Voyage to California (14) – 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 travelling  from New York to visit his older brother William in San Jose.


This morning we found that the captains and agents of the several steamers advertised, had combined to keep up the price of passage and we were refused our tickets at the stipulated price. A little fuss was made, and some high sounding words spoken, but no beneficial results followed. The Tennessee, New Orleans, and Antelope are all advertised to sail tomorrow. I and two others took a walk on the beach this morning. We saw a number of beautiful shells, and the remains of a young shark that had been washed up by the waves. Also caught a wild duck that had a broken wing. The weather is quite warm here at present.


We were at the office this morning by the time proposed, but it was not opened till 11, and then we were told that no tickets should be sold to day for less than $150 steerage and $300 cabin. They refused to fulfill the contract of yesterday, and would listen to no remonstrance. We retired to consult together, but the prospect this evening is that the matter will be dropped, and each one look out for himself. If that price has to be paid, I shall go in the Tennessee. This is provoking, but it is one of the glorious uncertainties of this place. It appears that the captains and agents put their heads together this morning, and determined not to be cutting their own throats any longer. The Tennessee, New Orleans, and Antelope, are all advertised to sail tomorrow, and it is most likely I will go on one of them. I took a walk along the shore of the Bay this afternoon; found a number of shells, some beautiful, some curious, some grotesque. I selected several specimens which I intend to try to take with me. We also caught a bird of the wild duck species on the beach. It had a broken wing and could make but poorly out at traveling land. After we let it go it made his way through the surf, and swam out upon the bay, apparently much more at home there than on the shore. We also found rather more than half a fish, which I suppose had been about twice as large as a shad. It had a long, flat head, and the mouth setback some distance from the nose, after the fashion of the shark. The weather here is quite warm, very much such as we have at home in the heat of summer. I learned to day that potatoes sell here for 8 cents per pound. They are shipped from Valparaiso. Vegetables are but little raised about here. The soil would undoubtedly produce them, and they would as certainly command good prices.

Tomorrow, I will continue the story of My Guion Ancestors in New Rochelle, New York.

On Monday, I’ll begin posting letters written in 1946. Lad (and Marian), Dick (and Jean) and Dave are all out of the service and living in Trumbull.Dan is looking forward to sailing soon from France to the good old U. S. of A, Ced remains in Anchorage working for Art Woodley Aircraft as an airplane mechanic and bush pilot.

Judy Guion


6 thoughts on “Voyage to California (14) – John Jackson Lewis – January to March, 1851

  1. Mrs. P says:

    Yikes, talk about inflating the prices…I guess they reward spontaneous decisions…too bad they had to wait before purchasing.

    • Judy Guion says:

      Mrs. P – Good to hear from you. It cost quite a bit to get things shipped to San Francisco … and enterprising people took advantage of those who were desperate.

  2. Valerie says:

    A pity about the extra price of a ticket, but I suppose it was a seller’s market.
    Thank you for this most interesting account.

    • Judy Guion says:

      Valerie, It was most definitely a seller’s market. Fortunately, John Jackson Lewis had the funds and planned to get to California to visit his older brother. He actually ended up staying there and raising a family.

  3. Reblogged this on Musings of a Penpusher and commented:
    Another fascinating read for the keen amateur historian

    • Judy Guion says:

      Maureen – Thank you for the re-Blog. It is encouraging to me when others want to share real history as it was recorded by those who lived through it. It is only one perspective but a very REAL one.

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