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Education Standards

HIST 1151 American History to 1877 MORE Primary Source Readings: Unit 5 Slavery, Reform, and the West

HIST 1151 American History to 1877 MORE Primary Source Readings: Unit 5 Slavery, Reform, and the West

Overview

A collection of primary source readings for American History to 1877.

Trials of Girlhood, Harriet Jacobs

This is a second set of primary sources by Jennifer Nardone to use in addition to, or instead of, the primary source set by Christianna Hurford.

The primary source readings in this course align with CSCC's version of The American Yawp, Volume 1, which is derived from the The American Yawp open textbook by Stanford University Press.  While the original The American Yawp is accompanied by its own primary source reader called The American Yawp Reader, the selection of primary sources you will find in this course differ somewhat in that some of the text excerpts are from the same sources but might feature a different selection from the text. Some of the primary sources in this course are in addition to those found in The American Yawp Reader. 

Microsoft Word and PDF downloads of these readings are available.

To take this course for credit, register at Columbus State Community College.

This work, except where otherwise indicated, by Jennifer Nardone at Columbus State Community College is licensed CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0.

Photograph of an elderly Harriet Jacobs in 1894
Harriet Jacobs, 1894

 

Trials of Girlhood

Harriet Jacobs

 

Harriet Jacobs was born enslaved in 1813 in Edenton, North Carolina. Until the age of eleven, Jacobs belonged to Margaret Horniblow, who taught her to read, write, and sew. In her will, Horniblow bequeathed Jacobs to her three-year-old niece, Mary Matilda Norcom. Because she was three-years-old, Mary’s father, Dr. James Norcom, became Harriet’s de facto slave master. Norcom sexually harassed and violated Jacobs starting when she was a child, he kept her under strict supervision, and he refused to allow her to marry. However, Samuel Sawyer, a lawyer in town, seduced Harriet when she was sixteen years old and she had two children by him, Joseph and Louisa. Jacobs remained in a “consensual” relationship with Sawyer for many years, hoping he would free Jacobs and their children. Instead, Sawyer bought their children and Jacobs fled Norcom’s house. Jacobs’ grandmother, Molly, who was freed by her owner (with money earned through Molly’s bakery business). In 1835, Jacobs’ reached her grandmother’s house where she lived in the attic for seven years.

 

Sawyer continue to own his children with Jacobs, but did allow the children to live with Jacobs’ grandmother. To protect her children, Jacobs did not reveal that she was living just above her children, but she was able to see glimpses of her children and hear their voices during her hiding. In 1842, Jacobs escaped to Philadelphia with the help of the Philadelphia Vigilant Committee, a group of abolitionists dedicated to helping enslaved people get out of the South. Jacobs found her daughter and son (never freed by their father, who left for England and never returned) in Boston and then moved to Rochester, New York where she met Frederick Douglass. Rochester was home to one of the largest and most active group of anti-slavery activists. Jacobs quickly became one of the most active – and political – anti-slavery leaders in the country.

 

Douglass encouraged Jacobs to publish her memoirs recounting life as a fugitive slave. In fact, Jacobs was put in touch with Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (you will read Beecher Stowe in a few weeks), who wanted to use Jacobs’ story in her next novel. Instead, Jacobs published her memoirs in 1861 under the pseudonym Linda Brent. The Civil War began the same year, overshadowing the publication of her memoirs. During the War, Jacobs worked in a Washington, DC refugee camp providing feed, shelter, and care to formerly enslaved people as well as poor black communities in the area.

 

For a century, historians insisted Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl was a novel rather than an autobiography. Few people bothered to investigate “Linda Brent” or the people, places, and events described in her book. In the 1970s, historian Jean Fagin Yellin began searching the archives for information about “Linda Brent.” When Yellin published an article explaining the book was not a work of fiction, but an autobiography by Harriet Jacobs, many historians dismissed her as a radical feminist misreading history in an effort to change the narrative. Those historians were wrong. In fact, many male historians were especially skeptical of the sexual abuse described in the book and didn’t believe an enslaved woman could escape without detection.

In 1990, Yellin published a new edition of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl with extensive annotations and deep context. In other words, Yellin centered Jacobs in her own story simply by affirming that she was a real person. Yellin also wrote a biography of Jacobs and started the Harriet Jacobs Papers Project, now housed in the National Archives. The following chapter from Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl describes Jacobs experiences in the Norcom household[1].

 

 

 

Little attention was paid to the slaves' meals in Dr. Flint's house[2]. If they could catch a bit of food while it was going, well and good. I gave myself no trouble on that score, for on my various errands I passed my grandmother's house, where there was always something to spare for me. I was frequently threatened with punishment if I stopped there; and my grandmother, to avoid detaining me, often stood at the gate with something for my breakfast or dinner. I was indebted to her for all my comforts, spiritual or temporal. It was her labor that supplied my scanty wardrobe. I have a vivid recollection of the linseywoolsey[3] dress given me every winter by Mrs. Flint. How I hated it! It was one of the badges of slavery. While my grandmother was thus helping to support me from her hard earnings, the three hundred dollars she had lent her mistress were never repaid. When her mistress died, her son-in-law, Dr. Flint, was appointed executor. When grandmother applied to him for payment, he said the estate was insolvent, and the law prohibited payment. It did not, however, prohibit him from retaining the silver candelabra, which had been purchased with that money. I presume they will be handed down in the family, from generation to generation.

 

My grandmother's mistress had always promised her that, at her death, she should be free; and it was said that in her will she made good the promise. But when the estate was settled, Dr. Flint told the faithful old servant that, under existing circumstances, it was necessary she should be sold. On the appointed day, the customary advertisement was posted up, proclaiming that there would be a "public sale of negroes, horses, &c." Dr. Flint called to tell my grandmother that he was unwilling to wound her feelings by putting her up at auction, and that he would prefer to dispose of her at private sale. My grandmother saw through his hypocrisy; she understood very well that he was ashamed of the job. She was a very spirited woman, and if he was base enough to sell her, when her mistress intended she should be free, she was determined the public should know it. She had for a long time supplied many families with crackers and preserves; consequently, "Aunt Marthy,[4]" as she was called, was generally known, and every body who knew her respected her intelligence and good character. Her long and faithful service in the family was also well known, and the intention of her mistress to leave her free. When the day of sale came, she took her place among the chattels, and at the first call she sprang upon the auction-block. Many voices called out, "Shame! Shame! Who is going to sell you, aunt Marthy? Don't stand there! That is no place for you." Without saying a word, she quietly awaited her fate.

 

No one bid for her. At last, a feeble voice said, "Fifty dollars." It came from a maiden lady, seventy years old, the sister of my grandmother's deceased mistress. She had lived forty years under the same roof with my grandmother; she knew how faithfully she had served her owners, and how cruelly she had been defrauded of her rights; and she resolved to protect her. The auctioneer waited for a higher bid; but her wishes were respected; no one bid above her. She could neither read nor write; and when the bill of sale was made out, she signed it with a cross. But what consequence was that, when she had a big heart overflowing with human kindness? She gave the old servant her freedom. At that time, my grandmother was just fifty years old. Laborious years had passed since then; and now my brother and I were slaves to the man who had defrauded her of her money, and tried to defraud her of her freedom. One of my mother's sisters, called Aunt Nancy, was also a slave in his family. She was a kind, good aunt to me; and supplied the place of both housekeeper and waiting maid to her mistress. She was, in fact, at the beginning and end of every thing.

 

Mrs. Flint, like many southern women, was totally deficient in energy. She had not strength to superintend her household affairs; but her nerves were so strong, that she could sit in her easy chair and see a woman whipped, till the blood trickled from every stroke of the lash. She was a member of the church; but partaking of the Lord's supper did not seem to put her in a Christian frame of mind. If dinner was not served at the exact time on that particular Sunday, she would station herself in the kitchen, and wait till it was dished, and then spit in all the kettles and pans that had been used for cooking. She did this to prevent the cook and her children from eking out their meagre fare with the remains of the gravy and other scrapings. The slaves could get nothing to eat except what she chose to give them. Provisions were weighed out by the pound and ounce, three times a day. I can assure you she gave them no chance to eat wheat bread from her flour barrel. She knew how many biscuits a quart of flour would make, and exactly what size they ought to be. Dr. Flint was an epicure[5]. The cook never sent a dinner to his table without fear and trembling; for if there happened to be a dish not to his liking, he would either order her to be whipped, or compel her to eat every mouthful of it in his presence. The poor, hungry creature might not have objected to eating it; but she did object to having her master cram it down her throat till she choked.

 

They had a pet dog, that was a nuisance in the house. The cook was ordered to make some Indian mush for him. He refused to eat, and when his head was held over it, the froth flowed from his mouth into the basin. He died a few minutes after. When Dr. Flint came in, he said the mush had not been well cooked, and that was the reason the animal would not eat it. He sent for the cook, and compelled her to eat it. He thought that the woman's stomach was stronger than the dog's; but her sufferings afterwards proved that he was mistaken. This poor woman endured many cruelties from her master and mistress; sometimes she was locked up, away from her nursing baby, for a whole day and night. From others than the master persecution also comes in such cases.

 

I once saw a young slave girl dying soon after the birth of a child nearly white. In her agony she cried out, "O Lord, come and take me!" Her mistress stood by, and mocked at her like an incarnate fiend. "You suffer, do you?" she exclaimed. "I am glad of it. You deserve it all, and more too." The girl's mother said, "The baby is dead, thank God; and I hope my poor child will soon be in heaven, too." "Heaven!" retorted the mistress. "There is no such place for the like of her and her bastard." The poor mother turned away, sobbing. Her dying daughter called her, feebly, and as she bent over her, I heard her say, "Don't grieve so, mother; God knows all about it; and HE will have mercy upon me." Her sufferings, afterwards, became so intense, that her mistress felt unable to stay; but when she left the room, the scornful smile was still on her lips. Seven children called her mother. The poor black woman had but the one child, whose eyes she saw closing in death, while she thanked God for taking her away from the greater bitterness of life.

 

There remained [to grandmother] but three children and two grandchildren, all slaves. Most earnestly did she strive to make us feel that it was the will of God: that He had seen fit to place us under such circumstances; and though it seemed hard, we ought to pray for contentment…It was a beautiful faith, coming from a mother who could not call her children her own. But I, and Benjamin, her youngest boy, condemned it. We reasoned that it was much more the will of God that we should be situated as she was. We longed for a home like hers. Benjamin ran away, seeking freedom in the North. He was captured, imprisoned, put into chains, tortured and finally sold to a slave trader who took him to New Orleans. There he ran again and this time made it to the North. In Baltimore, he encountered on the street his master’s next door neighbor, also a slave owner. Instead of capturing Benjamin and bringing him back, the man said, “You had a pretty tough time of it, and you may go on your way rejoicing for all me. But I would advise you to get out of this plaguy[6] place quick, for there are several gentlemen here from our town.” He described the nearest and safest route to New York, and added, “I shall be glad to tell your mother I have seen you. Good bye, Ben.” Ben marveled that the town he hated contained such a gem. Later, Ben met his brother in New York who gave him clothing and money.

 

In the grandmother’s house, his family rejoiced that Ben had reached freedom, saying together, “He that is willing to be a slave, let him be a slave.” During the first years of my service in Dr. Flint's family, I was accustomed to share some indulgences with the children of my mistress. Though this seemed to me no more than right, I was grateful for it, and tried to merit the kindness by the faithful discharge of my duties. But I now entered on my fifteenth year- -- a sad epoch in the life of a slave girl. My master began to whisper foul words in my ear. Young as I was, I could not remain ignorant of their import. I tried to treat them with indifference or contempt. The master's age, my extreme youth, and the fear that his conduct would be reported to my grandmother, made him bear this treatment for many months. He was a crafty man, and resorted to many means to accomplish his purposes. Sometimes he had stormy, terrific ways, that made his victims tremble; sometimes he assumed a gentleness that he thought must surely subdue. Of the two, I preferred his stormy moods, although they left me trembling. He tried his utmost to corrupt the pure principles my grandmother had instilled. He peopled my young mind with unclean images, such as only a vile monster could think of. I turned from him with disgust and hatred.

 

But he was my master. I was compelled to live under the same roof with him--where I saw a man forty years my senior daily violating the most sacred commandments of nature. He told me I was his property; that I must be subject to his will in all things. My soul revolted against the mean tyranny. But where could I turn for protection? No matter whether the slave girl be as black as ebony or as fair as her mistress. In either case, there is no shadow of law to protect her from insult, from violence, or even from death; all these are inflicted by fiends who bear the shape of men. The mistress, who ought to protect the helpless victim, has no other feelings towards her but those of jealousy and rage…Even the little child, who is accustomed to wait on her mistress and her children, will learn, before she is twelve years old, why it is that her mistress hates such and such a one among the slaves. Perhaps the child's own mother is among those hated ones. She listens to violent outbreaks of jealous passion, and cannot help understanding what is the cause. She will become prematurely knowing in evil things. Soon she will learn to tremble when she hears her master's footfall. She will be compelled to realize that she is no longer a child. If God has bestowed beauty upon her, it will prove her greatest curse.

 

That which commands admiration in the white woman only hastens the degradation of the female slave. I know that some are too much brutalized by slavery to feel the humiliation of their position; but many slaves feel it most acutely, and shrink from the memory of it. I cannot tell how much I suffered in the presence of these wrongs, nor how I am still pained by the retrospect. My master met me at every turn, reminding me that I belonged to him, and swearing by heaven and earth that he would compel me to submit to him. If I went out for a breath of fresh air, after a day of unwearied toil, his footsteps dogged me. If I knelt by my mother's grave, his dark shadow fell on me even there. The light heart which nature had given me became heavy with sad forebodings. The other slaves in my master's house noticed the change. Many of them pitied me; but none dared to ask the cause. They had no need to inquire. They knew too well the guilty practices under that roof; and they were aware that to speak of them was an offence that never went unpunished. I longed for some one to confide in. I would have given the world to have laid my head on my grandmother's faithful bosom, and told her all my troubles. But Dr. Flint swore he would kill me, if I was not as silent as the grave.

 

Then, although my grandmother was all in all to me, I feared her as well as loved her. I had been accustomed to look up to her with a respect bordering upon awe. I was very young, and felt shamefaced about telling her such impure things, especially as I knew her to be very strict on such subjects. Moreover, she was a woman of a high spirit. She was usually very quiet in her demeanor; but if her indignation was once aroused, it was not very easily quelled. I had been told that she once chased a white gentleman with a loaded pistol, because he insulted one of her daughters. I dreaded the consequences of a violent outbreak; and both pride and fear kept me silent. But though I did not confide in my grandmother, and even evaded her vigilant watchfulness and inquiry, her presence in the neighborhood was some protection to me. Though she had been a slave, Dr. Flint was afraid of her. He dreaded her scorching rebukes. Moreover, she was known and patronized by many people; and he did not wish to have his villainy made public. It was lucky for me that I did not live on a distant plantation, but in a town not so large that the inhabitants were ignorant of each other's affairs. Bad as are the laws and customs in a slaveholding community, the doctor, as a professional man, deemed it prudent to keep up some outward show of decency. O, what days and nights of fear and sorrow that man caused me!

 

Reader, it is not to awaken sympathy for myself that I am telling you truthfully what I suffered in slavery. I do it to kindle a flame of compassion in your hearts for my sisters who are still in bondage, suffering as I once suffered. I once saw two beautiful children playing together. One was a fair white child; the other was her slave, and also her sister. When I saw them embracing each other, and heard their joyous laughter, I turned sadly away from the lovely sight. I foresaw the inevitable blight that would fall on the little slave's heart. I knew how soon her laughter would be changed to sighs. The fair child grew up to be a still fairer woman. From childhood to womanhood her pathway was blooming with flowers, and overarched by a sunny sky. Scarcely one day of her life had been clouded when the sun rose on her happy bridal morning. How had those years dealt with her slave sister, the little playmate of her childhood? She, also, was very beautiful; but the flowers and sunshine of love were not for her. She drank the cup of sin, and shame, and misery, whereof her persecuted race are compelled to drink[7]

 

My mistress grew weary of her vigils; they did not prove satisfactory. She changed her tactics. She now tried the trick of accusing my master of crime, in my presence, and gave my name as the author of the accusation. To my utter astonishment, he replied, "I don't believe it; but if she did acknowledge it, you tortured her into exposing me." Tortured into exposing him! Truly, Satan had no difficulty in distinguishing the color of his soul! I understood his object in making this false representation. It was to show me that I gained nothing by seeking the protection of my mistress; that the power was still all in his own hands. I pitied Mrs. Flint. She was a second wife, many years the junior of her husband; and the hoary-headed miscreant was enough to try the patience of a wiser and better woman. She was completely foiled, and knew not how to proceed. She would gladly have had me flogged for my supposed false oath; but…the doctor never allowed any one to whip me. The old sinner was politic. The application of the lash might have led to remarks that would have exposed him in the eyes of his children and grandchildren.

 

How often did I rejoice that I lived in a town where all the inhabitants knew each other! If I had been on a remote plantation, or lost among the multitude of a crowded city, I should not be a living woman at this day. The secrets of slavery are concealed like those of the Inquisition. My master was, to my knowledge, the father of eleven slaves. But did the mothers dare to tell who was the father of their children? Did the other slaves dare to allude to it, except in whispers among themselves? No, indeed! They knew too well the terrible consequences. My grandmother could not avoid seeing things which excited her suspicions. She was uneasy about me, and tried various ways to buy me; but the never-changing answer was always repeated: "Linda does not belong to me. She is my daughter's property, and I have no legal right to sell her." The conscientious man! He was too scrupulous to sell me; but he had no scruples whatever about committing a much greater wrong against the helpless young girl placed under his guardianship, as his daughter's property. Sometimes my persecutor would ask me whether I would like to be sold. I told him I would rather be sold to any body than to lead such a life as I did. On such occasions he would assume the air of a very injured individual, and reproach me for my ingratitude. "Did I not take you into the house, and make you the companion of my own children?" he would say. "Have I ever treated you like a negro? I have never allowed you to be punished, not even to please your mistress. And this is the recompense I get, you ungrateful girl!" I answered that he had reasons of his own for screening me from punishment, and that the course he pursued made my mistress hate me and persecute me. If I wept, he would say, "Poor child! Don't cry! don't cry! I will make peace for you with your mistress. Only let me arrange matters in my own way. Poor, foolish girl! you don't know what is for your own good. I would cherish you. I would make a lady of you. Now go, and think of all I have promised you." I did think of it.

 

Reader, I draw no imaginary pictures of southern homes. I am telling you the plain truth. Yet when victims make their escape from the wild beast of Slavery, northerners consent to act the part of bloodhounds, and hunt the poor fugitive back into his den, "full of dead men's bones, and all uncleanness.[8]" Nay, more, they are not only willing, but proud, to give their daughters in marriage to slaveholders. The poor girls have romantic notions of a sunny clime, and of the flowering vines that all the year round shade a happy home. To what disappointments are they destined! The young wife soon learns that the husband in whose hands she has placed her happiness pays no regard to his marriage vows. Children of every shade of complexion play with her own fair babies, and too well she knows that they are born unto him of his own household. Jealousy and hatred enter the flowery home, and it is ravaged of its loveliness. Southern women often marry a man knowing that he is the father of many little slaves. They do not trouble themselves about it. They regard such children as property, as marketable as the pigs on the plantation; and it is seldom that they do not make them aware of this by passing them into the slavetrader's hands as soon as possible, and thus getting them out of their sight. I am glad to say there are some honorable exceptions. I have myself known two southern wives who exhorted their husbands to free those slaves towards whom they stood in a "parental relation;" and their request was granted. These husbands blushed before the superior nobleness of their wives' natures. Though they had only counselled them to do that which it was their duty to do, it commanded their respect, and rendered their conduct more exemplary. Concealment was at an end, and confidence took the place of distrust. Though this bad institution deadens the moral sense, even in white women, to a fearful extent, it is not altogether extinct. I have heard southern ladies say of Mr. Such a one, "He not only thinks it no disgrace to be the father of those little niggers, but he is not ashamed to call himself their master. I declare, such things ought not to be tolerated in any decent society!"

 

[2] Dr. Flint is based on Dr. Norcom.

[3] Lindsey-Woolsey is a course, heavy fabric made of wool (sometime heavy cotton) known for being cheap, warm, and durable.

[4] Jacobs’ grandmother, Molly.

[5] Picky eater.

[6] Plaguy means troublesome or worrisome.

[7] Jacobs goes into detail about Mrs. Flint’s jealousy of the young female slaves. When Mrs. Flint confronted Jacobs about her relationship with Dr. Flint, Jacobs told the truth. As a result, Mrs. Flint required Jacobs to sleep in the mistress’ room to ensure her husband did not come to Jacobs in the night. Mrs. Flint would also stay up at night watching Jacobs for inappropriate behavior.

 

[8] Jacobs refers to the multiple Fugitive Slave Acts requiring northern states to assist in the capture of runaway slaves.

Image: By Unknown - "Harriet Jacobs" By Jean Fagan Yellin, found at Google booksitem provenance: [1]image: Illustration from page 265[2], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6947928

Loom and Spindle, Harriet Robinson

Photograph of Harriet Hanson Robinson from shoulders up
Harriet Hanson Robinson

Loom and Spindle

Harriet Hanson Robinson

 

**Please do not freak out about the page numbers. I included a lot of footnotes for clarity.

 

Lowell, Massachusetts started as a company town for the Boston Manufacturing Company’s textile mills established in 1815. You remember, of course, that the boycott of British goods during the War of 1812 caused an urgent need for domestic manufacturing. By the 1820s Lowell consisted of 15 mills and factories employed hundreds of workers. Initially, Lowell Mills recruited young women ages 15-25 from farm families throughout New England with the promise of respectable employment and close supervision of their daughter’s activities outside of work. The young women were commonly called “mill girls” or (factory) operatives. Many people found the presence of women in the workforce, especially the industrial workplace, inappropriate and a threat to “traditional values.” Many young women yearned for the freedom employment provided, yet often their wages went back to their families to help with expenses. For many “mill-girls,” the educational opportunities available in Lowell were the main reason they worked in the mills.

 

Harriet Hanson (Robinson) started working in the Lowell textile mills in 1845. Her father died a few years earlier, leaving her mother with three children and a sizable debt. Mrs. Hanson found employment running a boarding house for the “mill girls”, and Harriet, age 10[1], went to work in the mills. She participated in the mill-girls’ strike in protest of wage cuts, and moved her way up to a highly skilled position at the mills. Hanson worked until she married William Robinson in 1848. In 1898, Robinson published Loom and Spindle, about her childhood at the mills. Below are chapters 4&5, “Characteristics of the Early Factory Girl.[2]

______________________________________________________________________________

 

 

When I look back into the factory life of fifty or sixty years ago, I do not see what is called "a class" of young men and women going to and from their daily work, like so many ants that cannot be distinguished one from another; I see them as individuals, with personalities of their own. This one has about her the atmosphere of her early home. That one is impelled by a strong and noble purpose. The other, - what she is, has been an influence for good to me and to all womankind. Yet they were a class of factory operatives, and were spoken of (as the same class is spoken of now) as a set of persons who earned their daily bread, whose condition was fixed, and who must continue to spin and to weave to the end of their natural existence. Nothing but this was expected of them, and they were not supposed to be capable of social or mental improvement.

 

That they could be educated and developed into something more than mere work-people, was an idea that had not yet entered the public mind. So little does one class of persons really know about the thoughts and aspirations of another! It was the good fortune of these early mill-girls to teach the people of that time that this sort of labor is not degrading; that the operative is not only "capable of virtue," but also capable of self-cultivation. At the time the Lowell cotton-mills were started, the factory girl was the lowest among women. In England, and in France particularly, great injustice had been done to her real character[3]; she was represented as subjected to influences that could not fail to destroy her purity and self-respect. In the eyes of her overseer she was but a brute, a slave, to be beaten, pinched, and pushed about. It was to overcome this prejudice that such high wages had been offered to women that they might be induced to become mill-girls, in spite of the opprobrium[4] that still clung to this "degrading occupation."

 

At first only a few came; for, though tempted by the high wages to be regularly paid in "cash," there were many who still preferred to go on working at some more genteel employment at seventy-five cents a week and their board. But in a short time, the prejudice against factory labor wore away, and the Lowell mills became filled with blooming and energetic New England women. They were naturally intelligent, had mother-wit[5], and fell easily into the ways of their new life. They soon began to associate with those who formed the community in which they had come to live, and were invited to their houses. They went to the same church, and sometimes married into some of the best families. Or if they returned to their secluded homes again, instead of being looked down upon as "factory girls" by the squire's or the lawyer's family, they were more often welcomed as coming from the metropolis, bringing new fashions, new books, and new ideas with them.

 

In 1831 Lowell was little more than a factory village. Several corporations were started, and the cotton-mills belonging to them were building. Help was in great demand; and stories were told all over the country of the new factory town, and the high wages that were offered to all classes of work-people, - stories that reached the ears of mechanics' and farmers' sons, and gave new life to lonely and dependent women in distant towns and farmhouses. Into this Yankee El Dorado[6], these needy people began to pour by the various modes of travel known to those slow old days.

 

The stage-coach and the canal-boat came every day, always filled with new recruits for this army of useful people. The mechanic and machinist came, each with his home-made chest of tools, and oftentimes his wife and little ones. The widow came with her little flock and her scanty housekeeping goods to open a boarding-house or variety store, and so provided a home for her fatherless children. Many farmers' daughters came to earn money to complete their wedding outfit, or buy the bride's share of housekeeping articles. Women with past histories came, to hide their griefs and their identity, and to earn an honest living in the "sweat of their brow." Single young men came, full of hope and life, to get money for an education, or to lift the mortgage from the home-farm. Troops of young girls came by stages and baggage-wagons, men often being employed to go to other States and to Canada, to collect them at so much a head, and deliver them at the factories.

 

A very curious sight these country girls presented to young eyes accustomed to a more modern style of things. When the large covered baggage-wagon arrived in front of a block on the corporation, they would descend from it, dressed in various and outlandish fashions, and with their arms brimful of bandboxes containing all their worldly goods. On each of these was sewed a card, on which one could read the old-fashioned New England name of the owner. And sorrowful enough they looked, even to the fun-loving child who has lived to tell the story; for they had all left their pleasant country homes to try their fortunes in a great manufacturing town, and they were homesick even before they landed at the doors of their boarding-houses. Years after, this scene dwelt in my memory; and whenever anyone said anything about being homesick, there rose before me the picture of a young girl with a sorrowful face and a big tear in each eye, clambering down the steps at the rear of a great covered wagon, holding fast to a cloth-covered bandbox, drawn up at the top with a string, on which was sewed a paper bearing the name of Plumy Clay!

 

Some of these girls brought diminutive hair trunks covered with the skin of calves, spotted in dun and white, even as when they did skip and play in daisy-blooming meads[7]. And when several of them were set together in front of one of the blocks, they looked like their living counterparts, reposing at noontide in the adjacent field. One of this kind of trunks has been handed down to me as an heirloom. The hair is worn off in patches; it cannot be invigorated, and it is now become a hairless heirloom. Within its hide-bound sides are safely stowed away the love-letters of a past generation, - love-letters that agitated the hearts of the grand- parents of today; and I wonder that their resistless ardor has not long ago burst its wrinkled sides[8]. It is relegated to distant attics, with its ancient crony, "ye bandbox," to enjoy an honored and well-earned repose. Ah me! when some of us, its contemporaries, are also past our usefulness, gone clean out of fashion, may we also be as resigned, yea, as willing, to be laid quietly on some attic shelf! These country girls had queer names, which added to the singularity of their appearance. Samantha, Triphena, Plumy, Kezia, Aseneth, Elgardy, Leafy, Ruhamah, Lovey, Almaretta, Sarepta, and Florilla Avere among them[9].

 

Their dialect was also very peculiar. On the broken English and Scotch of their ancestors was ingrafted the nasal Yankee twang; so that many of them, when they had just come down spoke a language almost unintelligible. But the severe discipline and ridicule which met them was as good as a school education, and they were soon taught the "city way of speaking."

Their dress was also peculiar, and was of the plainest of homespun, cut in such an old-fashioned style that each young girl looked as if she had borrowed her grandmother's gown. Their only head-covering was a shawl, which was pinned under the chin; but after the first payday, a "shaker" (or "scooter") sunbonnet usually replaced this primitive head-gear of their rural life[10]. But the early factory girls were not all country girls. There were others also, who had been taught that "work is no disgrace." There were some who came to Lowell solely on account of the social or literary advantages to be found there. They lived in secluded parts of New England, where books were scarce, and there was no cultivated society. They had comfortable homes, and did not perhaps need the money they would earn; but they longed to see this new "City of Spindles," of which they had heard so much from their neighbors and friends, who had gone there to work.

 

And the fame of the circulating libraries, that were soon opened, drew them and kept them there, when no other inducement would have been sufficient. The laws relating to women were such, that a husband could claim his wife wherever he found her, and also the children she was trying to shield from his influence; and I have seen more than one poor woman skulk behind her loom or her frame when visitors were approaching the end of the aisle where she worked. Some of these were known under assumed names, to prevent their husbands from trusteeing their wages. It was a very common thing for a male person of a certain kind to do this, thus depriving his wife of all her wages, perhaps, month after month. The wages of minor children could be trusteed, unless the children (being fourteen years of age) were given their time. Women's wages were also trusteed for the debts of their husbands, and children for the debts of their parents[11]. As an instance, my mother had some financial difficulties when I was fifteen years old, and to save herself and me from annoyance, she gave me my time. The document reads as follows: -

 

"Be it known that I, Harriet Hanson, of Lowell, in consideration that my minor daughter Harriet J. has taken upon herself the whole burden of her own support, and has undertaken and agreed to maintain herself henceforward without expense to me, do hereby release and quitclaim unto her all profits and wages which she may hereafter earn or acquire by her skill or labor in any occupation, — and do hereby disclaim all right to collect or interfere with the same. And I do give and release unto her the absolute control and disposal of her own time according to her own discretion, without interference from me. It being understood that I am not to be chargeable hereafter with any expense on her account. (Signed) Harriet Haxson. July 2, 1840."

 

It must be remembered that at this date woman had no property rights. A widow could be left without her share of her husband's (or the family) property, a legal ''incumbrance" to his estate. A father could make his will without reference to his daughter's share of the inheritance. He usually left her a home on the farm as long as she remained single. A woman was not supposed to be capable of spending her own or of using other people's money[12]. In Massachusetts, before 1840, a woman could not legally be treasurer of her own sewing-society, unless some man were responsible for her. The law took no cognizance of woman as a money-spender. She was a ward, an appendage, a relict. Thus it happened, that if a woman did not choose to marry, or, when left a widow, to re-marry, she had no choice but to enter one of the few employments open to her, or to become a burden on the charity of some relative. In almost every New England home could be found one or more of these women, sometimes welcome, more often unwelcome, and leading joyless, and in many instances unsatisfactory lives. The cotton-factory was a great opening to these lonely and dependent women. From a condition approaching pauperism they were at once placed above want; they could earn money, and spend it as they pleased; and could gratify their tastes and desires without restraint, and without rendering an account to anybody. At last they had found a place in the universe; they were no longer obliged to finish out their faded lives mere burdens to male relatives[13].

 

Even the time of these women was their own, on Sundays and in the evening after the day's work was done. For the first time in this country woman's labor had a money value. She had become not only an earner and a producer, but also a spender of money, a recognized factor in the political economy of her time. And thus a long upward step in our material civilization was taken; woman had begun to earn and hold her own money, and through its aid had learned to think and to act for herself. Among the older women who sought this new employment were very many lonely and dependent ones, such as used to be mentioned in old wills as "incumbrances" and "relicts," and to whom a chance of earning money was indeed a new revelation. How well I remember some of these solitary ones! As a child of eleven years, I often made fun of them - for children do not see the pathetic side of human life —and imitated their limp carriage and inelastic gait. I can see them now, even after sixty years, just as they looked, - depressed, modest, mincing, hardly daring to look one in the face, so shy and sylvan had been their lives. But after the first pay-day came, and they felt the jingle of silver in their pockets, and had begun to feel its mercurial influence, their bowed heads were lifted, their necks seemed braced with steel, they looked you in the face, sang blithely among their looms or frames, and walked with elastic step to and from their work. And when Sunday came, homespun was no longer their only wear; and how sedately gay in their new attire they walked to church, and how proudly they dropped their silver fourpences into the contribution-box!

 

It seemed as if a great hope impelled them, - the harbinger of the new era that was about to dawn for them and for all women-kind. In passing, let me not forget to pay a tribute, also, to those noble single and widowed women, who are "set solitary in families," but whose presence cements the domestic fabric, and whose influence is unseen and oftentimes unappreciated, until they are taken away and the integral part of the old home-life begins to crumble. Except in rare instances, the rights of the early mill-girls were secure. They were subject to no extortion, if they did extra work they were always paid in full, and their own account of labor done by the piece was always accepted. They kept the figures, and were paid accordingly. This was notably the case with the weavers and drawing-in girls. Though the hours of labor were long, they were not over-worked; they were obliged to tend no more looms and frames than they could easily take care of, and they had plenty of time to sit and rest. I have known a girl to sit idle twenty or thirty minutes at a time. They were not driven, and their work-a-day life was made easy. They were treated with consideration by their employers, and there was a feeling of respectful equality between them. The most favored of the girls were sometimes invited to the houses of the dignitaries of the mills, showing that the line of social division was not rigidly maintained.

 

Their life in the factory was made pleasant to them. In those days there was no need of advocating the doctrine of the proper relation between employer and employed. Help was too valuable to be ill-treated[14]. If these early agents, or overseers, had been disposed to exercise undue authority, or to establish unjust or arbitrary laws, the high character of the operatives, and the fact that women employees were scarce would have prevented it. A certain agent of one of the first corporations in Lowell (an old sea-captain) said to one of his boarding-house keepers, "I should like to rule my help as I used to rule my sailors, but so many of them are women I do not dare to do it." The knowledge of the antecedents of these operatives was the safeguard of their liberties. The majority of them were as well born as their "overlookers," if not better; and they were also far better educated. The agents and overseers were usually married men, with families of growing sons and daughters. They were members, and sometimes deacons, of the church, and teachers in the same Sunday-school with the girls employed under them. They were generally of good morals and temperate habits, and often exercised a good influence over their help. The feeling that the agents and overseers were interested in their welfare caused the girls, in turn, to feel an interest in the work for which their employers were responsible. The conscientious among them took as much pride in spinning a smooth thread, drawing in a perfect web, or in making good cloth, as they would have done if the material had been for their own wearing. And thus was practiced, long before it was preached, that principle of true political economy, - the just relation, the mutual interest, that ought to exist between employers and employed.

 

Those of the mill-girls who had homes generally worked from eight to ten months in the year; the rest of the time was spent with parents or friends. A few taught school during the summer months. When we left the mill, or changed our place of work from one corporation to another, we were given an "honorable discharge." Mine, of which I am still quite proud, is dated the year of my marriage, and is as follows: -

 

"Harriet J. Hanson has been employed in the Boott Cotton Mills, in a dressing-room, twenty-five months, and is honorably discharged.[15]" (Signed) J. F. Trott. Lowell, July 25, 1848."

 

The chief characteristics of the early mill-girls may be briefly mentioned, as showing the material of which this new community of working-women was composed. Concerning their personal appearance, I am able to quote from a magazine article written by the poet John G. Whittier, then a resident of Lowell[16]. He thus describes, -

 

"THE FACTORY GIRLS OF LOWELL.

"Acres of girlhood, beauty reckoned by the square rod, —or miles by long measure! the young, the graceful, the gay, - the flowers gathered from a thousand hillsides and green valleys of New England, fair unveiled Nuns of Industry, Sisters of Thrift, and are ye not also Sisters of Charity dispensing comfort and hope and happiness around many a hearthstone of jour native hills, making sad faces cheerful, and hallowing age and poverty with the sunshine of your youth and love! Who shall sneer at your calling? Who shall count your vocation otherwise than noble and ennobling?"

 

Of their literary and studious habits, Professor A. P. Peabody, of Harvard University, gives his opinion in an article written not long ago in the Atlantic Monthly. He says,

 

"During the palmy days of The Lowell Offering I used every winter to lecture for the Lowell Lyceum. Not amusement, but instruction, was then the lecturer's aim…The Lowell Hall was always crowded, and four-fifths of the audience were factory-girls. When the lecturer entered, almost every girl had a book in her hand, and was intent upon it. When he rose, the book was laid aside, and paper and pencil taken instead; and there were very few who did not carry home full notes of what they had heard. I have never seen anywhere so assiduous note-taking. No, not even in a college class, ... as in that assembly of young women, laboring for their subsistence.[17]"

 

To introduce a more practical side of their character I will quote an extract from a letter received not long ago from a gentleman in the Detroit Public Library, which says, ''The factory-girls went to Lowell from the hills of Vermont when I was a boy, numbers of them from every town in my county (Windsor); and it was considered something of a distinction to have worked for ' the corporation,' and brought home some hard cash, which in many and many cases went to help lift a mortgage on the farm, or to buy something needed for the comfort of the old folks, or to send a younger brother or sister to the Academy. I knew several of these girls who brought home purses from Lowell which looked big in those days, and I recall one who is still living in my native town of Pomfret."

 

 It may be added here, that the majority of the mill-girls made just as good use of their money, so newly earned, and of whose value they had hitherto known so little. They were necessarily industrious. They were also frugal and saving. It was their custom on the first day of every month, after paying their board bill (11.25 a week), to put their wages in the savings-bank. There the money stayed, on interest, until they withdrew it, to carry home or to use for a special purpose. It is easy to see how much good this sum would do in a rural community where money, as a means of exchange, had been scarce. Into the barren homes many of them had left it went like a quiet stream, carrying with it beauty and refreshment. The mortgage was lifted from the homestead; the farmhouse was painted; the barn rebuilt; modern improvements (including Mrs. Child's "Frugal Housewife " - the first American cook-book[18]) were introduced into the mother's kitchen, and books and newspapers began to ornament the sitting-room table[19]. Some of the mill-girls helped maintain widowed mothers, or drunken, incompetent, or invalid fathers. Many of them educated the younger children of the family, and young men were sent to college with the money furnished by the untiring industry of their women relatives.

 

Indeed, the most prevailing incentive to our labor was to secure the means of education for some male member of the family. To make a gentleman of a brother or a son, to give him a college education, was the dominant thought in the minds of a great many of these provident mill-girls. I have known more than one to give every cent of her wages, month after month, to her brother, that he might get the education necessary to enter some profession. I have known a mother to work years in this way for her boy. I have known women to educate by their earnings young men who were not sons or relatives.

 

There are men now living who were helped to an education by the wages of the early mill-girls. In speaking of this subject, Mr. Thomas Wentworth Higginson[20] says, - "I think it was the late President Walker who told me that in his judgment one-quarter of the men in Harvard College were being carried through by the special self-denial and sacrifices of women. I cannot answer for the ratio; but I can testify to having been an instance of this myself, and to having known a never-ending series of such cases of self-devotion." Lowell, in this respect, was indeed a remarkable town, and it might be said of it, as of Thrums in " Auld Licht Idyls," "There are scores and scores of houses in it that have sent their sons to college (by what a struggle), some to make their way to the front in their professions, and others, perhaps, despite their broadcloth, never to be a patch upon their parents." [21]

 

The early mill-girls were religious by nature and by Puritan inheritance, true daughters of those men and women who, as someone has said, "were as devoted to education as they were to religion;" for they planted the church and the schoolhouse side by side. On entering the mill, each one was obliged to sign a "regulation paper" which required her to attend regularly some place of public worship. They were of many denominations. In one boarding-house that I knew, there were girls belonging to eight different religious sects. In 1843, there were in Lowell fourteen regularly organized religious societies. Ten of these constituted a "Sabbath School Union," which consisted of over five thousand scholars and teachers; three-fourths of the scholars, and a large proportion of the teachers, were mill-girls. Once a year, every Fourth of July, this "Sabbath School Union," each section, or division, under its own sectarian banner, marched in procession to the grove on Chapel Hill, where a picnic was held, with lemonade, and long speeches by the ministers of the different churches, - speeches which the little boys and girls did not seem to think were made to be listened to. The mill-girls went regularly to meeting and "Sabbath-school;" and every Sunday the streets of Lowell were alive with neatly dressed young women, going or returning therefrom.

 

Their fine appearance on "the Sabbath" was often spoken of by strangers visiting Lowell. Dr. Scoresby, in his "American Factories and their Operatives," (with selections from The Lowell Offering) holds up the Lowell mill-girls to their sister operatives of Bradford, England, as an example of neatness and good behavior.[22] Indeed, it was a pretty sight to see so many wide-awake young girls in the bloom of life, clad in their holiday dresses, - "Whose delicate feet to the Temple of God, Seemed to move as if wings had carried them there." The morals of these girls were uniformly good. The regulation paper, before spoken of, required each one to be of good moral character; and if any one proved to be disreputable, she was very soon turned out of the mill. Their standard of behavior was high, and the majority kept aloof from those who were suspected of wrong-doing. They had, perhaps, less temptation than the working-girls of today, since they were not required to dress beyond their means, and comfortable homes were provided by their employers, where they could board cheaply. Their surroundings were pure, and the whole atmosphere of their boarding-houses was as refined as that of their own homes. They expected men to treat them with courtesy; they looked forward to becoming the wives of good men. Their attitude was that of the German Fraulein[23] who said, ''Treat every maiden with respect, for you do not know whose wife she will be." But there were exceptions to the general rule, - just enough to prove the doctrine of averages; there were girls who came to the mill to work whom no one knew anything about, but they did not stay long, the life there being "too clean for them."

 

The health of the girls was good. The regularity and simplicity of their lives, and the plain and substantial food provided for them, kept them free from illness. From their Puritan ancestry they had inherited sound bodies and a fair share of endurance. Fevers and similar diseases were rare among them; they had no time to pet small ailments; the boarding-house mother was often both nurse and doctor, and so the physician's fee was saved. It may be said that, at that time, there was but one pathy and no "faith cures" nor any "science" to be supported by the many diseases ''that flesh is heir to.[24]" By reading the weekly newspapers the girls became interested in public events; they knew all about the Mexican war, and the anti-slavery cause had its adherents among them. Lectures on the doctrine of Fourier were read, or listened to, but none of them were "carried away" with the idea of spending their lives in large "phalansteries," as they seemed too much like cotton factories to be models for their own future housekeeping. The Brook Farm experiment was familiar to some of them; but the fault of this scheme was apparent to the practical ones who foresaw that a few would have to do all the manual labor and that an undue share would naturally fall to those who had already contracted the working-habit.[25]

 

Mrs. Amelia Bloomer, one of the early pioneers of the dress-reform movement, found followers in Lowell; and parlor meetings were held at some of the boarding-houses to discuss the feasibility of this great revolution in the style of woman's dress[26]. The Lowell Journal of 1850 states that on the Fourth of July a party of "Bloomerites" walked in the procession through the public streets, and the London Punch embellished its pages with a neat cartoon, a fashion-plate showing the different styles of the Bloomer costume. This first attempt at a reform in woman's dress was ridiculed out of existence by "public opinion; "but from it has been evolved the modern bicycle costume, now worn by women cyclers. It seems to have been the fashion of the mill girls to appear in procession on all public occasions. Mr. Cowley, in his "History of Lowell," speaks of President Jackson's visit to that city in 1833. He says: "On the day the President came, all the lady operatives turned out to meet him. They walked in procession, like troops of liveried angels clothed in white [with green fringed parasols], with cannons booming, drums beating, banners flying, handkerchiefs waving, etc. The old hero was not more moved by the bullets that whistled round him in the battle of New Orleans than by the exhilarating spectacle here presented, and remarked, 'They are very pretty women, by the Eternal!'.

 

One of the first strikes of cotton-factory operatives that ever took place in this country was that in Lowell, in October, 1836. When it was announced that the wages were to be cut down, great indignation was felt, and it was decided to strike, en masse. This was done. The mills were shut down, and the girls went in procession from their several corporations to the "grove" on Chapel Hill, and listened to "incendiary " speeches from early labor reformers. One of the girls stood on a pump, and gave vent to the feelings of her companions in a neat speech, declaring that it was their duty to resist all attempts at cutting down the wages. This was the first time a woman had spoken in public in Lowell, and the event caused surprise and consternation among her audience. Cutting down the wages was not their only grievance, nor the only cause of this strike. Hitherto the corporations had paid twenty-five cents a week towards the board of each operative, and now it was their purpose to have the girls pay the sum; and this, in addition to the cut in the wages, would make a difference of at least one dollar a week. It was estimated that as many as twelve or fifteen hundred girls turned out, and walked in procession through the streets. They had neither flags nor music, but sang songs, a favorite (but rather inappropriate) one being a parody on "I won't be a nun." "Oh! isn't it a pity, such a pretty girl as I - Should be sent to the factory to pine away and die? Oh! I cannot be a slave, I will not be a slave, For I'm so fond of liberty That I cannot be a slave."

 

My own recollection of this first strike (or "turn out" as it was called) is very vivid. I worked in a lower room, where I had heard the proposed strike fully, if not vehemently, discussed; I had been an ardent listener to what was said against this attempt at “oppression " on the part of the corporation, and naturally I took sides with the strikers. When the day came on which the girls were to turn out, those in the upper rooms started first, and so many of them left that our mill was at once shut down. Then, when the girls in my room stood irresolute, uncertain what to do, asking each other, "Would you?" or "Shall we turn out?" and not one of them having the courage to lead off, I, who began to think they would not go out, after all their talk, became impatient, and started on ahead, saying, with childish bravado, "I don't care what you do, I am going to turn out, whether anyone else does or not;" and I marched out, and was as followed by the others.

 

 As I looked back at the long line that followed me, I was more proud than I have ever been since at any success I may have achieved, and more proud than I shall ever be again until my own beloved State[27] gives to its women citizens the right of suffrage. The agent of the corporation where I then worked took some small revenges on the supposed ringleaders; on the principle of sending the weaker to the wall, my mother was turned away from her boarding-house, that functionary saying, “Mrs. Hanson, you could not prevent the older girls from turning out, but your daughter is a child, and her you could control." It is hardly necessary to say that so far as results were concerned this strike did no good. The dissatisfaction of the operatives subsided, or burned itself out, and though the authorities did not accede to their demands, the majority returned to their work, and the corporation went on cutting down the wages. And after a time, as the wages became more and more reduced, the best portion of the girls left and went to their homes, or to the other employments that were fast opening to women, until there were very few of the old guard left; and thus the status of the factory population of New England gradually became what we know it to be today[28].

 

Some of us took part in a political campaign, for the first time, in 1840, when William H. Harrison, the first Whig President, was elected; we went to the political meetings, sat in the gallery, heard speeches against Van Buren and the Democratic party, and helped sing the great campaign song beginning : - "Oh have you heard the news of late?" the refrain of which was: “Tippecanoe and Tyler too, Oh with them we'll beat little Van, Van, Van is a used-up man," And we named our sunbonnets "log-cabins," and set our teacups (we drank from saucers then in little glass tea-plates, with log-cabins impressed on the bottom. The part the Lowell mill-girls took in these and similar events serves to show how wide-awake and up to date many of these middle-century working-women were. Among the fads of those days may be mentioned those of the "water-cure" and the "Grahamite." The former was a theory of doctoring by means of cold water, used as packs, daily baths, and immoderate drinks. Quite a number of us adopted this practice, and one at least has not even yet wholly abandoned it. Several members of my mother's family adopted "Professor" Graham's regimen, and for a few months we ate no meat, nor, as he said, "anything that had life in it." It was claimed that this would regenerate the race; that by following a certain line of diet, a person would live longer, do better work, and be able to endure any hardship, in fact, that not what we were, but what we ate, would be the making of us[29]. Two young men, whom I knew, made their boasts that they had "walked from Boston to Lowell on an apple." We ate fruit, vegetables, and unleavened or whole-wheat bread, baked in little round pats ("bullets," my mother called them), and without butter; there were no relishes. I soon got tired of the feeling of "goneness" this diet gave me; I found that although I might eat a pint of mashed potato, and the same quantity of squash, it was as if I had not dined, and I gave up the experiment. But my elder brother, who had carried to the extremist extreme this "potato gospel," as Carlyle called it, induced my mother to make his Thanksgiving squash pie after a receipt of his own. The crust was made of Indian meal and water, and the filling was of squash, water, and sugar! And he ate it, and called it good. But I thought then, and still think, that his enjoyment of the eating was in the principle rather than in the pie. A few of the girls were interested in phrenology; and we had our heads examined by Professor Fowler, who, if not the first, was the chief exponent of this theory in Lowell. He went about into all the schools, examining children's heads. Mine, he said, ''lacked veneration;" and this I supposed was an awful thing, because my teacher looked so reproachfully at me when the professor said it. A few were interested in Mesmerism; and those of us who had the power to make ourselves en rapport with others tried experiments on "subjects," and sometimes held meetings in the evening for that purpose[30].

 

The life in the boarding-houses was very agreeable. These houses belonged to the corporation, and were usually kept by widows (mothers of mill-girls), who were often the friends and advisers of their boarders. Among these may be mentioned the mothers of Lucy Larcom; the Hon. Gustavus Vasa Fox, once Assistant Secretary of the Navy, John W. Hanson, D.D.; the Rev. W. H. Cudworth; Major General B. F. Butler; and several others. Each house was a village or community of itself. There fifty or sixty young women from different parts of New England met and lived together. When not at their work, by natural selection they sat in groups in their chambers, or in a corner of the large dining-room, busy at some agreeable employment; or they wrote letters, read, studied, or sewed, for, as a rule, they were their own seamstresses and dressmakers. It is refreshing to remember their simplicity of dress; they wore no ruffles and very few ornaments. It is true that some of them had gold watches and gold pencils, but they were worn only on grand occasions; as a rule, the early mill-girls were not of that class that is said to be "always suffering for a breast-pin.[31]"

 

Though their dress was so simple and so plain, yet it was so tasteful that they were often accused of looking like ladies; the complaint was sometimes made that no one could tell the difference in church between the factory-girls and the daughters of some of the first families in the city. Mrs. Sarah J. Hale, in The Lady's Book[32], in 1842, speaking of the impossibility of considering dress a mark of distinction, says: "Many of the factory-girls wear gold watches and an imitation at least of all the ornaments which grace the daughters of our most opulent citizens." The boarding-houses were considered so attractive that strangers, by invitation, often came to look in upon them, and see for themselves how the mill-girls lived. Dickens, in his "American Notes," speaks with surprise of their home life[33]. He says, "There is a piano in a great many of the boarding-houses, and nearly all the young ladies subscribe to circulating libraries." There was a feeling of esprit de corps among these households; any advantage secured to one of the number was usually shared by others belonging to her set or group. Books were exchanged, letters from home were read, and "pieces," intended for the Improvement Circle, were presented for friendly criticism.

 

There was always a best room in the boardinghouse, to entertain callers in; but if any of the girls had a regular gentleman caller, a special evening was set apart each week to receive him. This room was furnished with a carpet, sometimes with a piano, as Dickens says, and with the best furniture, including oftentimes the relics of household treasures left of the old-time gentility of the house-mother. This mutual acquaintanceship was of great advantage. They discussed the books they read, debated religious and social questions, compared their thoughts and experiences, and advised and helped one another. And so their mental growth went on, and they soon became educated far beyond what their mothers or their grandmothers could have been.

 

The girls also stood by one another in the mills; when one wanted to be absent half a day, two or three others would tend an extra loom or frame apiece, so that the absent one might not lose her pay. At this time the mule and spinning-jenny had not been introduced; two or three looms, or spinning-frames, were as much as one girl was required to tend, more than that being considered "double work." The inmates of what may be called these literary households were omnivorous readers of books, and were also subscribers to the few magazines and literary newspapers; and it was their habit, after reading their copies, to send them by mail or stage-coach to their widely scattered homes, where they were read all over a village or a neighborhood; and thus was current literature introduced into by and lonely places. From an article in The Lowell Offering ("Our Household," signed H.T.,” I am able to quote a sketch of one factory boarding-house interior. The author said, “In our house there are eleven boarders, and in all thirteen members of the family. I will class them according to their religious tenets as follows: Calvinist Baptist, Unitarian, Congregational, Catholic, Episcopalian, and Mormonite, one each; Universalist and Methodist, two each; Christian Baptist, three. Their reading is from the following sources: They receive regularly fifteen newspapers and periodicals ; these are, the Boston Daily Times, the Herald of Freedom, the Signs of the Times, and the Christian Herald, two copies each; the Christian Register, Vox Populi, Literary Souvenir, Boston Pilot, Young Catholics Friend, Star of Bethlehem, and The Lowell Offering, three copies each. A magazine, one copy. We also borrow regularly the Non-Resistant, the Liberator, the Lady’s Book, the Ladies’ Pearl, and the Ladies’ Companion. We have also in the house what perhaps cannot be found anywhere else in the city of Lowell, - a Mormon Bible."

 

The "magazine" mentioned may have been in The Dial, that exponent of New England Transcendentalism, of which The Offering was the humble contemporary[34]. The writer adds to her article: "Notwithstanding the divers faiths embraced among us, we live in much harmony, and seldom is difference of opinion the cause of dissensions among us."

 

Novels were not very popular with us, as we inclined more to historical writings and to poetry. But such books as " Charlotte Temple," ''Eliza Wharton," "Maria Monk," " The Arabian Nights," "The Mysteries of Udolpho," "Abellino, the Bravo of Venice," or "The Castle of Otranto," were sometimes taken from the circulating library, read with delight, and secretly lent from one young girl to another. Our religious reading was confined to the Bible, Baxter's "Saints' Rest," "The Pilgrim's Progress," "The Religious Courtship," "The Widow Directed," and Sunday-school books.

 

It was fortunate for us that we were obliged to read good books, such as histories, the English classics, and the very few American novels that were then in existence. Cheap editions of Scott were but just publishing; " Pickwick," in serial numbers, soon followed ; Frederika Bremer was hardly translated; Lydia Maria Child was beginning to write; Harriet Beecher Stowe was busy in her nursery, and the great American novel was not written, - nor yet the small one, which was indeed a blessing[35]! There were many representative women among us who did not voice their thoughts in writing, and whose names are not on the list of the contributors to The Offering. This was but one phase of their development, as many of them have exerted a widespread influence in other directions. They graduated from the cotton factory, carrying with them the results of their manual training; and they have done their little part towards performing the useful labor of life.

 

Into whatever vocation they entered they made practical use of the habits of industry and per- severance learned during those early years, and they have exemplified them in their stirring and fruitful lives. In order to show how far the influence of individual effort may extend, it will be well to mention the after-fate of some of them. One became an artist of note, another a poet of more than local fame, a third an inventor, and several were among the pioneers in Florida, in Kansas, and in other Western States. A limited number married those who were afterwards doctors of divinity, major-generals, and members of Congress; and these, in more than one instance, had been their work-mates in the factory. And in later years, when, through the death of the bread-winner, the pecuniary support of those dependent on him fell to their lot, some of these factory-girls carried on business, entered the trades, or went to college and thereby were enabled to practise in some of the professions. They thus resumed their old-time habit of supporting the helpless ones, and educating the children of the family. These women were all self-made in the truest sense; and it is well to mention their success in life, that others, who now earn their living at what is called "ungenteel" employments, may see that what one does is not of so much importance as what one is.

 

I do not know why it should not be just as commendable for a woman who has risen to have been once a factory-girl, as it is for an ex-governor or a major-general to have been a ''bobbin-boy.[36]" A woman ought to be as proud of being self-made as a man; not proud in a boasting way but proud enough to assert the fact in her life and in her works. All these of whom I speak are widely scattered. I hear of them in the far West, in the South, and in foreign countries, even so far away as the Himalaya Mountains[37]. But wherever they may be, I know that they will join with me in saying that the discipline of their youth helped to make them what they are; and that the cotton-factory was to them the means of education, their preparatory school, in which they learned the alphabet of their life-work. Such is the brief story of the life of everyday working-girls; such as it was then, so it might be today. Undoubtedly there might have been another side to this picture, but I give the side I knew best, -the bright side.

 

 

[1] Harriet was two years younger than Richard Frethorne, the indentured servant from colonial Virginia, when she started working in the mills.

[2] Harriet Hanson Robinson, Loom and Spindle, or Life Among the Early Mill Girls, 1898. This copy was owned by Robinson herself and includes her book plate (inside cover), and her photo.

[3] Manchester, England, and Roubaix, France were the leading textile producers in the world before Lowell Mills, and like Lowell, mostly employed young women at low wages.

[4] It will take you 2 seconds to look it up.

[5] Good sense.

[6] El Dorado has a few origins. In short, the vernacular refers to a mythical city of gold. Yankee is a nickname for New Englanders.

[7] Meadows filled with daisies.

[8] Love letters that agitated the hearts of grandparents of today…what a lovely sentiment. This whole paragraph is moving.

[9] These names are old Puritan names and thus, also old New England names.

[11] Powerful. And unfortunately, still relevant.

[12] Most women still needed their husband’s or father’s signature to get a credit card until 1974 when Congress passed the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Some banks discounted a woman’s wages up to 50 percent, thus lowering their available credit. Why? Because women were always categorized as wives and mother first, not professionals. Banks claimed women were not serious workers, they were just waiting to return home where they belonged, and therefore, a credit risk.

[13] This whole paragraph. On point.

[14] Help was too valuable to be ill-treated.

[15] Military terminology. Interesting.

[16] John Greenleaf Whittier was a poet, publisher, and abolitionist. Whittier’s poetry wasn’t that great, but he was an active, well-known member of the Boston Literary scene. He also actively fought against slavery, especially in his writings. His first essay was published in William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper (before the Liberator). Whittier was a quintessential New Englander and wrote many essays about New England life and identity. Whittier was also a direct descendant of Susanna Martin, one of the women tried and executed during the Salem Witch Trials (you remember Susanna Martin, right?) One of Whittier’s more interesting poems was about Susanna Martin, The Witches Daughter, 1857. Robinson’s excerpt comes from his essay describing his visit to Lowell Mills. Whittier’s contemporaries included David Thoreau (we will read his essay, Civil Disobedience, in a few weeks); Ralph Waldo Emerson who wrote Self-Reliance and is considered the definitive voice of Young America (“Young America” should be in your notes), and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, best known for Paul Revere’s Ride, (1861) “listen my children and you will hear/ of the midnight ride/of Paul Revere.”

[17] Several points. Andrew Preston Peabody descended from one of the original families of Massachusetts and served as minister at Harvard University where he taught Christian Morals from 1860 to 1881. Peabody was a popular speaker throughout his career and frequently gave lectures in Lowell on a variety of topics. He printed a collection of his Lowell lectures in the book, Christianity, the Religion of Nature.  

[18] Lydia Maria Child was an early women’s right activist, abolitionist, writer, and all-around amazing woman. Robinson references one of Child’s earliest books, The Frugal Housewife, 1844. If you are looking for a recipe for calf’s hoof jelly or whortleberry pudding, definitely check it out.

[19] Godey’s Ladies’ Book should be in your notes.

[20] Unitarian minister, Harvard graduate, abolitionist, and frequent speaker at Lowell.

[21] Thrums is a fictional Scottish hamlet in J.M. Barrie’s Auld Licht Idyls, published in 1888. The quote references the same issue in Lowell as Thrums – women sacrificing their own education and mobility so the men in their lives can have the same. J.M. Barrie, by the way, wrote Peter Pan, published in 1904 and also set in Scotland.

[22] The Lowell Offering was a literary magazine written and published by the “mill girls,” and widely circulated during the 1830s and 40s. Many prominent writers and academics celebrated the magazine as an example of the culture of Lowell mills and the capability of women to think and write (seriously). Dr. William Scoresby was a British scientist, minister, and academic. He wrote about many subjects throughout his career, including a study of women working in the mills in England. After he lectured at Lowell in 1844, he published  American Factories and their Female Operatives in 1848.

[23] Unmarried woman in German, the equivalent of Miss. This is paragraph is something. 

[24] “Pathy” means feeling or emotion. In medical terminology, pathy denotes suffering and/or disease. The final quote of the sentence should be familiar to anyone who knows their Hamlet: To be or not to be/that is the question/whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune/or to take arms against a sea of emotions/and by opposing, end them? To die, to sleep/no more - and by a sleep to say we end/the heartache and the thousand natural shock that flesh is heir to…

[25] The Mexican-American War, 1846-48; Jean-Baptiste Joseph Fourier was a French mathematician and scientist; a phalanstery was a building designed for utopian communities where they could live communally – Brook Farm was such a community, established by Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson outside of Boston. Members of Brook Farm were expected to do manual labor, even Emerson and Thoreau. This should be in your notes.

[26] Bloomers were a new style of women’s dress created by activist Amelia Bloomer in the 1840s. Bloomer lived in Mount Vernon, Ohio from the 1840s until her death in 1894. Bloomers replaced the cumbersome fashion of the early nineteenth century requiring restrictive corsets and iron dress hoops covered in several layers of heavy petticoats with another layer of undergarments below the hoop. Women could not raise their arms all the way above their heads or kneel down while wearing a corset and metal hoop skirts. The dresses dragged on the ground, and since dirty dresses were unacceptable, women constantly had to lift up the heavy skirts to simply move through the world. They were expected to be in full dress all day, even when they were cleaning the house. Amelia Bloomer saw this restrictive clothing as a health hazard, and another method of keeping women from entering the workforce. Bloomers were essentially pantaloons for women, i.e., short pants that allowed women to actually move and work. Of course, people (most men) were very concerned that women wearing pants would lead to loose morals. Women would talk back to their husbands or turn into prostitutes or refuse to get married or demand the vote or any number of things women weren’t supposed to do. Women in pants were too threatening. In fact, there are still plenty of professions and businesses that require women to wear dresses or skirts.

[27] Massachusetts. Harriet Robinson died in 1911, seven years before the nineteenth amendment removed gender restrictions on voting. Think about this for a minute: For her entire life, it was illegal for Harriet Robinson – or any woman – to vote. The day she died, not a single woman she ever knew in her 86 years of life ever voted. So I guess my question is - did you vote in the last election? Do you know how valuable your vote is?

[28] By the 1850s, immigrant families (French Canadian and Irish) had replaced the mills girls. They were paid significantly less than the earlier female workers, despite the fact that the entire family worked in the factories. There was no need to maintain the same level of respectability for immigrants, so the lectures, dining halls, libraries, and other amenities enjoyed by the “mill girls” were eliminated.

[29] Sylvester Graham was a Presbyterian minister who advocated for a disciplined diet, notably no meat or alcohol. Graham’s followers, the Grahamites, created several new products based on Graham’s diet plan, the best-known being Graham crackers. Graham was very concerned with the sexual appetites of young people and believed sex should only be for procreation. He also believed a disciplined diet would help with bodily control in general (no masturbating either).

[30] Orson Fowler promoted phrenology, a pseudoscience claiming that physical characteristics determined ability and intellect. Phrenologists like “Doctor” Fowler (he was not an academic or medical doctor but called himself one anyway) believed that skull size in particular was a sign of intelligence. The slope of your forehead, width of your lips, width of your nostrils, and chin size were all indicators of whether a person was advanced or inferior. Many white Americans embraced phrenology as a scientific explanation for white supremacy and a justification for slavery and segregation. In fact, phrenology is commonly called “scientific racism.” People also embraced phrenology to justify gender inequality. As women entered the workplace, demanded the vote, wore pants, and went to school, many people saw an urgent need to scientifically prove why women must be subordinate to the men. By the way, “veneration” means great respect or reverence. “Dr.” Fowler basically told Robinson the size of her skull indicated that she has a rather dull mind.

Mesmerism was another pseudoscience, created by German doctor Franz Mesmer, based on his idea of “animal magnetism.” He believed every living being has a natural magnetic force that can be harnessed through behaviors and habits. Mesmer advocated the “laying on of hands” to channel the magnetic fluid racing through bodies. “Laying on of hands” is a religious term for symbolic practices like baptisms, ordainment, blessings, and other rituals involving touch. While it’s possible Mesmer intended the phrase in a religious context, it’s interesting to note the phrasing in general: animal magnetism, laying on of hands, rush of fluids, and transference of this magnetism between people. The opposite of the Grahamites, but same broad theme: grave concern about other people’s sex lives. What else is new?

[31] Women commonly wore decorative stick pins on their dresses and coats. It was a sign of respectability and good taste. Robinson points out that the mill girls were not poor but working class, and thus, could afford jewelry. 

[32] Sara Hale should be in your notes with your notes about Godey’s Ladies’ Book.

[33] British writer, Charles Dickens, who wrote several very important literary works like A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, and A Christmas Carol. He also wrote many essays about industrial society, including the two-volume American Notes for General Circulation, published in 1842 after his visit to Lowell.

[34] The Dial was a literary magazine edited by Margaret Fuller, and published all of the transcendentalism, writers like Thoreau and Emerson. Fuller wrote one of the most important early calls for women’s rights, Women in the Nineteenth Century, although she definitely did not advocate full equality. Having a copy of the The Dial in your house meant you were educated and well-read.

[35] Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852, considered one of the great American novels of the nineteenth century. Her second “little” book, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp, was published in 1856. Both books focus on the horrors of slavery. I was torn between assigning Fuller’s Women in the Nineteenth Century this week and Harriet Beecher Stowe and her sister, Catherine Beecher’s The American Women’s Home. I landed on Stowe and Beecher. Hopefully, you read that source as well. Lots to talk about!

[36] Young boys who did the same jobs as young girls in the mills.

[37] Where are the Himalayan Mountains, or, where is Mount Everest?

Harriet Robinson image is in the public domain.

Mill worker etching by Winslow Homer is believed to be in the public domain.

The American Woman’s Home; Or, Principles of Domestic Science (1860)

Photo of Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Image of Catharine Beecher
Catharine Beecher

The American Woman’s Home;

Or, Principles of Domestic Science (1860)

Catharine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe

 

Introduction

 

Catharine and Harriet Beecher were born in Connecticut to influential Presbyterian and social reformer Lyman Beecher. Both sisters pursued as much education as they were allowed, and both became educators themselves. Catharine Beecher founded the Harford Female Seminary in 1823 where she taught until 1832. Beecher founded dozens of schools throughout the country, including several dedicated to the education of young women. She also wrote dozens of textbooks, instructional manuals, and other educational material. Her best-known book, A Treatise on Domestic Economy, published in 1841, became an essential guide for the middle-class home.

 

Harriet Beecher Stowe was also an educator and writer, best known for her anti-slavery book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published in 1852. The book deeply influenced the attitudes of white northerners toward Africans Americans and the urgency of ending slavery.

 

Catharine and Harriet wrote several articles about how to organize a clean and healthy home during the 1840s and 50s. In 1960, they published a collection of their guidelines for proper middle-class living in The American Woman’s Home. Below is an excerpt from the book[1].

 

 

Primary Source

 

CHAPTER XVII.

HABITS OF SYSTEM AND ORDER.

 

Any discussion of the equality of the sexes, as to intellectual capacity, seems frivolous and useless, both because it can never be decided, and because there would be no possible advantage in the decision. But one topic, which is often drawn into this discussion, is of far more consequence; and that is, the relative importance and difficulty of the duties a woman is called to perform.

 

It is generally assumed, and almost as generally conceded, that a housekeeper's business and cares are contracted and trivial; and that the proper discharge of her duties demands far less expansion of mind and vigor of intellect than the pursuits of the other sex. This idea has prevailed because women, as a mass, have never been educated with reference to their most important duties; while that portion of their employments which is of least value has been regarded as the chief, if not the sole, concern of a woman. The covering of the body, the convenience of residences, and the gratification of the appetite, have been too much regarded as the chief objects on which her intellectual powers are to be exercised.

 

But as society gradually shakes off the remnants of barbarism and the intellectual and moral interests of man rise, in estimation, above the merely sensual, a truer estimate is formed of woman's duties, and of the measure of intellect requisite for the proper discharge of them. Let any man of sense and discernment become the member of a large household, in which a well-educated and pious woman is endeavoring systematically to discharge her multiform duties; let him fully comprehend all her cares, difficulties, and perplexities; and it is probable he would coincide in the opinion that no statesman, at the head of a nation's affairs, had more frequent calls for wisdom, firmness, tact, discrimination, prudence, and versatility of talent, than such a woman.

 

She has a husband, to whose peculiar tastes and habits she must accommodate herself; she has children whose health she must guard, whose physical constitutions she must study and develop, whose temper and habits she must regulate, whose principles she must form, whose pursuits she must guide. She has constantly changing domestics, with all varieties of temper and habits, whom she must govern, instruct, and direct; she is required to regulate the finances of the domestic state, and constantly to adapt expenditures to the means and to the relative claims of each department. She has the direction of the kitchen, where ignorance, forgetfulness, and awkwardness are to be so regulated that the various operations shall each start at the right time, and all be in completeness at the same given hour. She has the claims of society to meet, visits to receive and return, and the duties of hospitality to sustain. She has the poor to relieve; benevolent societies to aid; the schools of her children to inquire and decide about; the care of the sick and the aged; the nursing of infancy; and the endless miscellany of odd items, constantly recurring in a large family.

 

Surely, it is a pernicious and mistaken idea, that the duties which tax a woman's mind are petty, trivial, or unworthy of the highest grade of intellect and moral worth. Instead of allowing this feeling, every woman should imbibe, from early youth, the impression that she is in training for the discharge of the most important, the most difficult, and the most sacred and interesting duties that can possibly employ the highest intellect. She ought to feel that her station and responsibilities in the great drama of life are second to none, either as viewed by her Maker, or in the estimation of all minds whose judgment is most worthy of respect.

 

She who is the mother and housekeeper in a large family is the sovereign of an empire, demanding more varied cares, and involving more difficult duties, than are really exacted of her who wears a crown and professedly regulates the interests of the greatest nation on earth.

There is no one thing more necessary to a housekeeper in performing her varied duties, than a habit of system and order; and yet, the peculiarly desultory nature of women's pursuits, and the embarrassments resulting from the state of domestic service in this country, render it very difficult to form such a habit. But it is sometimes the case that women who could and would carry forward a systematic plan of domestic economy do not attempt it, simply from a want of knowledge of the various modes of introducing it. It is with reference to such, that various modes of securing system and order, which the writer has seen adopted, will be pointed out.

 

A wise economy is nowhere more conspicuous, than in a systematic apportionment of time to different pursuits. There are duties of a religious, intellectual, social, and domestic nature, each having different relative claims on attention. Unless a person has some general plan of apportioning these claims, some will intrench on others, and some, it is probable, will be entirely excluded. Thus, some find religious, social, and domestic duties so numerous, that no time is given to intellectual improvement. Others find either social, or benevolent, or religious interests excluded by the extent and variety of other engagements.

 

It is wise, therefore, for all persons to devise a systematic plan, which they will at least keep in view, and aim to accomplish; and by which a proper proportion of time shall be secured for all the duties of life.

 

In forming such a plan, every woman must accommodate herself to the peculiarities of her situation. If she has a large family and a small income, she must devote far more time to the simple duty of providing food and raiment than would be right were she in affluence, and with a small family. It is impossible, therefore, to draw out any general plan, which all can adopt. But there are some general principles, which ought to be the guiding rules, when a woman arranges her domestic employments. These principles are to be based on Christianity, which teaches us to "seek first the kingdom of God," and to deem food, raiment, and the conveniences of life, as of secondary account. Every woman, then, ought to start with the assumption, that the moral and religious interests of her family are of more consequence than any worldly concern, and that, whatever else may be sacrificed, these shall be the leading object, in all her arrangements, in respect to time, money, and attention.

 

It is also one of the plainest requisitions of Christianity, that we devote some of our time and efforts to the comfort and improvement of others. There is no duty so constantly enforced, both in the Old and New Testament, as that of charity, in dispensing to those who are destitute of the blessings we enjoy. In selecting objects of charity, the same rule applies to others as to ourselves; their moral and religions interests are of the highest moment, and for them, as well as for ourselves, we are to "seek first the kingdom of God."

 

Another general principle is, that our intellectual and social interests are to be preferred to the mere gratification of taste or appetite. A portion of time, therefore, must be devoted to the cultivation of the intellect and the social affections.

 

Another is, that the mere gratification of appetite is to be placed last in our estimate; so that, when a question arises as to which shall be sacrificed, some intellectual, moral, or social advantage, or some gratification of sense, we should invariably sacrifice the last.

 

As health is indispensable to the discharge of every duty, nothing which sacrifices that blessing is to be allowed in order to gain any other advantage or enjoyment. There are emergencies, when it is right to risk health and life, to save ourselves and others from greater evils; but these are exceptions, which do not militate against the general rule. Many persons imagine that, if they violate the laws of health, in order to attend to religious or domestic duties, they are guiltless before God. But such greatly mistake. We directly violate the law, "Thou shalt not kill," when we do what tends to risk or shorten our own life. The life and happiness of all his creatures are dear to our Creator; and he is as much displeased when we injure our own interests, as when we injure those of others. The idea, therefore, that we are excusable if we harm no one but ourselves, is false and pernicious. These, then, are some general principles, to guide a woman in systematizing her duties and pursuits[2].

 

The Creator of all things is a Being of perfect system and order; and, to aid us in our duty in this respect, he has divided our time, by a regularly returning day of rest from worldly business. In following this example, the intervening six days maybe subdivided to secure similar benefits. In doing this, a certain portion of time must be given to procure the means of livelihood, and for preparing food, raiment, and dwellings. To these objects, some must devote more, and others less, attention. The remainder of time not necessarily thus employed, might be divided somewhat in this manner: The leisure of two afternoons and evenings could be devoted to religious and benevolent objects, such as religious meetings, charitable associations, school visiting, and attention to the sick and poor. The leisure of two other days might be devoted to intellectual improvement, and the pursuits of taste. The leisure of another day might be devoted to social enjoyments, in making or receiving visits; and that of another, to miscellaneous domestic pursuits, not included in the other particulars.

 

It is probable that few persons could carry out such an arrangement very strictly; but every one can make a systematic apportionment of time, and at least aim at accomplishing it; and they can also compare with such a general outline, the time which they actually devote to these different objects, for the purpose of modifying any mistaken proportions.

 

Without attempting any such systematic employment of time, and carrying it out, so far as they can control circumstances, most women are rather driven along by the daily occurrences of life; so that, instead of being the intelligent regulators of their own time, they are the mere sport of circumstances. There is nothing which so distinctly marks the difference between weak and strong minds as the question, whether they control circumstances or circumstances control them.

It is very much to be feared, that the apportionment of time actually made by most women exactly inverts the order required by reason and Christianity. Thus, the furnishing a needless variety of food, the conveniences of dwellings, and the adornments of dress, often take a larger portion of time than is given to any other object. Next after this, comes intellectual improvement; and, last of all, benevolence and religion.

 

It may be urged, that it is indispensable for most persons to give more time to earn a livelihood, and to prepare food, raiment, and dwellings, than, to any other object. But it may be asked, how much of the time, devoted to these objects, is employed in preparing varieties of food not necessary, but rather injurious, and how much is spent for those parts of dress and furniture not indispensable, and merely ornamental? Let a woman subtract from her domestic employments all the time given to pursuits which are of no use, except as they gratify a taste for ornament, or minister increased varieties to tempt the appetite, and she will find that much which she calls "domestic duty," and which prevents her attention to intellectual, benevolent, and religious objects, should be called by a very different name.

 

No woman has a right to give up attention to the higher interests of herself and others, for the ornaments of person or the gratification of the palate. To a certain extent, these lower objects are lawful and desirable; but when they intrude on nobler interests, they become selfish and degrading. Every woman, then, when employing her hands in ornamenting her person, her children, or her house, ought to calculate whether she has devoted as much time to the really more important wants of herself and others. If she has not, she may know that she is doing wrong, and that her system for apportioning her time and pursuits should be altered.

Some persons endeavor to systematize their pursuits by apportioning them to particular hours of each day. For example, a certain period before breakfast, is given to devotional duties; after breakfast, certain hours are devoted to exercise and domestic employments; other hours, to sewing, or reading, or visiting; and others, to benevolent duties. But in most cases, it is more difficult to systematize the hours of each day, than it is to secure some regular division of the week.

 

In regard to the minutia of family work, the writer has known the following methods to be adopted. Monday, with some of the best housekeepers, is devoted to preparing for the labors of the week. Any extra cooking, the purchasing of articles to be used during the week, the assorting of clothes for the wash, and mending such as would otherwise be injured—these, and similar items, belong to this day. Tuesday is devoted to washing, and Wednesday to ironing. On Thursday, the ironing is finished off, the clothes are folded and put away, and all articles which need mending are put in the mending-basket, and attended to. Friday is devoted to sweeping and house-cleaning. On Saturday, and especially the last Saturday of every month, every department is put in order; the casters and table furniture are regulated, the pantry and cellar inspected, the trunks, drawers, and closets arranged, and every thing about the house put in order for Sunday. By this regular recurrence of a particular time for inspecting every thing, nothing is forgotten till ruined by neglect.

 

Another mode of systematizing relates to providing proper supplies of conveniences, and proper places in which to keep them. Thus, some ladies keep a large closet, in which are placed the tubs, pails, dippers, soap-dishes, starch, blueing, clothes-lines, clothes-pins, and every other article used in washing; and in the same, or another place, is kept every convenience for ironing. In the sewing department, a trunk, with suitable partitions, is provided, in which are placed, each in its proper place, white thread of all sizes, colored thread, yarns for mending, colored and black sewing-silks and twist, tapes and bobbins of all sizes, white and colored welting-cords, silk braids and cords, needles of all sizes, papers of pins, remnants of linen and colored cambric, a supply of all kinds of buttons used in the family, black and white hooks and eyes, a yard measure, and all the patterns used in cutting and fitting. These are done up in separate parcels, and labeled. In another trunk, or in a piece-bag, such as has been previously described, are kept all pieces used in mending, arranged in order. A trunk, like the first mentioned, will save many steps, and often much time and perplexity; while by purchasing articles thus by the quantity, they come much cheaper than if bought in little portions as they are wanted. Such a trunk should be kept locked, and a smaller supply for current use retained in a work-basket.

 

A full supply of all conveniences in the kitchen and cellar, and a place appointed for each article, very much facilitate domestic labor. For want of this, much vexation and loss of time is occasioned while seeking vessels in use, or in cleansing those employed by different persons for various purposes. It would be far better for a lady to give up some expensive article in the parlor, and apply the money thus saved for kitchen conveniences, than to have a stinted supply where the most labor is to be performed, If our countrywomen would devote more to comfort and convenience, and less to show, it would be a great improvement. Expensive mirrors and pier-tables in the parlor, and an unpainted, gloomy, ill-furnished kitchen, not unfrequently are found under the same roof.

 

Another important item in systematic economy is, the apportioning of regular employment to the various members of a family. If a housekeeper can secure the cooperation of all her family, she will find that "many hands make light work." There is no greater mistake than in bringing up children to feel that they must be taken care of, and waited on by others, without any corresponding obligations on their part. The extent to which young children can be made useful in a family would seem surprising to those who have never seen a systematic and regular plan for utilizing their services. The writer has been in a family where a little girl, of eight or nine years of age, washed and dressed herself and young brother, and made their small beds, before breakfast; set and cleared all the tables for meals, with a little help from a grown person in moving tables and spreading cloths; while all the dusting of parlors and chambers was also neatly performed by her. A brother of ten years old brought in and piled all the wood used in the kitchen and parlor, brushed the boots and shoes, went on errands, and took all the care of the poultry. They were children whose parents could afford to hire servants to do this, but who chose to have their children grow up healthy and industrious, while proper instruction, system, and encouragement made these services rather a pleasure than otherwise, to the children.

 

Some parents pay their children for such services; but this is hazardous, as tending to make them feel that they are not bound to be helpful without pay, and also as tending to produce a hoarding, money-making spirit. But where children have no hoarding propensities, and need to acquire a sense of the value of property, it may be well to let them earn money for some extra services rather as a favor. When this is done, they should be taught to spend it for others, as well as for themselves; and in this way, a generous and liberal spirit will be cultivated.

 

There are some mothers who take pains to teach their boys most of the domestic arts which their sisters learn. The writer has seen boys mending their own garments and aiding their mother or sisters in the kitchen, with great skill and adroitness; and, at an early age, they usually very much relish joining in such occupations. The sons of such mothers, in their college life, or in roaming about the world, or in nursing a sick wife or infant, find occasion to bless the forethought and kindness which prepared them for such emergencies. Few things are in worse taste than for a man needlessly to busy himself in women's work; and yet a man never appears in a more interesting attitude than when, by skill in such matters, he can save a mother or wife from care and suffering. The more a boy is taught to use his hands, in every variety of domestic employment, the more his faculties, both of mind and body, are developed; for mechanical pursuits exercise the intellect as well as the hands. The early training of New-England boys, in which they turn their hand to almost every thing, is one great reason of the quick perceptions, versatility of mind, and mechanical skill, for which that portion of our countrymen is distinguished.

 

It is equally important that young girls should be taught to do some species of handicraft that generally is done by men, and especially with reference to the frequent emigration to new territories where well-trained mechanics are scarce. To hang wall-paper, repair locks, glaze windows, and mend various household articles, requires a skill in the use of tools which every young girl should acquire. If she never has any occasion to apply this knowledge and skill by her own hands, she will often find it needful in directing and superintending incompetent workmen.

The writer has known one mode of systematizing the aid of the older children in a family, which, in some cases of very large families, it may be well to imitate. In the case referred to, when the oldest daughter was eight or nine years old, an infant sister was given to her, as her special charge. She tended it, made and mended its clothes, taught it to read, and was its nurse and guardian, through all its childhood. Another infant was given to the next daughter, and thus the children were all paired in this interesting relation. In addition to the relief thus afforded to the mother, the elder children, were in this way qualified for their future domestic relations, and both older and younger bound to each other by peculiar ties of tenderness and gratitude.

 

In offering these examples of various modes of systematizing, one suggestion may be worthy of attention. It is not unfrequently the case, that ladies, who find themselves cumbered with oppressive cares, after reading remarks on the benefits of system, immediately commence the task of arranging their pursuits, with great vigor and hope. They divide the day into regular periods, and give each hour its duty; they systematize their work, and endeavor to bring every thing into a regular routine. But, in a short time, they find themselves baffled, discouraged, and disheartened, and finally relapse into their former desultory ways, in a sort of resigned despair.

 

The difficulty, in such cases, is, that they attempt too much at a time. There is nothing which so much depends upon habit, as a systematic mode of performing duty; and where no such habit has been formed, it is impossible for a novice to start, at once, into a universal mode of systematizing, which none but an adept could carry through. The only way for such persons is to begin with a little at a time. Let them select some three or four things, and resolutely attempt to conquer at these points. In time, a habit will be formed, of doing a few things at regular periods, and in a systematic way. Then it will be easy to add a few more; and thus, by a gradual process, the object can be secured, which it would be vain to attempt by a more summary course.

 

Early rising is almost an indispensable condition to success, in such an effort; but where a woman lacks either the health or the energy to secure a period for devotional duties before breakfast, let her select that hour of the day in which she will be least liable to interruption, and let her then seek strength and wisdom from the only true Source. At this time, let her take a pen, and make a list of all the things which she considers as duties. Then, let a calculation be made, whether there be time enough, in the day or the week, for all these duties. If there be not, let the least important be stricken from the list, as not being duties, and therefore to be omitted. In doing this, let a woman remember that, though "what we shall eat, and what we shall think, and wherewithal we shall be clothed," are matters requiring due attention, they are very apt to obtain a wrong relative importance, while intellectual, social, and moral interests receive too little regard.

 

In this country, eating, dressing, and household furniture and ornaments, take far too large a place in the estimate of relative importance; and it is probable that most women could modify their views and practice, so as to come nearer to the Saviour's requirements. No woman has a right to put a stitch of ornament on any article of dress or furniture, or to provide one superfluity in food, until she is sure she can secure time for all her social, intellectual benevolent, and religions duties. If a woman will take the trouble to make such a calculation as this, she will usually find that she has time enough to perform all her duties easily and well.

 

It is impossible for a conscientious woman to secure that peaceful mind and cheerful enjoyment of life which all should seek, who is constantly finding her duties jarring with each other, and much remaining undone, which she feels that she ought to do. In consequence of this, there will be a secret uneasiness, which will throw a shade over the whole current of life, never to be removed, till she so efficiently defines and regulates her duties that she can fulfill them all.

And here the writer would urge upon young ladies the importance of forming habits of system, while unembarrassed with those multiplied cares which will make the task so much, more difficult and hopeless. Every young lady can systematize her pursuits, to a certain extent. She can have a particular day for mending her wardrobe, and for arranging her trunks, closets, and drawers. She can keep her work-basket, her desk at school, and all her other conveniences, in their proper places, and in regular order. She can have regular periods for reading, walking, visiting, study, and domestic pursuits. And by following this method in youth, she will form a taste for regularity and a habit of system, which will prove a blessing to her through life.

 

 

[1]Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, The American Woman's Home; Or Principles of Domestic Science, 1860. Believed to be in the public domain.

[2] This is a profound statement: The idea, therefore, that we are excusable if we harm no one but ourselves, is false and pernicious. Would we call this self-care today?

Life on the Plains and Among the Diggings

Alonzo Delano
Alonzo Delano

Life on the Plains and Among the Diggings

Alonzo Delano

 

Introduction

**I suggest reading Delano before Dame Shirley’s letters. In other words, start here.

In January 1848, builders working on a new water-powered sawmill near the South Fork American River near Sacramento, California, found gold flakes where the river banks met the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Mexican-American War ended a month later in February, 1848, just as news of the first gold strike on Sutter’s Mill spread throughout the country, and before long, filtered across the globe. 80,000 people poured into the new U.S. territory of California during 1848 alone. By 1853, over 250,000 people had migrated to the now state of California. The “forty-niners” were a diverse group, made up of Americans from the East Coast, Chinese and Mexican workers brought to CA on labor contracts to work for mining companies, African Americans, Indians, and immigrants from all over Europe.

The myth of the individual miner, panning for gold and eventually making his fortune, is just that – a myth. Within months of the discovery of gold, large mining companies with capital and machinery controlled all of the lucrative mines (and many of the less successful mines as well, to avoid any competition at all from individual miners). In the absence of a functioning state government, mining companies hired armed vigilante white men to keep miners in line and, most importantly, clear the Native Americans from the area around mining fields. White Americans, angry that the promise of gold was not panning out as they hoped, harassed foreign miners, especially the Chinese and Mexicans. The companies empowered these men to shoot miners on the spot if they were disagreeable, stopped for water or rest too frequently, or for any reason whatsoever. The makeshift camps were violent and unsanitary, and miners quickly became dependent on the company for necessities like food and water.

Indians living in California suffered an even more violent fate. Companies encouraged the extermination of Native Americans with impunity. The white vigilante mobs targeted and killed thousands of Indians simply because of their proximity to the camps, not because of any violence from the Native Americans themselves. In addition to the mobs, everyday miners also enjoyed the “sport” of “Indian hunting,” as they called it. Murdering Indians (including women and children) was a common activity of the miners during their down time. Again, there were no consequences for this mass extermination. In fact, companies encouraged these activities.

Readers from around the world – but especially the East Coast – found tales from the “Gold Rush” mesmerizing. The popular press published hundreds of first-hand accounts from the gold mines. The most popular stories spun a tale of rivers of gold just waiting for hardworking Americans to come mine them. Many people took these reports to heart, leaving their family and home behind in search of instant wealth in the hills of California.

Alonzo Delano was born into an affluent and well-connected family in upstate New York in 1806. His father’s family, the Delanos, arrived on the Mayflower, and already counted politicians, physicians (Alonzo Delano’s father was a surgeon), and prominent businessmen by the 1840s, although, arguably, Franklin Delano Roosevelt is the best-known descendant of the Delano family. Alonzo Delano was a writer, journalist, and illustrator when he set out for the California gold mines in 1849. Like most miners, Delano left his wife and children behind, and would not see them again for six years. His articles and letters recounting life in gold mines and surrounding towns and cities captivated readers across the country. He often wrote under the moniker, Old Block, a nod to the printers’ mark on his writings. Delano published his second essay collection, Life on the Plains and Among the Diggings, in 1854. The following excerpt is Delano’s account of day-to-day life in the mines during the first year of the Gold Rush.[1]

 

Primary Source

 

Nelson’s Creek rises about fifteen miles above Independence, near the base of the main ridge of the Sierra Nevada and likely nearly all the streams in that high region, flows through a deep gorge till it disembogues into the Middle Fork of the Feather river, about sixty miles in a direct line from where the latter united with the main or North Fork. Independence Bar was firs located in June, 1850. Enormous hills rise on each side, exhibiting a highly volcanic appearance, based upon a talcous slate formation, and the country is highly auriferous, and above the mountains till eight o’clock in the morning, and disappeared behind the western hills a little after four in the afternoon[2]. Although the nights are cold – the frequently forming in our buckets – the days are hot, and oppressive. Scarcely a night passed in which we did not hear rocks rolling from the hills into the gulf, which were loosened from their beds by the action of frost, rain and sun; and egress and ingress was over steep hills b means of zigzag paths, difficult, and often dangerous.

As a description of mountain life may not be wholly uninteresting, and as it possesses a general character in these isolated wilds, I shall give a brief description of some of the cocurrences which transpired there. And again, I beg the reader to remember, that my object is to exhibit the struggles that all miners first undergo, at new points, through the whole length and breadth of California, though frequently diversified in their character.

From the mouth of Nelson’s Creek to its source, men were at work in digging. Sometimes the stream was turned from its bed, and the channel worked in other places, wing dams were thrown out, and the bed partially worked; while in some, the bands were only dug. Some of these, as is the case everywhere in the mines, paid well, some, fair wages, while many were failures. One evening, while waiting for my second supply of goods, I strolled by a deserted camp. I was attracted to the ruins of a shanty, by observing the effigy[3] of a man standing upright in an old, torn shirt, a pair of ragged pantaloons, and boots which looked as if they had been clambering over rocks since they were made – in short, the image represented a lean, meagre, worn-out and woe-begone miner, such as might daily be seen at almost every points in the upper mines. On the shirt were inscribed, in a good business hand, “My claim failed – will you pay the taxes?” (an allusion to the tax on foreigners) appended to the figure was a paper bearing the following words: “Californians, - Oh, Californians, look at me! Once fat and saucy as a privateersman, but now – look ye – a miserable skeleton. In a word, I am a used-up man. Never mind, I can sing, not withstanding,

            “Oh California! This is the land for me;

            A pick and a shovel, and lots of bones;

            Who would not come the sight to see, -

            The golden land of dross and stones.

                        O Susannah, don’t you cry for me,

                        I’m living dead in Californ-nee”[4]

 

Ludicrous as it may appear, it was a truthful commentary on the efforts of the hundreds of poor fellow in the “golden land.” This company had penetrated the mountain snows with infinite labor in the early part of the season, enduring hardships of no ordinary character – had patiently toiled for weeks, living on the coarsest fare; had spent time and money in building a dam and digging a race through rocks to drain off the water; endured wet and cold, in the chilling atmosphere of the country, and when the last stone was turned at the very close of all this labor, they did not find a single center to reward them for their toil and privations, and what was still more aggravating, a small, wing dam, on the very claim below them, yielded several thousand dollars. Having paid out their money, and lost their labor, they were compelled to abandon the claim, and search for other diggings, where the result might be precisely the same. The only wonder is that the poor fellows could have the courage enough to sing at all.

The population of Independence represented almost every State in the Union, while France, England, Ireland, Germany, and even Bohemia[5], and their delegates. As soon as breakfast was dispatched, all hands were engaged in digging and washing gold in the banks, or int eh bed of the stream. When evening came, large fires were built, around which the miners congregated, some engrossed with thoughts of home and friends, some tot talk of new discoveries, and richer diggings somewhere else; or, sometimes, a subject of debate was whiled away in pleasant, and often instructive, discussion, while many, for whom this kind of recreation had not excitement enough, resorted to dealing monte, on a small scale, thus either exciting or keeping up a passion for play. Some weeks were passed in this way under the clear blue sky of the mountains, and many had made respectable piles.

I highly enjoyed the wild scenery, and, quite as well, the wild life we were leading for there were many accomplished and intelligent men; and a subject for amusement or debate was rarely wanting. As for ceremony or dress, it gave us no trouble; we were all alike. Shaving was voted a bore; the air hole in our pants were not “few and far between,” and our toes were as often out “prospecting” from the ends of our boots as any way, and two weeks before my last supplies arrived I was barefoot, having completely worn out my shoes. At length, a monte deader arrived, with a respectable bank[6]. A change had been gradually coming over many of our people, and for three or four days several industrious men had commenced drinking, and after the monte bank was set up, it seemed as if the long-smothered fire burst forth into flames.

Labor, with few exceptions, seemed suspended, and a great many miners spent their time in riot and debauchery. Some scarcely ate their meals, some would not go to their cabins, but building large fire, would lay down, exposed to the frost; and one night, in the rain. Even after the monte dealer had cleared nearly all out who would play, the fame was kept up by the miners themselves in a small way, till the fragments of their purses were exhausted. There were two companies at work near me, who, when I first went there, were taking out daily in each company, from one hundred to one hundred and fifty dollars.

This they continued to do for more than two weeks, when it seemed as if the gold blistered their fingers and they began a career of drinking and gambling, until it was gone. Instead of going to work on their claims again, they were seized with the prospecting mania, so common at that time among miners, and after spending some days in looking for other diggings, in snow and rain, finally went to the valley – many not having money enough to pay small bills against them. Among the miners was one who had lost nine hundred dollars, another, eight hundred – their whole summer’s work – and went off poor and penniless. The monte dealer, who, in his way was a gentleman, and honorable according the notions of that class of men, won in two nights three thousand dollars! When he had collected his taxes on our bar, he went to Onion Valley, six miles distant, and lost in one night four thousand, exemplifying the fact, that a gambler may not be rich to-day, and a beggar to-morrow[7]. Gambling at that period was more prevalent in the mines than it is now; and it is but justice to say, that very many men did not play at all, nor incline to dissipation; and that at this time, a great reformation has taken place throughout the mines, although gambling is carried on to some extent.

We were startled one morning, with the report that two men had been murdered a short distance above us. On repairing to the spot, a ghastly spectacle presented itself. Tow men, having their heads cut open with a hatchet, lay in the creek, perfectly dead. The circumstances were these: Three men from near Vergennes, Vermont, named Ward, Lawrence, and Luther, lay in a tent on the bank of the creek, at the foot of a high, steep hill. Their bed was a flat rock, and their feet reached within a few inches of the water. As they all lay asleep about ten o’clock at night, Ward was suddenly awakened by a noise, when looking up, he saw a man standing over him with a hatchet, in the act of striking. Instantly he sprang to his feet, and encountered another man, who made at him, but he turned and ran out at the lower end of the tent, and clambering over a pile of rocks, escaped and continued his flight int the dark toward a cabin about forty rods distant, showing “murder!” Reaching the cabin, the inmates turned out as soon as Ward was able to give a distinct relation of the affair; and on reaching the scene of slaughter, they found that the assassins after completing their work of death, had robbed their victims of about four hundred dollars each, and then had thrown their bodies into the creek and escaped. As the parties were going down, they heard the sound of somebody scrambling on the hill-side, overhead, but in the gloom of the night, and from the nature of the country, pursuit was impossible. Suspicion naturally enough fell on poor Ward, but an investigation being held, all circumstances were in his favor, and he was fully acquitted. Indeed, his terror, and his almost miraculous escape, scarcely allowed him to sleep for many nights. They were industrious, prudent men, and esteemed by all who knew them

Robberies, too, occasionally occurred. One poor fellow’s cabin was robbed of fifteen hundred dollars while he was at work. Thus in a moment he was tripped of the result of months of hard labor. He could scarcely suspect the author of his misfortune. At a gambling house near the mouth of the creek, a man who had started for home was induced to try his luck at the monte table, when under the influence of liquor, and in the excitement of having list his money, he attempted to seize it again, drawing his pistol on the gambler, when the latter shot him dead! He had previously written to his family that was about starting for home, but this one thoughtless and imprudent act cost him his life, and his family would look long and in vain for the return of the husband and father, and probably without ever learning his sad and discernable end.

About four miles below Nelson’s creek, on the Middle Fork of the Feather River, arose to a great height an old extinct volcano, which curiosity impelled me to visit. Crossing the river at the mouth of the creek, I commenced a toilsome aspect of the steep mountain, and after half a day of hard climbing, I gained the summit of what had once been its crater. Vast quantities of lava had been ejected, which, mixed with quartz and volcanic debris, formed a mass of flint-like hardness, and it was heaped up and piled around the apex of the mountain, in rough, columnar shapes, resembling in some measure rude pillars and cones, while in cavities the action of the flames seemed to as fresh as if it had been recently done. In one place was a deep, narrow chasm, which the eye could not fathom, and on throwing down a stone, a sound was heard as though it was striking against rough points till gradually it was lost to the ear, without apparently reaching the bottom. It appeared as if the flames had burst forth, throwing out the rock in a melted state, which had cooled without forming a regular crater, leaving the lava in a cemented mass, with chasms which reached to a vast depth in the bowels of the earth. On the side next the river, projections  had been thrown out, and a little farther east, on the southern slope, the sides were smooth and shining, and a miss step would have precipitated the unfortunate traveler a quarter of a mile down its sides, before any jutting would have caught his mangled and bleeding form. The panorama around was beautiful and sublime, and I counted in the view no less than five volcanic peaks in the wild, broken range of the wonderful Sierra.

My thirst prevented the full indulgence of my curiosity. I gladly would have spent the night in this elevated and inspiring situation, but I was reluctantly obliged to descend. Taking a circuitous route – indeed the only practicable one in that direction – I commenced a descent towards Rich Bar, which lay at its base. It required nearly two hours to accomplish the descent. Indeed, the labor was quite equal to the ascent. The bar at its base proved to be one of the richest which had been discovered, and a large amount of gold was taken from it. One man took out of a pocket fifteen hundred dollar at one panful of dirt. This, of course, was only a single instance, for as at every other bar through the mines, while some were richly rewarded, others scarcely got enough to pay expenses.

Mr. Gridley had sold out his stock before Mr. Brinkerhoff and I removed to the mouth of the creek, and had gone below. Messrs. Lathrop, Rockwell and Fish, from Jackson, Michigan, were the purchases; and after we had closed our sales, Mr. Brinkerhoff, availing himself of an opportunity, went to Marysville, and as his health continued bad, subsequently to New York. I took up my quarters with Messrs. Lathrop &Co., with whom I had a cheerful time, for, isolated as miners are, they are disposed to avail themselves of every little circumstance which may provoke mirth, and the eight days I stayed with them, waiting a chance to ride to the valley, forms one of the pleasantest reminiscences of my mountain life. If these pages should ever meet their eyes, it will call to mind many a story and jest, which whiled away our long, cold evenings, at the foot of that five-mile mountain, which towered above the Middle Fork of Feather River.

A few weeks later found me a resident, and a man of business, in San Francisco, without anything occurring sufficient to interest the reader; and from this period personal adventure will be merged in a more general history of prominent events as they occurred in the State, some of them taking place under my own eye.

 

[2] Talcous, auriferous, etc should be familiar to those who have taken geology. If not, it will only take a minute to look them up!

[3] A crude representation of person intended to publicly shame said person. Effigies are often burnt, hanged, or otherwise destroyed during protests against a political leader and/or their regime. Interesting that Delano uses this term to describe what he finds.

[4] Oh Susanna! is a minstrel song written by Stephen Foster in 1847, inspired by the minstrels shows he saw while living in Cincinnati, Ohio. The song quickly became a staple of the minstrel shows that inspired its composition. Minstrelsy should be in your notes. Oh Susanna! proved equally popular among middle class white Americans, who bought the sheet music in record number. Men heading to California in search of gold brought the song with them, tweaking the lyrics to fit the occasion known as the “Gold Rush lyrics,” pinned here to the effigy of a dead miner. As with most compelling music, there is a lot more going on with this song than what you hear.  

Al Jolson, performing Oh Susanna! in blackface, sometime in the 1930s.

Original minstrel lyrics.  

 

[5] The Kingdom of Bohemia emerged as a nation-state after the fall of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. Bohemia encompassed present-day Slovakia and Czech Republic and a bit of eastern Germany.

[6] The “banker,” or “dealer” in the Monte games popular in Mexican culture. Three-card monte is probably the best-known remnant of the monte card games. “The Monte” arrived in the camps with money to lend the miners and around the clock card games for them to lose it to the house. As Delano previously stated, small-scale Monte games were common among the miners as a way to pass time when they were not murdering Indians.

[7] Eight hundred to four thousand dollars is a lot of money to win or lose today (at least from my perspective). Imagine what winning and losing that money meant in the 1850s.

Image is believed to be in the public domain.

Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World (1829)

Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World (1829)

David Walker

 

Many historians regard David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World as one of the most powerful political documents of the nineteenth century. In his essay, Walker went much further than calling for an end to slavery. He argued for racial equality and encouraged African Americans to be proud of their history and accomplishments, claiming “America is more our country than it is the whites – we have enriched it with our blood and tears.” Even William Lloyd Garrison found Walker too radical for the American Anti-Slavery Society.[1]

 

Walker was born free in 1796 to an enslaved father and free black mother in South Carolina. By 1925, he owned a small dry goods store in Boston, Massachusetts, where he was active in the small but growing abolitionist movement. He aided fugitive slaves moving North on the Underground Railroad, and spoke publicly against slavery and its expansion. He wrote for abolitionist newspapers and worked with William Lloyd Garrison and other abolitionists of the era. While Garrison did not agree with some of Walker’s ideas and refused to publish his Appeal in The Liberator, many abolitionists understood the power in Walker’s call for African Americans to be proud of their contributions to American society rather than ashamed of their “degraded” position in society.

 

The Appeal had an immediate impact on the country. Southern states banned distribution of the Appeal, claiming it was treasonous and would spark a race war. Walker and a small network of black abolitionists distributed the Appeal anyway. Black sailors sewed copies of the pamphlet inside their clothes, handing them out to free blacks in southern cities who then shared Walker’s words with slaves travelling in and out of the city. White southerners blamed Walker’s Appeal for Nat Turner’s Rebellion in 1831 (as well as Garrison’s Liberator newspaper, published for the first time a few months before the uprising). In 1830, the Governor of Georgia offered a $10,000 reward for the capture of David Walker.

 

Walker died of tuberculosis in August, 1830, just a year after he published his Appeal. His message remained a rallying point for African Americans for many years after his death, and even after the end of slavery. Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X all cite Walker as an influence on their own thinking and writing. Below is an excerpt from the first (of four) Articles of the Appeal.[2]

 

ARTICLE I.

OUR WRETCHEDNESS IN CONSEQUENCE OF SLAVERY.

 My beloved brethren:[3] - The Indians of North and of South America -the Greeks - the Irish, subjected under the king of Great—the Jews, that ancient people of the Lord -the inhabitants of the islands of the sea - in fine, all the inhabitants of the earth, (except however, the sons of Africa) are called men, and of course are, and ought to be free. But we, (coloured people) and our children are brutes!! and of course are, and ought to be SLAVES to the American people and their children forever!! to dig their mines and work their farms; and thus go on enriching them, from one generation to another with our blood and our tears !!!!

I promised in a preceding page to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the most incredulous, that we, (coloured people of these United States of America) are the most wretched, degraded and abject set of beings that ever lived since the world began, and that the white Americans having reduced us to the wretched state of slavery, treat us in that condition more cruel (they being an enlightened and Christian people,) than any heathen nation did any people whom it had reduced to our condition. These affirmations are so well confirmed in the minds of all unprejudiced men, who have taken the trouble to read histories, that they need no elucidation from me. But to put them beyond all doubt, I refer you in the first place to the children of Jacob, or of Israel in Egypt, under Pharaoh and his people. Some of my brethren do not know who Pharaoh and the Egyptians were - I know it to be a fact, that some of them take the Egyptians to have been a gang of devils, not knowing any better, and that they (Egyptians) having got possession of the Lord's people, treated them nearly as cruel as Christian Americans do us, at the present day. For the information of such, I would only mention that the Egyptians, were Africans or coloured people, such as we are - some of them yellow and others dark -a mixture of Ethiopians and the natives of Egypt -about the same as you see the coloured people of the United States at the present day…[4]

Compare (Ancient Egypt) with the American institutions. Do they not institute laws to prohibit us from marrying among the whites? I would wish, candidly, however, before the Lord, to be understood, that I would not give a pinch of snuff to be married to any white person I ever saw in all the days of my life…[5] It is not, indeed, what I care about inter-marriages with the whites, which induced me to pass this subject in review; for the Lord knows, that there is a day coming when they will be glad enough to get into the company of the blacks, notwithstanding, we are, in this generation, levelled by them, almost on a level with the brute creation: and some of us they treat even worse than they do the brutes that perish. I only made this extract to show how much lower we are held, and how much more cruel we are treated by the Americans, than were the children of Jacob, by the Egyptians. - We will notice the sufferings of Israel some further, under heathen Pharaoh, compared with ours under the enlightened Christians of America.

…Need I mention the very notorious fact, that I have known a poor man of colour, who laboured night and day, to acquire a little money, and having acquired it, he vested it in a small piece of land, and got him a house erected thereon, and having paid for the whole, he moved his family into it, where he was suffered to remain but nine months, when he was cheated out of his property by a white man, and driven out of door! And is not this the case generally? Can a man of colour buy a piece of land and keep it peaceably? Will not some white man try to get it from him, even if it is in a mud hole? I need not comment any farther on a subject, which all both black and white, will readily admit. But I must, really, observe that in this very city, when a man of colour dies, if he owned any real estate it most generally falls into the hands of some white person. The wife and children of the deceased may weep and lament if they please, but the estate will be kept snug enough by its white possessor.[6]

But to prove farther that the condition of the Israelites was better under the Egyptians than ours is under the whites. I call upon the professing Christians, I call upon the philanthropist, I call upon the very tyrant himself, to show me a page of history, either sacred or profane, on which a verse can be found, which maintains, that the Egyptians heaped the insupportable insult upon the children of Israel, by telling them that they were not of the human family. Can the whites deny this charge? Have they not, after having reduced us to the deplorable condition of slaves under their feet, held us up as descending originally from the tribes of Monkeys or Orang-Outangs? O! my God! I appeal to every man of feeling—is not this insupportable? Is it not heaping the most gross insult upon our miseries, because they have got us under their feet and we cannot help ourselves? Oh! pity us we pray thee, Lord Jesus, Master.

Has Mr. Jefferson declared to the world, that we are inferior to the whites, both in the endowments of our bodies and our minds?[7] It is indeed surprising, that a man of such great learning, combined with such excellent natural parts, should speak so of a set of men in chains. I do not know what to compare it to, unless, like putting one wild deer in an iron cage, where it will be secured, and hold another by the side of the same, then let it go, and expect the one in the cage to run as fast as the one at liberty.[8] So far, my brethren, were the Egyptians from heaping these insults upon their slaves, that Pharaoh's daughter took Moses, a son of Israel for her own, as will appear by the following.

"And Pharaoh's daughter said unto her, [Moses' mother] take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will pay thee thy wages. And the woman took the child [Moses] and nursed it.

"And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh's daughter and he became her son. And she called his name Moses: and she said because I drew him out of the water." 

In all probability, Moses would have become Prince Regent to the throne, and no doubt, in process of time but he would have been seated on the throne of Egypt. But he had rather suffer shame, with the people of God, than to enjoy pleasures with that wicked people for a season. O! that the coloured people were long since of Moses' excellent disposition, instead of courting favour with, and telling news and lies to our natural enemies, against each other - aiding them to keep their hellish chains of slavery upon us. Would we not long before this time, have been respectable men, instead of such wretched victims of oppression as we are? Would they be able to drag our mothers, our fathers, our wives, our children and ourselves, around the world in chains and handcuffs as they do, to dig up gold and silver for them and theirs? This question, my brethren, I leave for you to digest: and may God Almighty force it home to your hearts. Remember that unless you are united, keeping your tongues within your teeth, you will be afraid to trust your secrets to each other, and thus perpetuate our miseries under the Christians!!!!

ADDITION. - Remember, also to lay humble at the feet of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, with prayers and fastings. Let our enemies go on with their butcheries, and at once fill up their cup. Never make an attempt to gain our freedom or natural right, from under our cruel oppressor, and murderers, until you see your way clear - when that hour arrives and you move, be not afraid or dismayed; for be you assured that Jesus Christ the King of heaven and of earth who is the God of justice and of armies, will surely go before you. And those enemies who have for hundreds of years stolen our rights, and kept us ignorant of Him and His divine worship, he will remove.

Millions of whom, are this day, so ignorant and avaricious, that they cannot conceive how God can have an attribute of justice, and show mercy to us because it pleased Him to make us black - which colour, Mr. Jefferson calls unfortunate!!!!!! As though we are not as thankful to our God, for having made us as it pleased himself, as they, (the whites,) are for having made them white. They think because they hold us in their infernal chains of slavery, that we wish to be white, or of their color - but they are dreadfully deceived - we wish to be just as it pleased our Creator to have made us, and no avaricious and unmerciful wretches, have any business to make slaves of, or hold us in slavery. How would they like for us to make slaves of, and hold them in cruel slavery, and murder them as they do us? - But is Mr. Jefferson's assertions true? - "that it is unfortunate for us that our Creator has been pleased to make us black." We will not take his say so, for the fact. The world will have an opportunity to see whether it is unfortunate for us, that our Creator has made us darker than the whites.

Fear not the number and education of our enemies, against whom we shall have to contend for our lawful right; guaranteed to us by our Maker; for why should we be afraid, when God is, and will continue, (if we continue humble) to be on our side?

…I saw a paragraph, a few years since, in a South Carolina paper, which, speaking of the barbarity of the Turks, it said "The Turks are the most barbarous people in the world—they treat the Greeks more like brutes than human beings." And in the same paper was an advertisement, which said: "Eight well built Virginia and Maryland Negro fellows and four wenches will positively be sold this day, to the highest bidder!" And what astonished me still more was, to see in this same humane paper!! the cuts of three men, with clubs and budgets on their backs, and an advertisement offering a considerable sum of money for their apprehension and delivery. I declare, it is really so amusing to hear the Southerners and Westerners of this country talk about barbarity, that it is positively, enough to make a man smile.

…Can Christian Americans deny these barbarous cruelties? Have you not, Americans, having subjected us under you, added to these miseries, by insulting us in telling us to our face, because we are helpless, that we are not of the human family? I ask you, O! Americans, I ask you, in the name of the Lord, can you deny these charges? Some perhaps may deny, by saying, that they never thought or said that we were not men. But do not actions speak louder than words? - Have they not made provisions for the Greeks, and Irish?[9] Nations who have never done the least thing for them, while we, who have enriched their country with our blood and tears - have dug up gold and silver for them and their children, from generation to generation, and are in more miseries than any other people under heaven, are not seen, but by comparatively, a handful of the American people?

I have been for years troubling the pages of historians, to find out what our fathers have done to the white Christians of America, to merit such condign punishment as they have inflicted on them, and do continue to inflict on us their children.[10] But I must aver, that my researches have hitherto been to no effect. I have therefore, come to the immoveable conclusion, that they (Americans) have, and do continue to punish us for nothing else, but for enriching them and their country. For I cannot conceive of anything else. Nor will I ever believe otherwise, until the Lord shall convince me.

The world knows, that slavery as it existed among the Romans, (which was the primary cause of their destruction) was, comparatively speaking, no more than a cypher, when compared with ours under the Americans.[11] Indeed I should not have noticed the Roman slaves, had not the very learned and penetrating Mr. Jefferson said, "when a master was murdered, all his slaves in the same house, or within hearing, were condemned to death.” - Here let me ask Mr. Jefferson, (but he is gone to answer at the bar of God, for the deeds done in his body while living,) I therefore ask the whole American people, had I not rather die, or be put to death, than to be a slave to any tyrant, who takes not only my own, but my wife and children's lives by the inches? Yea, would I meet death with avidity far! far!! in preference to such servile submission to the murderous hands of tyrants. Mr. Jefferson's very severe remarks on us have been so extensively argued upon by men whose attainments in literature, I shall never be able to reach, that I would not have meddled with it, were it not to solicit each of my brethren, who has the spirit of a man, to buy a copy of Mr. Jefferson's "Notes on Virginia," and put it in the hand of his son. For let no one of us suppose that the refutations which have been written by our white friends are enough - they are whites - we are blacks.[12] We, and the world wish to see the charges of Mr. Jefferson refuted by the blacks themselves, according to their chance; for we must remember that what the whites have written respecting this subject, is other men's labours, and did not emanate from the blacks. I know well, that there are some talents and learning among the coloured people of this country, which we have not a chance to develope, in consequence of oppression; but our oppression ought not to hinder us from acquiring all we can. For we will have a chance to develope them by and by. God will not suffer us, always to be oppressed. Our sufferings will come to an end, in spite of all the Americans this side of eternity.

But let us review Mr. Jefferson's remarks respecting us some further. Comparing our miserable fathers, with the learned philosophers of Greece, he says: "Yet notwithstanding these and other discouraging circumstances among the Romans, their slaves were often their rarest artists. They excelled too, in science, insomuch as to be usually employed as tutors to their master's children; Epictetus, Terence and Phaedrus, were slaves, - but they were of the race of whites. It is not their condition then, but nature, which has produced the distinction." See this, my brethren!! Do you believe that this assertion is swallowed by millions of the whites? Do you know that Mr. Jefferson was one of as great characters as ever lived among the whites? See his writings for the world, and public labours for the United States of America. Do you believe that the assertions of such a man, will pass away into oblivion unobserved by this people and the world? If you do you are much mistaken - See how the American people treat us - have we souls in our bodies? Are we men who have any spirits at all? I know that there are many swell-bellied fellows among us, whose greatest object is to fill their stomachs. Such I do not mean - I am after those who know and feel, that we are MEN, as well as other people; to them, I say, that unless we try to refute Mr. Jefferson's arguments respecting us, we will only establish them.[13]

Every body who has read history, knows, that as soon as a slave among the Romans obtained his freedom, he could rise to the greatest eminence in the State, and there was no law instituted to hinder a slave from buying his freedom. Have not the Americans instituted laws to hinder us from obtaining our freedom? Do any deny this charge? Read the laws of Virginia, North Carolina, &c.[14] Further: have not the Americans instituted laws to prohibit a man of colour from obtaining and holding any office whatever, under the government of the United States of America? Now, Mr. Jefferson tells us, that our condition is not so hard, as the slaves were under the Romans!!!!!!

It is time for me to bring this article to a close. But before I close it, I must observe to my brethren that at the close of the first Revolution in this country, with Great Britain, there were but thirteen States in the Union, now there are twenty four, most of which are slave-holding States, and the whites are dragging us around in chains and in handcuffs, to their new States and Territories to work their mines and farms, to enrich them and their children - and millions of them believing firmly that we being a little darker than they, were made by our Creator to be an inheritance to them and their children for ever - the same as a parcel of brutes.

Are we MEN!! - I ask you, O my brethren! are we MEN? Did our Creator make us to be slaves to dust and ashes like ourselves? Are they not dying worms as well as we? Have they not to make their appearance before the tribunal of Heaven, to answer for the deeds done in the body, as well as we? Have we any other Master but Jesus Christ alone? Is he not their Master as well as ours? - What right then, have we to obey and call any other Master, but Himself? How we could be so submissive to a gang of men, whom we cannot tell whether they are as good as ourselves or not, I never could conceive. However, this is shut up with the Lord, and we cannot precisely tell - but I declare, we judge men by their works.

 

 

[1] In the second issue of his anti-slavery newspaper, The Liberator, Garrison denounced Walker's Appeal. "Believing, as we do," Garrison wrote, "that a good end does not justify wicked means…we deprecate [disapprove of] the spirit and tendency of this Appeal." Garrison did, however, qualify his denouncement. He continued, "Nevertheless, it is not for the American people, as a nation, to denounce it as bloody or monstrous." Garrison went on to hold the slave owners responsible for any violent resistance, writing "…every sentence they write -- every word they speak -- every resistance they make. . .," Garrison said, "is a call upon their slaves to destroy them."

[2] David Walker, Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, 1829.

                A NOTE: Walker uses the term “colored” in reference to African Americans. It is not appropriate for you to use “colored” when writing in your own voice today unless in a direct quote or reference to the title. See the Guidelines for details. Walker also uses the British spelling of “colo(u)red” as well as several other words. Unless you are in the practice of using British spelling, please use the American spelling when writing in your own voice. Otherwise, it seems like you are just copying words and phrases from the text.

                ANOTHER NOTE: Walker frequently employs a definite article in reference to races, i.e., “the blacks,” and “the whites,” which is awkward and inaccurate phrasing in today’s writing. “The Blacks” implies a uniformly defined group (hence the definite article). Avoid copying this phrase in your own writing. While quoting Walker’s phrasing is completely acceptable, using phrases like “the blacks” when writing in your own voice distracts from the seriousness of your writing. 

[3] Brethren means “brothers,” and/or family group. Walker uses brethren to refer to African Americans.

[4] In the Old Testament, Jacob was one of Judaism’s three patriarchs (along with Jacob’s father Abraham, and brother Isaac). Jacob’s twelve sons founded the twelve tribes of Israel. The Israelites (also known as the Hebrews or Jews) were enslaved by the Egyptian Pharaoh until Moses led them to freedom in the Land of Canaan where the Pharaoh eventually gave the freed Israelites land and protection. Jacob later changed his name to Israel, and his followers were known as the “children of Israel,” or, the Jews. The story is much more complicated than this, but Walker references Jacob and the Pharaoh as an example of the difference between slavery in the Bible and slavery in the United States.

[5] Snuff is smokeless tobacco.

[6] This happened to Walker’s widow and three children after he died in 1830, the year after he wrote this.

[7] Walker offers quite a retort to Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, which we read earlier in the semester. Jefferson’s book was published thirty years before Walker’s Appeal.

[8] This is an interesting analogy, one echoed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in his 1965 Commencement address at Howard University. Arguing in support of the Civil Rights Act passed the previous year in 1964, Johnson said, “you do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, “you are free to compete with all the others,” and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.”

[9] During the 1820s, the Greeks gained their independence from the Ottoman Empire (the “Turks”), who had occupied Greece for four hundred years. The bloody Civil War, however, spurred a small wave of Greek immigration to the United States. Irish refugees fleeing from British tyranny in Ireland started arriving in small numbers during the 1820s as well.

[10] Codign means appropriate.

[11] In this context, cypher means an empty character, or, lifeless. Walker implies Roman slavery was empty of meaning compared to American slavery.

[12] What is Walker saying here about white abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison?

[13] In his 1903 essay, On Mr. Washington and Others, W.E.B. Du Bois echoed Walker’s point: “In the history of nearly all other races and peoples the doctrine preached at such crises has been that manly self-respect is worth more than lands and houses, and that a people who voluntarily surrender such respect, or cease striving for it, are not worth civilizing.”

[14] You read Virginia Slave Codes earlier in the semester. Most of the colonial Slave Codes remain on the books through the Civil War. After the war, the Slave Codes become the Jim Crow segregation laws.

Free Labor and Slave Labor

Free Labor and Slave Labor

Lydia Maria Child

 

Lydia Maria Child was one of the most prolific and influential writers of the nineteenth century. Like many women of the era, Child was not allowed to attend college despite her aptitude and desire to do so. Her brother, however, graduated from Harvard University where he met many of the early reform writers and activists. As a result, Child grew up around writers like Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, became life-long friends with Margaret Fuller, and spent time with the leading abolitionists and reformers of the era. During the 1820s, Child gained some notice with her fiction and poetry writing, although she really made a name for herself publishing household guides like The American Frugal Housewife in 1832 (Harriet Robinson mentioned Lydia Maria Child and her cookbook in Loom and Spindle).[1] She also published children’s books, and started the first children’s magazine in the United States, called the Juvenile Miscellany.[2] 

 

Child and her husband met abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison in 1830, the year before he published the first edition of The Liberator. Meeting Garrison and other abolitionists spurred her activism in the growing abolitionist movement, considered radical and dangerous by most Americans at the time. Child also protested Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830 and became increasingly involved in the women’s rights movement. In 1833, Child published An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called African, calling for immediate abolition of slavery and full equality for African Americans. Child faced backlash from her readers, who stopped buying her books and forced her children’s magazine to close. Childs and her husband became more deeply involved in the abolitionist and women’s rights movement, and their home outside of Boston was a station on the Underground Railroad. In 1861, the year the Civil War began, Childs edited and wrote the introduction for Harriet Jacobs autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

 

Below is an except from chapter three of her Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called African.[3]

 

CHAPTER III.

FREE LABOR AND SLAVE LABOR. - POSSIBILITY OF SAFE EMANCIPATION[4]

Political economists found their systems on those broad and general principles (of free labor), the application of which has been proved by reason and experience to produce the greatest possible happiness to the greatest number of people. All writers of this class, I believe without exception, prefer free labor to slave labor. Indeed a very brief glance will show that slavery is inconsistent with economy, whether domestic or political…

 

The slave is bought, sometimes at a very high price; in free labor there is no such investment of capital. When the slave is ill, a physician must be paid by the owner; the free laborer defrays his own expenses. The children of the slave must be supported by his master; the free man maintains his own. The slave is to be taken care of in his old age, which his previous habits render peculiarly helpless; the free laborer is hired when he is wanted, and then returns to his home.

 

The slave does not care how slowly or carelessly he works; it is the free man's interest to do his business well and quickly. The slave is indifferent how many tools he spoils; the free man has a motive to be careful. The slave's clothing is indeed very cheap, but it is of no consequence to him how fast it is destroyed - his master must keep him covered, and that is all he is likely to do; the hired laborer pays more for his garments, but makes them last three times as long. The free man will be honest for reputation's sake; but reputation will make the slave none the richer, nor invest him with any of the privileges of a human being - while his poverty and sense of wrong both urge him to steal from his master. A salary must be paid to an overseer to compel the slave to work; the free man is impelled by the desire of increasing the comforts of himself and family. Two hired laborers will perform as much work as three slaves; by some it is supposed to be a more correct estimate that slaves perform only half as much labor as the same number of free laborers.[5] Finally, where slaves are employed, manual industry is a degradation to white people, and indolence becomes the prevailing characteristic.[6]

 

Slave-owners have indeed frequently shown great adroitness in defending this bad system; but, with few exceptions, they base their arguments upon the necessity of continuing slavery because it is already begun. Many of them have openly acknowledged that it was highly injurious to the prosperity of the State.…That labor is best, in which the laborer knows that he will derive the profits of his industry, that his employment depends upon his diligence, and his reward upon this assiduity. He then has every motive to excite him to exertion, and to animate him in perseverance. He knows that if he is treated badly, he can exchange his employer for one who will better estimate his service; and that whatever he earns is his, to be distributed by himself as he pleases, among his wife and children, and friends, or enjoyed by himself. In a word, he feels that he is a free agent, with rights, and privileges, and sensibilities.

 

…"Wherever the option exists to employ, at an equal hire, free or slave labor, the former will be decidedly preferred... It is more capable, more diligent, more faithful, and in every respect more worthy of confidence. It is believed that nowhere in the farming portion of the United States would slave labor be generally employed, if the proprietor were not tempted to raise slaves by the high price of the Southern market, which keeps it up in his own…"[7]

 

Speaking of an attempt more than thirty-five years ago, to adopt gradual emancipation in Kentucky, Mr. Clay says: "We were overpowered by numbers, and submitted to the decision of the majority, with the grace which the minority, in a republic, should ever yield to such a decision. I have nevertheless never ceased, and never shall cease, to regret a decision, the effects of which have been, to place us in the rear of our neighbors, who are exempt from slavery, in the state of agriculture, the progress of manufactures, the advance of improvement, and the general prosperity of society."[8]

 

…It is commonly urged against emancipation that white men cannot possibly labor under the sultry climate of our most southerly States. This is a good reason for not sending the slaves out of the country, but it is no argument against making them free.[9] No doubt we do need their labor; but we ought to pay for it. Why should their presence be any more disagreeable as hired laborers, than as slaves? In Boston, we continually meet colored people in the streets, and employ them in various ways, without being endangered or even incommoded. There is no moral impossibility in a perfectly kind and just relation between the two races.

 

If white men think otherwise, let them remove from climates which nature has made too hot for their constitutions. Wealth or pleasure often induces men to change their abode; an emigration for the sake of humanity would be an agreeable novelty.

 

…But the slaveholders try to stop all the efforts of benevolence, by vociferous complaints about infringing upon their property; and justice is so subordinate to self-interest, that the unrighteous claim is silently allowed, and even openly supported, by those who ought to blush for themselves, as Christians and as republicans. Let men simplify their arguments - let them confine themselves to one single question, "What right can a man have to compel his neighbor to toil without reward, and leave the same hopeless inheritance to his children, in order that he may live in luxury and indolence?" Let the doctrines of expediency return to the Father of Lies, who invented them, and gave them power to turn every way for evil. The Christian knows no appeal from the decisions of God, plainly uttered in his conscience.

 

…All ideas of property are founded upon the mutual agreement of the human race, and are regulated by such laws as are deemed most conducive to the general good. In slavery there is no mutual agreement; for in that case it would not be slavery. The negro has no voice in the matter - no alternative is presented to him - no bargain is made. The beginning of his bondage is the triumph of power over weakness; its continuation is the tyranny of knowledge over ignorance. One man may as well claim an exclusive right to the air another man breathes, as to the possession of his limbs and faculties. Personal freedom is the birthright of every human being. God himself made it the first great law of creation; and no human enactment can render it null and void.[10]

 

Am I reminded that the laws acknowledge these vested rights in human flesh? I answer the laws themselves were made by individuals, who wished to justify the wrong and profit by it. We ought never to have recognised a claim, which cannot exist according to the laws of God; it is our duty to atone for the error; and the sooner we make a beginning, the better will it be for us all. Must our arguments be based upon justice and mercy to the slaveholders only? Have the negroes no right to ask compensation for their years and years of unrewarded toil? It is true that they have food and clothing, of such kind, and in such quantities, as their masters think proper. But it is evident that this is not the worth of their labor; for the proprietors can give from one hundred to five and six hundred dollars for a slave, beside the expense of supporting those who are too old or too young to labor. They could not afford to do this, if the slave did not earn more than he receives in food and clothing. If the laws allowed the slave to redeem himself progressively, the owner would receive his money back again; and the negro's years of uncompensated toil would be more than lawful interest.

 

…The southerners are much in the habit of saying they really wish for emancipation, if it could be effected in safety; but I search in vain for any proof that these assertions are sincere. (When I say this I speak collectively; there are, no doubt, individual exceptions.)

 

Instead of profiting by the experience of other nations, the slave-owners, as a body, have resolutely shut their eyes against the light, because they preferred darkness.[11] Every change in the laws has riveted the chain closer and closer upon their victims; every attempt to make the voice of reason and benevolence heard has been overpowered with threatening and abuse. A cautious vigilance against improvement, a keen-eyed jealousy of all freedom of opinion, has characterized their movements. There can be no doubt that the majority wish to perpetuate slavery. They support it with loud bravado, or insidious sophistry, or pretended regret; but they never abandon the point. Their great desire is to keep the public mind turned in another direction. They are well aware that the ugly edifice is built of rotten timbers, and stands on slippery sands—if the loud voice of public opinion could be made to reverberate through its dreary chambers, the unsightly frame would fall, never to rise again.

 

Since so many of their own citizens admit that the policy of this system is unsound, and its effects injurious, it is wonderful that they do not begin to destroy the "costly iniquity" in good earnest.[12] But long-continued habit is very powerful; and in the habit of slavery are concentrated the strongest evils of human nature—vanity, pride, love of power, licentiousness, and indolence.

 

There is a minority, particularly in Virginia and Kentucky, who sincerely wish a change for the better; but they are overpowered, and have not even ventured to speak, except in the great Virginia debate of 1832.[13] In the course of that debate, the spirit of slavery showed itself without disguise. The members talked of emancipation; but with one or two exceptions, they merely wanted to emancipate, or rather to send away, the surplus population, which they could neither keep nor sell, and which might prove dangerous. They wished to get rid of the consequences of the evil, but were determined to keep the evil itself. Some members from Western Virginia, who spoke in a better spirit, and founded their arguments on the broad principles of justice, not on the mere convenience of a certain class, were repelled with angry excitement. The eastern districts threatened to separate from the western, if the latter persisted in expressing opinions opposed to the continuance of slavery. From what I have uniformly heard of the comparative prosperity of Eastern and Western Virginia, I should think this was very much like the town's poor threatening to separate from the town.[14]

 

The mere circumstance of daring to debate on the subject was loudly reprimanded; and there was a good deal of indignation expressed that "reckless editors, and imprudent correspondents, had presumed so far as to allude to it in the columns of a newspaper." Discussion in the Legislature was strongly deprecated until a plan had been formed; yet they must have known that no plan could be formed, in a republican government, without previous discussion. The proposal contained within itself that self-perpetuating power, for which the schemes of slave-owners are so remarkable.[15]

 

The advocates of slavery remind me of a comparison I once heard differently applied: Even thus does a dog, unwilling to follow his master's carriage, bite the wheels, in a vain effort to stop its progress

 

 

[1] Lydia Maria Child, The Frugal Housewife, 1844.

[2] Lydia Maria Child, The Juvenile Miscellany, 1826-36. Sarah J. Hale edited the magazine from 1834-36, when she left to become the editor of Godey’s Ladies’ Book, which should be familiar to you. See the textbook for details.

                Child’s best know poem is called, “Over the River and Through the Woods,” (original title – “The New England Boys Song about Thanksgiving”), written in 1844. You might recognize the first stanza: Over the River and through the Wood/to Grandfather’s house we go/the horse knows the way/ to carry the sleigh/through the white and drifted snow. It’s considered more of a Christmas poem today.

[4] “Free labor” should definitely be in your notes. See the textbook for details.

[5] Child’s claims that “free laborers,” which in this case means white men, are better workers than “slave labor,” meaning black men, is completely wrong. It does move her point along, however.

[6] Remember Colonel Mason at the Constitutional Convention in 1787: “The poor despise labor when performed by slaves. They prevent the emigration of whites, who really enrich and strengthen a country.”

[7] Quote from Senator Henry Clay.  

[8] Why does Child quote Clay so extensively here? What was Clay’s point?

[9] The American Colonization Movement should be in your notes. See the textbook for details. Henry Clay was one of the founders of the American Colonization Society.

[10] Child’s argument here is straight out of John Locke’s Two Treatise on Government. How did Locke define freedom? What was the role of government in an organized society of (white) men, according to Locke?

[11] Child references other Empires and Nations which already ended slavery – “the experience of other Nations.”  Great Britain in particular.

[12] What does she mean by “destroy the cost iniquity?”

[13] Following Nat Turner’s Rebellion in 1831, the Virginia State Legislature debated whether to enact a gradual emancipation program.

[14] The same western counties will secede from Virginia (and thus, the Confederacy) in 1861 (the year the Civil War began), forming the separate, free state of West Virginia.

[15] See the textbook for details about the “gag-rule.”

General Manuel de Mier y Terán Letter to Mexican President Guadalupe Victoria

General Manuel de Mier y Terán
General Manuel de Mier y Terán

General Manuel de Mier y Terán Letter to

Mexican President Guadalupe Victoria

After a decade of revolution and war, Mexico won its independence from the Spanish Empire in 1821. The former territories of New Spain transitioned to Mexican states. One of the largest states, Tejas, was under the control of the powerful Comanche Nation despite Mexico’s claim to the region. The same year as independence, the Mexican government invited Americans to settle in Texas, offering generous land grants to agents (empresarios) who convinced Americans to relocate to Mexican state of Texas. The most successful empresario, Stephen F. Austin, brought 300 families to his settlement in 1925. By 1930, over 7,000 Americans lived in Texas, including close to 1,000 enslaved people.

The Mexican government required the American immigrants adopt Roman Catholicism and speak Spanish. A third condition emerged after 1924, when the neighboring state of Coahuila abolished slavery along with several other Mexican states. At the same time, the native-born Mexicans living in Texas (Tejanos) worried about the growing influence and size of the American population. The Comanche retained control of trade and land within Tejas, but also worried about the power of the Americans, who seemed especially intent to protect slavery no matter what the Mexican government decreed.

General Manuel de Mier y Terán served in the Mexican revolution against Spain. In 1827, Mexican President Guadalupe Victoria dispatched Terán Tejas to assess its military, commercial, and agricultural potential. Terán warned that Mexico was losing control over Tejas, and the Americans seemed to think they were still in the United States rather than immigrants in a foreign country. President Victoria appointed Terán commandant general for the northeast states and federal commissioner of colonizatio. Terán’s efforts to curb the power of the Americans, they declared Tejas an independent republic in 1836. The Mexican-American followed 12 years later.[1]

 

June 30, 1828
...As one covers the distance from Béjar[2] to this town, he will note that Mexican influence is proportionately diminished until on arriving in this place he will see that it is almost nothing. And indeed, whence could such influence come? Hardly from superior numbers in population, since the ratio of Mexicans to foreigners[3] is one to ten; certainly not from the superior character of the Mexican population, for exactly the opposite is true, the Mexicans of this town comprising what in all countries is called the lowest class-the very poor and very ignorant. The naturalized North Americans in the town maintain an English school, and send their children north for further education; the poor Mexicans not only do not have sufficient means to establish schools, but they are not of the type that take any thought for the improvement of its public institutions or the betterment of its degraded condition. Neither are there civil authorities or magistrates; one insignificant little man--not to say more--who is called an alcalde[4], and an ayuntamiento[5] that does not convene once in a lifetime is the most that we have here at this important point on our frontier; yet, wherever I have looked, in the short time that I have been here, I have witnessed grave occurrences, both political and judicial.

Therefore, Senor President[6], I must disturb you in the same way I was disturbed to see the foreign colonists’ attitudes toward our nation. Most of them, with the exception of few who have traveled to our capital, know no other Mexicans than the inhabitants about here, and excepting the authorities necessary to any form of society, the said inhabitants are the most ignorant of Negroes and Indians, among whom I pass for a man of culture. Thus, I tell myself that it could not be otherwise than that from such a state of affairs should arise an antagonism between the Mexicans and foreigners, which is not the least of the smoldering fires which I have discovered. Therefore, I am warning you to take timely measures. Texas could throw the whole nation into revolution.

The colonists[7] murmur against the political disorganization of the frontier, and the Mexicans complain of the superiority and better education of the colonists; the colonists find it unendurable that they must go three hundred leagues[8] to lodge a complaint against the petty pickpocketing that they suffer from a venal and ignorant alcalde, and the Mexicans with no knowledge of the laws of their own country nor those regulating colonization, set themselves against the foreigners, deliberately setting nets to deprive them of the right of franchise and to exclude them from the ayuntamiento. Meanwhile, the incoming stream of new settlers is unceasing; the first news of these comes by discovering them on land already under cultivation, where they have been located for many months; the old inhabitants set up a claim to the property, basing their titles of doubtful priority, and for which there are no records, on a law of the Spanish government; and thus arises a lawsuit in which the alcalde has a chance to come out with some money. In this state of affairs, the town where there are no magistrates is the one in which lawsuits abound, and it is at once evident that in Nacogdoches and its vicinity, being most distant from the seat of the general government, the primitive order of things should take its course, which is to say that this section is being settled up without the consent of anybody....

In spite of the enmity that usually exists between the Mexicans and the foreigners, there is a most evident uniformity of opinion on one point, namely the separation of Texas from Coahuila[9] and its organization into a territory of the federal government. This idea, which was conceived by some of the colonists who are above the average, has become general among the people and does not fail to cause considerable discussion. In explaining the reasons assigned by them for this demand, I shall do no more than relate what I have heard with no addition of my own conclusions, and I frankly state that I have been commissioned by some of the colonists to explain to you their motives, notwithstanding the fact that I should have done so anyway in the fulfillment of my duty.

They claim that Texas in its present condition of a colony is an expense, since it is not a sufficiently prosperous section to contribute to the revenues of the state administration; and since it is such a charge it ought not to be imposed upon a state as poor as Coahuila, which has not the means of defraying the expenses of the corps of political and judicial officers necessary for the maintenance of peace and order. Furthermore, it is impracticable that recourse in all matters should be had to a state capital so distant and separated from this section by deserts infected by hostile savages. Again, their interests are very different from those of the other sections, and because of this they should be governed by a separate territorial government, having learned by experience that the mixing of their affairs with those of Coahuila brings about friction[10]. The native inhabitants of Texas add to the above other reasons which indicate an aversion for the inhabitants of Coahuila; also the authority of the comandante and the collection of taxes is disputed...

The whole population here is a mixture of strange and incoherent parts without parallel in our federation: numerous tribes of Indians, now at peace, but armed and at any moment ready for war, whose steps toward civilization should be taken under the close supervision of a strong and intelligent government; colonists of another people, more progressive and better informed than the Mexican inhabitants, but also more shrewd and unruly; among these foreigners are fugitives from justice, honest laborers, vagabonds and criminals, but honorable and dishonorable alike travel with their political constitution in their pockets[11], demanding the privileges, authority and officers which such a constitution guarantees.

Most of them hold slaves, who, now having perceived the favorable intent of Mexican law with regard to their tragic state, are becoming restless to throw off their yoke, while their masters believe they can keep them my making (the yoke) heavier. They commit the barbarities on their slaves that are so common where men live a relationship so contradictory to their nature: they pull their teeth, they set dogs upon them to tear them apart, and the mildest of them will whip the slaves until they are flayed.[12]

Thus, the growth of the population, its extraordinary nature, and the interests and security of the nation to my mind call for us to put here a political chief, and a tribunal or counselor employing all necessary means…then we could proceed to create prosperity for the colonists, many of whom – who are not prosperous because of their situation – lean toward rebellion and troublemaking. Then we could situate the old wild tribes who, with the introduction of the new ones, can no long survive on hunting because their animals are being decimated. Though it seems unbelievable, the merchants’ books show that in one year, 80,000 deerskins have been shipped from this town as a result of trade with the savages. This trade might continue for two or three years, but finally the deer will be finished, as has occurred in the (United) States of the north, and this is another of the reasons why the wild tribes of that nation flow into our territory.

Forgive the amount of reading I have sent you, but I wish to inform you right away about this country and not wait until the day I present my complete observations to the government, because by then the time to take corrective action will have passed.

 

 

 

 

 

[2] Bexar (Béjar)was the first Spanish settlement in what is now Texas. The Presidio San Antonio de Bexar served as fortification for the growing settlement, particularly the nearby Mission de San Antonio (“the Alamo”). The Battle of Bexar (1835) was an early skirmish between Americans living in Texas and the Mexican government, a year before the Battle of the Alamo (1836). In other words, Terán left San Antonio and headed to Nacogdoches (near Houston and Galveston).

[3] “Foreigners” refers to Americans living in Tejas.

[4] The magistrate, or person in charge of courts (both lawyer and judge).

[5] General term for municipal government, i.e., town council.

[6] Mexican President Guadalupe Victoria.

[7] Americans.

[8] Roughly 1,035 miles.

[9] Coahuila was/is the Mexican state bordering Texas. The Mexican Constitution of 1824 created the state of Coahuila y Tejas (Coahuila and Texas). In 1827, Coahuila banned Americans from bringing slaves into the Coahuila and emancipated enslaved children under the age of 14. Shortly thereafter, Coahuila passed a law stating any enslaved person brought into Texas should be freed within 6 months. Americans were outraged.

[10] The Americans want slaves.

[11] Americans carry around the United States Constitution claiming their constitutional rights (especially the right to enslave, protected by the US Constitution) in Mexico.

[12] Remember your Jefferson: “There must doubtless be an unhappy influence on the manners of our people produced by the existence of slavery among us. The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other. Our children see this, and learn to imitate it; for man is an imitative animal.... If a parent could find no motive either in his philanthropy or his self-love, for restraining the intemperance of passion towards his slave, it should always be a sufficient one that his child is present. But generally, it is not sufficient.... The man must be a prodigy who can retain his manners and morals undepraved by such circumstances.”

Image is believed to be in the public domain.

The Dame Shirley Letters from the California Mines in 1851-52

Drawing of San Francisco, shortly after the discovery of gold in California.
San Francisco, shortly after the discovery of gold in California.

The Dame Shirley Letters from the California Mines in 1851-52

Louise Clappe

 

 

 

Louise Clappe, born in 1819, grew up in the college town of Amherst, Massachusetts. An avid reader, Louise attended a number of “female seminaries,” but finished her education at the Amherst Academy. She married Fayette Clapp in 1849, the same year the couple left New England for California.

 

Despite the fact that they were both quite ill, Louise Clappe[1] and her husband Fayette travelled to California in January, 1850 hoping, like so many others, to find adventure and wealth in the Gold Rush. They first settled in San Francisco but quickly set out for the mountains and gold fields, first in Plumas City, and then to Rich Bar and Indian Bar. Trained as a physician, Fayette worked as a mining supervisor and camp doctor while Louise managed affairs within the camp. While staying at Rich Bar (the same bar Alonzo Delano discussed in his account of the Gold Rush), Louise wrote a total of 23 letters to her sister Mary Jane, or Molly, detailing life in the camps. After she separated from her husband in 1854 (they would divorce in 1857, quite unusual for the time period), an editor for San Francisco’s The Pioneer magazine published her letters under her pseudonym Dame Shirley (she signed her letters to Mary as Dame Shirley). There is some debate over whether Clappe intended her letters to be published or not when she wrote them; either way, her writing offers a unique and often startling picture of the early Gold Rush mining camps. Following the publication of her letters, Clappe settled in San Francisco where she taught writing for another 40 years.

 

Alonzo Delano and Louise Clappe both published the accounts of the Gold Rush in 1854, reflecting the insatiable desire of Americans to read and hear tales from California. Below are excerpts from two of her letters home. Don’t freak out about the page length. This is really interesting stuff, and the letters are not difficult to read. Also, please take note of her tone in the letters[2].

 

 

Letter the Second

[The PioneerMarch, 1854]

RICH BAR—ITS HOTELS and PIONEER FAMILIES

Rich Bar, East Branch of the North Fork of Feather River,

September 15, 1851

 

I believe that I closed my last letter by informing you that I was safely ensconced—after all the hair-breadth escapes of my wearisome, though at the same time delightful, journey—under the magnificent roof of the "Empire," which, by the way, is the hotel of the place, not but that nearly ever other shanty on the Bar claims the same grandiloquent title…It was built by a company of gamblers as a residence for two of those unfortunates who make a trade—a thing of barter—of the holiest passion, when sanctified by love, that ever thrills the wayward heart of poor humanity.

 

To the lasting honor of miners be it written, the speculation proved a decided failure. Yes! these thousand men, many of whom had been for years absent from the softening amenities of female society, and the sweet restraining influences of pure womanhood,—these husbands of fair young wives kneeling daily at the altars of their holy homes to pray for their far-off ones,—these sons of gray-haired mothers, majestic in their sanctified old age,—these brothers of virginal sisters, white and saintlike as the lilies of their own gardens,—looked only with contempt or pity on these, oh! so earnestly to be compassionated creatures. These unhappy members of a class, to one of which the tenderest words that Jesus ever spake were uttered, left in a few weeks, absolutely driven away by public opinion. The disappointed gamblers sold the house to its present proprietor for a few hundred dollars.

 

Mr. B., the landlord of the Empire, was a Western farmer who with his wife crossed the plains about two years ago. Immediately on his arrival he settled at a mining station, where he remained until last spring, when he removed to Rich Bar. Mrs. B. is a gentle and amiable looking woman, about twenty-five years of age. She is an example of the terrible wear and tear to the complexion in crossing the plains, hers having become, through exposure at that time, of a dark and permanent yellow, anything but becoming. I will give you a key to her character, which will exhibit it better than weeks of description. She took a nursing babe, eight months old, from her bosom, and left it with two other children, almost infants, to cross the plains in search of gold! When I arrived she was cooking supper for some half a dozen people, while her really pretty boy, who lay kicking furiously in his champagne-basket cradle, and screaming with a six-months-old-baby power, had, that day, completed just two weeks of his earthly pilgrimage. The inconvenience which she suffered during what George Sand calls "the sublime martyrdom of maternity" would appall the wife of the humblest pauper of a New England village.[3]

 

Another woman, also from the West, was with her at the time of her infant's birth, but scarcely had the "latest-found" given the first characteristic shriek of its debut upon the stage of life, when this person herself was taken seriously ill, and was obliged to return to her own cabin, leaving the poor exhausted mother entirely alone! Her husband lay seriously sick himself at the time, and of course could offer her no assistance. A miner, who lived in the house, and hoarded himself, carried her some bread and tea in the morning and evening, and that was all the care she had. Two days after its birth, she made a desperate effort, and, by easy stages of ten minutes at a time, contrived to get poor baby washed and dressed, after a fashion. He is an astonishingly large and strong child, holds his head up like a six-monther, and has but one failing,—a too evident and officious desire to inform everybody, far and near, at all hours of the night and day, that his lungs are in a perfectly sound and healthy condition,—a piece of intelligence which, though very gratifying, is rather inconvenient if one happens to be particularly sleepy.

 

Mr. and Mrs. B., who have three pretty children, reside in a log cabin at the entrance of the village. One of the little girls was in the barroom to-day, and her sweet and birdlike voice brought tearfully, and yet joyfully, to my memory "Tearsoul," "Leilie," and "Lile Katie."

Mrs. B., who is as small (indeed, I have been confidently informed that she weighs but sixty-eight pounds), keeps, with her husband, the "Miners' Home." (Mem.—The lady tends bar[4].) Voilà, my dear, the female population of my new home. Splendid material for social parties this winter, are they not?

 

 

 

Letter the Fifth

[The PioneerJune, 1854]

DEATH of a MOTHER—LIFE of PIONEER WOMEN

Rich Bar, East Branch of the North Fork of Feather River,

September 22, 1851.

 

It seems indeed awful, dear M., to be compelled to announce to you the death of one of the four women forming the female population of this Bar. I have just returned from the funeral of poor Mrs. B., who died of peritonitis (a common disease in this place)[5], after an illness of four days only. Our hostess herself heard of her sickness but two days since. On her return from a visit which she had paid to the invalid, she told me that although Mrs. B.'s family did not seem alarmed about her, in her opinion she would survive but a few hours. Last night we were startled by the frightful news of her decease. I confess that, without being very egotistical, the death of one, out of a community of four women, might well alarm the remainder.

 

Her funeral took place at ten this morning. The family reside in a log cabin at the head of the Bar, and although it has no window, all the light admitted entering through an aperture where there will be a door when it becomes cold enough for such a luxury, yet I am told, and can easily believe, that it is one of the most comfortable residences in the place. I observed it particularly, for it was the first log cabin that I had ever seen. Everything in the room, though of the humblest description, was exceedingly clean and neat.

 

On a board, supported by two butter-tubs, was extended the body of the dead woman, covered with a sheet. By its side stood the coffin, of unstained pine, lined with white cambric. You, who have alternately laughed and scolded at my provoking and inconvenient deficiency in the power of observing[6], will perhaps wonder at the minuteness of my descriptions; but I know how deeply you are interested in everything relating to California, and therefore I take pains to describe things exactly as I see them, hoping that thus you will obtain an idea of life in the mines as it is.

 

The bereaved husband held in his arms a sickly babe ten months old, which was moaning piteously for its mother. The other child, a handsome, bold-looking little girl six years of age, was running gayly around the room, perfectly unconscious of her great bereavement. A sickening horror came over me, to see her, every few moments, run up to her dead mother and peep laughingly under the handkerchief that covered her moveless face. Poor little thing! It was evident that her baby-toilet had been made by men. She had on a new calico dress, which, having no tucks in it, trailed to the floor, and gave her a most singular and dwarf-womanly appearance.

 

About twenty men, with the three women of the place, had assembled at the funeral. An extempore prayer was made, filled with all the peculiarities usual to that style of petition. Ah, how different from the soothing verses of the glorious burial service of the church! As the procession started for the hillside graveyard, a dark cloth cover, borrowed from a neighboring monte-table, was flung over the coffin. Do not think that I mention any of these circumstances in a spirit of mockery. Far from it. Every observance usual on such occasions, that was procurable, surrounded this funeral. All the gold on Rich Bar could do no more; and should I die to-morrow, I should be marshaled to my mountain-grave beneath the same monte-table-cover pall which shrouded the coffin of poor Mrs. B.

 

I almost forgot to tell you how painfully the feelings of the assembly were shocked by the sound of the nails (there being no screws at any of the shops) driven with a hammer into the coffin while closing it. It seemed as if it must disturb the pale sleeper within.

 

To-day I called at the residence of Mrs. R…The little sixty-eight-pounder woman is queen of the establishment. By the way, a man who walked home with us was enthusiastic in her praise. "Magnificent woman, that, sir," he said, addressing my husband; "a wife of the right sort, she is. Why," he added, absolutely rising into eloquence as he spoke, "she earnt her old man" (said individual twenty-one years of age, perhaps) "nine hundred dollars in nine weeks, clear of all expenses, by washing! Such women ain't common, I tell you. If they were, a man might marry, and make money by the operation."

 

I looked at this person with somewhat the same kind of inverted admiration wherewith Leigh Hunt[7] was wont to gaze upon that friend of his "who used to elevate the commonplace to a pitch of the sublime," and he looked at me as if to say, that, though by no means gloriously arrayed, I was a mere cumberer of the ground, inasmuch as I toiled not, neither did I wash. Alas! I hung my diminished head, particularly when I remembered the eight dollars a dozen which I had been in the habit of paying for the washing of linen-cambric pocket-handkerchiefs while in San Francisco. But a lucky thought came into my mind.

 

As all men cannot be Napoleon Bonapartes[8], so all women cannot be manglers. The majority of the sex must be satisfied with simply being mangled. Reassured by this idea, I determined to meekly and humbly pay the amount per dozen required to enable this really worthy and agreeable little woman "to lay up her hundred dollars a week, clear of expenses." But is it not wonderful what femininity is capable of?[9] To look at the tiny hands of Mrs. R., you would not think it possible that they could wring out anything larger than a doll's nightcap; but, as is often said, nothing is strange in California[10]. I have known of sacrifices requiring, it would seem, superhuman efforts, made by women in this country, who, at home, were nurtured in the extreme of elegance and delicacy.

 

Mr. B. called on us to-day with little Mary. I tried to make her, at least, look sad as I talked about her mother; but although she had seen the grave closed over her coffin (for a friend of her father's had carried her in his arms to the burial), she seemed laughingly indifferent to her loss. Being myself an orphan, my heart contracted painfully at her careless gayety when speaking of her dead parent, and I said to our hostess, "What a cold-blooded little wretch it is!" But immediately my conscience struck me with remorse. Poor orphaned one! Poor bereaved darling! Why should I so cruelly wish to darken her young life with that knowledge which a few years' experience will so painfully teach her? "All my mother came into my eyes" as I bent down and kissed the white lids which shrouded her beautiful dark orbs, and, taking her fat little hand in mine, I led her to my room, where, in the penitence of my heart, I gave her everything that she desired. The little chatterer was enchanted, not having had any new playthings for a long while. It was beautiful to hear her pretty exclamations of ecstasy at the sight of some tiny scent-bottles, about an inch in length, which she called baby decanters.

 

Mr. B. intends, in a day or two, to take his children to their grandmother, who resides somewhere near Marysville, I believe[11]. This is an awful place for children, and nervous mothers would "die daily" if they could see little Mary running fearlessly to the very edge of, and looking down into, these holes (many of them sixty feet in depth), which have been excavated in the hope of finding gold, and of course left open.

 

 

Letter the Nineteenth

[The PioneerAugust, 1855]

Murder, Theft, Riot, Hanging, Whipping, &c.

From our Log Cabin, Indian Bar,

August 4, 1852.

 

…We have lived through so much of excitement for the last three weeks, dear M., that I almost shrink from relating the gloomy events that have marked their flight. But if I leave out the darker shades of our mountain life, the picture will be very incomplete. In the short space of twenty-four days we have had murders, fearful accidents, bloody deaths, a mob, whippings, a hanging, an attempt at suicide, and a fatal duel. But to begin at the beginning, as, according to rule, one ought to do.

 

I think that, even among these beautiful hills, I never saw a more perfect bridal of the earth and sky than that of Sunday, the 11th of July. On that morning I went with a party of friends to the head of the ditch, a walk of about three miles in length. I do not believe that nature herself ever made anything so lovely as this artificial brooklet. It glides like a living thing through the very heart of the forest, sometimes creeping softly on, as though with muffled feet, through a wilderness of aquatic plants, sometimes dancing gayly over a white-pebbled bottom, now making a sunshine in a shady place, across the mossy roots of the majestic old trees, and anon leaping with a grand anthem adown the great solemn rocks which lie along its beautiful pathway.

 

A sunny opening at the head of the ditch is a garden of perfumed shrubbery and many-tinted flowers, all garlanded with the prettiest vines imaginable, and peopled with an infinite variety of magnificent butterflies. These last were of every possible color, pink, blue and yellow, shining black splashed with orange, purple flashed with gold, white, and even green. We returned about three in the evening, loaded with fragrant bundles, which, arranged in jars, tumblers, pitchers, bottles, and pails, (we are not particular as to the quality of our vases in the mountains, and love our flowers as well in their humble chalices as if their beautiful heads lay against a background of marble or porcelain,) made the dark old cabin a bower of beauty for us.

 

Shortly after our arrival, a perfectly deafening volley of shouts and yells elicited from my companion the careless remark that the customary sabbath-day's fight was apparently more serious than usual. Almost as he spoke there succeeded a deathlike silence, broken in a minute after by a deep groan at the corner of the cabin, followed by the words, "Why, Tom, poor fellow, are you really wounded?" Before we could reach the door, it was burst violently open by a person who inquired hurriedly for the Doctor, who, luckily, happened at that very moment to be approaching[12]. The man who called him then gave us the following excited account of what had happened. He said that in a mêlée between the Americans and the foreigners, Domingo, a tall, majestic-looking Spaniard, a perfect type of the novelistic bandit of Old Spain, had stabbed Tom Somers, a young Irishman, but a naturalized citizen of the United States, and that, at the very moment, said Domingo, with a Mexicana hanging upon his arm, and brandishing threateningly the long, bloody knife with which he had inflicted the wound upon his victim, was parading up and down the street unmolested[13]. It seems that when Tom Somers fell the Americans, being unarmed, were seized with a sudden panic and fled. There was a rumor (unfounded, as it afterwards proved) to the effect that the Spaniards had on this day conspired to kill all the Americans on the river. In a few moments, however, the latter rallied and made a rush at the murderer, who immediately plunged into the river and swam across to Missouri Bar. Eight or ten shots were fired at him while in the water, not one of which hit him. He ran like an antelope across the flat, swam thence to Smith's Bar, and escaped by the road leading out of the mountains from The Junction. Several men went in pursuit of him, but he was not taken, and without doubt is now safe in Mexico.

 

In the mean while the consternation was terrific. The Spaniards, who, with the exception of six or eight, knew no more of the affair than I did, thought that the Americans had arisen against them, and our own countrymen, equally ignorant, fancied the same of the foreigners. About twenty of the latter, who were either sleeping or reading in their cabins at the time of the émeute[14], aroused by the cry of "Down with the Spaniards!" barricaded themselves in a drinking-saloon, determined to defend themselves as long as possible against the massacre which was fully expected would follow this appalling shout. In the bakeshop, which stands next door to our cabin, young Tom Somers lay straightened for the grave (he lived but fifteen minutes after he was wounded), while over his dead body a Spanish woman was weeping and moaning in the most piteous and heartrending manner. The Rich Barians[15], who had heard a most exaggerated account of the rising of the Spaniards against the Americans, armed with rifles, pistols, clubs, dirks, etc., were rushing down the hill by hundreds. Each one added fuel to his rage by crowding into the little bakery to gaze upon the blood-bathed bosom of the victim, yet warm with the life which but an hour before it had so triumphantly worn. Then arose the most fearful shouts of "Down with the Spaniards!" "Drive every foreigner off the river!" "Don't let one of the murderous devils remain!" "Oh, if you have a drop of American blood in your veins, it must cry out for vengeance upon the cowardly assassins of poor Tom!" All this, mingled with the most horrible oaths and execrations, yelled up as if in mockery into that smiling heaven, which, in its fair sabbath calm, bent unmoved over the hell which was raging below.

 

After a time the more sensible and sober part of the community succeeded in quieting, in a partial degree, the enraged and excited multitude. During the whole affair I had remained perfectly calm,—in truth, much more so than I am now, when recalling it. The entire catastrophe had been so unexpected, and so sudden in its consummation, that I fancy I was stupefied into the most exemplary good behavior. F. and several of his friends, taking advantage of the lull in the storm, came into the cabin and entreated me to join the two women who were living on the hill. At this time it seemed to be the general opinion that there would be a serious fight, and they said I might be wounded accidentally if I remained on the Bar. As I had no fear of anything of the kind, I pleaded hard to be allowed to stop, but when told that my presence would increase the anxiety of our friends, of course, like a dutiful wife, I went on to the hill.

 

We three women, left entirely alone, seated ourselves upon a log overlooking the strange scene below. The Bar was a sea of heads, bristling with guns, rifles, and clubs. We could see nothing, but fancied from the apparent quiet of the crowd that the miners were taking measures to investigate the sad event of the day. All at once we were startled by the firing of a gun, and the next moment, the crowd dispersing, we saw a man led into the log cabin, while another was carried, apparently lifeless, into a Spanish drinking-saloon, from one end of which were burst off instantly several boards, evidently to give air to the wounded person. Of course we were utterly unable to imagine what had happened, and, to all our perplexity and anxiety, one of the ladies insisted upon believing that it was her own husband who had been shot, and as she is a very nervous woman, you can fancy our distress. It was in vain to tell her—which we did over and over again—that that worthy individual wore a blue shirt, and the wounded person a red one. She doggedly insisted that her dear M. had been shot, and, having informed us confidentially, and rather inconsistently, that she should never see him again, never, never, plumped herself down upon the log in an attitude of calm and ladylike despair, which would have been infinitely amusing had not the occasion been so truly a fearful one. Luckily for our nerves, a benevolent individual, taking pity upon our loneliness, came and told us what had happened.

 

It seems that an Englishman, the owner of a house of the vilest description, a person who is said to have been the primary cause of all the troubles of the day, attempted to force his way through the line of armed men which had been formed at each side of the street. The guard very properly refused to let him pass. In his drunken fury he tried to wrest a gun from one of them, which, being accidentally discharged in the struggle, inflicted a severe wound upon a Mr. Oxley, and shattered in the most dreadful manner the thigh of Señor Pizarro, a man of high birth and breeding, a porteño of Buenos Aires[16]. This frightful accident recalled the people to their senses, and they began to act a little less like madmen than they had previously done. They elected a vigilance committee, and authorized persons to go to The Junction and arrest the suspected Spaniards[17].

 

The first act of the committee was to try a Mexicana who had been foremost in the fray. She has always worn male attire, and upon this occasion, armed with a pair of pistols, she fought like a very fury. Luckily, inexperienced in the use of firearms, she wounded no one. She was sentenced to leave the Bar by daylight,—a perfectly just decision, for there is no doubt that she is a regular little demon. Some went so far as to say she ought to be hanged, for she was the indirect cause of the fight. You see, always it is the old cowardly excuse of Adam in Paradise,—the woman tempted me, and I did eat,—as if the poor frail head, once so pure and beautiful, had not sin enough of its own, dragging it forever downward, without being made to answer for the wrong-doing of a whole community of men[18].

 

The next day the committee tried five or six Spaniards, who were proven to have been the ringleaders in the sabbath-day riot. Two of them were sentenced to be whipped, the remainder to leave the Bar that evening, the property of all to be confiscated to the use of the wounded persons. O Mary! imagine my anguish when I heard the first blow fall upon those wretched men. I had never thought that I should be compelled to hear such fearful sounds, and, although I immediately buried my head in a shawl, nothing can efface from memory the disgust and horror of that moment. I had heard of such things, but heretofore had not realized that in the nineteenth century men could be beaten like dogs, much less that other men not only could sentence such barbarism, but could actually stand by and see their own manhood degraded in such disgraceful manner[19]. One of these unhappy persons was a very gentlemanly young Spaniard, who implored for death in the most moving terms. He appealed to his judges in the most eloquent manner, as gentlemen, as men of honor, representing to them that to be deprived of life was nothing in comparison with the never-to-be-effaced stain of the vilest convict's punishment to which they had sentenced him. Finding all his entreaties disregarded, he swore a most solemn oath, that he would murder every American that he should chance to meet alone, and as he is a man of the most dauntless courage, and rendered desperate by a burning sense of disgrace which will cease only with his life, he will doubtless keep his word.

 

Although, in my very humble opinion, and in that of others more competent to judge of such matters than myself, these sentences were unnecessarily severe, yet so great was the rage and excitement of the crowd that the vigilance committee could do no less. The mass of the mob demanded fiercely the death of the prisoners, and it was evident that many of the committee took side with the people. I shall never forget how horror-struck I was (bombastic as it now sounds) at hearing no less a personage than the Whig candidate[20] for representative say that the condemned had better fly for their lives, for the "Avenger of Blood" was on their tracks! I am happy to say that said very worthy but sanguinary individual, the Avenger of Blood, represented in this case by some half-dozen gambling rowdies, either changed his mind or lost scent of his prey, for the intended victims slept about two miles up the hill quite peacefully until morning.

 

The following facts, elicited upon the trial, throw light upon this unhappy affair. Seven miners from Old Spain, enraged at the cruel treatment which their countrymen had received on the Fourth, and at the illiberal cry of "Down with the Spaniards," had united for the purpose of taking revenge on seven Americans, whom they believed to be the originators of their insults. All well-armed, they came from The Junction, where they were residing at the time, intending to challenge each one his man, and in fair fight compel their insolent aggressors to answer for the arrogance which they had exhibited more than once towards the Spanish race. Their first move, on arriving at Indian Bar, was to go and dine at the Humboldt, where they drank a most enormous quantity of champagne and claret[21].

 

Afterwards they proceeded to the house of the Englishman whose brutal carelessness caused the accident which wounded Pizarro and Oxley, when one of them commenced a playful conversation with one of his countrywomen. This enraged the Englishman, who instantly struck the Spaniard a violent blow and ejected him from the shanty. Thereupon ensued a spirited fight, which, through the exertion of a gentleman from Chile, a favorite with both nations, ended without bloodshed. This person knew nothing of the intended duel, or he might have prevented, by his wise counsels, what followed. Not suspecting for a moment anything of the kind, he went to Rich Bar. Soon after he left Tom Somers, who is said always to have been a dangerous person when in liquor, without any apparent provocation struck Domingo (one of the original seven) a violent blow, which nearly felled him to the earth. The latter, a man of "dark antecedents" and the most reckless character, mad with wine, rage, and revenge, without an instant's pause drew his knife and inflicted a fatal wound upon his insulter. Thereupon followed the chapter of accidents which I have related[22].

 

On Tuesday following the fatal sabbath, a man brought news of the murder of a Mr. Bacon, a person well known on the river, who kept a ranch about twelve miles from Rich Bar. He was killed for his money by his servant, a negro, who, not three months ago, was our own cook. He was the last one anybody would have suspected capable of such an act.

 

A party of men, appointed by the vigilance committee, left the Bar immediately in search of him. The miserable wretch was apprehended in Sacramento, and part of the gold found upon his person. On the following Sunday he was brought in chains to Rich Bar. After a trial by the miners, he was sentenced to be hanged at four o' clock in the evening. All efforts to make him confess proved futile. He said very truly that whether innocent or guilty they would hang him, and so he "died and made no sign" with a calm indifference, as the novelists say, worthy of a better cause. The dreadful crime and death of Josh, who, having been an excellent cook, and very neat and respectful, was a favorite servant with us, added to the unhappiness which you can easily imagine that I was suffering under all these horrors.

 

On Saturday evening, about eight o'clock, as we sat quietly conversing with the two ladies from the hill,—whom, by the way, we found very agreeable additions to our society, hitherto composed entirely of gentlemen,—we were startled by the loud shouting, and the rushing close by the door of the cabin, which stood open, of three or four hundred men. Of course we feminines, with nerves somewhat shattered from the events of the past week, were greatly alarmed.

 

We were soon informed that Henry Cook, vice Josh, had, in a fit of delirium tremens, cut his throat from ear to ear. The poor wretch was alone when he committed the desperate deed, and in his madness, throwing the bloody razor upon the ground, ran part of the way up the hill. Here he was found almost senseless, and brought back to the Humboldt, where he was very nearly the cause of hanging poor Paganini Ned, who returned a few weeks since from the valley; for his first act on recovering himself was to accuse that culinary individual of having attempted to murder him. The mob were for hanging one poor Vattel without judge or jury, and it was only through the most strenuous exertions of his friends that the life of this illustrious person was saved. Poor Ned! It was forty-eight hours before his corkscrews returned to their original graceful curl. He threatens to leave us to our barbarism, and no longer to waste his culinary talents upon an ungrateful and inappreciative people. He has sworn war to the knife against Henry, who was formerly his most intimate friend, as nothing can persuade him that the accusation did not proceed from the purest malice on the part of the would-be suicide[23].

 

Their majesties the mob, with that beautiful consistency which usually distinguishes those august individuals, insisted upon shooting poor Harry, for, said they, - and the reasoning is remarkably conclusive and clear,—a man so hardened as to raise his hand against his own life will never hesitate to murder another[24]! They almost mobbed F. for binding up the wounds of the unfortunate wretch, and for saying that it was possible he might live. At last, however, they compromised the matter by determining that if Henry should recover he should leave the Bar immediately. Neither contingency will probably take place, as it will be almost a miracle if he survives.

 

On the day following the attempted suicide, which was Sunday, nothing more exciting happened than a fight and the half-drowning of a drunken individual in the river, just in front of the Humboldt.

 

On Sunday last the thigh of Señor Pizarro was amputated, but, alas! without success. He had been sick for many months with chronic dysentery, which, after the operation, returned with great violence, and he died at two o'clock on Monday morning, with the same calm and lofty resignation which had distinguished him during his illness. When first wounded, believing his case hopeless, he had decidedly refused to submit to amputation, but as time wore on he was persuaded to take this one chance for his life for the sake of his daughter, a young girl of fifteen, at present at school in a convent in Chile, whom his death leaves without any near relative. I saw him several times during his illness, and it was melancholy indeed to hear him talk of his motherless girl, who, I have been told, is extremely beautiful, talented, and accomplished[25].

 

The state of society here has never been so bad as since the appointment of a committee of vigilance. The rowdies have formed themselves into a company called the "Moguls[26]," and they parade the streets all night, howling, shouting, breaking into houses, taking wearied miners out of their beds and throwing them into the river, and, in short, "murdering sleep" in the most remorseless manner. Nearly every night they build bonfires fearfully near some rag shanty, thus endangering the lives (or, I should rather say, the property, for, as it is impossible to sleep, lives are emphatically safe) of the whole community. They retire about five o'clock in the morning, previously to this blessed event posting notices to that effect, and that they will throw any one who may disturb them into the river. I am nearly worn out for want of rest, for, truly, they "make night hideous" with their fearful uproar[27].

 

Mr. Oxley, who still lies dangerously ill from the wound received on what we call the "fatal Sunday," complains bitterly of the disturbances; and when poor Pizarro was dying, and one of his friends gently requested that they be quiet for half an hour and permit the soul of the sufferer to pass in peace, they only laughed and yelled and hooted louder than ever in the presence of the departing spirit, for the tenement in which he lay, being composed of green boughs only, could, of course, shut out no sounds. Without doubt, if the Moguls had been sober, they would never have been guilty of such horrible barbarity as to compel the thoughts of a dying man to mingle with curses and blasphemies, but, alas! they were intoxicated, and may God forgive them, unhappy ones, for they knew not what they did[28]. The poor, exhausted miners—for even well people cannot sleep in such a pandemonium—grumble and complain, but they, although far outnumbering the rioters, are too timid to resist. All say, "It is shameful," "Something ought to be done," "Something must be done," etc., and in the meantime the rioters triumph; You will wonder that the committee of vigilance does not interfere. It is said that some of that very committee are the ringleaders among the Moguls[29].

 

I believe I have related to you everything but the duel, and I will make the recital of this as short as possible, for I am sick of these sad subjects, and doubt not but you are the same. It took place on Tuesday morning, at eight o'clock, on Missouri Bar, when and where that same Englishman who has figured so largely in my letter shot his best friend. The duelists were surrounded by a large crowd, I have been told, foremost among which stood the committee of vigilance! The man who received his dear friend's fatal shot was one of the most quiet and peaceable citizens on the Bar. He lived about ten minutes after he was wounded. He was from Ipswich, England, and only twenty-five years old when his own high passions snatched him from life. In justice to his opponent it must be said that he would willingly have retired after the first shots had been exchanged, but poor Billy Leggett, as he was familiarly called, insisted upon having the distance between them shortened, and continuing the duel until one of them had fallen.

 

There, my dear M., have I not fulfilled my promise of giving you a dish of horrors[30]? And only think of such a shrinking, timid, frail thing as I used to be "long time ago" not only living right in the midst of them, but almost compelled to hear, if not see, the whole. I think I may without vanity affirm that I have "seen the elephant." "Did you see his tail?" asks innocent Ada J., in her mother's letter. Yes, sweet Ada; the entire animal has been exhibited to my view. "But you must remember that this is California," as the new-comers are so fond of informing us! who consider ourselves "one of the oldest inhabitants" of the Golden State[31].

 

And now, dear M., adios. Be thankful that you are living in the beautiful quiet of beautiful A.[32], and give up "hankering after" (as you know what dear creature says[33]) California, for, believe me, this coarse, barbarous life would suit you even less than it does your sister.

 

 

[1] Louise Clappe was born Amelia Louise Knapp. She married Fayette Clappe, whose family changed the spelling of their last name to “Clapp” in 1857. When Louise divorced Fayette in 1857, she changed the spelling of her last name to “Clappe.” I use her preferred spelling.

[3] What is Clappe saying here about this 25-year-old mother? Reread this. Also, keep in mind that Shirley is writing just a few years after Catharine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s An American Woman’s Home, explaining how respectable women keep house. Most of the women (certainly Clappe) would be familiar with Beecher’s book.

[4] “The lady tends bar.” I laugh out loud every time I read this (despite the serious situation).

[5] Peritonitis is an inflammation of the abdomen caused by bacterial infection. Serious, but treatable, if you have the means to afford medical attention (in 1851 or today). 

[6] Salty. 

[7] A British essayist and newspaper editor.

[8] Napoleon Bonaparte led a military coup against the Republican government of France in 1804, and shortly crowned himself Emperor of France.

[9] She really drags this man who walked them home while espousing his opinions about feminine wiles. Manglers means what it sounds like – the ability to destroy. What does Clappe have to say about this man’s claim that men are “mangled” by women?

[10] Another gem: “Nothing is strange in California.”

[11] The same town (outside of Oakland) where Mr. Brinkerhoff went to recover in Alzono Delano’s memoirs.

[12] Louise’s husband, Fayette, was the camp doctor.

[13] “Spaniard” refers to a person from Spain. During the nineteenth century, many people in Mexico referred to themselves as “Spanish” instead of “Mexican.” The distinction indicated both race and class. “Spanish” meant European, affluent, and politically powerful, the descendants of the Peninsulares and Criollos (surely you remember this from the second week of class). Spain colonized and ruled Mexico for centuries before Mexico won their War for Independence in 1821 (also in your notes), roughly 30 years before the murder Clappe describes here. There were still plenty of men from Mexico who claimed lineage from the ruling class and thus, were Spanish. Nevertheless, it seems as if Clappe is referring to men from Spain, although it’s likely some of the men were Mexican.

Mexicana means a woman from Mexico.

[14] French for riot.

[15] Rich Barians refers to the miners working on Rich Bar.

[16] Porteño refers to a man from a port city such as Buenos Aires, Argentina.

[17] Committees of Vigilance were semi-organized mobs of armed white men who were either hired by a mining company - or took it upon themselves – to police and punish the people living in camps as well as cities like San Francisco and Sacramento. They intimated, attacked, and murdered people with impunity, but were the only semblance of “law enforcement” around in the first few years of California statehood.

[18] Truth.

[19] Clappe seems to forget about the nearly 3 million enslaved people subjected to whipping, torture, murder, and of course, enslavement in 1854. Nevertheless, Clappe’s point is well-taken then and now: hard to believe we call ourselves civilized and “great” when we continue to allow barbarity to rule the day.

[20] The Whig Party should be in your notes. I will say this – California was overwhelmingly Democrat in the 1850s (and thus voted with the southern slave states on most issues). I suspect the “Whig candidate” hoped his enthusiasm for murdering the accused Mexicans would ingratiate himself to men who were most likely Democratic voters. Anti-immigrant sentiment has always been a bulwark of our political discourse.

[21] Local restaurant.

[22] Clappe tells the story of what happened that night backwards, reflecting the way the story was told to the white miners: An Irishman was murdered by Spanish men. That’s the first story. BTW, anti-Irish/anti-Catholic sentiment was at a high point during the 1850s. It is interesting how the Irish become white when convenient - in this case to justify mob violence and murder against the Spanish/Latino community. Here, however, Clappe explains the real reason for the fighting in the first place - because a Latino (Argentina) man spoke too intimately to a white woman in front of a white man. Clappe is on point here as well – the torture and murder of men of color has long been justified as protecting white womanhood.

[23] Henry Cook (definitely not his real last name) replaced Josh as the cook at the Humboldt (hence “vice” Josh).  Ned also worked as a cook at the Humboldt, and accused Henry Cook of trying to murder him before he went to the Valley. Paganini refers to Italian virtuoso violinist Niccolo Paganini, who died in 1840, just 12 years before Clappe wrote this letter. Clappe discusses Ned’s musical talent in other letters, as well as his culinary talent. According to Clappe, Ned was an outstanding chef and musician. Vattel refers to Emer de Vattel, an eighteenth-century political philosopher. Vattel’s book, The Law of Nations, published in 1758, is still considered one of the most important treatises on international law. I think Clappe references Vattel here to emphasize the absence of law and order for Black men. Even the Spanish men involved in the riot got a (corrupt) trial before being sentenced to death.

[24] Wow. What?

[25] What do you suppose happened to his daughter sent back to Argentina?

[26] Powerful people unaccountable to anyone.

[27] This is law enforcement in the CA mining camps and cities.

[28] Hmm. I have some doubts. 

[29] Still an issue today.

[30] Lol.

[31] The Clappes arrived in California in January, 1850. If you only count people who moved to CA for the Gold Rush, then yes, they were “old settlers.” These parameters, of course, are completely absurd, although typical of American memory. No one was there and nothing happened until white people showed up.

[32] Amherst, Massachusetts.

[33] Clappe used this term throughout her letters, always in the plural, referring to the miners themselves. I am not sure why she used the singular form. She might be referring to her husband, Fayette, who was keen to travel west.

Image use with permission from Florida Center for Instructural Technology.