2016-02-04 / Columnists

The Gold Rush of 1849 Whaling Captains as Gold Miners! -

Part I
by Sandi Brewster-Walker


Courtesy of www.conservation.ca.gov Courtesy of www.conservation.ca.gov Seamen who had worked and lived in the old Town of Oyster Bay and Town of Huntington, as well as other parts of Long Island, sought adventure and wealth in California during the 1849 Gold Rush.

On Jan. 19, 1848, gold was discovered in Northern California near the American River. James Marshall, a carpenter at John Sutter’s sawmill, found “a glittering particle caught behind a stone beneath the water." He showed the stone to Sutter, who yelled, “It's gold – at least 23 carat gold.” It took until March for the first published accounts of the discovery to make the Long Island newspapers.

It seems whaling ships were at anchor near San Francisco, when Sam Brannan, a merchant, stocked his Sutter’s Fort store with gold mining merchandise. On May 12, he went to San Francisco, waved a bottle of gold dust in one hand and his hat in the other, and shouted, "Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!”


Courtesy of historichwy49.com Courtesy of historichwy49.com On Dec. 8, 1848, the local Long Islander (Huntington) newspaper reported that, according to a letter received, “it is calculated that over $2 million are taken out of the mines in grain gold per month...”

For the next few months the gold fever spread in the 30 states and territories, as well as the Long Island whaling industry. Ship captains and crew caught the gold fever! Gold mania caused sane men to develop strategies to get to California, and make their fortune.

The same local newspaper five days later announced, “California Gold Mines – Twenty-two vessels have sailed, or were advertised to sail for San Francisco during the months of November and December.”

Men seeking adventure had to make the decision, which route to take to get to California. For Long Islanders, a combination of sailing to Central America, traveling by land across Panama, then taking passage on a San Francisco-bound ship was the quickest (four months).There were risks – malaria, yellow fever and other diseases – on this route.

Another way was traveling by land 2,000 miles across the “Wild West” territories, but there were also very high risks.The traveler would have to cross the Sierra Nevada mountains, numerous rivers and deal with the indigenous people, as well as the growing outlaw and gun slinger communities.

The third way was by sea! Long Island whaling captains had the advantage of experience traveling the 18,000 nautical miles around Cape Hope to get to California. Most whalemen could tolerate being at sea for thefive to eight months, so captains began to discuss strategies. A group of captains formed the new Southampton and California Mining & Trading Company (SCMTC). Some had or would later sail for the local Cold Spring Whaling Company.

Online research of the whaling records in the Mystic Seaport Museum found the Sabina (ship) logbook #754 written by Captain Henry Green. It contains information on the SCMTC, its captain and diverse crew members that sailed, not for whales, but gold, on Feb. 8, 1849.

Those sailing on the Sabina were 16 captains (investors), 44 crew members, 15 seamen working their passage, one cook, two stewards and eight paid passengers for a total of 86 future gold miners!

By Feb. 10, the Long Islander (Huntington) newspaper reported, “…new discoveries of gold have been made far surpassing in richness, any localities hitherto known, and extending a hundred miles beyond the present diggings.” Excitement continued to grow of fortunes to be made!

The article continued, Commodore Thomas Jones of Virginia with the U.S. Ohio (gunship) was at anchor near San Francisco, and “the soldiers are all deserting” to become gold miners!

The Feb. 17 issue of the Long Islander (Huntington) newspaper reported, “The emigration to California increases – thousands are sacrificing everything they possess to raise money to get there and thousands already there are struggling hard to get money enough to return home with. Still there are those wild enough to dispose of what they may have, and start on this fool-hardy business of getting gold in California.”

The 16 investors of SCMTC purchased the Sabina (ship) and raised $30,000 selling stock at $500 each share. The largest stockholder with four shares was Captain Henry Green, a trustee, the treasurer and president. Captain Green (b. 1794) served 26 years as a whaling captain. Green had come to fame Aug. 26, 1839, as the captain along with Pelatiah Fordham, who were the first at Culloden Point, a small peninsula north of Montauk to have contact with the Africans, who had come ashore from the famous Amistad Slave ship.

According to the Spanish Amistad (schooner) trial records, United States v. Libellants and Claimants of the Schooner Amistad, 40 U.S. 508 (1841), Green and Fordham were shooting birds, when they encountered the kidnapped captives illegally sold into slavery now mutineers!

The Amistad had dropped anchor with some coming ashore for water and provisions.The Africans were trying to get back to their homeland. Before Green and Fordham could help, they were intercepted by the U.S. Washington (cutter).This incident took place 10 years before Captain Green would travel to California in search of gold.

Captain Edward Halsey was the second-largest SCMTC stockholder, who once sailed two of the Cold Spring Whaling Company’s ships: the Tuscarora (1839) and Monmouth (1846).

In Captain Green’s logbook, it states the Sabina was just two weeks out in the Atlantic Ocean when it began to leak, but the crew kept it going.The mood on board was very upbeat!

Back on the Island, the Long Islander (Huntington) newspaper continued coverage of the Gold Rush on June 29, “There is hardly a man on the Island, at the present time of a suitable age, who does not wish to go to California.”

The newspaper mentioned, “The ship Splendid will carry from 60 to 70 men; and the difficulty will be to make a selection from double that number who are anxious to take passage in her.”The Splendid (ship) was also locally owned by the Cold Spring Whaling Company.

On Aug. 6, the Sabina (ship) was 50 miles north of San Francisco, and began to coast back down towards the city where the voyage ended.

On the 189th day, Aug. 15, the captain’s logbook mentioned the ship’s passengers and crew were making arrangements to go mining.

On the 194th day, Aug. 20, David Hand agreed to take one boat up the river to Sacramento City, and erect a camp remaining until the rest follow.

The new miners spent the next few days loading equipment into small boats to go to their new camp near Sacramento. It was agreed that all the Company’s men were to work the mines accept the three left to watch the ship.

After a vote, the men decided to go to Mormon Island, however upon arriving, they were informed that the area had been mined about three times with no results.

Even though many of the Sabina men were getting sick with diarrhea or poison oak, plans were made to travel another 100 miles up the Yuba River.

Green’s journal mentioned the new miners hired wagons and mules to take their mining supplies, tents, bedding, clothing and cooking utensils further in search of gold.

By Sept. 7, most of the men who “worked their passage” had left the Company to go mining on their own.

Part 2 of this series is about what happened to the Company after leaving the sick in the Sacramento camp, and traveling miles with their wagons on their high-stakes journey. It is estimated that in 1849 over 80,000 people arrived in California.

The writer is an independent historian, genealogist, freelance writer and business owner. She is the chair of the Board of Trustees and acting executive director of the Indigenous People Museum & Research Institute and served in President Bill Clinton’s Administration as deputy director of the Office of Communications at the United States Department of Agriculture. Readers can reach her at acjnews@rcn.com or direct letters to her at CJ Publishers Inc., 85 Broadway, Amityville NY 11701.

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