The Amos Bradbury papers contain 67 letters largely from Amos Bradbury to his mother Miranda Stanhope and brother Samuel Bradbury, Jr., written between 1848 and 1863. His letters provide a valuable account of life in central California during the Gold Rush era. The collection holds 51 letters from Bradbury, 2 early letters from his brother Samuel, 9 letters from his mother, and 4 letters from Bradbury's friend Joseph B. Leonard. The letters track Bradbury’s movements between San Francisco (1850), Stanislaus (1851), Mountain Ranch (1852), Indian Gulch (1853-1857), Stanislaus River (1856-1860), and Mokelumne City, California (1862).
Bradbury’s earliest letters were addressed from Boston, where he worked in the shipping trade as a first mate. He first mentioned the idea of going to California in a letter to his mother from July 11, 1849. By September 28 of that year, he was at sea on his way to California and, by the next letter, dated January 3, 1850, was in Valparaiso, Chile, after traveling around Cape Horn. In his letter of April 28, 1850, written from San Francisco, he stated his intention not to pan for gold, but to start a store near the mines.
Along with Bradbury’s letters from 1850 and 1851 are 4 items from Joseph B. Leonard, Captain of the Boston ship Grotius , who was in San Francisco at the same time as Bradbury. These letters a were addressed to Miranda Stanhope and, for the most part, reported the safety and well being of her son Amos, and described some of the dangers of California life. Leonard's son, and a man named George Moore, accompanied Bradbury to the mines.
Amos settled in Stanislaus, California, in early 1851. In his letter of March 13, 1851, he described women near the mines: "Excepting indian squaws they are very numerous, although not any handsome." By 1852, Amos was running a successful public house in Mountain Branch, California, with George Moore, though by the end of the year, their business partner had abandoned the establishment. By early 1853, Amos owned three claims around Indian Gulch, California, and expressed renewed confidence to his family that he would discover gold. In his letter to his brother Samuel, of February 10, 1853, he explained the work involved in prospecting. On February 22, 1853, however, he mentioned to his mother that he was finding little gold. He continued prospecting this plot for a number of years and in the November 5, 1854, letter wrote "the height of my ambition is to get gold enough to make us all comfortable."
Bradbury scraped by on meager findings over the next five years. As early as July 13, 1860, in a letter to his brother, he mentioned the idea of running a ferry on the Stanislaus River, and by April 22, 1862, Bradbury reported to his mother that he had, in fact, pursued this line of work in Mokelumne City, California. By then he had made two trips up to Lockeford, California, which was 60 miles further up stream than any steamer had gone before. In his next letter, he mentioned that he had been made master of the Pert and intended to travel to San Francisco on a weekly basis. Bradbury was also master of the steamer the Fanny Ann (August 14, 1863). By February 25, 1863, he discussed buying a store, and that he had chopped off his "little toe."
This collection also includes 9 letters from Miranda Stanhope, Amos's mother, who expressed relief at hearing of her son’s good health, and shared news from Old Town, Maine. Her letters are emotional and demonstrate deeply-held religious beliefs. These letters may be unsent drafts, since they rarely contain signatures or addresses, and some of them are unfinished and two are undated. Of note is her letter to Amos of June 15, 1863, in which she discussed "the beautiful war" and the effect it has had on "the poor Negroes…[who] tear with their teeth, when deprived of their arms. Their very instinct, prompts to liberty or death." She went on at length about the desire of the Southerners to "perpetuate slavery...the worst system the world ever knew" and described slavery as an eternal sin: "Yes greatly have they injured us; but theirs is infinite, not ours."
The lone item in the Miscellaneous series is a two-page document written by Bradbury, which is possibly a fragment or draft of a letter, which is dated but not directed to a specific person.