A Grandfather in the Gold Rush
Isaac Annis 1787-1858
In the course of genealogical research we sometimes stumble upon a gem that makes all the work and searching well worth your time and effort.
I first heard about the following letters in Verle Annis' book many years ago and have often heard them referenced. The letters were edited by John E. Parsons and published in The New York Historical Society Quarterly, Volume XLI, Number 1 in January 1957. They were put on line by the University of California's (Berkley) Bancroft Library University Archives, but the library link to the PDF format is no longer valid.
I have elected to transcribe them here as well as I believe some people will find it easier reading. So sit back and read the story of a pioneer, adventurer and hardy individual who braved many dangers in his quest to California.
A GRANDFATHER IN THE GOLD RUSH
ISAAC ANNIS WRITES HOME
FROM AUBURN DRY DIGGINGS
Sailing card for the clipper ship California
When Isaac Annis of Ontario County, New York joined the gold rush to California, he was sixty-three years of age. From a family which had settled in New Hampshire before the Revolution, he grew up in New York State and in 1848 followed the trade of blacksmith at Port Gibson on the Eire Canal. There he lived with his married daughter, Nancy, whose husband, Leander Russell, kept store and loaded canal boats. Though several times a grandfather, Annis was one of first in his village made restless by news of the discovery of gold at Sutter's mill.
In company with five younger men from Port Gibson, he went to New York City in January, 1849, to take passage on the ship Robert Bowne for California. This old packet, built in 1832 at Stonington, Connecticut, had been purchased by the Albany Chemical Mining Company to make the Cape Horn passage under the command of Captain F. G. Cameron. As early as December 14, 1848, notices appeared in the New York papers offering shares in the vessel and cargo. Advertised as a "newly coppered live oak ship" with "main deck converted into a splendid salon", the Bowne would be equipped with two sets of sails, provisioned for two years, and carry a physician to attend the passengers. A cabin ticket with a share in the ship and stores was offered at $250, or passage only at $150. The announcement likewise appeared in the Albany Argus where the Port Gibson Argonauts and other upstaters evidently saw it.
Not until the end of January did there develop much demand for passage around the Horn, the Panama route being at first greatlt favored. Departure of the Bowne was postponed three times while the advertisements of her promoters continued. She finally sailed February 6th with 168 passengers, two of them wives and four boys accompanying their fathers. The list of voyagers included three doctors and noted that R. C. Drake of Brooklyn had brought along "his celebrated dog Sam." Over a third of the ship's company came from New York City, with twenty-two from Albany, eight from Niagra Falls, and a scattering from upstate counties, Connecticut and New Jersey.
From Port Gibson besides Isaac Annis the Bowne carried G. E. Briggs, Daniel Earle, John R. Halliday, Jacob Saulpaugh and John Stacy. Another neighbor, Henry Corser, sailed later on the steamer "Hartford". Annis wrote a farewell letter to his daughter Nancy from "New York Citty", January 28th:
We shall sail next Thursday in the ship Robbart Downe [Robert Bowne] for Cailfornia by way of the Horn. The stemer Crescent Citty has just returned from Chargres and sais there are so many people wating there now that it will be 2 months before tha [they] can git pasag. Our Capt name is Camron and is just as old a man as I be. We pay him $150 dollars for pasag and bord and we carry 4 baril fruit. We carry provision for 4 month. With us we bought a boat and gave $60 dollars for it and we bought a tent for $24 dollars and we are going to carray a set of black smith tools and other youtenesel tu numers to menchen. I wish you could see the rush that there is here. There was 3 ships went out yesterday for California and to see the people on the dock mean and women in soled mass all for California. Nothing here but California. Our ship is 10 hundred tuns burden and carres out 2 hundred passengers all Amaracans.
Advertisement of the Packet Ship "Robert Bowne"
New York Tribune, Jan 31, 1848
His next letter home arrived sooner perhaps than was expected:
I am now in Rio de Janeiro in South Amaraca April 8, 1849 and I must tell you that it is the hansomist place that I ever saw. It is hemed in by mountin of rocks on all sides, verey high peakes, some of them is 12 hundred feet high covered with grass and shubbery and orchard of orang and lemons and benanners and all kind of tropical fruit. Today is Sunday. We are ancred of[f] 3 miles from shore and I shall go on shore tomorrow. I want to by sum article that I did not get in N. York. You can by one thousand orang for 1. dollar here....My health is good, better then it has bin for one year past. I hant been unwell but 2 days sins we left N. York. Wee bin out about 3 weekes I head [had} two fites of the agu and that is all. Wee have bin 59 days from N. York and only got 7 thousand miles but wee have saled all of twelve thousand. Wee have had calm and contra winds more than half of the way. We have cros[s]ed the Alantick Ocen twise. Wee head East within 2 days sail of England, then steered South to South Amarica.
We left N. York February 6 on Tuesday and Wensday we got into the Streem Gulf and we cros[s]ed the Gulf in 24 hours and the gail come on in the Gulf and continued for 7 day so that we got nothing to eat all that time except some see crackers and that head to be eat by holding on to ropes. It carred away the foremast sails, slit them all into string. The bow of the ship when she ris out of the see she would go up into the air 60 feet. She would rowl so that her yard armes would stike the water. But that is all the ruff weather that we have head now I must tell you a little more about see sickness. It did not effect me at all but J. Haladay and Stacy and Briggs three sicker people you never see. Briggs got over his when the gail was over but Haladay was sick all of one month and Stacy about three weekes.
Munday. I have bin on shore and bin up on the mountin and picked orings from the trees 4 hundred feet from the cittey and it is the buttiful site I ever saw in my life. The bannaner tree is the hansomist tree that ever grew....The people are a degraded sett of people. Som white and mostley black all mingle together. I cant understand one word that tha say; tha dont know anyhting about our money and it is hard to trade with them. Wee shall sail tomorrow to go around the Horn. It is 33 degrees from here South. Rio layes in 22 1/2 degrees South from the Equator. The clamit is good and if I was yong I should not go back to North Amarica again but I am going on to Calafornia and I think I shant git back to Port Gibson under two years.
In a letter dated August 31, 1849, Annis announced his safe arrival in California:
Thank God I am here in San Francisco after six months and 22 day from N. York. We arrived in the harbor the 27 day of August 6 oclock and today I am on shore in the tent riting on a barrel and sitting on a velese....I must tell you about my health. It was never better than it is now. I hant been sick at all. I am 20 lb. heavier than when I started from home.
We struck our course South for the Horn and nothing happened untill we in Lt. 44 of[f] against the LaPlate River and then come on a gail and lasted 8 days and I will let you know how wee put the ship in plight. Wee furell all the sales up to the spares snug and the passengers go down in the cabins. The main hatch is nailed down and the tiller is roped tight, no man to the wheel and let the ship go and she drift. She drifted 6 hundred miles and when it was over wee spread sales and git on our track and we were all the month of May. The last of May we git to 58 degrees Lt. The Horn lays in 56 Lt. and I can tell you wee had a cold time of it. Sum of us frosed twoes, me for one so they skined. The last day of May we stud but one chance out of 4 [not] to be blowed back but providence favored us and wind struck us on our stern. We went on and when wee got to 40 degrees there come on another gail that lasted 11 days. The 10 day of June was a hard day. Wee could see the waves coming up through the rigging but the old ship mounted them and being short of water we put in to Calio in Peru.
I went the Cittey of Lima 8 miles distant in the stage drove by six horses. One little thing I will mention which will make you laugh. I was the onley white man in the stage and when the stage stoped I got out and thare was a waiter to wait on me and he went onto me with his brushes like a man brushing a horse, for i must tell you the rodes are verey dusty for it never rains here. So I paid him one rial that is one shilling. Then he conducted me up 1 pare of staires and thare was another blackey and he went onto my boots, one rial more. Then there was another stud ready and he showed me the little house and he must have one more rial. So you see that it took 3 rial to git to the little house, that is the custom of the place.
I will talk a little on the feemails here. Tha are collared people but tha are better made than our Amarcan is, verey small hand and feet. I was interduced to one Spanish ladey that her dress did not cost less than 15 hundred dollars, satting silk, and her dimand rings were verey costly. I was the only man that she wood talk with and that was through interpreter. She was verey rich; she was from Chile. The rest I will tell you when I come home.
So I went on bored of the ship Saterday night and wee waided ancher 5 oclock Sunday morning under a good breese for this port. 6 thousand miles to make. Wee ran West 115 degrees Longitude that was halfway and we run it 15 dayes abd we have bin all the rest of the time gitting here. We hed head winds all the way. Wee maid it by beating. So I must tell you about this place. It is boult in the form of an ampither, hills on both sides and a valley runs up between them. But I must tell you that it is a barin sandy place, no woods and no trees. I seen more money here than in all the places in my life.... Thare is a grate maney here that has com back from the digging with thare gold and I was in the exchange office and I see them waighing. There was two men thare to git that gold change. One had one bunch in a paper and they waighed it. He had 15 hundred dollars and the other man had more and tha paid them in Mexican dollars. Tha dont carry thare money in purse but tha put it in a bag and sholdered it and head about a half bushel. Tha are exchanging all the time. Now I will tell you about the gamblers. I went in to the rooms and tables are spread with silver and gold by thousand not by hundred. Tha think nothing of putting down 1000 dollars at a time.
Carpenter git 16 dollars per day, a common hand from 5 to 10 dollars per day and things is verry deer here all except clothing is as cheap as in the cittey of N. York. Beef at the markett 18 cents per lb., a loaf of bread of your loaves is 25 cents and flour is from 6 to 8 dollars per bbl. I can't you all but the money is plenty here. Tha pay any price that tha ask them. A boy went out and shot 50 snipes and brought them in and sold them for 1 dollar a piece and he made 50 dollars in one day. Now I must tell you that the cittey is so full of goods that tha have no wheres to put them and the street is full. Piles of them 10,000 dollars lais in piles in the street and i must tell you that the people are verrry honest here. No steeling. You may leave trunk and bagig (Baggage) on the shore tha are safe.
The hardist is to come. Wee have got to go up the Sacramento River 150 miles; that we can go by water by paying for it. Tha ask 16 dollars for 1 passenger and your freat ( freight) you must pay for besides. After we git up thare we have got to carry on our back or pay 30 cents per lb. That is on mules or horses and we have got to traveil over high hills and mountins. But tha say that we can dig from 1 to 6 and 8 ounces per day. It go there 16 dollars per ounce. We thought that we should be too late but it is so hot up there tha can't dig now. Thare is more than 1000 people here waiting for it to get colder. Tha say September and October and November is the best months. Now I must tell you butter is worth 75 cents, pertatos 1 dollar per lb. Tha sell then by the pound. You can git bordied (boarded) for 12 dollars per week at the lowest houses.... Hank has not got here yet. I went to the post office the next day of wee got in at 9 oclock in morning and I could not it your letter till 1 in the afternoon. Thare were more than 5 hundred people waiting for letters. I will tell you that the harbor is full of ships and tha are coming in two or three every day and thare is thousands on the sea.
The letter from his daughter mentioned bu Annis was written June 6th, after receipt of his message from Rio. She reported the local news of Port Gibson, going on to say:
We are all glad you went by the way of Cape Horn as the overland route is sickly. A great many who started that way are dead. The cholera, that dreadfull scourge of mankind is raging here in our cities to a fearfull extent. Henry H. Treat of Palmyra died of cholera on board a steamboat on the Rio Grand River in Mexico on his way to California. Gen Worth and Dan Marble have both died of it. Sixty new cases reported in New York, ten deaths. Great fears are entertained here that it will git among the miners in California and sweep them off like rotten sheep. If you should be taken with it take three table spoonsfull of the best French brandy and forty drops of laudanum, mix it well and drink it. Rub your body with brandy and hot flannel cloth, if you are not better in one hour take a tablespoon of castor oil, one of brandy, ten drops of laudanum. It will throw you into a sound sleep. You will wake well. This is practised in India with success.
Section of a New map of California, 1852
Annis Family Association
A Grandfather in the Gold Rush Part 2
The Annis Family in the US and Canada