Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
H. O. Comstock Journal, 1849

Finding aid created by
R. C. Bates and Philip Heslip, September 2009

Summary Information
Title: H. O. Comstock journal
Creator: Comstock, H. O.
Inclusive dates: 1849
Extent: 1 volume
This volume is an account of thirteen '49ers traveling from New England to California during the gold rush. Comstock describes their journey from New York, on the brig Empire , to Vera Cruz, Mexico, and from there overland through Mexico City to San Blas on the Pacific; for the last leg, they sailed to San Francisco. When they arrived in California, they went up the San Joaquin River to Stockton and Merced.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1996. M-3272.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Preferred Citation:

H. O. Comstock Journal, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


This collection contains a small 110-page notebook regarding the ventures of 13 men who formed a stock club in Burlington, Vermont, and set out to find gold in California in 1849. The members were: Henry L. Dodge, William. C. Harrington, Blair Northrop, Servetus Needham, O.P. Blackman, James Patterson, Eli Gill, Ambrose Sherman, Horace B. Saxton, John H. Allen, William. H. O’Grady, Doctor Ambler and the author.

Comstock described their journey from New York, on the brig Empire, to Vera Cruz, Mexico; overland from there through Mexico City to San Blas on the Pacific; by sea to San Francisco; and then up the San Joaquin River to Stockton and Merced. The account ends abruptly with their failure to find significant amounts of gold, and with the drowning death of Ambrose Sherman.

Collection Scope and Content Note

This volume records the daily experiences of Comstock's group as they travelled to California, styling themselves the G. M. Speculating Club. The group went by stage to Troy, then by railroad to New York. There they elected officers and purchased equipment (at inflated prices), which they shipped on a schooner headed around the Cape. On February 18, 1849, they left on the Brig Empire , along with 53 others, 30 men to a cabin, to sail for 22 days to Vera Cruz. Along the way they experienced storms and sea-sickness. On February 27, he wrote, “No tongue can express, no language can portray the awful sublimity of a Thunder storm at sea[;] none but those who have witnessed can realize or even imagine its grandeur.”

Upon arrival in Mexico on March 12, they purchased a wagon, horses, and mules for their trek. Parties of as many as 47 men were departing almost daily. Along the route they encountered cemeteries and battlefields of the Mexican War, which had ended the previous year. They encountered resentful, larcenous people and endured sand fleas and hunger on their 46-day trek. Comstock estimates their distance at 469 miles.

After selling their few remaining horses and mules for a quarter of the purchase price, they embarked for San Francisco on April 29, on the schooner Jacklin , along with 30 or 40 others. Once at sea, they discovered that the Captain had overloaded his ship, and that the food and sleeping accommodations were not sufficient; Comstock remarked that the cooks were terrible. Beset by headwinds and calms, the brig took 32 days to reach San Francisco, by which time the passengers were limited to a pint of water per day and nothing to eat but bread, beans, and rice. At one point the captain so feared mutiny that he tried, unsuccessfully, to sequester all of the passengers’ arms.

San Francisco was teeming with men from all over the world, who arrived daily by the hundreds. The group changed their original plans to sail up the Sacramento River, and instead went up the San Joaquin on a schooner of the same name. On board were several deserters from the Navy. "Deserters are frequent, the Gold Mania having spread among the sailors & causing many of them to leave their $16 per month on Gov vessels and seek their fortunes at mines among scores of other adventurers” (June 11, 1849). The ship had to be “warped,” by placing the anchor forward in a small boat and pulling the ship up to it for miles, but on June 14 they arrived at Stockton, a town of several hundred people, most of whom slept in tents. From there they proceeded in three groups by stage and on horseback for 80 miles to get to the “diggings,” where they worked in two shifts, but only placer-mined a disappointing $10 a day in gold flakes.

They soon dissolved the organization, when one member decided to return to San Francisco. Comstock and a few others were exploring the Merced River when Sherman took an early-morning bath in the stream, slipped on moss-covered rocks into deeper water, and drowned. They buried him near the camp.

Subject Terms

    • California--Description and travel.
    • California--Gold discoveries.
    • Frontier and pioneer life--California.
    • Gold mines and mining--California.
    • Mexican War, 1846-1848.
    • Mexico--Description and travel.
    Genre Terms:
    • Diaries.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Volume   1  
    H. O. Comstock journal,  1849 [series]