Around the Horn

By Thursday, February 6, 2014 0 No tags Permalink 0

 In the summer of 1849, a group of young men from Beverly and nearby towns bought the bark San Francisco, formed a company, wrote a constitution and by-laws, and agreed that they would not make the mistake other groups were making: they would stay together and share the profits and the hardships of the venture to San Francisco in search for gold.

As master of the ship they had Captain Thomas Remmonds, with Andrew Larcom [Lucy Larcom’s cousin, my 3rd great-grand uncle] as second mate. The captain of the company and keeper of it’s journal was Lydia Smith Larcom’s husband [Lucy Larcom’s sister, my 1st cousin 5x removed], Isaac Baker. Luther Haskell, Abigail Ober Larcom’s [Lucy Larcom’s sister, my 1st cousin 5x removed] husband, was a passenger. The whole town turned out to see them off on the morning of 15 August 1849, as they sailed from Beverly harbor. The bark carried forty members, including a few passengers, sixty-three thousand feet of planed boards, ten-thousand bricks, eight house frames, twenty pigs, a dog, a kitten, and a crow. There was even a ship’s band, made up of drums, cymbals, accordion, tambourine, and bells.

The ships log, kept by Joseph Carrico, records the events of the pleasant and fairly fast voyage; Isaac Baker’s journal is less formal and more detailed. He had written the company song, to be sung to the tune of “Oh, Susannah!” and he also wrote a Thanksgiving proclamation for the company and crew. When the ship was running smoothly, the band played and the young men sang or talked politics or planned the future they would make with their California gold.

“The San Francisco Company,
For San Francisco Bound,
Our barque is San Francisco too,
The same name all around.
A Company of jolly boys
As ever got together,
All bound for California,
In spite of wind and weather.

O! California,
We’ll see you bye and bye
If we’ve good luck, and if we don’t,
Why, bless you, don’t you cry.

We started from Old Beverly,
Mid cheers from great and small,
We hope to get back bye and bye
When we’ll return them all.
The day we left the wind was fair,
And pleasant was the sky,
The fair sex wept, the boys hurrahed
And we’d no time to cry.

We doubled close ’round Beverly bar,
‘Twas close upon our lee,
We then hove to and called the roll
And squared away for sea.
We’ve forty men in Company,
A cook and stewerd too,
We’ve twenty pigs, a dog and cat,
And what is that to you.

Now here’s success you’ll surely say,
To all you willing souls,
And may you have the joyful chance,
Of filling all your bowls.
But not just yet, but bye and bye
And full of glittering ore,
And then return to where you wish
And never want for more.

O! California
We’ll see you bye and bye
If we’ve good luck and if we don’t,
Why, bless you, don’t you cry.”2

Baker’s journal reveals a delightful personality as well as the events of the voyage. His entries are wise and good-natured, his descriptions are colorful, and he summed up or commented on situations in light-hearted verse. While lying off Monterey, the ship encountered wind and rain and heavy seas. Baker wrote:

‘One never minds the water in such weather as this , when it’s too plenty, both salt and fresh, so plenty indeed, that we would like most anything for a change and although we have not seen the sun of late and therefore are not sure of our position, yet

One thing we know, that we can show,
And that too without boasting
We’ve all enough of this ‘ere stuff
Called California coasting.

‘Tis rather disagreeable at this season of the year, for although not cold, yet continual gales of wind and squalls of rain are anything but pleasant when close in to the land and so many vessels about, so we can’t help saying

And thus we talk and act, but then
‘Tis useless so to hanker,
These things we’ll bear, ‘til all is fair,
And then run in and anchor.

Although there had been some difficulty rounding the Horn, the voyage was a good one and on 11 January 1850, one hundred forty nine days out of Beverly, they entered San Francisco harbor.

Of course, the news of the voyage came slowly. Passing ships brought information from the San Francisco to Beverly, and that news reached the prairie [to Lucy & Emeline] in letters from Lydia through the fall, winter, and early spring. Lucy and Emeline were naturally interested in the fate of a cousin, two brothers-in-law, and a host of childhood friends, and everybody was relieved to hear of their safe arrival in California.

Isaac Baker’s first happy impression of San Francisco vanished when he went ashore: ‘It’s the most degraded, immoral, uncivilized and dirty city that can be imagined and the sooner we are away from here the better, were my afterthoughts five minutes after being landed on shore.’

Furthermore, the price of lumber in the city was so low that they could not break even, so they decided to sail up the Sacramento River to the gold fields. Although the distance was only a few miles, it took them thirty-three days to get their heavily loaded oceangoing sailing ship up the river. Passage was hampered by tides, shallows, shoals, marshes, channels, and wind currents. Determined to manage on their own and not to abandon the cargo, they refused to hire a pilot for four hundred dollars. They spent more time grounded or becalmed than they did afloat, attacked by frustration and mosquitoes, and depressed when on trips ashore to hunt they saw piles of machinery and cargo dumped by other sailing ships that had attempted the same journey. The sight of regular steamer traffic going up and down the river did not help.

They reached Sacramento on 20 February, sold their cargo at a disappointingly small profit, and then, as usually happened with the companies, split up. With Luther Haskell and another friend, Baker set off to try his luck in the mines. From February to September they traveled around, making barely enough money to cover their expenses, although Baker’s journal keeps it’s tone of interest and good humor. The trip home was long, dismal, and dangerous; his ship, the Belgrade was nearly wrecked, and it took five weeks to get as far as Acapulco. From there he took a steamer to Panama, crossed the Isthmus, and found another ship, arriving in New York on 8 November 1850. Andrew Larcom got back to Beverly about the same time, having made the long journey overland.


Main body excerpt from ‘The Worlds of Lucy Larcom’ 1824-1893 by Shirley Marchalonis.
2. Excerpt from ‘Argonauts of ’49: Histories and Adventures of the Emmigrant Companies From Massachusettes 1849–1850’ by Octavius Thorndike Howe.

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