Entrepreneurs of the Gold Rush

What would a canny ship owner do as soon as he heard about gold in California in 1848? He would load up a ship with goods and passengers, and set sail for the Pacific.


Among the many fascinating items to be found among the Bidwell Papers at the California State Library are a series of receipts from a shopping trip John Bidwell took to Sacramento in 1849 where he purchased goods to supply a trading post at Bidwell Bar. Over a two day period he visited at least ten merchants, buying whatever they had.

One of the stores he visited was not in a building or a tent, but on a ship. According to Mark A. Eifler in Gold Rush Capitalists (University of New Mexico Press, 2002), Roland Gelston, captain of the bark Whiton, was the first to bring a shipload of merchandise from the East Coast directly to Sacramento. He left New York in November of 1848 and sailed around Cape Horn with cargo and passengers. Arriving in May 1849, he “immediately threw open his ship’s hold to sell merchandise to expectant miners.”


He was still selling when John Bidwell bought from him on July 6, 1849.


Among the items he bought were two kegs of molasses, shelled almonds, dried apples, two tin kettles, and a shot pouch (also useful for gold dust). The handwriting is not very clear, and I can’t read some of the other things he bought. But he spent $229.45 with R. Gelston & Co.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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