Gold Fever Hits York County
Lewis Miller Drawing of the California Company
Gold was discovered in California in early 1848. By the beginning of 1849, more adventurers from York County than you might think were headed for the gold fields, never mind the grueling voyage by sea around the tip of South America. The January 23, 1849 Democratic Press reports:
“Our young townsman, Mr. Joseph McAleer, son of Thomas McAleer, Esq., left this place yesterday for the “Gold Diggings” in California. He intends joining a party which is to set sail in a vessel from New York during the present week, consisting of one hundred persons. Each member has advanced $160.00, and they go supplied with necessities to last them for two years. They are accompanied by a physician, and well provided with rifles, fowling pieces, &c. We understand the route they intend taking is by way of Cape Horn, which is a distance of nineteen thousand miles to San Francisco. They will be gone six or seven months on their way”
The article goes on to say that McAleer has promised to write back to the paper about his voyage and sojourn in California. George Laumaster of Burlington, N.J., son of Jacob Laumaster is said to also be a member of the party.
By April 1849, sixteen other York County professionals and craftsmen had organized themselves into “The California Company” and were equipped and ready to sail on the ship Andalusia from Baltimore. For more on their voyage, see my recent York Sunday News column below:
York 49ers Go to California to Seek Their Fortune
With the current price of gold, there has been renewed interest in the gold left in the hills of California after the 49ers either made their fortune or, more likely, got tired of digging for little gain and went back home. James Marshall discovered gold on January 24, 1848 in the California millrace of his employer, John Sutter. By early 1849, gold fever had spread to York. York newspapers carried news of individuals, such as McPherson Barnitz, son of former York Congressman Charles A. Barnitz, going to California. Merchant R. T. Haughey’s York newspaper ad called in his accounts due and offered any article “at half the original cost,” as he was “intending to go to California.” S. Ziegler advertized his trunks and carpet bags from $1 to $15, “the very thing for California emigrants.”
On April 19, 1849 a very organized group of young men from York County, known as the “California Company,” sailed from Baltimore, via Cape Horn, for San Francisco on the newly constructed ship Andalusia. The organizer of the association was “R. C. Woodward, Esq., merchant, late Chief Burgess of York.” The others, as reported by the York Gazette, were “George B. Schmidt, merchant; Henry Hantz, farmer; George W. Rupp, painter and glazier; George W. Klinefelter, mill-wright; Samuel Dick, cooper; Dr. Henry L. Smyser; Henry Holtzmeyer, teamster; W. C. Chapman, lawyer; Alexander Wentz, farmer and miller; Cornelius Harbaugh, carpenter; Samuel A. Henry, shoemaker; Jacob Kent, machinist; Jonathan Stover, farmer and blacksmith; David O. Prince, clerk and Thomas King, (Harford co., Md.) farmer.”
These sixteen young men (the majority of them were in their late twenties) possessed an array of professions and trades, possibly so that any skill needed when they reached their destination would be represented. They were also well provisioned and equipped. According to the Gazette: “Each member furnished, we believe, 500 dollars, which has been found sufficient to pay for the passage, and to provide an abundance of tents, bedding, mining utensils, food, &c. Their list of stores embraces, among other articles, nearly all packed in water tight casks; 50 barrels pilot bread, 1000 pounds rice, 28 half barrels beef and pork; 1000 pounds bacon, ham, &c.; Ample supplies of Flour, meal, codfish, mackerel, coffee, sugar, beans, molasses, pickles, lard, lard oil, condiments, &c., &c.; 2 wagons and harness complete; Suction and force pump and hose; Gutta Percha Blankets, coats, caps, bags, (for transporting goods), haversacks, &c.; A well supplied medicine chest; Crucibles and smelters; Defensive arms; Carpenter’s, Blacksmith’s and other tools; Rope, twine, nails, cooking vessels, hardware, &c., &c., &c. They have also several of the most approved gold washing machines, including one of McClure’s high improved and valuable machines. They also take with them a quantity of cast iron mill gearing–the iron work for two complete saw mills from the Variety Iron Works of S. Bechtol & Co., –and a number of articles that we have not enumerated.”
The voyage of the company to California and their trek to the gold fields is well documented. Dr. Henry L. Smyser wrote a few highly descriptive letters back to his family in York, now in the York County Heritage Trust Library/Archives. Robert C. Woodward’s family shared his letters with the Gazette, as did George Klinefelter’s family. The Democratic Press published letters from William C. Chapman. Ann Willson Booth, niece of the captain of the Andalusia and one of the few women on the ship, kept a detailed diary, now at the University of California at Berkeley.
The letters complain of the food and crowded conditions and depict their only stop, at exotic Valparaiso [Chile]. They describe terrifying wind and storms at sea, including an instance when the masts were all broken. In that case the captain thought he would have to limp a thousand miles to Callao, Peru for repairs, adding a month of time to the trip. The men from York and the other passengers sprang into action and the masts were repaired and the ship under sail again in ten days. They watched porpoises play around the boat and saw flocks of hundreds of flying fish “rise above the water for two or three hundred yards.” They ate a shark caught by the sailors. Ann Booth said some of it was fried and some made into a spicy stew. She thought it was surprisingly good. Henry Smyser wrote his parents that “With the exception of being a little strong, they [sharks] are very fine food.” Months of salt pork and beef, beans and pickles probably made them appreciate any dietary variety.
Henry Smyser says the long days were passed by reading, playing cards or “loafing about the deck doing nothing.” Independence Day was patriotically celebrated at sea. Ann Booth says one of the passengers had a framed copy of the Declaration of Independence with him, which was “read in the most impressive style by Mr. Woodward.”
Finally, on the 21st of September, five months and two days after setting sail, the Andalusia reached San Francisco. The members of the California Company were eager to get back on land and seek their glittering fortune. How that came out will be related in a future column.