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Gold Rush Letters – Father & Son ~ Part II

We continue with Elmer Eugene Barker’s article – “Letters of Charles Franklin Hammond to his son John, 1849-1850.”

Altho there were no refrigerated freight cars or airplane transport, perishable foods were shipped none the less.

     “Since I returned home from New York I have written to Mr. A. Weld to ship two or three barrels of butter to be put up by him in the best manner.  He procures kegs holding #15 or #20 and packs them full of butter and heads them up tight and then into a good packing barrel and heads it very tight and then fills the barrel with very strong brine putting a hoop or two on each end and in addition to the wooden hoops.  If the brine does not leak out you will receive the butter in good sweet order.  I also ordered him to ship some coarse and fine boots, and a new article for making soap for washing purposes in the form of a powder, one paper of which will make 12 pounds of soap in five minutes.  Also a compound in the form of a powder for making bread, biscuit, and all kinds of cake to be used in lieu of yeast.  All of which will be shipped by the REALM which is to sail about the 25th inst.  The invoice of these goods, freight, and insurance will amount to from $250 to $300 which I will pay here as I did on the lumber and nails.  I think there are some good openings here now if you will improve them.  A young man by name of Broughton at Fort Ann returned from California some time about a year go and went to Canada up the Ottawa River having $2 or $3000 capital and invested it in lumber and has done a fine safe business, he says, this season.  He has now got things in a much better train and can command a set of mills now, and the prospect of another year is better than it was a year ago.  He says there is an opening for more capital than he can command and he now offers to let us come in.  I expect him here this week as he has just returned from Canada to make an arrangement with us.”

     “You say that you and Mr. Thorn and Robert are going into business at Stockton but do not say what branch of business. Let me know in your next and your prospects, etc. I hope you have fixed on a healthy location as good health will be worth everything to you and your partners. Can vessels of large class navigate your river as high up as Stockton?  I suspect I shall be obliged to make the shipment to San Francisco as I have not found any ships here, up for Stockston, and in my next I will inform you who I have made the shipment to, subject to your order.  How many of your mules do you retain?  What are prime grizzly bear skins worth in your market?  Would they not make good robes for sleighs and cutters?  I hope you will not go into the speculation of lots unless you are certain that your little will be good and that your investment will pay well.  I see that many of their titles are fraudulent and you must look out or you will be taken in by them, and remember, there will sooner of later be a very great reaction, and property will depreciate as rapidly in value as it has risen.  Do not hazard too much. What have you done with your land warrants?  What did it cost you to make the trip to California? How much had you left when you made a stand at Stockton? “

Hammonds & Co. were doing a big business in lumber at this time and their equipment was always up to date, the best to be had.  He tells John, —

“I went to Black Brook last Tuesday and saw our mills run.  They are faster and better mills than any others I have seen in this part of the country.”

In a later letter, —

     “Lumber sells very well and we are drawing our plank from the Overshot Mill.  The old mill is torn away and a new one is nearly ready to go in & will be improved in various ways.  I wish you had what plant we have cut there this season at San Francisco.  It would bring a lot of gold dust I think.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                         June 21 – 1849

     “I regret that I did not ship my share of last winter’s stock of lumber to San Francisco to you last spring, as it must be a good article.  I see that vessels are going from Boston to Bangor to take in freights of lumber for San Francisco, and a Mr. H.E. Broughton of Troy (NY) one of the firm of Broughtons, spoke to John C. last week in Troy about putting in with him and others to make up a cargo of lumber for San Francisco, and this morning he has received a letter from him saying that he and others were fitting out a vessel and would freight her with lumber and stoves and wants to know if we  would ship some lumber by him and consign it to him.. It appears from the tenor of his letter that John C. spoke favorable of the project when he saw him in Troy, but I do not think we shall ship any by him as John does not appear to be in favor of it now, though he may change his mind as he is not very well today, having had a slight shade of fever and ague.  I think I shall ship some lumber to you if I get a favorable report from you or somebody else you may name it you do not wish to embark on it or if it is not convenient for you to do so., If you have any consignments of god to make, I think Mr. Stephen Griggs of New York would be our best man in New York, subject to my order or direction.”

                                                                                                                                                         Merchants Hotel, New York City  Jany.26, 1850

     “I wrote you a long letter (which I sent) by Francis K. Shattuck who sailed from here the 13th inst. In the OHIO for California via the Isthmus.  He had quite a large package of letters for you and was directed to put them in the post-office at San Francisco if he did not meet with you on his arrival.  You will learn from that letter that I have not shipped any lumber and the reason why I have not.  I arrived here last evening and have made the journey for the purpose of making a small shipment of lumber to you.  As the River is closed by ice at Albany I am compelled to come into the market and buy at high prices.  There has been a great deal of lumber shipped from here and the eastern ports, and there are several ships now filling up here principally with lumber.  Freights are high and all the while advancing.  The best ships and fastest sailers demand 75 per cubic foot and the lowest rate that I have yet heard is 57 per cubic foot.”

     “If I had reached here one day earlier I could have informed you how much and the kinds and quantity that I shall buy and ship, but it is now Saturday evening and as the GEORGIA mail steamer sails on Monday I shall be obliged to defer it until the next mail.  I shall, however, buy not less than 500 cubic feet, nor over 1000 feet, being governed somewhat by the price I have to pay for it and the amount charged for the freight and insurance.  If my money holds out I intend to pay the freight here.  Insurance must be paid here.”

“I have not had time today to look around and learn the price of lumber in this market but from all appearances and from what I have learnt I shall have to pay a high price.  I intend to buy a few joist, flooring plank or boards, and perhaps a keg or two of nails.”

“We should finish drawing lumber from Black Brook this week and have none to draw but the Crane Pond lot about 18,000 feet this year.”

“P.S.  If I knew to a certainty that lumber would command as good prices for 12 months to come as it has for 12 months past, I would purchase a ship at once and fill her up as soon as I could get the lumber through the canal, for the present rates charged for freights from here I could well afford to scuttle her or let her rot or throw her away and make money then,  For the present rates charged for what she  would carry would pay for her and pay all expenses of getting her there and make money at that.  But I could do better than to throw her away.  I would send her to Java and purchase a load of coffee for a return cargo and clear $30,000 to $50,000 on that.”

                                                                                                                                                                                            Troy                 Feb. 3rd, 1850

     “My last letter was written and mailed last week at New York the 28th ult.  And I then informed you that I was there for the purpose of shipping some lumber.  I accordingly made a shipment and arrived here last evening on my way home.  There being another steamer to sail for the Isthmus the 7th inst.  I avail myself of the first opportunity to send you the bill of the a lumber (copy of it) and the bill of lading.”

1000 ft. clapboards 17c                                                                                                      $170.00

200 ft. joist (large 3 + 4 and 13 ½ ft. long)   14c                                                             28.00

150 ft. dressed spruce plank (matched) 22 ½ c                                                               33.75

200 ft. market boards (knotty but sonld)                                                                         38.00

505 ft. shelf boards (dressed on both sides) $25.                                                             12.50



Discount                             1.12


$ 290.00

Paid on Same                                             12.91

Bo’t of Tisdale & Borden 1 keg each 6#. 7#.10#. 20#.

Nails 400#   3 7/8c cartage 4                                                                                            15.75



Paid for iron and bunking lumber                                                        5.25

     “——-it was the very best I could do after spending three days to get the lowest price.  If I had not paid the freight here it would have been 70c per cubic foot in any ship to sail soon.  The advance their rates as the ship fills up and if I had shipped by a vessel to sail about the 10th inst. It would have been 75c……….”

     “I am highly please with the capt. & mate and also with the ship, she being only 18 months old and staunch built and I may say a fast sailer.  She is to go around to Valparaiso without stopping at any port unless she meets with some disaster and is obliged to stop.  She does not take any passengers on account of going direct and making a quick passage, and I hope she may make a quick run of it and you receive the lumber in good order, as it was shipped in good order, and I see it all on board and stowed between decks which is much better for it than to be put in the hold…… In your next letter you must let me have view in regard to the shipment of a large lot of lumber. It must come down in price soon.  You have but a limited knowledge of the quantity that has been shopped, and the amount that is now being shipped.  The house frames alone will make a large city or two or three small ones, and still there is as much being done in that line as at any former period.  You had better make such an arrangement before the arrival of your lumber that you will not be subjected to much expense for storage.”

                                                                                                                                                                  Crown Point                            Feb. 20th 1850

     “ I am anxious to learn from you what will pay best to ship from here.  If lumber, say what kind and qualities and what quantity, and how long it will be safe to ship such articles as you may mention……I think you will be flooded with lumber and house frames next summer and everything else.  It is said that the emigration for the ensuing from the s.w. States will be much larger than last season by the overland routes and there is end of their going by steam and sail craft.”

Crown Point,                           March 12, 1850

     “ Your long looked for and much appreciated favor of January 7th came most thankfully to hand last evening …….You say you hope I have not shipped any lumber as you are  bound for the mines and shall not want it as you expected when you wrote from Stockton.  I have made a shipment of lumber and nails as you have learned ere this by my letters and bill of lading.  After I returned from New York I wrote Weld to ship some other articles if the same ship would take them at the same rates as the lumber, and I supposed all was gone.  But on the 2nd of March I saw by the shipping list in the New York Express that she had run onto a sunken ledge just outside of the Hook or Narrows before the pilot had left her and that she would probably have to return to the city to repair.  By last evening’s mail that brought your letters I received a letter from Mr. Griggs saying that she was abandoned to the underwriters and that I must send down my papers in order to collect my insurance on the lumber and nails, as he says they declined taking the other articles after he advised me that they would take them, which has all happened very well as matters stand with you…… There seems to be some fatality attending all of your shipments, but the last one with good results for you and myself, for I shall get back and enough to pay my expenses and time, if my papers are all right, as I think they are.  It is certainly a very fortunate circumstance for us, everything considered, for I think lumber and everything else must be very low soon in California.”

Burden Iron Works Troy, NY

     “Our furnace is doing very well this blast, averaging 9 ½ tons per day of superior quality, but no sales of consequence.  Scotch has sold as low as $18.00 cash in New York.  The Jersey City cast steel proves to be a very superior article and I do not think but a few years will elapse before we shall make all our own steel in this country and a surplus for exportation.  We are making some further trials with our iron and I think it will make as good steel as the Adirondack iron.”

(Note: Reference is to the mines now known as “Tahawus.”)

Tahawus Blast Furnance Adirondack Mountains

Again ,—-

     “Our furnace words well, making about 10 tons a day, but our sales are very light with prices varying from $23 to $25.  Burden (Troy, NY) has bought 100 tons of No. 3 at $23 and is puddling it, very much pleased with the quality and would like more but cannot have it at that price.  There is no iron in this country or any other that can beat it when puddled and hammered or rolled.  A Mr. Kirk, a locomotive builder, left here today, who carries on business at Boston, who does to hesitate to say that it is the best article he has ever seen and he has spent four years in Russia and is one of the best mechanics in the country.  He used to live on the Rockwell farm.  We sent about #350 of our puddled iron to him by express today, enough to to make a railroad axle and when made by him he is to test it by two kinds of iron that has in his yard that stand the highest of any in this country and report to us.  He is very sure from the trail that he made here that ours will throw them into the shade.  Mr. Kirk says that he would rather have our iron than you California gold.  He is the inventor of a steam hammer, the greatest development of the age.  We shall go to puddling and manufacturing if we get a favorable report and I have no reason to doubt the extra good qualities of it.”

     “Iron remains low yet, though a little firmer than it was 4 or 5 weeks ago.  The furnace continues to run well and we are selling more than we did the fore part of the season.   Price is about $25.”

     “ Furnace runs better than ever, making 70 to 80 tons per week and with less coal per ton than we ever made it before.  Have about 3000 tons on hand and the prospect bad for sales.  Have sold about 300 tons to be delivered next summer at $23 ½ to $24 at six months.”

     “ We have just finished repairing our furnace and shall be in blast in a few days.  Iron advanced $1 per ton in New York last week.  We have sold rapidly lately but at a low figure.  Shall not have but a few hundred tons on hand by the first of next month.”

      “ During the past week we have had propositions made by a man that has some knowledge of the cast steel business to erect works and go into the manufacturing with him, and I think we shall do it.  We shall go into blast in ten or fifteen days.  Have sold off nearly all of the iron made the last blast, but at low rates $22 to $23.”

Numerous passages reveal the warmth of Mr. Hammond’s personality, his affection for his family and close friends, and his love of young people.  They all seem to be living now as one reads his letters.  Robert Eliot, John’s companion, is one of these fortunate ones.

     “Remember me to Robert and say to him that I should have written to him before this if you had not been together.  Tell him Pink and Carlo bark as they did when caressed and petted them and I think Carlo would show his teeth to him by way of laughing if he could see him now.”

There are usually bits of information about John’s brothers and sisters.

     “Thomas has almost grown out of his boots and resembles you very much at his age.  Elizabeth is growing rapidly and is almost out of her pantalettes, and as independent as ever.  Jane is very careless of her health and of the company she associates with not-withstanding all I can and have said.  Her throat troubles her some and I fear will continue to unless she alters here course.  She might affect a cure, if she would, with that all healing element, cold water.”

     “We were all wishing half an hour ago at the supper table that you were here to partake with us of beef-steak, potatoes, the best of bread, good hard waxy butter and a piece of Lib’s cream pie.  But I suppose you do not have to wait for Morgan to come round with steak or roasting pieces, but when you want a fresh cut use your rifle to obtain it.”

Now and then his letters are enlivened with choice bits of village gossip to regale two homesick youths in a distant country, —–

Wat How is getting rather hard, we think, and our John Leonard is still, but inclined to spree it and keep rather low and vulgar company.  He will have to alter his hand soon or get a guide board.”


                                                                                                                                                                                                                        August 21st, 1850

“News of the Day – Joel Chapman married Miss Lucretia Huestis last week and was sued for breach of promise by one of Jonas Stanton’s daughters.  Young Charlie Haile ill-treated his sister, Mrs. Flint, a few days ago and Flint cow hided him the hardest kind, flaying the skin from his back in many places.  Case and wife were there at the time and they all left in a day or two after.  Our people are generally well pleased except Mr. Herrick (the pastor of the village church) and family and some other few members.  Charley is very attentive to Miss Cordelia and I am told that he spends much of his time there.  He is a hard egg, anyhow.”

     “Hammond Eldridge has been here about four weeks in our store and would like to remain a long term if I would allow him to do so.  He seems to like his ease and the ladies more than work, is very attentive to Bingham’s wife, especially in his absence.  Franklin and William have given him some loud hints that if he did not alter his hand and be more attentive to business and keep the store cleaner and in better order he would be numbered among the missing, but he does not appear to regard it much.  I hope he may alter for the better for his benefit and ours, and not disappoint the hopes of dear and kind mother.”

Nearly every letter expresses the wish the young men will return home soon.  As time passes these expressions become more urgent.  In an early letter the heart of a father speaks, —–

     “We are more lonely than ever, the spell being broken and occasionally enlivened by the girls and Thomas while at their instruments and now and then a vocal blast that makes the old domicile rign “with the washbowl on my knees.”


     “  I must close by saying that we shall expect ou here next winter to partake of buchwheat cakes well laped over and eat apple “sarce,” potatoes, and steak with us, and hear our “pokito muchico” (father Hammond’s attempt at Californian Spanish was feeble) prattle and squall.  Remember me to Robert and tell him I shall expect him to accompany you home.”


      “I would prefer to have you take my business off from my hands here as it is more laborious than I can endure…”

And in one of his latest letters he says, —

“ I am rejoiced to hear that you have abandoned the mines and that you have so much regard for the preservation of your health.  I should have been more please if you had decided on leaving the country for home. You and Robert can make more money here, and can do well anywhere.”

Yet again, —

“And now I must close by saying that all are well about these “digging” and I must urge again the necessity and importance of your returning home for I fear you may get sick if you remain.  It is better and wiser to come while you are well than to remain until it is too late.”

At last he offers a very enticing lure –

                                                                                                                                                                                                           November 11th, 1850

     “   If you are want of means you are at liberty to draw on Messers Higbie, Hammond & Co., of Albany for $500 or $1000 at sight.  I will advise them to be prepared to honor your draft if you should make a draft.”

Finally, —

“I do not intend to weary you with importunity8ies but must once more urge and beg of you to return, even if you have not made a dollar and have not enough to pay your way back, it ought not to be any objection to our coming, for I think if you come back, without a penny and have health sufficient to get back you will have made your thousands in one sense as it will have been a great school to you, and will be worth everything to you in the future in a business point of view.  In my last I wrote you that you could draw on Higbie, Hammonds & Co. for $500 to $1000 if you wished to, and fearing that it may not reach you I mention it again.”

About this time the young men were getting “fed up,” as we now say, with their adventurous life in California. They had had a wonderful time but they had not found their El Dorado.  It was either rheumatism, or Indians, or blizzards, or horse thieves that continually had cheated them of fortune.  Eliot has told us that –

Hammond had been getting letters superscribed  in a delicate feminine hand.  That was the strongest influence in the world. Eliot was desirous of staying and urged that we knew better how to manage.  We knew how to make money and how to avoid difficulties and there was a good prospect ahead of us, but Hammond urged let us good down to SanFranciso – we have not heard from home in some time, and then we will consider what is best to be done.  When we got to SanFranciso he found letters from his father urgently appealing to him to come home and bring Robert with him, and there were more letters superscribed in the delicate feminine hand, the hand of the subsequent Mrs. Hammond.  Then we met Bloss again.  He had received letters from his father, who was very ill, urging him to come home.  The two urged Eliot very strongly.  After a long conference he started out to take a walk and think it over.  He walked down towards long wharf. There was 200 ton brig, the CHRISTIANA, with advertisements up for Panama.  On the impulse of the moment Eliot bought three tickets for himself, Hammond, and Bloss, and we sailed for Panama and home on the brig CHRISTIANA.

After a passage of forty-one days of storms and calms they reached Panama.  They crossed the Isthmus by the old trail that had been in use for three hundred and fifty years, running rapids and shooting alligators, then sailed for New York where they arrived safe and in good health somewhere about the early part of April in 1851.

We can picture the happy reunion of John and Robert with John’s father and family in the Hammond home a few days later.  Pink’s joyful barking was probably unheard in the excitement.  There is no doubt that Carlo “showed his teeth by way of laughing!’

The  end ——

John Hammond (1827 – 1889)

John Hammond, son of Charles Franklin Hammond, was born in Crown Point, NY.  He  attended the local public schools  and St. Albans Academy in Vermont.  John graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY.  Served in the American Civil War, entering as a private and ended with the rank of Brigadier General.  He was a NYS Congressman from 1879 to 1883.  Married to Charlotte Maria Cross and they had seven children, six living into adulthood.  Died in Crown Point, NY.  Buried at Forest Dale Cemetery.

To learn more about the Hammonds and Penfield families we refer you to our August 21st, 2016 article:  “The Story of Crown Point Iron.”

These articles have been further researched and edited by William Dolback, President of the Ticonderoga Historical Society.

1/29/17 wgd

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