Voyage to California (41) – 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.

Following is the rest of a letter dated San Jose, March 30, 1851.

We have potatoes, peas, turnips, radishes, cabbage, lettuce, onions and tomatoes, the last four of my own sewing, all up, and more planted.  I got my seeds through, I think, without their taking any injury from saltwater or tropical weather.  The onion, tomato, and cabbage seeds at any rate have proved their generative powers. xxxxxxx

After the accounts received at home of cash being required for all moneyed transactions, I have been surprised to find money one of the scarcest articles in the country.  People have to trust and take pay in trade, much more than in Chester County.  I have been also surprised to find that in this Valley of San Jose, which has been represented to raise such enormous crops of potatoes, the very few that we get to eat cost 10 cents per pound.  Other vegetables we don’t get at all.  I suppose the fact is, the demand for them exceeded the supply, and they have all been cleared out.  The potatoes used here now are brought from San Francisco, and are brought there I suppose from the Sandwich Islands.  Flour and cornmeal cost 10 cents a pound at the stores in the Pueblo, rice 20, sperm candles 10 cents each.  Beef costs 12 ½ cents per pound.  A full-grown hog is worth here from 75 dollars to 100 dollars, nearly as much as a pair of oxen.  These are worth from 125 to 250 dollars.  Birds are very numerous here: most numerous perhaps are the wild geese.  These settle down on the plains in flocks which might be counted by acres.  A large flock settled down for several evenings, within a mile or two of our house.  I twice attempted to steal upon them in the night, but did not succeed in finding them.  I also tried once about daylight, and another time on horseback, but they all proved “wild goose chases”.  I got one or two shots at them, but at too great a distance to kill any. xxxxxx

Our fare consists of bread, molasses, fresh beef, tea and coffee, with occasional variations of rice, potatoes, dried apples, boiled pork, and pickles.  Potatoes and rice however our rarities.  I hope to see vegetables of our own raising on the table before many months have passed away.

Tomorrow, more of the story of Lad and Marian during and following World War II.

On Monday, I will be posting a week of letters written in 1943.

Judy Guion


2 thoughts on “Voyage to California (41) – John Jackson Lewis – January to March, 1851

  1. Maureen Jenner says:

    This has so much to teach us about self-sufficiency and what it meant to be self-sufficient while husbanding everything in season. .These are such vivid accounts we might almost be peeping in at the door.

    • Judy Guion says:

      Maureen – I think that is the beauty of personal accounts … we can see things as they saw them. It is just the icing on the cake when the writer is descriptive and eloquent.

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