Voyage to California (34) – John Jackson Lewis – January to March, 1851

(1) John Jackson Lewis, (2) Edith May (Lewis) Rider, (3) Marian Faith (Rider) Irwin, (4) Marian Dunlap (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.


After breakfast, took a walk with Norry, about the city.  The variety and abundance in the markets as stuffed specimen of an animal called California lion, Chinese goods, the auction stores, and the extent to which auctions have taken the place of the regular mode of mercantile transactions, were among the objects of interest.  I was also interested in noting the peculiar appearance of some of the different classes of the population, as miners, Chinese, and Indians, and the new ways resorted to, to make money, among which boot blacks stationed along the streets, were conspicuous.


Extracts from a letter dated San Jose, March 12

I succeeded in getting to shore about 9 o’clock (3rd. Mo. 5th), and left my trunks at a store near the wharf, with one of the partners of which concern I had become acquainted on the voyage.  I found porters plenty on the wharf, but as they asked $1.00 for transporting my trunks, and I strongly suspected the store was not far off, I left them on the wharf until I found the place, then shouldered them myself and saved my dollar.  The distance I had to carry them was probably 150 yards.  I then took my letter to the P.O. On the way there I saw the sign of Peter Lester, shoe store, – returned there as soon as possible, and was kindly received.  Peter is doing a pretty good business, clearing I suppose from what he told me, from $60 to $70 per week, – enjoys good health, and seems pretty well contented, tho’ of course the absence of his family is a privation.  He directed me to Dr. Gibbons’ office, where I was again kindly received.  After talking with him a short time, I left him to allow him to finish some letters to go by the mail, and walked out to deliver some of the letters entrusted to my care.  I had excellent luck in finding the places, and pleased a number of people, very considerably.  In about an hour I returned to the Dr.’s, and he walked out with me to various parts of the city.  In the course of our walk we called on Norris Palmer.  He and two others are keeping an auction and commission store.  They were about going to dinner when we entered, and at N.’s invitation I of course joined them.  The Dr. having business elsewhere, I remained with N. for a while.  N. and one of his partners, and Watson Smith, live in the building that their store is in, and are their own housekeepers.  They buy their bread of a baker, but cook their meat themselves.  They have vegetables that were cooked and put up in canisters in the States, and these they warm over at their stove.  They make their own coffee, buy milk and butter, and fare very well.  The meal was as good and as satisfactory a one to me as I have sat down to since leaving the States.  N.  gave me an urgent invitation to eat and lodge with them while in the city, and to stay as long as I chose to do so.  I lodged with them, and generally took my meals there, occasionally at the stalls in the streets, and once I bought fish enough to serve us two meals.  I felt satisfied to do the latter because provisions are dear, and my living was costing me very little besides.  Beef cost 25 cts.  per lb.,  Fish 12 ½ cts. per lb.,  butter from 50 cents to $1, bread 12 ½ c.  a loaf the size of common twist.  Theie vegetables were bought at auction, the cost I did not learn.  Milk is $2 per gallon, on the stalls it sells for 25 cents, a tea cup full, just double the price of tea or coffee.  The cup however is quite a large one.

Tomorrow I’ll be posting another entry from My Ancestors. This one is about Alfred Peabody Guion, my Father.

Next week I’ll be continuing posts from The Beginning – Reminiscences of Alfred D. Guion.

Judy Guion

8 thoughts on “Voyage to California (34) – John Jackson Lewis – January to March, 1851

  1. Fascinating. I did a quick check on an inflation calculator and that $2.00 gallon of milk would be $25.43 in today’s dollars.

    Here’s a link:

  2. VeraMaureen Jenner says:

    Your posts from the diaries of the past continue to make fascinating reading. Thank you for taking the time and trouble to keep us up to date.

    • Judy Guion says:

      VeraMaureen – It is my pleasure and I feel blessed in having all this information from days gone by. I love sharing incidents from the past with you.

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