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California Gold Rush

Rare Manuscript Chart of a Voyage from Boston to San Diego in 1849

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276.     [MAP]. CALIFORNIA GOLD RUSH. RICHARDSON, J.H. & Charles Bent, Jr. (1821-?). Original professionally executed manuscript chart in ink and pencil on two sheets of joined paper, drawn as if on a scroll with illustration of a roller at bottom, fancy calligraphic title at lower left: “The Course of the Bark Oxford from Boston Bound to San Francisco California. 1849. Drawn by J.H. Richardson,” ship’s position by dates written in three columns on left and right, scale below title, compass situated in South America. On verso of chart is a 32-line letter in ink from Charles Bent, Jr. to his father, with integral address leaf: “San Diego Cala Sept. 31st 1849 Messrs Bent & Bush Lowell Mass U.S.A.” with postal marking in red crayon and remains of seal on address leaf, commencing “Dear Father These two sheets is a chart of our voyage from Boston, thinking it might interest you some to see the ground we have been over…” [full transcription below]. Neat line to neat line: 40.4 x 26.7 cm; overall sheet size: 47.5 x 37.5 cm. Creased where formerly folded, some browning at folds, overall light age-toning and slight wrinkling, splits at folds affecting a few letters and part of the map image, a few small tissue reinforcements on address leaf, some minor edge chipping affecting neat line and some characters in the letter on verso, two small voids caused by opening of seal (not affecting any text and only a small part of the map). Overall a very good copy of a rare and unusual survival. Provenance: Descendants of J.H. Richardson.

Transcript of letter:

Dear Father

These two sheets is a chart of our voyage from Boston, thinking it might interest you some to see the ground we have been over I have sent it with two letters one to Mary one to Sarah Jane. I hope you will get them all, we was fortunate in taking the rout we did, every day there comes one or two straglers into town from the over land rout one came in yesterday thay started from Texas five months ago and in crossing the mountains and desserts, they lost half there number, this man left the company about one hundred miles back thay cast on to St. Francisco, he turned off for this place, he was a sight to behold. Not hardly a rag to his back part of the time thay had to live on horse meat, rattlesnakes and anything thay could get he had two mules wich he sold for 100 dollars as soon as he got in and I think he will go up with us, we shall be detained her as much as a week or ten days, the way thay get watter here is dig a hole in the sand let the water flow up and then scoop it out, have no rain here all summer long always a beutiful breze from the sea, last night I slept ashore up in town about four miles up, slept with one of soldiers we laid right out in the yard with nothing but a blanket over me, he and wife one side me the other coming down to the ship I found 4 more that had laid in on the beach all night with nothing but a sail over them. Tobacko sels here for $1 a pound sugar 62 cents and all such things in proportion them Hats go very well. think I shall sell them all, as the other side is filled I shall have to close when I get in St. Francisco I will write again. Your affectionate son C. Bent, Jr.

     The chart is finely drawn showing the land masses with some, but not absolute, accuracy. Each day’s position is indicated on the bark Oxford’s track, and the notes in the columns give information about wind, weather, and sea conditions. At the beginning of the voyage, the dates of each position are noted in pencil; however, this practice peters out on February 18 north of Rio de Janeiro, which was the first stop after leaving Boston. From Rio, the Oxford rounded the cape, apparently being blown off course numerous times before finally docking at Talcahuano (Chile). From that port the bark proceeded to San Diego, where the voyage ends.

     An abbreviated version of this voyage is described in Cornelius Cooledge’s Off to the Goldfields, 1849, Bark Oxford 222 Days from Boston to San Francisco, edited by John Barton Hassler and published by El Dorado County Historical Society, Publication No. 1, n.d. (Cooledge’s full original unpublished manuscript is held by the Bancroft Library; microfilm included with lot). Kurutz (The California Gold Rush 157) comments that the around-the-Horn Cooledge account began on January 11, 1849, and ended on August 21, 1849, which are the same dates shown on this map. In the printed account Cooledge mentions Richardson several times as one of the passengers in cabin. Because the Oxford’s captain laid up too long in San Diego, Richardson and several others found other transportation to San Francisco, which is why the chart ends at San Diego.

     The writer of the letter was the son of Charles Bent, one of the principals in the firm of Bent & Bush, which was founded by Bent and Francis Bush in Lowell, Massachusetts, to manufacture hats and military accoutrements. As the reference to hats in the letter makes clear, Charles Jr. apparently went to the California Gold Rush supplied with his father’s product to sell. The two people referred to in the letter are his younger sisters, Mary and Sarah Jane. (For information on Charles and his father, see p. 101, Entry 148, in Allen H. Bent, The Bent Family in America…. Boston: Printed by David Clapp & Son, 1900.) Charles was from the same family tree as the famous Bent brothers of Fort Bent (see Thrapp, Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography, I, pp. 96-100).

     As anyone who grew up in a New England climate can appreciate, Bent clearly found California weather quite exotic. Bent also comments on the rigors of the journey experienced by those who opted take the Southern overland route through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Southern California, surely one of the most challenging environments in North America. The bark Oxford was shipwrecked in 1852 at Tomales Bay, Marin County, California, necessitating a protracted shipwreck salvage attempt (see James P. Delgado To California by Sea, University of South Carolina Press, 1990, pp. 146-147).

     Although Gold Rush letters are not all that uncommon, the combination here of such a letter on the back of an original manuscript map illustrating a voyage to the Gold Fields is highly unusual and may be nearly unique. Three other similar but less elegant charts are known: one at the Mystic Seaport Museum (of the ship Andalusia); one at the Bancroft Library (of the ship Sarah & Eliza); and one at the San Francisco National Maritime Museum (of the ship Apollo), the latter illustrated in Delgado (see above) and Derek Hayes, Historical Atlas of California (University of California Press, 2007, pp. 92-93).


Sold. Hammer: $12,000.00; Price Realized: $14,400.00

Auction 22 Abstracts

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