California Gold Rush Merchant: The Journal of Stephen Chapin Davis

California Gold Rush Merchant: The Journal of Stephen Chapin Davis

California Gold Rush Merchant: The Journal of Stephen Chapin Davis

California Gold Rush Merchant: The Journal of Stephen Chapin Davis

Excerpt

In July 1850 a seventeen-year-old New England boy, Stephen Davis, and his brother Josiah sailed from New York City via Panama for San Francisco and the California gold fields. They were but two of the thousands of Argonauts who were seized by the gold fever and journeyed to the Sierra foothills. Many of these adventurers have left accounts of their experiences; some of them are clear and well written, others are no more than a letter or two written home or a journal valiantly begun but trailing off into silence once the trip was under way. Among the journals that have been discovered, the diary of Stephen Chapin Davis is unusual because the author sees the gold rush through the eyes of a merchant rather than a miner. And while it is true that many young men left home to seek their fortunes, contemporary passenger lists reveal that few were under twenty years of age. Stephen's well-composed diary is therefore all the more remarkable.

In making four Panama crossings he never fails to mention a passing ship; he tells us the cost of goods and services, and he speculates, however briefly, on the prospects and present condition of business in the many places he visits. Through his concise day-by-day entries he emerges as vital and enthusiastic as though his daily and nightly jottings written by candlelight, on shipboard, or under a tent roof had just been put down within the past few days instead of one hundred years ago.

Stephen was an engaging prototype of the Horatio Alger heroes. At thirteen he was at work in the textile mills, and at . . .

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