A Day in New England History: The Gold Rush Kicks Off in New England

By Carla Charter

On January 30, 1849 the Bark Suliote sailed from Belfast, Maine,  under Captain Simpson, The ships owners were hoping to make money from the fifty passengers and cargo, the ship carried.   The destination of the Suliote was San Francisco, to take part in the Gold Rush.  It arrived 162 days later, with a typical Cape Horn voyage was about 145 days.   The Suliote was the first ship to leave Maine headed for the Gold Rush.

Among the passengers the Suliote carried was Alonzo E. Raynes, according to the Maine Historical Society. Hos half-brother, John martin, described him in a journal he wrote in 1864 reflecting on his life and activities in the Bangor area.

Martin wrote that Raynes wore a “red squirrel colored fur cap, Pilot cloth over coat, hunting boots, and rifle. The form of the cap is exact, the outlines of the coat and boots very near. his rifile was encased to the lock his valise I carried to the exchange for he took his Guitar which was a valuable article to him for many years as will be seen in my account.”  Raynes lived in California for the rest of his life.

The Gold the Forty-Niners were after was first discovered in 1848 at Sutters Mill.  By March the news of the discovery at Sutters Mill was published in the San Francisco Papers and the gold rush began. News was slow to get to the East Coast and initial reports were met with skepticism.  That changed however after December 1848, when President Polk announced a positive report from the California Governor, in his inaugural address.  The race to the Gold Fields was on. At the end of 1848 the population of California was 20,0000 by the end of 1849 it was 100,000.

Another New England Forty-Niner who went West was Horace Snow, who was born in Whitefield, N.H.  Snow however did not go to California for the Gold. He went in search of his brother who he had not heard from in three years. After enduring a journey which included a shipwreck in Georgia, he arrived in California in 1853 and located his brother. By then, he too had contracted “gold fever” and spent thenext two years panning for the metal. Over these years, he also wrote a number of letters to his friend Charles Fitz in Boston. These letters have been preserved and are now available in a book entitled Dear Charlie Letters: Recording the Everyday Life of a Young 1854 Gold Miner. The book is available at Amazon.

The Great California Gold Rush ended in 1855. Many 49ers returned home disappointed, while others stayed in what is still known today as the Golden State, which gained its statehood in 1850, at the height of “Gold Fever.”

Carla Charter is a Historian, blogger, journalist and author. Her books Across Lots, Miracle of Faith, Call to Freedom and Abolition’s Verse can be found at Amazon.com