Voyage to California (43c) – John Jackson Lewis – More of the San Jose Valley

This is the last section of the final letter from John Jackson Lewis. This one is  to Edward, dated May 8th, 1851, describing the San Jose Valley and what he can see from his brother William’s farm. This sketch was made by John Jackson Lewis and enclosed with the letter.


Turning our gaze up the valley towards Monterey, the timber prevents our seeing much of the low land, except in the immediate vicinity of our house, that is within two or three miles, but beyond the timber, and distant, perhaps, five or six miles, the hills, comparatively low, but high notwithstanding, indicate that the valley becomes much narrower, and changes its course very materially.  Looking towards the Bay, the mountains fade away on either side, leaving us one place where we can look out on what I shall call the real horizon.

On the plain, in this direction, there is nothing essentially different from what is visible in other directions.  The same vast fields of grass and flowers, interspersed with spots of timber, or lines of it along the streams.  The timber on the plain is almost exclusively white and live oak, but in some places, dense thickets of Willows border the streams.

Distances on the plain are very deceptive.  This day two weeks, after sitting and writing a considerable portion of the day, I felt desirous to take a walk before supper, and pitching on a timbered spots, which I supposed, after making all due allowances, to be about a mile distant, as the extent of my excursion.  Pointing it out to Wm., I asked him if it was much more than a mile distant.  He replied in the negative, and I started.  The sun, I suppose, was about an hour high, and as I walked and walked towards the trees, the sun appeared to be making almost equal haste toward the horizon.  I reached the trees, however, and found several of them to be splendid Live Oaks, with lots of magpies, blackbirds, woodpeckers, and hanging birds hopping about them or flying from tree to tree, making the air vocal with their notes.  I stayed but a short time, and started back on a tall walk; but the sun had gone to rest; in the dusk of evening was upon me as I approached our humble abode.

I met with another rather curious instance of this deceptiveness.  Nearly all of the farm, (as will be explained more fully hereafter) is open to the plains, and the cattle that roam over them will occasionally trespass upon the land under cultivation.  In driving them off one day, I picked up a clod and threw at one that I thought very near to me, but, to my astonishment, it fell considerably short of its object.  I threw again, harder, but it still fell short, and it was only after repeated trials that I found how much harder I had to throw in order to hit anything that I had been accustomed to doing.  One reason of the deceptiveness in this instance was probably the being out of practice of throwing, for two or three months, reasons for other cases are perhaps found in the clearness of the atmosphere and the background of the mountains.  The rectangular figure on my map, near the Monterey Road and on a branch of the Guadalupe Bay, is where Wm. and his partners were farming last year.  one of them, Capt. Winslow, is on it this year.  He rents it, I believe, at $30. per acre.


This concludes the entries of the Diary and Journal of John Jackson Lewis concerning his voyage from New York to California to visit his brother William.

My Mother’s Ancestors will be the next series I post on Sundays. Here is a picture of Edith May Lewis, daughter of John Jackson Lewis and Margaret Ann Wilde.

Edith May (DeDe) Lewis, daughter of John Jackson Lewis.


This picture is of Homer Marchant Rider, Edith May’s husband.

Next Saturday I will begin a series of posts concerning Lad’s Voyage to Venezuela, taking a similar route as John Jackson Lewis during the first portion of his journey, about 88 years later.

Tomorrow my final post about My Ancestor, Alfred Peabody Guion. This will be quotes from the Memory Book that was passed around during the Celebration of Life held for Al (Lad) and Marian Guion.

Next week I will begin a week of letters written in 1944 while all five of Grandpa’s boys were scattered arount the world in the service of Uncle Sam.

Judy Guion

Voyage to California (43b) – John Jackson Lewis – Description of the San Jose Valley

This is the second  section (of three) of a letter from John Jackson Lewis  to Edward, dated May 8th, 1851, describing the San Jose Valley and what he can see from his brother William’s farm. This sketch was made by John Jackson Lewis and enclosed with the letter.


Between us and the coast range the view across the plain is uninterrupted, saved by occasional patches of oak timber, the nearest of them distant from 2 to 5 miles.  Some distance up the valley where the ground begins to rise, there is a large body of timber, but in general, timber is very scarce on the plain except immediately along the streams. Three weeks ago the plain in front of us was covered for miles with yellow daisy in full bloom, now the flowers are chiefly gone, and the seed vessels mingled with the dying grass have changed its color to a kind of mixed green and brown, while between that and the low hills at the base of the mountain there is an extensive plain now covered with mustard in full bloom.  These mountains at this distance present the appearance of a mighty bank of hills commencing with small ones and rising gradually until they reach the height of 3600 feet above the level of the ocean.  They are mostly destitute of timber, but some of them are thinly timbered to their very summit, and in some places solitary trees stand out in bold relief between us and the horizon.  In many places dark lines of timber, indicating the courses of the mountain streams, wind their serpentine courses down the sides of the mountains, sometimes losing themselves behind the hills, and again emerging from their retreat, until they reach the valley.  The hills nearest us generally present a rounded appearance, gradually becoming more precipitous and abrupt as they approach the mountains, and are mostly covered with wild oats, but in some places considerable patches of bright yellow have made their appearance within a week or two; these I supposed to be mustard.  These hills are continually changing in color, and I understand will continue to change through the summer.  In the spring some of them were covered with wild oats that escaped the fires last summer, while others that the fires had cleared were green with the young oats.  Through the summer we shall have the various changes produced by the different stages of growth, and also those produced by the fires which almost invariably clear off a portion of this valley annually; but of these when I witness them.  I often look at these mountains and long to scale their rugged sides, to stand on the summit of the loftiest, and enjoy the prospect that I know would lie before me, a prominent feature of which would probably be the great Sierra.  On the side of the house next to the Santa Cruz Mountains, the first object that meets the eye is a tract of perhaps 100 acres of mustard in full bloom, between us and the creek.  Beyond the mustard the line of trees that mark the course of the Coyote half a mile distant, meets the eye.  From the rise in the ground to the creek and the falling away on the other side, the plain itself is hidden from our view; but immediately opposite to us, where the trees along the Coyote admit of seeing between them, a dense body of timber and thicket along a branch of the Guadalupe, distant a mile from the Coyote, completely cuts off any further view of the low lands. One or two miles up the valley, the hills, which are called low, but which one finds pretty high and steep when he undertakes to climb them, commence.  These or the one I was on, consist of a hard gravelly soil, with a very scanty vegetation.  Some of them have a few small, stunted live oaks and a species of the horse chestnut upon them, but generally they are destitute even of these, while high above the hill and wood, frowns the dark mass of the Santa Cruz Mountains.  These are clothed with Redwood or Cedar, to their summits, gives them a dark, gloomy appearance.  On looking towards them, my first impression is still, nearly always, that a tremendously black thundercloud is rising in that quarter.  There is a high peaked among them, which S. Day, Wm.  and myself would all like to visit, and we may possibly do it if a slack time ever comes to us.  From it we could probably see far out on the Pacific, and get a fine view of the Bay, the valley of San Jose, the Coast Range etc. etc., ad infinitum, and I don’t know much else.  This peak, I suppose, is not more than 20 or 25 miles distant. Wm.  and I have projected a ride over the mountains to Santa Cruz, where Mrs. Farnham resides, but when we shall get it accomplished is uncertain.

On Sunday, the first part of a two-part tribute to My Ancestors, Lad and Marian Guion, my Mom and Dad.

Starting on Monday, a week of letters written in 1943. Plans are solidifying quickly for Lad and Marian. 

Judy Guion


Voyage to California (43a) – John Jackson Lewis – January to March, 1851


From John to Edward, dated May 8th, 1851

Xxxxx As Wm.’s letters previous to my coming here did not give a very accurate idea of the minutiae of his situation, and as mine thus far since my arrival here have not entered very much into detail, I have had it on my mind for some time past to endeavor to give a series of pen and ink sketches, intended, whether they accomplish it or not, to supply this deficiency, so far as I am capable of doing.

First in order, I will try to give some idea of the geography of our position, and in furtherance of this design, issue the following a splendid map of the Valley of San Jose.  As we have no map of this valley in detail, of course much of this is a mere fancy sketch.  In regard to the two streams laid down on the map, I only know that they empty into the Bay in different places, not very far from each other, that they are less than two miles asunder up here, a distance as opposed by water of somewhere above 15 miles from the Bay, and they are excessively crooked.  I have only traversed one of them, the Guadalupe, from the bay to Albisu, a distance by the stream called 8 miles, and my sketches not near crooked enough for that part of it.  One fact will modify your ideas on that point.  If the wind is fair when we enter the creek, there are 3 places where it is directly ahead before reaching Albisu, (pronounced Alveso, hence my misspelling in former letters; b pronounced v is erroneous however.)  My map is not very exact in regard to distances; witness for instance that it is only two miles from here to the Pueblo, while it is three from there to Santa Clara, and six from there to Albisu, but of course the first drawing will be liable to need correction before the engraving is struck.  William says it is a pretty fair sketch, consequently if you choose, you may take it for correct, subject to correction.  There are other streams in the Valley, but I am ignorant of their location.  The towns are pretty nearly in their right places, but they are literally to some extent like these on my map, towns on paper.  This is especially true of Albisu.  Santa Clara is a moderate sized village, and San Jose is a scattering village, dignified with the name and privileges of “city”, containing according to the late census 1500 inhabitants.  The Valley at this place is about 20 miles wide, the ground descending (?)  by a very gentle slope from the Coyote to the base of the mountains on our side of the creek: on the other it appears very nearly level.

Next Saturday, more of this letter and I will finish it the following week, which will bring this journey to an end.

Tomorrow, possibly the last post of My Ancestor, Alfred Peabody Guion. I plan on writing about Lad and Marian’s move to California and a little about what their lives were like during the thirty-eight years they lived there.

Next week I will continue posts of the early memories of the children in Trumbull.

Judy Guion


Voyage to California (42) – 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.

From Wm. To Sarah; dated San Jose March 30th:

xxxxxx  S. Day’s attention is almost exclusively devoted to the farm, while I attend to the surveying.  I have been absent since I wrote to father, until day before yesterday – have been engaged in the survey of a large Spanish grant, about 15 miles from this town.  It is impossible for a stranger to form an adequate idea of the difficulties which exist here in regard to land titles, and we are anxiously looking forward to the arrival of Commissioners from the United States Government to determine the validity and extent of the several grants.  When this is done the lands of this valley will soon be brought under cultivation, but now farmers are afraid to invest their money in houses, fencing and other improvements, while the tenure of their land remains so very uncertain.  John seemed on his first arrival to think this valley as more beautiful than I had described it, indeed he said to me that it was by far the most beautiful he had ever seen. – But I shall be a little careful how I write my opinions respecting it, as I should prefer that a part of the family should remain in Pennsylvania.  Those who are accustomed to intelligent society, and have leisure to enjoy it, would probably feel the want of it very much at this time here, but I have had my time so filled up with business avocations that the loss is less sensibly observed. xxxxx

Tomorrow more on the lives of Lad and Marian as they begin their life in Trumbull.

Next week I’ll be posting letters written in 1944. All of Grandpa’s sons are scattered around the world helping Uncle Sam win the war.

Judy Guion

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


Voyage to California (40) – 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.

Excerpts from a letter dated San José, March 30, 1851

The day before yesterday I saw a coyota, the first live one that I have seen.  The Texan tells me that they are precisely the same as the prairie wolf of our Western States; so as you have a description of them in Godman’s Natural History, I need not attempt it.  At any rate this one was too far off for me to give a very accurate description of him.  The creek which passes between here and the Pueblo, I suppose derives its name from this animal.  The term “creek”, when applied to this stream, implies something very different from what we are accustomed to see at home.  The stream of water at present, is somewhere near the size of that at the bottom of our meadow in New Garden, but the bed of the stream is another affair.  I have seen none of it as yet, except so far as I could see up and down from the place where we cross it in going to or from town, that I think I can safely say that it is from 50 to 250 yards wide, and from 10 to 25 or 30 feet deep in different parts of it; a deep gulch dug out of the plain, and the dirt all gone somewhere, forming a channel which when full, would contain a fully as much water as the Christiana Creek at Wilmington.  This channel was full last “rainy season”, this one there has not been rain enough to raise the streams.  From the depth of the channel, the stream is useless for the purpose of irrigation, unless pumps are resorted to.  At the time I came here, tho’ nominally the rainy season, the ground was hard and dry, cracking in some places, and the grass beginning to die.  Since that time we have had several fine showers, and the prospect is much more encouraging.  I suppose from what I have heard that more rain has fallen since my arrival, then in all the former part of the winter.  Wasn’t it a lucky thing for the Californians that I came?  When it rains here in the Valley, it frequently snows on the mountains.  We can see considerable bodies of snow to-day cresting the mountains on either side of us.  The altitude of these mountains is not sufficient to retain the snow for any considerable length of time; – it generally vanishes in a day or two.  We have heavy frosts nearly every morning, and the air is rather keen.  After the sun gets up a short distance, it becomes warm and pleasant, and this continues until the latter part of the day, when the wind rises, and by evening becomes quite disagreeably cool. This is the usual state of the weather, but on days immediately preceding a rain it is frequently calm all day.  I suppose this may be accounted for in this way.  The regular winds are from the North West; the winds which produce rain are from the opposite direction.  The countercurrents produce an equilibrium, which lasts sometimes a day or two before the South East finally prevails.  Take the weather altogether it is much more pleasant than in the same month at home.  The ground don’t freeze; the grass grows, the flowers bloom on injured.

I will post the rest of this section next Saturday.

Tomorrow, the second half of Army Life, Marriage and the Army, about Lad and Marian Guion’s travels shortly after they were married and before Lad is shipped overseas.

On Monday, I’ll begin posting more of “The Beginning”, Reminiscences of Alfred D Guion, the story of his early life, marriage, the birth of the children and the early years living in Trumbull, Connecticut.

Judy Guion

Voyage to California (39) – 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.

Excerpt from a letter written by John Jackson Lewis to family back in the states written on March 12th.

Extracts from a letter dated San Jose March 12, 1851

March 13 – The preceding pages, tho’ all under the same date, have been written in part to-day.  My time for writing has as yet been rather limited, and in consequence I have not been as minute as I might otherwise have been.  We have now a daily mail between this place and San Francisco, but it closes as 8 o’clock in the evening, so that to be in time for the steamer of the 15th, I must put this in the office this evening.  Of my prospects here I cannot say much at present, no arrangement having been entered into with Wm.  and Sherman.  It is impossible to foresee what the effect of the dry weather on farming will be.  If water can be raised from wells without too heavy an expense, the dry season may be in our favor.  Many who would otherwise be in the business do not possess sufficient capital to bear the increased expense, and the expectation of many is that vegetables will be scarce and dear next fall.  Indeed it is reported that potatoes have risen in value since I left San Francisco.  The future, however, will reveal all, so we must do the best we can, and patiently await the results.  We have bargained for the sale of 4 pounds of my onion seed at $16 per. lb.  It is not yet delivered, or the money in my possession, but I hope it will come along one of these days.  At the stores in San Francisco they were asking $20, from $4 to $6 for cabbage, and $4  for turnips, but I did not then know how much would be wanted here, and did not feel at liberty to sell any of the onion seed.  I assisted to do one small job of surveying the morning after my arrival, and have done a little work at the garden, but I do not expect to go to work in earnest until next week.  I want some time to get my dirty clothes washed, and arrangements made for living at the ranche as comfortably as circumstances will permit. x x x I must now stop writing for this time, to go and plant some seeds in a hot bed.  So with love to my relatives and friends, and peace and good-will to mankind in general, I remain thy affectionate brother, John J.  Lewis

Next Saturday, excerpts from a letter written March 30, 1951, from John Jackson Lewis to family and friends back in the states.

Tomorrow, more on My Ancestor, my Dad, Alfred Peabody Guion and his life with his new wife, Marian, during World War II.

Next week, I will be posting letters written in 1944. Grandpa is holding down the fort in the Old Homestead in Trumbull while his five sons see the world, courtesy of Uncle Sam.

Judy Guion