Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
John Mathiot Papers, 1849-1851

Finding aid created by
Shannon Wait and Megan Hixon, March 2010

Summary Information
Title: John Mathiot papers
Creator: Mathiot, John, 1820-1851
Inclusive dates: 1849-1851
Extent: 19 items
The John Mathiot papers primarily contain letters from Mathiot, a California gold miner, describing his journey by ship to California, the rapid expansion of the mining industry, his disillusionment with his chances of getting rich, and a subsequent restaurant venture.
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:

1982. M-2020

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:

John Mathiot Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The collection is arranged chronologically.


John Mathiot was born February 18, 1820, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and left his home in February 1849, to seek his fortune in the California gold mines. He sailed to the Isthmus of Panama via Charleston, South Carolina, and Havana, Cuba, and then sailed on the barque Equator for San Francisco in May 1849. After his arrival in June, Mathiot traveled to the gold mines along the American River, but by August 1850, he had grown disillusioned with his chances of finding wealth in the mines. In September, Mathiot relocated to San Francisco, where he invested in a new restaurant. He stayed with this restaurant until November 1850, when he declared his intentions to return home in December. Before he could return to Pennsylvania, however, he contracted dysentery and cholera, and died on January 2, 1851.

Collection Scope and Content Note

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.

Subject Terms

    • California--Description and travel.
    • California--History--1846-1850.
    • Cholera.
    • Dysentery.
    • Equator (Bark)
    • Falcon (Ship)
    • Frontier and pioneer life--California.
    • Gold mines and mining--California.
    • Lancaster (Pa.)
    • Ocean travel.
    • Panama--History.
    • Restaurants--United States.
    • Rites and ceremonies--Panama.
    • San Francisco (Calif.)--History.
    • Voyages and travels.
    Genre Terms:
    • Correspondence.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   2: Western America Collection  
    John Mathiot papers [series]
     1849 February 3-1851 April 15 (19 folders)