“I have not come 20,000 miles,” Yankee trader Franklin A. Buck wrote to his sister Mary on November 25, 1849, “to turn around and go right back again like some persons who have been here and gotten homesick.” Just twenty years old, Buck had left his job in New York and set sail for California the previous January. The young man was one of 40,000 people who traveled to California by sea during the gold rush of 1849. He arrived in the boom town of Sacramento City in October, and along with his partners, Buck opened a supply store. Business was brisk.
“…week before last,” Buck boasted to his sister, “we sold out of our little store $1500 worth of goods. All cash trade in one day. Tell Joseph to beat that…. The flour that I bought in San Francisco for $18 per sack (200 lbs) we sold for $44 and are all out.” As 1849 drew to a close, Buck noted Sacramento consisted of “…over 800 framed buildings, besides the tents.”
Broadcasting his good fortune, Franklin Buck extolled California’s temperate climate. “Today is Sunday,” he wrote. “Gloomy November, probably, with you, but here the weather is splendid, not cold enough to need a fire. Although this is the winter or rainy season it has rained about 15 days out of this month so far.” Despite enthusiasm for his new life, Buck could not conceal his homesickness, and nostalgia for the past crept into his letter:
I should like to be at home on Thanksgiving Day. I suppose you have had or will have one about this time. (Bake me a turnover!) Be sure and write me all about it. I look forward with great pleasure to spending a Thanksgiving with all the family once more in my life…. We were blest, Mary, with the best of parents and a happy home. Probably they were the happiest years of our lives—those that we spent at home.
Franklin A. Buck to Mary Sewall Bradley, November 25, 1849. In A Yankee Trader in the Gold Rush; the letters of Franklin A. Buck, compiled by Katherine A. White. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin company, 1930. “California as I Saw It”: First-Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849 to 1900
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