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SS Chesapeake

The SS Chesapeake made a laborious journey from New York to San Francisco in 1849-1850. She left New York on August 7, 1849 and arrived in San Francisco on August 6, 1850. After arrival she was used in the coastal trade.

In January 1851:

A band of pioneers and prospectors had recently proceeded in the Chesapeake steamer northwards to the Klamath River, near which, on the sea shore, they fancied they had found the richest and most extraordinary gold field that had ever been known. The sands of the sea, for a broad space several miles in length, beneath cliffs some hundred feet high, appeared to be literally composed in one half, at least, of the pure metal. Millions of diggers for ages to come could not exhaust that grand deposit. Already a few miners had collected about he spot; but these were so amazed and lost in the midst of the surrounding treasure that they knew not what to do. Like the ass with its superabundance of hay, they could not resolve to begin anything. No man could well carry more than seventy-five or a hundred pounds weight upon his back for any great distance, with that quantity of pure cold, it was ridiculous, so it was, to be content, when numberless tons lay about. So these men - there were just nineteen of them - (the tellers of the story were very particular in some facts), -- had resolved to wait till the spring, when they would freight and fill a ship with the wealth which they were then jealously watching over. Let us not be misunderstood, or supposed altogether jesting.

A brilliant report for the Alta California says "The gold is mixed with the black sand in proportions of from ten cents to ten dollars to the pound. At times, when the surf is high, the gold is not easily discovered, but in the spring of the year, after a succession of calms, the entire beach is covered with bright and yellow gold. Mr. Collins, the secretary of the Pacific Mining Company, measured a patch of gold and sand, and estimates it will yield to each member of the company the snug little sum of $43,000,000 (say, forth-three millions of dollars!) and the estimate is formed upon a calculation that the sand holds out to be one tenth as rich as observation warrants them in supposing." No digging was required, since one had only to stoop a little and raise as much as he wished of the stuff - half gold, half sand, from the surface of the beach.

Back the adventurers hastened to San Francisco, where they had long been impatiently expected; and the glorious news ran like wild-fire among the people. General John Wilson and Mr. John A. Collins, both of whom had been among the number of discoverers, frankly testified to the truth of these wonderful statements. The beach, they said, for a great distance, was literally strewed with pure gold. It was found in the greatest quantity in a certain kind of "black sand," although the "gray sand," which was rather more abundant, contained likewise a large proportion of the same black-colored stuff with its special share of gold. "Mr. Collins," says the poetic reporter, "saw a man (one of the nineteen, no doubt,) who had accumulated fifty thousand pounds, or fifty thousand tons -- he did not recollect which -- of the richest kind of black sand."

Such intelligence astounded the community. In a few days, eight vessels were announced as about to sail for this extraordinary region. The magic phrase "GOLD BLUFFS!" "GOLD BLUFFS!!" every where startled the most apathetic, and roused him as with a galvanic shock. "GOLD BLUFFS!!!" filled the columns of newspapers among the shipping advertisement; they covered, on huge posters, the blank walls of houses at the corners of the streets ; they were in every man's mouth. A company was formed called the "Pacific Mining Company," the shares of which instantly rose to a handsome premium. There seemed no doubt of their incalculable gains, since they showed numerous samples of the wondrous "black sand," where the golden particles lay and shone mildly, as stars in the milky way, innumerable. The company had already, by the greatest good fortune, secured a considerable number of miners' claims, embracing indeed the entire beach beneath the "Bluffs," so that all was clear for immediate operations. We have seen the intelligent secretary's calculations on the subject. No wonder people raved, and either invested a few thousand dollars in shares of this company, or forsook their all, and made sail for the Gold Bluffs. The ancient excitement of Mississippi and South Sea schemes was a bagatelle in comparison with that which now stirred San Francisco, used though it had been to all manner of rumors of placers, and gigantic "pockets" of gold. The skepticism of envious un-"progressive" people was happily ridiculed, and the press compared the ocean to a mighty cradle that had been rocking and washing up gold from teh bottom of the sea for unknown ages, and had chanced to throw it in tons and shiploads beneath the hitherto undiscovered Gold Bluffs. It was truly great news for San Francisco.

The first damper to the hot blast that raged through the town, and from whence in spread and fired up distant countries, -- until the arrival of the next mail, -- was intelligence from the earliest miners, that they found it very difficult to separate first the black sand from the gray, and next the gold itself from the black sand, the particles of the previous metal being so remarkably fine. A little later, it was found that the innumerable "patches" of black sand began most unaccountable to disappear. Heavy seas came and swept them right away; and though it was hoped that heavier seas might soon bring them back again, the people got tired of waiting for that event, and hastily fled from the place, ashamed of their own hopes and credulity, and cursing the cruel wags that had exhibited in San Francisco sealed phials of dingy sand largely mixed with brass filings.

But we cannot pursue this pleasantry farther. Much serious loss was suffered by the Gold Bluffs piece of business. The unfortunate "Pacific Mining Company" had bought the Chesapeake at a cost for boat and repairs of twenty thousand dollars, had run her up the coast several trips at the loss of as many thousands more, and afterwards, when she had been injured in a storm, were glad to sell her for about two thousand dollars. If, however, the shareholders, or any single adventurer lost much money -- why, they had at one time the most brilliant hopes imaginable of immense riches; and these were surely some compensation. For what, after all, is life without hope? There was considerable gold at the Bluffs, but it turned out in the end to cost more trouble to gather than it was worth. Hence the place was abandoned, except by a few still hopeful individuals, after a few months' trial. Sine the whole affair formed a very striking, though latterly a ridiculous event in the progress of San Francisco, we cannot refuse it a place in these "Annals."

After a rudder was lost at sea, the Chesapeake put into Port Oxford on October 10, 1851, proceeded to Humboldt, then was condemned and sold.


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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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