The "Heathen Chinee" on God's Free Soil
Oh, what was your name in the States? Was it Thompson or Johnson or Bates? Did you murder your wife And fly for your life? Say, what was your name in the States? 1
The popular song "What Was Your Name in The States?" invoked the often shadowy, sometimes tragic, background of many an American who fled to the California gold country. It also established California as a place sufficiently distant to destabilize personal histories, a space for rehabilitation if not redemption. In the 1850s, California was constructed in the popular mind as a Jacksonian community of independent small producers, miners, and pioneers. These men imagined California as a place where a lost American organic community could be reconstructed and their own identities remade. Mid-century California, on the fringe of the American core economy, was the site of a nostalgia wrought by a sense of collapsed space and time. Its distance from "the States" and its position at the farthest reach of the continent represented both the expanse and the limits of continental expansion.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, James Cook, the British explorer of the South Pacific, first used the word "nostalgia" in its pathological sense as "a form of melancholia caused by a prolonged absence from one's home or country, severe homesickness." In 1770, Cook noted in his journals of