Jennie Megquier on Life in San Francisco

A view of San Francisco in 1855

The Megquiers shipped a “portable iron house” to San Francisco, figuring it would be a good investment in a city where people were living in shacks and tents, and indeed it was. They used the ground floor for a store, and rented out the upper floor for offices.

We have a fine store which is now nearly completed, the upper part will rent for one thousand per month a pretty little fortune of itself if rents continue as they are now, but it is doubtful. Our motto is to make hay while the sun shines, we intend to sell the first good offer and return forthwith, although there are many things here that are better than the states yet I cannot think of staying from my chickens [her children] a long time, and it is not just the place for them at present, no schools, churches in abundance but you can do as you please about attending, it is all the same whether you go to church or play monte, that is why I like, you very well know that I am a worshipper at the shrine of liberty.

Jennie had chafed under the day-long church services back home in Maine, where her father was a deacon in the Baptist church. She didn’t miss that at all.

The land is very rich would yield an abundance if it was cultivated, but no one can wait for vegetables to grow to realize a fortune, potatoes are twenty cents a pound, beets one dollar and seventy-five cents a piece, tomatoes, dollar a pound but we have them for dinner notwithstanding, we have made more money since we have been here than we should make in Winthrop in twenty years, the Dr often makes his fifty dollars, a day in his practice, then we have boarders to pay our house rent, they make great profits on their drugs [Dr. Megquier and his partner].

To show you some of the profits on retail, the Dr bought a half barrel of pickle in salt, after soaking them I put up fourteen quart bottles, sold them for six dollars more than we gave for the whole, which still left me the same bulk I had at first.

Prices were fascinatingly high — everyone talked about the prices. The money came in fast, but it went out fast as well. Jennie was sure that she would go home with “an apron full of gold,” but that would take longer than she expected.

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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