Voyage to California (8) – John Jackson Lewis – January to March, 1851

(1) John Jackson Lewis, (2) Edith May (Lewis) Rider, (3) Marian Faith (Rider) Irwin, (4) Marian Dunlop (Irwin) Guion, (5) Judith Anne Guion.

The following are transcriptions of John Jackson Lewis’s diary and journal of his voyage to California in 1851. He was going from New York to visit his older brother William in San Jose.


(Feb.)  8th.  Started before daylight this morning. Stopped at 8 o’clock to breakfast. On starting again, in consequence of increasing swiftness of the current, the oars were laid aside, and long poles substituted. The labors of the boatmen at times during the day were quite severe. At 12:30, stopped to eat dinner, and then traveled on till night. Stopped for the night at the village, the name of which I did not know. We passed a number of villages today and saw a good deal of handsome scenery. We also saw a pair of a species of wild turkey. Slept on the boat again.


8th. Traveling on this river during the cool of the morning is decidedly pleasant. The delightful temperature of the air, the riverbanks covered with the vegetation of the tropics, as a general thing down to the river’s edge, the songs of small birds, and the screams of the numerous parrots and parroquets flying above us, the perfume of the various flowers, and the novelty of the whole scene, after seeing little except water for nearly 1 ½ weeks, these taken all together make the time one to be remembered with pleasure. We stopped at 8 o’clock at a hotel for breakfast, and after a short delay started again. Our men now laid by their oars, and propelled the boat by means of poles. We travel rather faster this way, but it is more laborious for the men, indeed at times, while passing over places where the stream is quite rapid, the labors of the boatmen are very severe. Our captain and one of his men are Dutch creoles from the island of Curaçao – at least so they say, and can converse in English quite tolerably – the other is a black where from I cannot tell, but they are all pretty stout fellows. We stopped at 12:30 o’clock to dine, and then traveled on till night, when we stopped at another of the hotels on the river’s bank. These hotels are generally built after the native style, and they furnished bread, ham, tea and coffee, at the rates of $.75 a meal, or one dime for a cup of tea or coffee. I have not patronized any of them as yet, having eaten my own provisions and drank the water of the river, and I have got along very well as yet. We saw two birds today, supposed to be the wild turkey of this region, several pistol shots were fired at them, but without either hurting them or frightening them so as to make them fly away. We also saw stalks of sugar cane at the stopping places. The people here strip off the outside, and chew the balance for the sake of the juice. It is very sweet, and I should suppose quite nutritious. Slept in the boat again, after a fashion.

Tomorrow another of My Ancestors. On Monday I’ll start posting letters written in 1944 when all five sons are helping Uncle Sam win the War.

Judy Guion

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