1851: George C. Wales to Joseph D. Robinson


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This letter was written by George C. Wales (1827-1865), the eldest child of Thomas Crane Wales (1805-1880) and Mary Rebecca Holmes (1807-1872) of Dorchester, Norfolk county, Massachusetts. George’s father, Thomas C. Wales, was a manufacturer of shoes and boots. At one time, he was the largest dealer in rubber shoes.

George married Emily Susan Ames (1833-1910) in November 1857.

From this letter we learn that George C. Wales had sailed from Massachusetts to San Francisco, California, with a cargo to sell. The ship was captained by J. B. Currier and from newspaper notices we learn that the vessel was the brig Openango which left Massachusetts in June 1850 and arrived in San Francisco on 10 November 1850.


Addressed to Joseph D. Robinson, Esq., Ware Damon & Co., Long Wharf, Boston, Mass.
Favored by Capt. J. B. Currier

San Francisco [California]
January 19, 1851
Sunday eve

Friend Joseph,

This is as you will see Sunday night “and all through the house no creatures are stirring excepting the rats” ¹ and being a little inclined to “limincoly” I propose to hold a fe moments communication with you.

I have accomplished one third of my mission out here having sold the first cargo and vessel and the Captain (J. B. Currier) returns by the “Tennessee” ² on the 22d. By him I shall send you this [letter] but I or you are not deserving of it for I have received but line short line from you since I left. Give us more of your evenings. You promised to keep me informed of the advancement of the sciences and also of the Brothren & Sistern of Dorchester. Please do so and oblige.

We have done better than I expected from the state of the market which is awful flat. Many goods won’t pay only first cost. Clothing for instance & Boston crushed sugar 13 to 13½ ¢. [   ] 8 to 9½, sugar hams 14 ¢ [   ] Pork 4.50 & 5.00 for ¼ [   ] & 16 for wholes, if saleable at all. Small packages are always preferred. ½ are the best for most kinds of goods for this market. Cigars have fallen very much since I came. I got 1.30 for E. B. Syrup. Now it is worth about ½ of it. Strictly No. 1 Butter will bring from 35 to 45¢. I am getting the latter for some. Ordinary can be had at any price.

Shovels pay from 100 to 300% just now but it won’t last long. I don’t just think of anything else that pays much. Tobacco has been paying some 200%. I had our 3000 lbs. in the best vessel which arrived the 1st of January. Dry goods are low. Not much [   ] in the lumber trade although some kinds will sell slowly and pay a profit.

I have been on board the “White Squall” ³ this afternoon. You will receive an account of her time. It was great and no mistake, 39 days from the Horn. She is 1100 tons, cost 103,000 dollars. Her freight list was 13½ feet long and amounted to 71,000 dollars. She had 20,000 dollars cargo on owner’s account. Her cabin is as splendidly ornamented as any boat on the [   ]. She goes from here to China, from there to London, and home. I think the ar=lm will post you on that topic but I thought it might interest you a moment.

The weather has been most lovely, having had no rain of any consequence for a number of weeks. Everything starting into life for it is Spring here instead of mid Winter as with you. The surrounding hills are looking quite green.

The arrivals for the last few days have been small but some fair wind will some fair day bring in some 10 or 15 [vessels] altogether. If the demand was at all brisk, we might get a small rise, but it is small & in case of heavy arrivals, it would go back again worse than it is now. Well Joseph, I must bid you a “Good night.” I will add more before I close it.

Wednesday, January 22nd ’51

As I have some other letters to write home, I must close this now. I can add but little more. I have not seen Tom for 4 or 5 days. I expect he is well. He lives just out of town some 2 miles. I have not as yet been out there but I promised so to do. The steamer “Eudora” arrived yesterday having beat the “Chesapeake” which had 364 days and the “Eudora” had 375. I have not heard whether she brought any newspapers.

Joe, I have an offer to go from here to China, then to London, and home in the clipper ship “John Bertram” which left Boston January 15th. It’s a case of “quien sabe” [“who knows”] whether I go or not. It would take too long, I am afraid.

Did you see that ship? I expect she’s one of ’em. I may give Captain Currier a letter of introduction to my esteemed friend on Long Wharf thinking that you might like to see an “Hombre” right from my “dimicile.” I have been obliged to leave this letter 3 times since I commenced it this morning as we have been quite busy today. And hoping to see you sometime or other, don’t know when, I am ever your friend, — Geo. C. Wales

¹ This line was obviously paraphrased from “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (or “The Night Before Christmas”) which was written in 1823 by Clement Clarke Moore.

² The Tennessee (built in 1848) was the first American steamship whose service was interrupted to be used in the Panama run. She was provisioned for a Pacific voyage by way of the Straits of Magellan and on her first run, because of storms, she carried only 15 passenger, passing the equator on December 23, 1849. When she reached Panama on March 12, 1850 after 57 days at sea from New York, she was met by 3,000 people waiting for passage to San Francisco. She brought thousands of gold-seekers to the City before sinking just outside of San Francisco’s fog-shrouded headlands on March 6, 1853 in an area which is now named Tennessee Cove in her honor.

³ Under the heading “Quick Passages,” a Massachusetts paper recorded that the White Squall made the voyage from New York to San Francisco in 114 days, arriving on 8 January 1851.

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