Los Angeles. Thanks to the courtesy of this gentleman, the writer received a copy of this document. In it, the persons on the California are classified as Officers, Seamen, Firemen, Boys, Passengers shipped at Rio and at Callao, and Cabin Passengers.
A summary of the contents of the De Lancy list is embodied in the subjoined table:
Number of Cabin Passengers
Number of Passengers shipped at Rio
Number of Passengers shipped at Callao
Number of Officers
Number of Seamen
Number of Boys
Number of Firemen
Up to the present the existence of another passenger list, from the pen of Stephen H. Branch, correspondent of the New York Herald, and written by him at the time the California steamed out of the harbor of San Blas, February 14, 1848, appears to have been unknown. This Branch roster was discovered by the writer while searching through the New York dailies on file in the New York Public Library, such as the Daily Tribune, Herald, Commercial Advertiser, Journal of Commerce, Sun, Courier, etc., covering the periods October to December, 1848, and January to July, 1849.
In his letter of transmission to the editor of the New York Herald, Branch admits that the roster he sends is not a complete list of all persons on board, and that he has omitted to enumerate the officers and crew, likewise persons received at Rio and Callao. Nevertheless, he asserts that his list in the main is correct.
Those who have seen the De Lancy roster are aware of the many errors in the initials of the persons enumerated and in the spelling of their Christian names; various names appear without initials at all. Such imperfections are caused by the unfamiliarity of De Lancy with Spanish names and by the inaccuracies and errors in the lists of passengers that were handed to him by clerks in shipping offices.
For the student of the history of California, the Branch roster, in the opinion of the writer, becomes a very important historical document, because, first, it was written prior to the arrival of the California at San Francisco, and second, because the author was a trained newspaper reporter who understood the value of accuracy of the news to be transmitted to his paper.
Through the discovery of the Branch roster we are enabled to compare the names listed by Branch with those in the De Lancy list, with the result that quite a number mentioned in the former were found missing in the latter record, and that there existed numerous differences in the initials of certain names. Now as the majority of the passengers taken on at Panama had come to Chagres on either the Falcon, Crescent City, Isthmus,¹ etc., it is self-evident that if the rosters of those steamers could also be found, it would be a comparatively easy task not only to revise and rewrite the passenger list of the California, but to prepare an accurate new roster of all persons on board the California as she entered the Golden Gate, stating wherever possible, opposite the name of the person, his former residence and the steamer on which he came to Chagres. The roster, so revised,
¹See Appendixes B, C, D, E, and F.
is printed in the Appendix.¹ Here it suffices to give a summary of the entire work.
Total number of persons on arrival of California at San Francisco,
(including officers and crew and 12 men brought on board by Villanul, one of the largest miners in South America.)
Subtracting the officers and crew
Leaves total number of passengers
Mindful of the historical value of the Branch roster, we reproduce it in its entirety:
PASSENGER LIST OF THE CALIFORNIA
(New York Herald, Tuesday, April 3, 1849)
SAN BLAS, MEXICO, FEB. 14, 1849.
Well, we have been here a few hours, and will probably leave to-day for Mazatlan, 130 miles distant.
The Messrs. Talbot leave us at Mazatlan. Hundreds are waiting our arrival at Mazatlan, and thousands have left there for San Francisco. The list I send is doubtless very imperfect; many passengers have transferred their tickets, and taken the Philadelphia, and the schooners. I know of some on board whose names are not on the list, who purchased tickets at Panama. But still the list will be of satisfaction to many, as it is in the main correct. I have not given the names of the Peruvians.
Annexed are the passengers:
Persifer F. Smith and lady.
R. S. Frazer
Lieut. A. Gibbs
Samuel W. Talbot
Marcus H. Talbot
R. M. Price and servant
M. Van Nostrand
Lieut. G. W. Reviere
Lieut. G. W. Harrison
Lieut. Danville Leadbetter
Edmund H. Coddington
D. B. Fowler
Lieut. R. S. Williamson
John W. Douglass
Wm. P. Bryant
O. E. Wheeler and lady
J. B. Steinbergen
B. F. Allen
Jas. M. Reed
E. F. Batters
D. F. Field
Francis P Smith
Samuel S. Reed
Capt. Wm. K. Smith
Wm. H. Peise
D. F. Bayley
W. S. M'Knight
J. R. Maloney
A. G. Tiffany
D. H. Wipley
G. W. Fenne
B. F. Butterfield
A. B. Cooke
Jesse P. Govet
Dr. S. Haley
James Grant, Esq.
James L. Fowler
A. L. Dale
Capt. M. Waterman
Capt. N. Wyse
Gen. Adair, lady and children
L. H. Robertson
R. A. Murpin
Capt. Stephen Carmick
E. C. W. Thompson
Major Ogden and lady
W. F. Tilghman
Major Cardy and lady (got well)
H. E. Robinson
Samuel M. Fox
George L. Pierce
Mr. M'Dowell and lady
Mr. Robinson Carpenter
A. H. Barbe
T. D. Van Beuren
J. H. Coghill
J. B. Crawford
W. T. Pendleton
Alexander M'Laughlin and lady
Major Gibbs and servant
C. H. Hughes
Major Ogden's servant
Major Carby's servant
R. W. Heath
Major Fitzgerald's servant-Stephen Hawes Branch
L. A. Polock
G. A. Metcalf
D. S. Allen
J. D. Gillmore
J. E. Town
A. H. Webster
S. C. Mott
S. C. Mount
H. D. Allen
E. W. Joyce
J. C. Hardy
C. E. Townsend
T. E. Pentz
J. F. Nagle
E. D. Crosby
M. De Groot
W. G. Davis
There must be a large number of Americans on board whose names are not on the list. Frank Ward and lady came on board at Lima. The American Consul at Payta, with his clerk, and two or three hundred thousand dollars for banking and exchange purposes in San Francisco, are on board. A. M. Hindman, from Connecticut, and an elderly gentleman from Maryland, who have been long residing in Peru, are on board. A. M. Villanul, one of the largest miners in South America, is on board, with 12 or 15 men, expecting 40 or more, and so on. We are now entering the harbor of Mazatlan; much excitement exists. We shall probably stop here during the day (now 9 A. M.), and then cross the Gulf of California.
There are five hundred passengers (mostly Mexicans) at Tepic, awaiting transit to San Francisco. From ten to twelve thousand have gone from Mexico. Whole battalions, armed to the teeth, are moving through the heart of Mexico, gotten up by the great capitalists and friends of Santa Anna, in whose favor (being always ready for any hostile demonstration against America,) the Mexicans are rising in one solid mass, whose cry is, 'California's recovery or death.'
The foreigners outnumber the Americans as ten to one, and intend to exterminate the Americans as they arrive, and keep possession of the country as long as possible. This is positively the news we get at San Blas. The veil will soon be removed, on our arrival, when I will send you the real news.
STEPHEN H. BRANCH.
PANAMA TO SAN FRANCISCO
DEPRECATING the necessity of this lengthy digression, which, however, it is hoped will assist the student of the history of California, we are now ready to follow the pioneer steamer which we left steaming out of the harbor of Panama on February 1, 1849.
The events of the first three days are vividly portrayed by Stephen H. Branch in three separate communications to the New York Herald. It is to be regretted that this gifted writer did not leave to posterity a similar record of the entire voyage of the California from Panama to San Francisco.
OUR PACIFIC CORRESPONDENCE
Panama Bay, February 1, 1849}
That is, sailing out of it, 11 A.M.}
We set sail, or steamed, or fired up, and started at 9 A.M., minus 15 minutes, by my turnip, alias old Sol, amid nine tremendously hearty cheers from all hands, including the hens, chickens, cock-a-doodle-dos, sheep, goats, cattle, and especially the hoggies and little piggies, which made the welkin ring, and the natives stare, at Turega, on shore and on the sea, in their canoes, and are now, (half-past one P.M.,) running gallantly down the Bay before a triangular wind towards the equator, towards which we have to go some three degrees nearer ere we can go on our course north. The decks of the ship are now cleared; the passengers, with some exceptions, very healthy, and all promises well.
At Sea, Pacific Ocean, Feb. 2, 1849.
This morning, or rather last night and this morning, we had rather a severe blow for the placid Pacific, which made some of the passengers stare.
In front of the bow of the C., a sword-fish, ten feet long, was seen making for the ship, (taking us probably for a whale), but just ere he or she was about to sink us, by boring a hole in our bottom, he or she darted down in the direction of the flooring of the great deep, and was seen no more forever. This fish's fin (resembling a fan) was distinctly visible, together with its formidable sword. These fishes have been known to bore a hole through a ship, whose force was not expended until it had entered a cask or a bale of cotton, and have been known to sink many a noble ship.
To-day the California made revolutions, 16,635; coal consumed, 15 tons, 1,760. Speaking about fish, we are directly opposite the island of Cano, which is in sight, having a Captain on board who was in a whaling vessel of 200 tons, which was struck by a whale within a few miles of Cano, and went down.
Various eating clubs have been formed on the fore-deck, appointing captains, secretaries, vices, &c., the captain's duty being to get the grub from the cook, apportion it to his men, &c. Malichi Fallon, Esq., of the 6th ward, late keeper of the Tombs, is the captain of the Knickerbocker Club, consisting of twenty members, among whom are Charles Hughes of the 15th ward, McCarty of the 16th ward, and a member of the democratic general committee last year, of which your correspondent was also a member, and also a defeated candidate for Alderman of the 3rd ward, to say nothing of his denunciation of the barnburners; Dunn, of the 16th of ward, &c.
The third letter in the same breezy style as the other two, proves the writer to be a first-class raconteur.
Feb. 3, 1849.
General Smith, on board the C., and Governor elect of California, is a fine old gentleman, who carries himself most sensibly on board, and pleases all, many of the passengers having sung some thrilling choruses in front of his lodgings at Panama, just prior to our departure, to which the General responded in a very happy off-hand speech, at the close of which the multitude gave nine cheers, as none but Americans can give them.
The day passed tranquilly; we have averaged about nine miles per hour, and the glorious sun is going down behind the tranquil and lovely waters of the Pacific, which, I trust, will arise with its accustomed splendor in the morning over our happy heads, while ascending the noblest ocean of our world.
The sea now (a quarter past four, P.M.), is very tranquil, and everything going on a smoothly. I have just closed a conversation with the British Consul at Mazatlan, (of the firm of Mott, Talbot, & Co.), in which he, (Mr. Talbot), among other things, said that he left Mazatlan in April, for England, via New York and Cape Horn; that he had visited New York and England, and would be in Mazatlan in a few days, which was the shortest trip on record; that he believed there would be 30,000 people at Mazatlan on the arrival of the California, she being the first steamer ever known in these waters, they having no possible conception of what a steamer is. I reckon such a steamer as the California is will be a tolerably big specimen for the first. The hills around Mazatlan, he says, will teem with astonished multitude as the California nears the harbor.
Contrasted with the above vivacious tales, full of amusing and interesting episodes, Bancroft's account of the period covering the departure of the California from Panama to her arrival at San Francisco is indeed singularly dull and unattractive, especially so when we bear in mind that the historian is dealing with the most vital part of the entire voyage. Bancroft offers his readers just one paragraph:
After a prosperous voyage of four weeks, prolonged by calls at Acapulco and San Blas, San Diego, and Monterey, the steamer California entered the bay of San Francisco on February 28, 1849.
MUTINY ON BOARD
THOUGH we may overlook Bancroft's lack of appreciation of a most dramatic story, it is difficult to find an excuse for his omission or suppression of the serious conditions which developed among the crew at Acapulco, terminating in open mutiny and jeopardizing the successful ending of the voyage of the California. However, prior to a presentation of the historical evidence in corroboration of the above, we wish to take the reader to Acapulco on the arrival of the steamer on February 9, 1849. The narrator of the following account is none other than Captain John T. Marshall. En passant, this seems to be the only letter of the Captain that has escaped destruction.
Acapulco, Feb. 11, 1849¹
Wm. H. Aspinwall, Esq.
I beg to inform you of my arrival at Acapulco, 8 days from Panama. In crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec I had a very severe gale from N. W. which commenced in the morning and kept increasing till midnight when it blew very heavy with a tremendous sea running. Toward morning it moderated, the wind having hauled back to the N. E. During the gale the ship worked as well as ever. I could not perceive any difference in the working of the machinery, and she kept good headway against a very heavy sea, having averaged 5 knots the 24 hours round. The California is decidedly the best sea boat I ever saw.
I arrived here on the 9th of February and have great difficulty in getting water. There is no other way at present but bailing it out of a few wells that are about the town, and then you are obliged to wait until it runs in again. The water is very good and I think a large well ought to be dug, sufficient to hold enough for supplying all the water we require.
Capt. John T. Marshall
The New Orleans Picayune² of March 11, 1849, published a letter from a passenger on the California which evidences the growing unrest of the crew:
¹New York Daily Tribune, March 19,1849.
²Same letter in New York Herald, March 20, 1849.
We left Panama on the 1st of Feb. (1849) and arrived at Acapulco after a disagreeable voyage of eight days. I think there will be great difficulty in returning from that country (San Francisco) to the States. Already has a feeling of insubordination manifested itself on board, and all hands are independent of the officers, and there is little doubt that if the stories current in relation to California are true, the ship will be deserted by all hands, save the officers, and will be obliged to be laid up.
Illuminating is an incident that occurred soon after the California had left Panama, which was reported first in the New York Journal of Commerce, February 15, 1849.¹ It deals with the finding of a stowaway and the consequent insubordination of the crew:
Last week a certain 'Sylvie' from New York was found secreted by a fireman somewhere about the engine. Captain Marshall flew around, hunted out the fireman who smuggled him on board and ordered the culprit to be put in irons and he was manacled instantly. But no sooner had the news of this got below than all the firemen came up from their ovens, and swore not another hour would they work till their associate was released. And forthwith, in the absence of help to work the ship, Capt. Marshall knocked off his irons and all returned to duty and Sylvie goes out as passenger to fight himself into notice in California. If there was not one controlling motive before all these men, sailors and all, to get to the gold region, woe be to our ship.
ACAPULCO, March 20, 1849.- Correspondence of the N. O. Delta:²
The steamship California, Capt. Marshall, (Captain Forbes being sick on board) entered this harbor on the 9th of last month (Feb.) and left on the 11th, having Governor Smith and family on board. The California was crowded to inconvenience. The number of passengers was 375. Considerably dissatisfaction prevailed on board and it appears that the crowd, though select, was a very hard one. The captain had no control even over his own crew who are all expected to desert him as soon as he arrives at San Francisco.
¹Same letter in New York Daily Tribune, March 24, 1849.
²New York Herald, Sunday Morning Edition, April 22, 1849.
In the same strain is a letter, originally directed to the New Orleans Daily Picayune,¹ from which the following paragraph has been selected.:
I think it is doubtful if the steamer will be enabled to return from San Francisco, as the probability is that the crew will desert. The officers have but little command over the men, and only this morning the firemen refused to work. We leave this evening [February 15, 1849] and I shall not have another opportunity of writing to you until I arrive at San Francisco.
The number of such communications in the daily newspapers is quite large, but from the few items selected at random the plain, unvarnished historical truth is that ever since her departure from Panama the ghost of mutiny was rampant among the crew of the California and that only the desire to reach the gold-fields at the earliest possible moment induced the crew to remain with the ship; otherwise, 'woe be to our ship.'
¹New Orleans Daily Picayune, March 15, 1849; also New York Herald, March 27,1849.
SAN BLAS AND MAZATLAN
FROM Acapulco the steamer proceeded to San Blas and Mazatlan. Bancroft¹ mentions a stop at San Blas, but omits Mazatlan:
After a prosperous voyage of four weeks, prolonged by calls at Acapulco, San Blas, San Diego and Monterey, etc.
Thanks to the ready pen of S. H. Branch, who wrote two very interesting letters², one from San Blas and the other from Mazatlan, we have a good account of the events that happened from February 13 to 15:
On the 13th we arrived at San Blas, a distance from Acapulco of 350 miles. We laid here 4 or 5 hours, landed two Peruvian passengers and then proceeded to sea. But one or two of the passengers went on shore, they reported that the most flattering accounts had been received from the gold region. They state that the region is now covered with snow from 6 to 16 feet deep, and that there are at San Francisco some 15,000 persons who have returned from the mines waiting until the snow disappears, which will be about June.
The second letter, headed, 'Steamship California – at anchor off Mazatlan, February 15, 1849,' reads:
Well, here sit myself and General Smith, at the hospitable mansion of the British Consul, M. Talbot, writing letters to our beloved country. We leave in two hours for the steamer in a boat two miles distant. Several hundred are here anxious to get a passage. Several vessels are also in port, all bound for California. I have no time to say more. The mail is off at 4 p.m.
The news from Mazatlan is rounded off by another letter³ by a merchant who had obtained passage on the California at Panama:
Mazatlan, Feb. 15, 1849. - I have had this pleasure under the 10th inst., from Acapulco, and take the chances of the mail via Mexico to send you this.
¹Bancroft's Annals of the California Gold Era, volume 6, page 136.
²New York Herald, April 2, 1849.
³New Orleans Daily Picayune (Evening Edition), March 15, 1849.
We have had a longer passage to this place than we anticipated, and from present appearances there is little probability that we will reach San Francisco under 15 days more. The ship is loaded down with passengers and we have a variety of disagreeables to encounter. We number in all on board 400 souls, 325 passengers and about 75 crew. You will doubtless see in the papers that great complaints will be made. I have only to say that there is too much cause.
THE CROSBY MANUSCRIPT
AND now we are nearing the end of the voyage and the time has come for a discussion of the Crosby Manuscript, to which posterity owes a heavy debt of gratitude. Undeniably, the author, H. F. Robinson, possessed a keen sense for details and a marked ability to record the events accurately and without ostentation. Frequently there is a kindly humor in his observations and at times he has a tendency to philosophize. All in all, the Crosby record is a breezy, entertaining story, and sharply contrasts with the tame recital that Bancroft has left about the voyage of the California from Acapulco to San Francisco. Indeed, it is no redundancy of speech to say that he who reads the Crosby Manuscript will feel at times as if he were gazing at a canvas so skillfully drawn that the scenes depicted thereon become living realities. Therefore, instead of embodying in our story mere abstracts from the Crosby Manuscript, the writer subjoins an entire unabridged portion of the record so that the reader may judge for himself whether or not the opinion expressed above are well founded or otherwise.
The steamer put into the ports of Acapulco and Mazatlan and gave the passengers a day on shore, to stretch and air themselves and forage for provisions. This was a great relief to the passengers and did much to keep them in health and good humor. The steamer was also replenished with every thing that could be procured in the way of fresh provisions, such as vegetables, fruits, live beef, sheep, pigs and poultry, and all these were equally distributed among the passengers.
It is laughable to remember with how much care these animals were petted and fed by the passengers, and fancy names given to some of them that were distinguishable for any peculiarity of color or form, until the fatal day came when in turn they were given up to the chief cook for slaughter.
The weather was delightful the whole voyage – and the passengers were all in fine health and spirits and many were the plans proposed for future operations when they reached California. None of these plans were ever carried out when the projectors reached the country where they were to be put in execution, for the simple reason that the reality was found to be totally different from the theories upon which they had been projected.
On the 24th of February, 1849, we rounded the south point of the headlands to the Bay of Monterey in California. This was the capital of the country, and the cheers and shouts that went up from the deck of the steamer as the American flag was raised on shore in recognition of our arrival, was never given with a more hearty will, than by the passengers of this Pioneer Steamer California….
The Captain of the steamer informed the passengers that he had exhausted his coal and it would be two or three days before he could proceed to San Francisco, as he would be obliged to get wood from the shore and try to make steam with that instead of coal. He told the passengers that they could go on shore and he would give them timely notice of his readiness to leave by ringing the bell and blowing the steam whistle, when they must come on board without delay.
This was joyfully responded to and a general landing took place, when the passengers made a descent upon the inhabitants for fresh provisions and temporary lodgings during the delay of the steamer at Monterey. The people received the passengers with open hearted hospitality and every house seemed to thrown open for their accommodation and comfort, and this first experience of California hospitality completely won the good opinion of the Pioneers.
On the third day we were all aroused by the ringing of the bell and the scream of the whistle on board the steamer, and a general movement among the passengers to go on board. Some few, however, had left Monterey over land for San Francisco or direct for the mines, and two or three left, or rather remained, at Monterey, captivated by the beauty of the place – and possibly by the bright eyes of some of Monterey's fair daughters.
The officers on board had found a quantity of coal in sacks stored under the floor of the cabin, and sufficient to take us to San Francisco. Consequently the wood collected on shore was abandoned and at evening we set sail again for the last time before reaching our destination.
While Crosby wrote the above from his recollection of the events that occurred many years ago, we have likewise a narrative concerning the voyage of the California covering the six days prior to her arrival at the Golden Gate written by a passenger on board the steamer.¹ Even today, after a lapse of over eighty years, no true American can read this communication without a tug at the heart, and keenly feeling the emotions that moved the souls of the weary Argonauts as at last they saw waving on the distant shore of Monterey the star-spangled banner of their own country.
San Francisco, March 4, 1849.
We arrived at Monterey the morning of Friday, Feb. 23rd, about 11 o'clock. Every part of the vessel from which a view could be obtained was occupied. The forecastle deck was densely crowded with passengers, all anxious to catch a glance at one of the homes of the gold diggers. The bay opens toward the west and north and is quite large and much exposed.
As we sailed up the bay and approached the shore, through the mist dimly seen waved the Star Spangled Banner, and at the first sight a spontaneous, enthusiastic cheer burst from the lips of one and all. Soon a flash was seen, a small cloud of smoke arose, and the roar of cannon came booming across the waters. Another and another and another followed until eighteen guns had been fired as a salute to our vessel!
We neared the shore almost in silence and waiting until the anchor had ceased falling all with one accord hailed their country with nine deafening cheers. They were returned from the crowds on shore and from a small Peruvian brig which lies in the bay, intending to proceed to San Francisco in a few days.
On Monday, Feb. 26th a little more coal was discovered on board, and the wood cut, amounting to some 25 or 30 cords, was immediately brought on board, and on Tuesday, Feb. 27th at 7 o'clock we started from this place. At 10 o'clock on Wednesday (28th) morning we hove in sight of the entrance to the bay (Golden Gate.) The bay of San Francisco is very large and very beautiful. Some 30 vessels are now lying here, most of the crews having deserted. Among them are three ships of war, the Ohio, the Dale, and the Warren.
The Crosby Manuscript continues with the morning of February 28, as follows:
On the morning of February 28, 1849, the steamer pointed her bow for the Golden Gate, the entrance to the bay of San Francisco. At the left, as we steamed into the bay, lay the U. S. Squadron, near the shore at Sausalito. As we advanced a little further and turned to the right
¹Correspondence of the Albany Atlas; reprinted in the New York Herald, May 30, 1849.
there stretched back a long mud flat, and at its margin the little hamlet of San Francisco, while rising back of this rose the sand hills, bleak and verdureless – altogether presenting a cheerless and forbidding resting place for the termination of our long and hazardous voyage. Not a sail or boat or stick was to be seen floating upon the bay, and as the anchor let go and the steamer swung round to the tide and the voyage was then to end – a pause seemed to settle upon all on board and I do not doubt many a silent wish filled the breast of some on board that if they ventured upon this untried life of adventure.
The difficulty of landing so many persons with their effects was very soon demonstrated, as only the steamer's small boats could be had for this purpose. These boats were, however, lowered, and the first to put off was occupied by the agent who had come out from New York to take charge of the affairs of the steamship company at San Francisco. Then followed the other boats with such favored ones as were permitted to go first, and among these were Mr. Robinson and myself. We landed at Clarks Point, upon the rocks which form the northwesterly promontory of the circular mud flat that lay in front of the little settlement of San Francisco. There were many ludicrous incidents connected with this first landing. As no porters or vehicles of any kind could be procured the Pioneers were obliged to shoulder their own trunks and start off in search of some place of shelter. This was a difficult search, for so many newcomers more than filled all the rooms and even out-buildings in the settlement, but as soon as the baggage and other articles belonging to them could be landed from the steamer, tents and awnings began to dot the hillsides and even the public Plaza in front of the old adobe 'Cabildo.' Camp fires and cooking – wherever fuel to light the fires and food to cook could be obtained – were prominent features of the scene, and many a man who had heretofore thought a kitchen education an accomplishment he would never require was now very eager to learn the proportions necessary to produce a loaf of bread.
Here we interrupt the Crosby Manuscript to add a few lines from the pen of William Heath Davis, taken from his 'Sixty Years in California':¹
One bright morning in February, 1849² the first steamer from New York arrived here (San Francisco) from Panama. As she rounded Telegraph Hill, the vessel careened to the shore side from the rush of passengers to get a look at the town. The United States Pacific Naval Squadron, consisting of the Ohio, Portsmouth, St. Mary Crane, Dale and Warren, was anchored between Telegraph and Rincon Hills.
¹Published in San Francisco in 1889.
²Note absence of date.
The sight of the steamer with her immense load of humanity inspired Commodore Jones to order a general salute from the vessels of the fleet simultaneously. After the first broadsides the vessels were enclosed in a cloud of smoke until the end of the greeting of twenty-one guns from each ship. The echoes of the cannonading vibrated among the hills and valleys of the surrounding country of the bay as heralding the future greatness of California.
We now return once more to the Crosby Manuscript:
The next morning after our arrival it was discovered that several of the officers and crew had deserted. In less than a week they had all left the steamer for other pursuits. Captain Forbes called upon Commodore Jones, then in charge of the Pacific squadron, for a detail of officers and men to take charge of the steamer, to prevent it from drifting on shore, and by the arrest and detention of one of the lads who had been shipped at New York to help in the engine room, and had acquired skill and knowledge enough to clean and oil the machinery, the Captain was enabled to preserve this first steamship that entered the Golden Gate from going to destruction.
All the rest had deserted and left for the gold mines – from the first to the last – except Captain Forbes and his arrested lad who took care of the machinery.
Those who are familiar with Bancroft's narrative¹ of the arrival of the California at San Francisco, will remember his gloomy and pessimistic prophecies, namely:
Better far for thousands had they been able to translate the invisible sign arched in flaming letters across the Golden Gate as at the portal of Hell – all hope abandon, ye who enter here.
In the writer's opinion, it would have been more appropriate for Bancroft to have visioned a sign in flaming letters across the Golden Gate reading:
Per aspera ad astra
because the entire history of California bears witness to this truth.
Certainly the courageous pioneers of the steamer California, as well as their descendants and tens of thousands who crossed the plains during 1849, did not belong to the class of men who were disheartened by the tremendous obstacles and disappointments they encountered, neither did they abandon hope, despite fickle fortune and adversities, for ultimate success. Indeed, it is largely due to these men and women who heroically suffered untold mental and physical hardships that California is rightly called today the Queen in the Diadem of the States of the United States.
¹Annals of the California Gold Era, volume 6, page 137.
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
© 2010 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.