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Bushnell family papers and gold rush letters, 1848-1860
MANUSCRIPT SMCII Box 20 Folders 6-8
Collection Overview


Bushnell family papers and gold rush letters, 1848-1860
Gold rush letters


Bushnell, Samuel P.


There are nineteen items in the Bushnell family papers, dating from 1848 through 1860. The gold rush correspondence (1852-1857) includes nine letters from family members in California writing home to Westport, Conn.; all letters have been transcribed. One letter is on a pictorial lettersheet depicting the 1853 flood in Sacramento; view a similar lettersheet:
Six items deal with the estate of Samuel P. Bushnell, one of the above correspondents, who died in the spring of 1858. Miscellaneous items include a letter of introduction dated 1848, a calling card and a sales receipt transferring title of the Bark Daniel Webster in 1859.
The first letter from California is dated Jan. 13, 1852. It is from J.C. Bushnell to his wife, reporting on his doings in Sacramento where he is currently working as a clerk in his brother, Samuel's store. That winter, as in most winters, the city was flooded. "For the last three months it has rained most of the time and nearly the whole of the Sacramento Valley is flooded. The citty is full of water and the business has to be done in boats which makes it verry unpleasant gitting about. People cant come into town for goods at all and we with a good many others have established a trading post about 10 miles up the American fork at the edg of the high lands and all the goods have to be boated up their."
On Jan. 28th of the next year, J.C. writes again to his wife. Once again the city is flooded as the illustration on the pictorial lettersheet shows. He is still working in the store but plans on going fishing for salmon in the spring. He gives local prices of commodities: " ... fresh beef 37 1/2 per pound, pork 52 per pound, molasses 1 doll gal and all other eatables about the same proportion." He closes with a graphic account of pioneer justice: "There was a Brute in the shape of a man caught last night on the Plawsa in the act of committing a rape. The mob got and took him to the levee this morning and hung him. So you see they do things up quick and I think served him right."
The remaining seven letters are from Samuel P. Bushnell -- all but the last written from Sacramento -- and addressed to his father or his brother John who had returned to Connecticut. They are often full of discussion about the family business ventures, including the store in Sacramento, fishing operations in season and money lending on a small scale. On April 28, 1854, Samuel sends some startling news: "You will see by the papers the explosion of the steamer Secretary on her way from San Francisco to Petuluma killing and wounding many and it is generally supposed that Richard H. Bushnell was on her and is among the missing. Uncle Ed wrote to me from Bodega saying that a man liveing near says he was on board and that he had a long conversation with him that he had got his money from the mill owners and sent it home, was returning to go to work for them again until fall, and was then going home. ... A Certificate of deposit of $220 was found on the Beach near where the accident happened of Wells Fargo & Co payable to his order and there is no doubt but what he was blown overboard and drowned."
In March of 1855 Samuel is beginning to wind up affairs so that he can return home permanently. He comments on the current economy: "It is a very bad time to sell now immediately after all the banks have all suspended broke and stopt. There is but little money in circulation and every thing paralized by the effect. But the country will soon recover as the miners are all doing well and have a plenty of water. In a claim about 200 yards from Jim Fannons old place they took out $400 in one pan one day last week. And I dont think the mines were ever yielding more gold than at the present time and as soon as it gets going into circulation things will improve real estate with other things."
By May of 1857 Samuel is in the East as he writes to his Mother from the Metropolitan Hotel. Evidently he died the following spring, whether in the East or in California is not clear. Probate papers show his heirs to be his brothers, Ezra L. and John C., and a sister Phebe Elizabeth married to John Post. Of interest is a document titled "Memorandum of articles received from the estate of S.P. Bushnell by E.L. Bushnell, J.C. Bushnell & John Post" which lists Samuel's possessions as distributed to the heirs along with a monetary accounting for each item. "1 gold watch & chain 150.00, 1 pr. blankets $4.50, 1 frock coat $20, 1 vest .50 ... ".


1848 (issued)


Folder 5: Correspondence. -- Folder 6: Estate documents. -- Folder 7: Misc. documents.


Bushnell, Samuel P -- Corrrespondence
Bushnell, Richard -- Death and burial
Businessmen -- California -- Sacramento -- Correspondence
Frontier and pioneer life -- California -- Sacramento
Sacramento (Calif.) -- History
Steamboat disasters -- California
Secretary (Steamship)
Floods -- California -- California


Bushnell family papers and gold rush letters
Unrestricted. Please credit California State Library.


Pictorial lettersheets

Physical Description:

38 items : ill.




MANUSCRIPT SMCII Box 20 Folders 6-8



Copyright Note:

Unrestricted. Please credit California State Library.