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Tuolumne County









            “Forty-niners” are not numerous in California at this time, but this title belongs to Benjamin Franklin Butterfield, of Jamestown, Tuolumne County, some account of whose eventful career it will be attempted here to give.

            Mr. Butterfield was born in Gofftown, New Hampshire, July 24, 1817, and is descended from colonial ancestors.  His father, also named Benjamin Franklin Butterfield, was born in New Hampshire, March 29, 1782, and married Dolly Maria Barron, who was born in that state July 14, 1785, and died there some years after her marriage.  The elder Butterfield was a farmer and somewhat late in life sold out his agricultural interests and removed to Boston, where he died at the ripe age of seventy-eight years.  Of the eight children of Benjamin Franklin and Dolly Maria (Barron) Butterfield, only two are living at this time.

            Benjamin Franklin Butterfield, the subject of this sketch, was educated in the public schools of his native state and early became a clerk in a store, where he acquired a general knowledge of business.  His business took him to New Orleans, Louisiana, after the discovery of gold in California, and there he heard full details of the gold excitement up to that time. He was of an adventurous turn of mind and had developed from a clerk to a navigator on our great inland lakes, and his life has been full of hard work and interesting events.  He had saved some money and he decided to seek more wealth in California.  He paid about two hundred dollars for passage on the California, on her first trip to the land of gold, and arrived at San Francisco, California, February 28, 1849, with about five hundred dollars in cash and a determination to succeed if success should be possible.  He was unaccompanied by any relative or friend and was truly a stranger in a strange land.  With his eyes turned toward the gold field, he came direct to Jamestown from San Francisco and has lived there continuously ever since, during a period of fifty-one years, and had won a reputation as an honorable and successful businessman.

            On board the California Mr. Butterfield made the acquaintance of a young man named Erastus Sparrow, from Buffalo, New York, and they came on from San Francisco to Jamestown together.  From San Francisco they came up the river to Stockton and they “packed” their belongings from Stockton to Murphy’s and Angel’s.  When they arrived at the Stanislaus River they found it too much swollen to cross, and as the wet season was on and there was no prospect that it would soon be any lower, they found it necessary to devise some means of getting to the opposite shore.  With this purpose in view, they utilized a rubber bed which they carried, by filling it with air and placing slats under it as a partial support.  On this raft, so oddly constructed, they loaded their property and made a safe passage to the other side.  Others, observing their success, offered to pay them for their assistance in crossing the stream, and Mr. Butterfield was paid one and two dollars by others whom he helped over the river.  With the rubber bed as his stock in trade he ran a ferry there for some, and afterward sold the bed to another enterprising pilgrim for one hundred dollars, and he states that the purchaser made money with it also!  He has seen nails sold for one dollar each, and once saw three dollars paid for a paper of tacks!

            His first day as a miner is fresh in his memory.  He states that he made a little hole in the bed of the creek with his shovel and in a few hours panned out nearly an ounce of gold.  He and Sparrow opened a supply store in a tent and paid a man an ounce of gold per day to assist them, and at the end of the year the fellow had so much gold that he was spoiled for work and left their service.  Mr. Butterfield’s first permanent store was located an eighth of a mile down the river bank from his present location.  After he had acquired a good property and was thinking of selling out and going to some other point, nearly everything he owned was destroyed by fire and he found himself confronted with the necessity of practically beginning life anew.  This he could do at Jamestown, where he had won an excellent business reputation, better than among strangers, and he remained and has been one of the leading men of the town to this day.

            In 1856 Mr. Butterfield returned east and was married October 1st of that year, at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to Miss A. M. Currier, who came back with him to California, by way of the Isthmus of Panama, and they have had six children, as follows:  Frankland Francisco, Sparrow F. R., Benjamin K. Grogan, Annie B., Minnie R. and Gay Heber.  Annie B. died March 16, 1897 aged thirty-one years.  Frankland Francisco is the efficient local agent of the Wells-Fargo Express Company.  Sparrow R. F. is the postmaster at Jamestown and is filling the office to the entire satisfaction of his fellow citizens.  Mr. Butterfield’s surviving daughter has charge of his store, which she manages in a manner that indicates that she possesses remarkable business ability.  Mrs. Butterfield is still spared to her husband and family and is one of the honored pioneer mothers of the state.  Often referred to by his friends as a “grand old pioneer,” Mr. Butterfield is living retired from active business and occupies a place high in the esteem of all who know him.  He is a staunch Republican and was for twenty-five years the postmaster of Jamestown, where he was until his retirement the leading business man.  A believer in the teachings of Christ, the motto by which he has shaped his life has been “do right,” and he has always accorded to his fellow men the consideration for their interests required by the “golden rule.”



Transcribed by Gerald Iaquinta.

Source: “A Volume of Memoirs and Genealogy of Representative Citizens of Northern California”, Pages 270-272. Chicago Standard Genealogical  Publishing Co. 1901.

© 2010  Gerald Iaquinta.




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