Friday, January 25, 2002
Treasures of Carlisle's Past: 'The Search for Gold'
There is a fragile letter in the archival collection of the Carlisle Historical Society that documents one man's quest for gold not the Olympic medals of which we hear this winter, but gold nuggets from the river beds of California. Hiram Blaisdell wrote a letter in 1850 that describes in detail his epic journey to California and gives accounts of his prospecting adventures. The letter is currently on display in the Hollis Room of the Gleason Public Library as part of the "Finding Carlisle" exhibit.
Little is known about Hiram Blaisdell. His epitaph in Green Cemetery simply reads:
Hiram W. Blaisdell
Oct. 1, 1817 Jan. 18, 1893
He was the youngest of three sons born to Isaac Blaisdell and Mary Andrews Fisher Blaisdell. When her husband died in 1819, Mary sent her sons to the Isaiah Green household at 211 Bellows Hill Road. Green was a shoemaker, and the eldest Blaisdell brother, Isaac (to whom Hiram's letter is addressed) later learned the trade and became a successful shoemaker and farmer in Carlisle. The only reference to Hiram Blaisdell in Ruth Wilkins's Carlisle: Its History and People tells us that in 1848 he was a member of the building committee for the red brick schoolhouse.
That same year, on January 24, gold was discovered in the Sacramento valley. That single discovery had far-reaching results. Thousands of hopeful prospectors came to California, many of them from the Northern states. They journeyed by wagon across the continent or endured the hardships of a six-month sea voyage around Cape Horn. Others, like Hiram, sailed to the eastern shores of Panama and then crossed the isthmus to take steamers to the California coast. By 1850, when Hiram Blaisdell arrived, the "forty-niners" had brought the population of California to 85,000. The populace clamored for statehood as a "free state," without slavery. California's admission to statehood on this basis was part of the famous Compromise of 1850.
Blaisdell's words speak for themselves. The letter is reprinted from a handwritten transcription made by Martha Fifield Wilkins. No attempt has been made to modernize the spelling or punctuation. It is worth remembering that at mid-century there was still little standardization of spelling. "Run-on" paragraphs and abbreviations were common and helped to conserve paper. His writing and choice of words are of his own time 1850.
Imagine not only the journey Hiram describes, but the remarkable journey of this letter in its envelope. Carlisle's population numbered 652 in 1850. How excited his family and neighbors must have been to receive word from Hiram Blaisdell from across the continent.
Part I of Hiram Blaisdell's letter to his brother Isaac
George Town 220 miles above Sanfrancisco,
My Dear Brother
Within our Tent and with my wash pan bottom side up for a writing desk I set myself down upon my Blankets to fulfill my engagement by penning a few lines to friends left in a land long to be Remembered You will I doubt not Excuse my long delay when I assure you it is not from forgetfulness, but from the want of experimental knowledge of the Country I expect you have heard of my Journey up to my arrival in Panama which was very pleasant except about 36 hours Gale in which we all came very near to being lost. But of these things I hope sometime to tell you face to face My stay at Panama was 21 days we were 4 days reaching P- after we left the ship on the Atlantic side. Making in all 25 day in New Granada among Indians, Negroes and Spaniards the manners and customs of which I have no room to write only they go naked and there living in all respects has no comparison to ours any more than clothing does to Nakedness During my 21 days stop on the Istmus we had no rain and but little dews Many of our Americans fell sick of what is called the Panama fever & some deaths occur But on the whole I can see no reason why Panama could not be as healthy a place as can be found in the world if the inhabitants would pay any regard to cleanup dead horses & mules are suffered to rot within 20 feet of a mans dwelling While I was at this place there was some trouble existing between the natives and Americans a Number of men was shot some in the streets in broad daylight While in this place I worked a part of the time in a Restaurant But at length our long expected ship arrived And on Sunday March 25 we left in the Steamer Tennessee for San-frisco right glad to be on our way to the Land of Gold When the ship was about 5 days out I was appointed Steward of the Ladies Saloon and Cabbin which relieved me from much hard fare that was experienced by steerage Passengers You will recollect that I had a Cabbin ticket But while at P- I exchanged it and received fifty dollars to Boot by so doing I had cabin fair and wages all the voyage. We stopt at Acapulco for water and cane Here the Chief Stewart and myself tried a speculation on Chocolate (I shall tell you when I have time). At this place the Americans are not very well liked and some our Passengers came very near to having trouble and while the Revolvers was snapping around me I was thinking of home But fortunate no one was hurt We left Acapulco and arrived at San-frisco after being 21 days from Panama We stopt at S-frisco 2 days buying tools & Provisions for the Mines while at this place I was offered One Hundred & 44 dollars Per month & Board but you know I was Bound to Sea the Elephant so leaving S-frisco we started for what is called the Northern Mines, and arrived at Georgetown April 21
To be continued next month
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito