The John Mathiot papers contain 19 letters written between February 3, 1849, and April 15, 1851. Mathiot wrote 16 of the letters, his sister Kate Mathiot wrote one to him, and friends in San Francisco wrote two letters to Pennsylvania with news of his death.
John Mathiot wrote the first six letters during his sea travels; he give descriptions of life on the ship, scenery, other passengers, and natives of Panama. On March 6, 1849, he wrote a letter describing a Panamanian religious ritual involving a procession of women in white robes and an image of the Virgin Mary, “a most beautiful & most solemn ceremony.” After his arrival in California, he wrote 10 richly detailed letters on such topics as the growth of Sutter’s Mill, California (July 12, 1849: “This place is growing fast into a town. There are some 40 buildings...”), the hardships and disappointments of mining (March 2, 1850), and journeying through the California wilderness. His letter of June 23, 1850, notes that the “mines are fast filling up with people from all parts of the world…every part of the present gold country will soon be used up.” His letters of the fall of 1850 describe his brief restaurant venture, which he abandoned in November. Correspondence from friends in California to Mathiot’s family in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, April 1851, concerns the circumstances of his death.