Letter from an early Forty-Niner ship captain describing his arduous voyage and the chaos in San Francisco Bay as most sailors from the 80 vessels in port had deserted for the gold fields. George Allen.
Letter from an early Forty-Niner ship captain describing his arduous voyage and the chaos in San Francisco Bay as most sailors from the 80 vessels in port had deserted for the gold fields
Letter from an early Forty-Niner ship captain describing his arduous voyage and the chaos in San Francisco Bay as most sailors from the 80 vessels in port had deserted for the gold fields

Letter from an early Forty-Niner ship captain describing his arduous voyage and the chaos in San Francisco Bay as most sailors from the 80 vessels in port had deserted for the gold fields

San Francisco: July 1849. Envelope or Cover. This three-page stampless letter measures about 15.5” x 10” unfolded. It bears a circular “San Francisco Cal.” postmark with a manuscript “40” postal rate (the price to mail a letter from the Pacific coast to anywhere else in the United States) and a note “per stemr California”. In nice shape; when the wax seal was originally removed, it took a 1” square of text along with it. Transcript included.

In this letter, the Captain of the ship Pharsalia reports his arrival in San Francisco:

“after a long and tedious passage of one hundred & seven days to Valparaiso at which place we water’d Purchased fresh Provisions and vegtables . . . I have some considerable iron work to repair . . . the Head of the Rudder , , , and . . . I lost my topgall mast off Cape Horn. Shall be obliged to get them here at San Francisco together with some ropes and canvas as we suffered very much. . .. lower rigging is very bad . . . compelled to cut up my large hawser for lower rigging . . . It makes very good shrouds – we had the severist time . . . I ever saw and more heavy weather than all my going to sea together.” And he found the harbor chaos resulting from the Gold Rush both amazing and depressing: “We arrived on the 22nd and on the 23rd we had not a Sailer on Board as all sailers run as soon as they are able to and so thair are now about Eighty Ships Lying here without men. . .. what we are coming to God only knows it is enough to make a man small it will take a fortune to discharge the ship Shall Endeavour to get along as cheap as possible. . .. I have concluded to put the whole [of the cargo] into the hands of Mess Mules & Harrison as it is absolutely necessary for me to be on Board the Ship . . . to get eny work done and thay will be able to get better prices than I could. . .. as to the future employment of the Ship . . . when or how we are to get away I cannot tell it is Possible by the time we get ready we may be able to get men enough to the ship to the sandwich isles for $250 per month thair wages going on until they arrive back to this port . . .with thair passage also paid. . ,, this is truly a great lunity. . .. Some Ship are entirely deserted with the Exception of the Captain and I believe in Some cases they have gone. . .. gold fever . . . often see some large gunks of the stuff How I am to get away from here I do not know and am not able to write you enny perticulars. . ..”. Very good. Item #009451

As noted in Ashbury’s The Barbary Coast, eventually there were at least 500 crewless ships stranded in the harbor, and most simply rotted away. A 2012 National Geographic article reported that many were intentionally sunk and covered with landfill upon which owners then built warehouses, saloons, and hotels and now lie under the streets between the foot of Market Street and the Transamerica Pyramid.

Scarce. As of 2019, no similar first-hand accounts of the 1849 chaos in San Francisco harbor are for sale in the trade. Neither are auction results for similar first-hand accounts about the early harbor chaos found at the Rare Book Hub and philatelic auctions sites. OCLC only identifies one institution holding of a ship’s journal that may include a description of the harbor chaos.

Price: $1,250.00

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