1849: Joseph Cowan to Thomas Harrison

This letter was written by Joseph Cowan of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, who went to the California gold fields in 1849, sailing onboard the Barque Warwick out of Philadelphia on April 21st. Strong winds nearly caused the ship to capsize on her first night out so they returned to the Philadelphia harbor to redistribute the load in her hull. The Warwick left Philadelphia a second time on May 10th for her five month voyage around the Horn. The Barque left Rio Janeiro (Brazil) on July 29th and arrived at Valparaiso (Chile) on September 27th. The date of the Warwick‘s arrival in San Francisco is not recorded but it is known they arrived to late to enter the mine fields until the following spring.

John “Jack” A. Cowan was a fellow passenger. The Cowans were traveling with the Pacific Mining and Agricultural Society of Pennsylvania which included 23 gold seekers. Captain Anthony had six other passengers aboard who were not part of the society.

The letter was directed to Thomas Harrison of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who may have been the same Thomas Harrison (1820-1903) enumerated there in 1850, a son of Thomas and Martha Harrison.

Stampless Letter

Stampless Letter

Transcription
Addressed to Thomas Hawson, Esq., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia [Pennsylvania]
Wednesday night, April 11, 1849

Dear Sir,

This evening at supper after I had finished my first cup of coffee I was told by one of the ladies of the house that a note was in my room, left by some one during the afternoon, and she thought it resembled a note from the telegraph office. “A telegraphic despatch?” said I. “Yes, I think so.” I rammed quarter of a full round of the loaf into my mouth before I knew, and then thought of running upstairs to see it, but concluded I would finish my supper, and thought what can it mean — is Jack not going or what is the matter. My appetite left me and instead of a full cup ordered half a one. The sweat rolled down my face in torrents. You better believe I was hot. Soon had as much as I could possibly swallow when I hastened to learn the contents of the note and if I wasn’t glad when I read it, I wouldn’t tell you so.

I attended a meeting of the company mentioned in one of my former letters but have not joined it yet but in all probability will do so. In all my actions in public bodies, never was I more successful than tonight. There had been an effort on the part of some few disinterested, or rather who were not members of the company, to employ a man for two hundred dollars to proceed by way of Panama in advance of the company as an agent to make investigations and get information on all subjects that might interest the company and at the same time attend to business for which he goes to California in the employ of houses in New York. After proposing the matter in the beginning of last March and taking an active part in the forming of the company and securing passengers (for which he is paid a percentage for all he gets) and after lying to every member, saying that he had consulted the others and they were all in favor of the movement and so on, he had the matter brought before the meeting tonight for final decision. Not one opposed thinking himself the only one to do so. The chairman urged again and again for anyone who wished to oppose or support the measure, but the most of them not being accustomed to public speaking and supposing all the rest in favor of the motion all were mute.

I arose and asked permission of the meeting to express my views on the subject which was politely granted and in a speech of two or three minutes, took the long expected agency out of the hands of a man whom I never thought would do the company any possible benefit, and thereby saved the company two hundred dollars. I saw satisfaction and gratitude showing from the eyes of every member and had many pressing propositions to join the association. It may not look well to tell this, but excuse me and don’t let anyone but you will see it. I was cool and deliberate, never acquitting myself with more effect or more to my satisfaction. The fellow looked daggers, pick-axes, and everything in the way of color between black and white and finally jumped up saying he would not take the agency for any amount and left the room. I suppose if he meets me in California, he will be for butchering me, but his teeth are nearly all out and I don’t think he will eat me.

In all probability we will be detained until Wednesday after which time the owner of the vessel to who I paid fifty dollars on account of my own passage and the same amount for Jacks, is to pay our board. I instead of going in the second cabin we get berths in the upper one which was not likely to be filled for the same money. So far I am fully satisfied with the men I am dealing. Now, if Jim can be ready on Monday or Tuesday, he may go yet. But he need not attempt it with less money than each of us is requiring. Since inquiring into the nature of the duties and accommodations of the carpenter on board a ship, I am confident he may give up that notion. If, however, anything in that way presents itself, I shall telegraph to him.

Most sincerely yours, — J. Conan

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