Society Saturday: Howe Came They Here, 1858

This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series Howe Letters
Calaveras County, California, USA.

Calaveras County, California







Continuing from last Saturday‘s post, we find Phineas Howard Howe right where we left him before, a year into his self-made exile from Maine and still in Calaveras County, California.

In a letter dated July 11, 1858, to his eldest son, Osborn, Phineas gives advice to him on what he should make of himself that gives clues that Osborn may not have the strongest constitution. Keep this in mind; it will come back to haunt the family later.

Douglas Flat – July 11, 1858

Dear Osborn

I received your letter the 6th of July (dated May 30th) and was glad to hear you was well but was sorry to have you feel so down hearted; about getting into work never mind I hope there is better days a coming. get into some lite employment where you can earn a little & be steady & faithful and gain confidence of all who you may be associated with and I will venture to say you will have no trouble in getting along. I do not want you should work on a farm if it is too hard for you so be sure and keep your health if possible and if God prospers me I will send you some money so you can go to school I have had some hard luck since I have been here have lost a good deal but have come to the determination to save what I make in the future…

Another letter, undated but presumably from the same time period, is addressed to a ‘Sister Jewitt’. She is presumably family, though I have yet to determine exactly how they are related. The intriguing part is that he mentions more about his daily life, and he finally confirms the real reason he left Maine – he had gold fever. But as much as he worries about his sons and feels bad about leaving them, he didn’t want to settle down, as he plainly states. Was it discontent after his wife’s death? Did he have a mid-life crisis?

Sister Jewitt-

…I am well and hearty under my circumstances…should enjoy myself tolerable well if it weren’t for the anxiety I feel for my boys but I know they will be cared for I feel that I did not do right in leaving them but what should I do. I thought my circumstances would not admit of my settling down and another thing. I did not feel like it. but I think it might have been as well for me if I had. What is a man without money in this cold and unfeeling world the majority will say. Nothing; and it is a lamentable fact I came here to make money but have not made much yet – but am bound if I have my health to get some before I go home. how long that will be, God only knows, I don’t. I am at work mining with a young man by the name of Alfred S. Clough from NH. We are at work 1 1/2 mile from our cabin & therefore camp on the ground under an Oak tree very good accommodations. I have an idea of going to Frazer River North of Washington Territory if no conflicting accounts come concerning the gold digins in that region. but how soon I cannot tell…

Phineas concludes the letter with questions about family and friends, especially a woman named Albina (Hannah Albina Jewett) – keep this in mind as well for later! – as well as lamenting the general state of the society around him in regards to alcohol (his home state of Maine was the first state in the Union to pass temperance laws in 1851, eventually leading to the 18th Amendment):

…when I was there Albina said she was going to get married in 3 months I want to know if it was so & if it was, whether they quarreled & parted or whether he died…I saw by the last Tribune that the voters of Main had sustained the liquor law good and I hope the temperance…will drive the liquid fire of damnation from the state

…I have heard there has been a great religious excitement agoing on in the Atlantic States and in some instances I have been told that it had made its way into California. but where, God only knows, I don’t. it is not anywhere I have been for the only holy day that I have seen is Sunday when they drink whiskey play poker and get drunk & in som instances shoot & cut one another to pieces this is the dark side. there is no trouble however for a man to get along if he will let rum alone and keep out of such company which I have always done and shall always endeavor to do. I believe in sure and undefiled religion but you know I do not go much on these excitements for the reason that I have never seen but little good from them…

I want you should write me a good long letter about temperance politics & religion & every little incident that you think of and direct to P.H. Howe, Vallecito, Calaveras County, California & may God bless you and all the rest                           P. H. Howe

What I love about Phineas’ letters is the window they provide into his world at large, not just with his daily activities, but his opinion on the U.S. economy and religious and political movements of the era. There’s plenty more to see, so be sure to check in next Saturday for 1859!

(These are transcriptions of actual letters written by Phineas H. Howe to his family and friends in Maine. The real letters are currently in the possession of the Nez Perce County Historical Society, which has generously loaned me these transcriptions for the project I’m doing for them. All other writing herein is © 2011, copyright Genealady & JustFolks.)

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