Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Fremont Mining and Trading Company Diary, 1849-1851

Finding aid created by
Richard Bates, February 2007; Philip Heslip, October 2009

Summary Information
Title: Fremont Mining and Trading Company diary
Creator: Anonymous
Inclusive dates: 1849-1851
Extent: 1 volume
The Fremont Mining and Trading Company diary is a small bound notebook (54 pages) recounting the adventures of a member of the "Fremont Trading and Mining Company" formed in 1849 to search for California gold.
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:

1998. M-3499.

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:

Fremont Mining and Trading Company Diary, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The Fremont Trading and Mining Company was one of many corporations formed during the gold rush mania of 1949. The company consisted of 76 men from New York and Connecticut, all hopeful prospectors, who pooled their resources to co-finance the expensive voyage to California. They commissioned a ship to sail around Cape Horn, via Rio de Janeiro and Valparaiso, to San Francisco. The ship was the barque Selma , built in 1839 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and mastered by Orin Selen, taking fourteen crew and ninety-three passengers. The back of the diary lists the members, their ages, residences, and occupations. Though two of the members were physicians, the majority were tradesmen and craftsmen, whose average age was twenty-six. The journal's author had some carpentry skills, but failed to identify himself. He started his entries on March 27, 1849, at the outset of their six-month sailing trip to San Francisco, described the company's successful search for gold in the Feather River north of Sacramento, and reported on his return as far as Panama in March 1851.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Fremont Mining and Trading Company diary is a small bound notebook (54 pages) recounting the adventures of one of its members. The company was formed in 1849 by subscribers who wanted to search for gold in California. The author made almost daily entries during the ship’s six-month voyage to San Francisco, then wrote more sporadically during the period of the company’s successful search for gold in the Feather River north of Sacramento and the author's return as far as Panama in March 1851. In the back of the diary, the diarist registered the members, their ages, homes, and occupations. He also listed the daily logs of longitude, latitude, and miles traveled for their long trip, as well as names of the officers and crew, all but two of whom were also shareholders. The author failed to identify himself; John F. Jordan is written inside the cover of the book, but he is not listed as a member of the trading company.

The adventurer arose at 5 A.M. on March 27, 1849, three miles from Glastonbury, Connecticut (near Hartford), went overland to Hartford, and took a steamboat to New York City. He leveraged twelve shares in the Company as surety for a $400 note, payable in one year, accompanied by a paid-up life insurance policy for $1,000 to one Benjamin Cook. They sailed from New York on April 1l. Their route took them within sight of the Canary Islands, then on to their first landing in Rio de Janeiro. There, many of the company went ashore nightly to get drunk, much to the author’s disgust. He noted that the US Navy ship Brandywine was in the harbor, the Emperor and Empress of Argentina rode around in a carriage, and that he went upriver to buy 2,000 oranges for about $10 for the ship. On June 13, after the crew loaded 20 casks of water, the Selma took off to round the Horn, a stormy trip with ice-covered decks.

The second stop was at Valparaiso on August 8, where they encountered an English man-of-war, said to be carrying several hundred pounds of gold dust from California, consigned to a house in Boston. He attended a Protestant church to hear a sermon preached by David Trumble, son of John Trumble of Colchester, Connecticut. Finally on October 5, 178 days since leaving New York, they arrived in San Francisco. The author went ashore on Sunday and reported that the city had two Methodist churches, and one each of Episcopal, Presbyterian, Congregational, and Baptist churches. The cooks and stewards promptly deserted ship and then sued for back wages, which, after a court hearing, were denied. Members of the company had to take over their duties, such such as cooking for 86 men. Such desertions were common when ships arrived in California.

Some stayed on ship and sought odd jobs in the city, while other members formed small parties and set off upriver to Sacramento. The author left ship on October 22, when he slept on land for the first time in more than six months. Eventually, they brought their ship up the river, in time for them to stay on it during a disastrous January flood. People were rescued from windows and roofs; 70 or 80 residents lodged on board their ship at $3 a night, $5 or $6 a day, and $30-40 a week. Members established a mining camp about 35 miles from Sacramento, which was quite successful financially, although many of them became sick and three died.

Claims were purchased by members of the company in both the Yuba and Feather Rivers and were thoroughly mined. Even the rivers that ran through the city of Sacramento yielded little gold. By February 1850, the members of the company were so dissatisfied that they broke up. The author sold his tools for $50, then joined members Smith and Ransom to borrow $200 for the purchase of a mule; they started off by themselves to a new claim. Through March and April they were able to recover from $300 to $1,000 a week. On March 30, the author returned to Sacramento and found their old company in disarray. He described several scenes of violence, and mentioned encounters with deer, grizzly bears, and beaver.

On June 8, he wrote that all their claims were worked out, but that they had recovered about $3,300 so far. In July he joined a new company of 14 men to build wing dams in order to divert river water, thereby opening up new sites for panning. As a result, by September they mined gold worth $665 per miner, including a 4-oz. piece that he had found. In October, the company disbanded for the winter, whereupon the author resumed digging on the banks by himself, recovering from $12 to $15 worth of gold a day.

He wanted to go back to Sacramento for the winter, but stayed away when he learned that the city was reporting 60 cases of cholera a day. He and Walter Griswold built a cabin near Centerville, intending to spend the winter there. They heard reports that one man had dug 40, 30, and 18 pounds of gold on three successive days. He also mentioned that Indians killed two men; they buried one of them alive, and roasted the other one.

In January 1851, the new company sold the claim and the cabin. The author went to Sacramento and then to San Francisco, where he boarded the Adrian , mastered by George Scott, and paid $75 for passage to Panama. The ship left on January 24, 1851. The diary ends without explanation, when the ship was near Panama on March 28, 1951.

Subject Terms

    • Brandywine (Frigate)
    • California--Gold discoveries.
    • Canary Islands.
    • Floods--California--Sacramento River.
    • Frontier and pioneer life--California.
    • Goldmines and mining--California.
    • Indians of North America--California.
    • Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)--Description and travel.
    • Sacramento (Calif.)
    • Sacramento Valley (Calif.)
    • Sailing--California.
    • Sailing--South America.
    • San Francisco (Calif.)
    • Valparaíso (Chile)--Description and travel.
    • Voyages and travel--Horn, Cape (Chile)
    • Voyages to the Pacific coast.
    • Seafaring life.
    • Jordan, John F.
    Genre Terms:
    • Diaries.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Volume   1  
    Fremont Mining and Trading Company diary,  1849-1851 [series]