What’s in Mrs. Hale’s Receipts for the Millions 1857?
809. Best mode of avoiding the fatal Accidents of Open Carriages –Jumping out is particularly dangerous, (the motion of the gig communicating a different one to the one you give yourself by jumping) which tends very much to throw you on your side or head. Many suppose it very easy to jump little forward, and alight safe: they will not find it so on trial.
I’m not exactly sure where this is going as I saved this bit of advice from Mrs. Hale some time ago and forgot about it. But now it makes a little more sense. Sometimes when faced with a writing or research challenge, you just have to jump.
As I’ve posted before, I’ve been researching a 19th century bark that has particular interest for my town, Bellingham, Washington. I initially started with some local pioneer lore that included the incorrect spelling of the bark’s name, Ann Parry and the story that she came around the Horn in 1858 with bricks for the state’s oldest building. Once the name mix up was resolved (150 year old mistake) I tackled the brick piece and uncovered proof that she had already been on the West Coast for eight years. Oops. Bricks came from San Francisco.
A final story to investigate was the paragraph in a prestigious maritime book from the late 19th century stating that this bark had been up in Puget Sound in 1850. A far stretch. Nothing was really up here (Seattle, Whatcom and a couple of other little towns hadn’t been settled yet) But even though there were no custom records, I needed some way to refute it. Thus began my three year read of the San Francisco newspaper, The Alta California, first published in 1849. I ordered it from the California State Library and settled into a seat at my public library and began to read the microfilm.
Not Like Jumping Off a Carriage, but Close
Reading this newspaper was like watching a people and a place unfold and become itself in one of the most exciting periods of our country’s history. There is more than gold. There are slavery issues, crime, high society culture and libraries. And shipping news. Whole front pages of ads for ships and shipping. After reading through the whole year on two boxes of microfilm, I finally found the Ann Parry spelled wrong and officially the last ship to arrive for the Gold Rush Year –December 31, 1849. I had ordered up the year 1850 and was sure I would find glorious material on her new life on the West Coast, but except for a January notice stating her arrival, that was it.
This is where the carriage part comes in. Sometimes when you’re researching for a non-fiction or fiction historical piece, you have to make a decision and go for it. I wasn’t finding the Ann Parry at all in the 1850 newspaper, so she couldn’t have been up here, but I was finding shipping ads for the Pacific NW that I’d never seen before. Though Oregon was established, Washington Territory hadn’t been created quite yet. It was unknown to most Americans. At first ads for Puget’s Sound were rare, then they began to increase. At that moment, I began to write down the names of the ships, their captains and where they were going. Soon, I was making copies of the ads as I decided that since I wasn’t finding the Ann Parry, I might as well capture what I was finding. I’d never go this way again. I ordered up 1851 and continued my search for my bark all the while capturing the first ads mentioning Seattle, logging companies, and oysters. I learned how long it took to get a ship to Puget Sound from San Francisco (nine to eleven days) or oysters to the table from southwestern Washington Territory (2-3 days, the longest the bi-valves can live in boxes full of sea water). Near the end of the 1851, I found the Ann Parry listed as a store ship in San Francisco Bay.
I just finished reading the year 1858, an exciting time for my town’s history. The Frazer River Gold Rush in British Columbia put Bellingham Bay in the world spotlight and the Ann Parry brought the bricks and almost 200 miners. I found many of the answers that I was searching for about the bark. And I also have enough materials to write an article for a maritime magazine and several other pieces to sell.
This choice to jump off and take advantage where the researching was going has been a well worth slog. There are more years to read and discover for the book that will eventually come, but I look forward to it.
Thank you, Mrs. Hale. Your advice is always appreciated. Even if I ignored the safety issues.