Dunning Family Papers mssHM 70310-70360

Gayle Richardson
The Huntington Library
January 2021
1151 Oxford Road
San Marino, California 91108

Contributing Institution: The Huntington Library
Title: Dunning family papers
Creator: Dunning family
Identifier/Call Number: mssHM 70310-70360
Physical Description: 1.2 Linear Feet (1 box)
Date (inclusive): 1853-1872
Abstract: A collection of correspondence of the Dunning family of California and Maine.
Language of Material: Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

Open for use by qualified researchers and by appointment. Please contact Reader Services at the Huntington Library for more information.

Conditions Governing Use

The Huntington Library does not require that researchers request permission to quote from or publish images of this material, nor does it charge fees for such activities. The responsibility for identifying the copyright holder, if there is one, and obtaining necessary permissions rests with the researcher.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item]. Dunning family papers, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased for the Huntington from M and S Rare Books by the Library Collectors' Council, January 2007.

Biographical / Historical

Benjamin P. Dunning came from a seafaring and merchant family located in the vicinity of Brunswick, Maine. Before heading to California during the gold rush, Benjamin Dunning was master of sailing vessels and involved in the building of his own ships, which caused considerable financial distress. He came to California shortly before 1853, while his mother Abagail B. Dunning, father James Dunning (born 1793), sister Abby, and brothers Hiram A. Dunning (born 1825), and Clement S. Dunning (born 1833) remained in Maine. While in California, Benjamin, along with his uncle John Merryman, mined for gold and pursued endeavors such as buying and selling claims, running a blacksmith shop, and operating a sawmill. Benjamin returned to Maine between 1855-1858 to become master of the brig Ben Dunning. Eventually Benjamin convinced his brother Hiram, his wife Mary Frances, and brother Clement to join him in California. Although he returned to Maine periodically, Benjamin Dunning remained in California for much of the rest of his life.

Scope and Contents

A collection of 51 items which consits of correspondence between members of the Dunning family from 1853 to 1872, with the bulk of the collection falling between 1853-1860. Benjamin P. Dunning is the central figure in this collection; he wrote thirty-three of the letters and received six. There are eleven other authors in the collection, most significantly, his older brother Hiram A. Dunning. The letters describe the conditions of various mining camps in northern California, mainly those in Calaveras and Yuba counties, comment on the conditions and hardships of mining as well as furnish details on prices for mining supplies and food. They also illustrate several aspects of the California Gold Rush experience including prices of mining claims; the vicissitudes of postal service; the legend of Joaquín Murieta; the struggle with Chinese miners; and descriptions of sea voyages from New York to California via South America and the Isthmus of Panama. Some of Benjamin Dunning's letters discuss the severe illness and death of his beloved sister, Abby, in Maine, while some of Hiram Dunning's letters discuss the death of his wife and baby in childbirth in California. The collection includes a pictorial letter sheet titled "The What Cheer House, San Francisco, Cal," with related autograph letter. Importantly, the pictorial letter sheet is not listed in either Joseph Baird Jr.'s California Pictorial Letter Sheets 1849-1869 (1967), or the Catalogue of the Collection of Henry H. Clifford California Pictorial Letter Sheets (1994). The collection includes six folders of ephemera, including two trade cards (one from The What Cheer House, and the other for The Broadway Wood and Coal Yard in San Francisco), two letter fragments, and various handwritten receipts. The collection also contains a promissory note, a judicial record, and a receipt book of personal accounts. There is a handwritten obituary for Hiram Dunning's wife, Mary Frances, which includes a pressed flower petal.

Processing Information

Processed by Christabel Magnuson, April 2008. In 2021, Gayle Richardson created a finding aid derived from the legacy finding aid.


Arranged chronologically.

Subjects and Indexing Terms

Childbirth at home
Chinese -- California -- History
Frontier and pioneer life -- California
Gold mines and mining -- California
Marriage proposals
Measles -- Maine
Shipwrecks -- Maine
Voyages to the Pacific coast
Horn, Cape (Chile) -- Description and travel
Yurba County (Calif.) -- Description and travel
Ephemera -- United States -- 19th century
Letters (correspondence) -- California -- 19th century
Dunning, Benjamin P.
Dunning, Hiram A.
Murieta, Joaquín, -1853

Box 1, Folder 1-57

Dunning family papers 1853-1872