Sep 29, 2022 - Sale 2615

Sale 2615 - Lot 32

Price Realized: $ 1,375
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 800 - $ 1,200
(CALIFORNIA.) John Haile Jr. Long and detailed letter from a newly arrived Forty-Niner in San Francisco. Autograph Letter Signed to wife Clara Brayton Haile. 4 pages, densely cross-written, on one folding sheet, with no postal markings; mailing folds, a few light ink smudges. With a carefully done 9-page typed transcript which will have more than the usual utility. San Francisco, CA, 21 November 1849

Additional Details

John Haile Jr. (1821-1903), a machinist who left his wife behind in Warren, RI to seek a fortune in the gold fields, was more articulate than the average Forty-Niner. This letter describes his passage around the horn, as well as conditions in San Francisco as he prepared to hunt for gold inland. This was apparently his first letter home. He describes using a spyglass to watch his wife at the Providence wharf as he sailed away: "I could see you all in Rhode's store, and with the glass very distinctly you was on the left hand side of the doorway." The ship was caked in ice as they rounded the Horn, and no fires were permitted aboard. "More than a hundred kegs of gunpowder were stowed in the run, and Capt. Allen preferred the cold to the danger of an explosion. . . . The termometer was down to 18, sometimes all the cabin pasengers would turn in, as we were confined below by the snow storms and cold rain." The ship stopped for nine days in Talcahuano, Chile, which he described as "the worst I was ever in, in all respects; immoral and homley." He describes a cabin boy who "fell overboard in the Atlantic, the ship sailing quite fast, but being an excellent swimmer and not alarmed was picked up while the birds were lighting on and about him. He received no injury."

In San Francisco, he noted the exorbitant prices for all goods, which were reported to be yet higher at Sacramento and points further inland. "Gold is plenty, but a great many will come home minus, because they have not got funds to get to the mines. . . . I shall push on immediately and build a log house in company with two others. . . . Thin clothing is of no use in this country. I shall not carry even one thin shirt, only woolen is of any account here. . . . Property is very safe, laying all about the streets and beaches. No one dares meddle with them as the penalty for theft is cropped ears. . . . Revolvers sell for six dollars, and guns are not worth taking care of, except for game. They have a regular form of government, and are preparing to come in to the Union as a state immediately. Frémont is here."

We have not learned whether Haile was successful in the gold fields, but he was reported back in Warren with Clara by the time the census-taker arrived in July 1850.