Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Mason, Annie. Letters, 1852-1862
Collection Overview


Letters, 1852-1862
Annie Mason letters, 1852-1862


Mason, Annie., creator


Twenty-eight letters, the majority written by Annie Mason, wife of John S. Mason who was serving in the U.S. Army and stationed in California during the period covered in the letters. The first letter is dated January 11th, 1852 and three more follow that year. There are 11 during 1853; two each in 1854 and 1855; four in 1856; two in 1858 and the last in 1862.
Eighteen of Annie's letters were to her sister, Eliz; four were to her mother. One that included comments from John was addressed to "My dear friends"; one lacked a salutation. There was one letter from John with a note from Annie; this was sent to Annie's brother William Judkins. Also in the collection are two letters to Eliz from other family and friends and a letter to Abbie Lawrence, a family friend, from Martha Collins, Annie's sister. None of the letters were addressed but they would have gone to Smithfield, Ohio, Annie's hometown where her family still lived. Many of Annie's letters include cross-written notes. A complete transcription accompanies each letter.
Annie's correspondence begins on Jan. 11, 1852 with a letter she is sending her sister from New York City where she and John and Kate are waiting to take ship for California. "John has just returned from the Quartermaster's and finds the arrangements almost completed for the troops to leave on the steamer Falcon on Tuesday at 12 o.c. She is a fine vessel and after we recover from seasickness I think we will enjoy the trip."
The next letter is from Monterey dated March 15th. John is writing to Annie's brother, Will, to entice him to join them in California. "I have just returned from San Francisco. It is a great place for business and quite a pleasant place -- and I now write to you to try and induce you to try your fortunes in it. I do not like the idea of your moping away your life in Smithfield. If you would come out here and stay with me, you would be on the ground so as to seize any opportunity that might offer."
Annie's letters from Monterey (dated June 2nd and July 14th) talk of domestic life as she settles into her new home. They are hoping to move into larger quarters soon: "Captain Hanes' house (the one we expect to get) is built large and commodious of adobe or unburnt bricks". Annie is currently without household help and is doing the chores herself. She comments: "John helps me with the churning and indeed with almost everything else". She complains, however, about their economic situation: "We are very much in hopes the extra pay bill will pass. If so we will get along and get out of debt very soon. It is a shame for government not to pay officers more here, where everything is three times the price of it in the eastern states where we thought things were high -- chickens 2.00 apiece and eggs 1.50 per dozen."
By Sept. 1st the Masons had been transferred and Annie began addressing her letters from "Mission de San Diego". The next thirteen letters (until Oct. 29, 1854) comprise the core of the collection in which Annie provides a fascinating description of early San Diego. "San Diego is a barren looking place." "The climate is far superior to Monterey". "San Diego needs trees. There are not more than a half dozen trees in view ...". "We have not much variety in the eating line I assure you, and not a drop of milk have we seen". "But I can tell you what we have in abundance -- fleas. You never saw any fleas in your life. We catch them by the twenties".
On Jan. 3rd, 1853 Annie writes about a recent trip to Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside, a two-day journey. She describes the mission and its grounds in some detail: "The end of the church back of the alter still looks very prettily -- the blue and gilt and white pillars look fresh, and nine images still stand here in their niches -- but the daubing around the walls is very ugly. I forgot to speak of the dining room. Just above the chair board is a row of what seems to have been intended for geese sitting down painted black, all with their heads to the right, but such daubs -- and around the ceiling are little birds as stiff as they can stand."
On Feb. 18th, Annie tells of a very different event and provides an example of pioneer justice. "They [the murderers] were hung on our parade ground within a few steps of our doors on the last day of last month. ... John was officer of the day on the day of execution and had to see the preparations made for it. The men were dressed in their shrouds and rode in a cart seated on their coffins from their cells to the gallows which looked frightful in itself -- painted black, a fitting colour. We could not help seeing the gallows, but I got as far away as possible during the execution. The gallows stood nearly two days. They did not seem to suffer as the work was done so quickly. They met death bravely."
She continues to provide news of household doings. She now has an Indian girl to help in the house: "She wears her skirts dragging on the ground, I suppose to hide her feet which never knew a pair of shoes. She wears often all her dresses at once, sometimes one outside and sometimes another." Captain Nagle comes to dinner: "He is an old slaver and has brought many a cargo from Africa. It is strange as good a hearted a man could ever have been a slaver." There is news: "We hear there is an Indian War in the upper part of the country -- the Rogue River Indians have fought the whites." The mail is unreliable: "The steamers are so anxious to reach Panama quickly they sometimes pass us by." And there is the heat: "We have had the hottest weather I ever felt in my life. The air was so dry and parching it had the same effect upon the skin which frosty weather has at home, my lips and hands have been almost cracked open with it."
Sometime between March and October of 1854 the Masons are transferred again and are sent to the Benicia Barracks. Annie remains stoic after the move but when she writes on Jan. 20th, 1855, she is not enthusiastic: "We like Benicia tolerably well. The climate is not as pleasant as that of San Diego and both are lovely places. I am tired of California and tired of the Army but make the best of it." In April of 1856 Annie announces the birth of her second son to be named after his father -- "although his Papa thinks the name too ugly to perpetuate". (Their first son, Charlie, had been born in San Diego.) She also reports "John is very busy now being in charge of the largest Quartermaster's depot on the Pacific coast -- he is constantly shipping supplies to the troops in the field." A postscript to this letter refers to events transpiring in San Francisco at this time: "They are having a great time in San F. The Editor of the Bulletin has been shot. The people are enraged and the vigilance committee has formed and will hang him and other murderers and will rid the city of vagabonds."
Annie's final letter is dated Jan. 22nd 1858. She has just had a miscarriage but feels it is for the best and is recovering. She is hoping to get home -- "If John goes to Utah in the spring I shall spend next summer amongst you all I hope -- but I want when I go to have him able to go too and I hope and trust they may send plenty of volunteers. Unless they send the 3rd Artillery as a regiment John will be kept where he is. As a military officer he stands well in the estimation of others and his abilities as quartermaster have been well tested and highly spoken of by all connected with this department. They all say he has managed this depot well and it is a very extensive one."


1852 (issued)


Mason, Annie -- Correspondence
Mason, John S. (John Sanford) -- 1824-1897 -- Correspondence
Women pioneers -- California -- Correspondence
Army spouses -- California -- Correspondence
United States. -- Army -- Military life
Frontier and pioneer life -- California
Monterey (Calif.) -- History
San Diego (Calif.) -- History
Benicia (Calif.) -- History
San Luis Rey Mission (Calif.) -- History
Vigilance committees -- California -- San Francisco


John Sanford Mason was born on August 21, 1824 at Steubenville, Ohio. He attended West Point and graduated 9th in his class in 1847. After service during the War with Mexico, he was on sick leave for part of 1847 and 1848. When he returned to active duty in 1848, he was assigned to the recruiting service and stationed at Ft. Adams, R. I., until sent to California in 1852.
John married Annie Judkins (?) whose Quaker family lived in Smithfield, Ohio, near John's hometown. Annie had a brother, Will, and three sisters, Eliz, Maria, and Martha. John and Annie's daughter, Kate, was born while he was stationed at Ft. Adams. Annie and Kate accompanied John to California. While they were stationed there two sons were born, Charles and John, Jr.
After his service in California, John was posted to recruiting service in the East from 1858-1860 and then was posted to Ft. Vancouver, Wash., from 1860-1861. He served with distinction during the Civil War and afterwards in Arizona until his retirement in 1888. He died on Nov. 29, 1897 in Washington, D.C. and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Annie Mason letters
Unrestricted. Please credit California State Library.



Physical Description:

1 ms. box (ca. 60 items)







Copyright Note:

Unrestricted. Please credit California State Library.