Voyage to California (9) – 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.


Started at daylight, and stopped to breakfast at an old scow, that had been fastened, high and dry on the bank, and converted into an eating house. In the course of the morning, several of us took a walk of several miles on shore. In the course of the walk, saw an alligator, also several well-beaten paths made by ants. (?) Lizards from 6 in. to 1 foot in length were numerous. During the day we saw a few monkeys, some iguanas (?), and numerous parrots and paraquets. Before reaching Gorgona passed a ________ banana plantation, ¼ of a mile in length, reaching Gorgona at 3 o’clock. At G is a fine circular beach, covered with gravel. G is situated on a hill, and commands a fine view of the hills and valleys around. Hotels and eating houses, of course, are sufficiently abundant. I contracted to have my baggage conveyed to Panama for 8$ per hundred, took a bath in the Chagres River, and took lodgings at an American hotel.


Traveling on this river in the cool of the morning is decidedly pleasant. The delightful temperature of the air, the river banks 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 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 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 quite severe. Our Captain and one of his men are Dutch creoles from the island of Curacoa, – 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 ½ o’clock to dine, and then travelled 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 furnish bread, ham, tea and coffee, at the rate of 75 cts, a meal, or one dime for a cup of coffee or tea. I have not patronized them any 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 2 birds to day, 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 two of My Ancestors, brothers Robert and Thomas Barnard. On Monday I’ll start posting letters written in 1946. Lad and Marian have just added twins to the family. Dan, Paulette and baby Arla are still in France, waiting for the time when they will be able to travel to Trumbull. Ced is still in Alaska, Dick and Jean are living in the Trumbull house and Dave is finally home from Manila and making plans for the future.

Judy Guion

6 thoughts on “Voyage to California (9) – John Jackson Lewis – January to March, 1851

  1. Mrs. P says:

    What an exciting adventure this must have been. One of the reasons I still wish to travel before my bones wont let me. Looking forward to hearing of your arrival in the upcoming days. It must be interesting to hear of your parents words upon your arrival. :D

  2. How exotic and wondrous foreign lands appeared to our ancestors, who hadn’t seen it all before on TV and the Internet.

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