Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Gold Rush and Bethlehem?

I picked up a book the other day at the library called The Rush: America's Fevered Quest for Fortune, 1848-1853 by Edward Dolnick.  It caught my eye because I have a great, great, grand uncle, James Paige Todd, who went off to California looking for gold. I am only about half way though, but it is a good read.  

What an amazing era in American history.  The numbers are staggering. In 1849 alone some 90,000 young men (and yes a few women) swarmed to the gold fields of California.  The author notes that in the four years from 1849 through 1853, more than 1 percent of the American population moved to California.  Let me quote Dolnick because he writes it well:

"To put that number in terms of today's population, picture three million young Americans giving up their jobs, leaving their families, and rushing off to a barely known destination thousands of miles away.  Picture them on foot - though few of them had ever slept under the stars - or on shipboard - though few had ever ventured out of sight of land - and all racing headlong to, say, the most distant least known corner of South America.  All of this out of the blue."

The goal was to strike it rich and hurry back home with the profits. These were not settlers looking to establish themselves.  These were farmers, shopkeepers, clerks and others of the middle classes who could afford the steep cost of getting there.   The cost being in dollars, and in the courage and physical fortitude necessary to complete the journey.  California might as well have been on the moon it was so far away and unknown. 

As I often do, I wondered about Bethlehem's young folks.  Did any of them make the trek?  After looking through my usual sources I turned up nothing, not a mention.  Yet people here would not have been immune to the gold rush fever.  There's a local story here, I can feel it.   I wonder who in town has a letter or journal tucked away about their ancestor's Gold Rush adventure. 

If you are curious about my ancestor, you can read about him here. http://www.newbostonhistoricalsociety.com/gold.html

And because every blog post needs a picture, here's my great, great, grand father David S. Todd who stayed home on the farm in New Boston, New Hampshire. I have a letter his brother James wrote to him from Columbia, California in 1850.   

David Starrett Todd, 1824-1897
And here's his wife too. 

Martha Dean Todd, 1833-1904

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