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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy 4th of July! (With an Account of an 1849 Gold Rush Celebration)

A fascinating manuscript was recently donated to the Smithsonian Institution Libraries by the A. Herr Smith & E.E. Smith Loda Township Library of Illinois: the shipboard journal of Mr. Benjamin S. Buckley, kept during his voyage on the ship Capitol. The ship, carrying approximately 200 passengers and crew, launched from Boston, Massachusetts on January 23, 1849, and sailed around Cape Horn at the tip of South America before reaching its destination of San Francisco harbor six months later on July 20th. Writing in a meticulous hand and with an eye for detail and understated drama, Mr. Buckley captured the flavor of life aboard a ship full of excited passengers who were headed to California during the Gold Rush to earn their fortune.
Towards the end of this exhausting journey, the "Comt. [Committee] of Arrangements" (a group formed on board the ship to keep everyone entertained) and the crew celebrated the Fourth of July with true patriotic fervor. Here are some excerpts from Mr. Buckley's account of the festivities:

"[A]t half past twelve [a.m.] precisely, the thunders of theCapitol burst forth in the following most sublime and extraordinary manner: by some mysterious and unknown agency the lamps between decks became suddenly extinguished, and down from the main top, or some other place, came thundering with awful and startling effect, the cook's tin boilers, tin pails, dishes, plates, &c. The effect on those below was truly astonishing ... [M]any innocent looking individuals apparently just awakened, came on deck rubbing their eyes and muttering what a d----d infernal noise, poor fellows they were unconscious of the cause.
The first thing after daylight I took a look round for our acquaintance of yesterday, [the ship] Daniel Webster, and there he was about three miles astern all sail set, chasing the Capitol and coming up hand over hand.

The Comt. of Arrangements prepared the order of exercises which commenced at ten o'clock ...
1st. Prayer by Mr. John Beckett
2nd. An original song by B.F. Whittemore
3rd. Reading of the Declaration of Independence
4th. A select song, Our Native Land
5th. Address by Mr. Wallis
6th. Select song
7th. Sentiments and speeches
8th. Concluding song, Liberty Flag

[Mr. Buckley then summarizes several of the "sentiments and speeches" presented on the occasion by various members of the Committee. A few of the toasts are quoted below:]
  • To Our Beloved Nation: The youngest of the family, yet in her possession was found the golden treasure.
  • To the Gold of California and Gen'l [Zachary] Taylor [who at that time was president of the United States]: The fruits of liberty and the defenders of freeman's rights and our country's glory.
  • To Our Republic: Founded upon truth & justice, indebted for her advancement to her glorious republican institutions, and to the high position she now occupies among the nations of the earth to the patriotism and valour of her citizens.
  • To the United States of America, the Model Republic of the World: May the foul stain of slavery which now mars her purity be ere long obliterated.
  • To the passengers of ship Capitol: May their next Fourth of July be celebrated with each an hundred thousand dollars in his pocket.
  • To the Memory of Washington: May it never be forgot, while the earth bears a plant or the sea rolls a wave.
The celebration concludes with a song composed and sung by shipmate B.F. Whittemore, which includes these stirring verses:

"This is the morn Columbia smiles & so my friends should we,
Tho roaming o'er the stormy waste, or wandering o'er the sea,
For memory speaks tis Freedom's Day, the Great and Glorious Fourth,
Which gives us joy & happiness throughout our native earth.

"Ye sons of proud America, the word declares you free,
Come celebrate this happy day, with a merry jubilee
The air resounds o'er hill, o'er dale with freemen's well tuned voices,
The Stars and Stripes are floating high, a nation now rejoices.

"The high, the low, the great, the small exalting all as one,
In praises what we now enjoy and what our Fathers won,
Each patriotic in his heart, his soul it seems to say,
Fly hence oppression cruel for this Independence Day.

"Then let it still be said of us though numbering a few,
We kept the day all glorious Americans true blue.
We scorn as freemen while we live its memory to forget,
for sacred as it ever was, our freedom is it yet.

"Olde Capitol, thou never shall be among the silent numbered,
No history e'er shall a page that we regardless slumbered.
For ever mindful of the past, its sentiments and worth,
As Americans we thunder out the great and glorious Fourth.
For we are all true hearted Americans, like those of the olden time."

Mr. Buckley's shipboard journal tapers off once the Capitol reaches port and the passengers disembark. There are a few miscellaneous notes in the volume about his later business ventures. Although he never struck it rich in the gold fields of California, Mr. Buckley later relocated to Illinois and had a good business in trading cattle. One of his descendants gave the manuscript journal to the Loda Township Library in the late nineteenth century. The book was then presented in 2009 to the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, located in the National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Bering Center, in Washington, D.C., to ensure its preservation for generations to come.

Buckley, Benjamin S. Journal of the voyage from Boston to San-Francisco. (manuscript handwritten in ink in an account ledger, with entries dating from 1849 to 1863; selected pages are shown here). Call number: f MSS 001771 B SCDIRB, Dibner Library

--Diane Shaw, Special Collections Cataloger, Smithsonian Institution Libraries, with help from Kirsten van der Veen, Technician, Dibner Library

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