DAVID CLARK (1817-1878)
David Clark was born in Epsom, New Hampshire May 18, 1817, the fifth child of James Clark and his second wife, Hannah Robinson. David Clark attended Epsom schools, and sometime after 1830, along with his brother Dustin Clark, left Epsom for Lowell, Massachusetts. While there he met, and on May 16, 1839, married Harriet Nevell Wilson of Dracut. Between 1840 and 1856 they had children David Franklin, Henry Dustin, Harriet Augusta, Mary Jane, John Wilson, Abbie Frances, and Frederick Newton Clark. Of these children, Henry Dustin and Mary Jane died young, and all were probably born at Lowell. By 1850, David Clark and his wife were living in Lowell with three children, his trade as carpenter; also in Lowell were his brother Dustin with 2 children, and the mother of Dustin's wife, Betsey Robinson, with three daughters.
David Clark, as did so many others, decided to seek new fortune in California, and left the port of Boston for New York City, and left New York for Nicaragua at 3 pm, Feb. 5, 1852. In ten days the ship arrived at Greytown (San Juan del Norte) on the east coast of Nicaragua. In a matter of eight hours, they were boating up river, through rapids, taking two days to reach Lake Nicaragua. The trip was considered difficult, but the vista was incredible, with the nearby volcanoes, wild birds and monkees, making it a fascinating experience. On February 19 they had navigated the 100 mile long lake and landed at Virgin Bay at 9 am, and by 3 pm started by mule for a 13 mile trip to San Juan del Sud. San Juan del Sud was the port where most vessels began their trip up the pacific coast to California. Here it was a three day wait to find and board a vessell for the next leg of the journey.The wait was not a most pleasant one, as explained by the Maritime Heritage Project (http://www.maritimeheritage.org/) "Accommodations were spare, and both men and women shared quarters, sleeping on dirt floors. When the ships were in, men from the villages carried passengers through the shallow, warm ocean to small boats which then delivered them to the ships." David Clark boarded th "North America" on the twenty-thrid of February, and at 9 pm the next day, began the voyage up the coast of Central America, to Mexico, and north to California. For the first two days is was smooth sailing, but around midnight of the 27th, trouble begins.
The S.S. North America was built by Lawrence and Sneeden in New York City and was a wooden sidewheel steamer with 2 decks, 4 masts, a round stern and no head. It measured 260 ft. 6 inches by 33 feet 9 inches by 20 feet 6 inches; and her vertical beam engine was built by Morgan Iron Works of New York. The vessel was owned and operated by Vanderbilt's Independent Line. The Capt. was veteran J.G. Blethen. From various sources and newspaper articles, the following events were described with some detail, to then give the following account. By the Captain's count there were 952 passengers on board, which included a crew of one hundred or more. After a few days out, and between 11 and midnight on the 27th of February, the North America was wrecked 42 miles east of Acapulco. The New York Daily Times, March 9, 1852, reported it this way: 'Only a few boatloads.. left the ship before morning, there not being the least danger. At daylight, the whole number landed, with a portion of teh provisions, bedding, sails, and carpets, and erected tents on the beach...We found the vessel firmly embedded in the hard sand, side to the beach, partially filled with water, the sea breaking over her quarter...and persons were wading backward and forward to the ship. Under these circumstances the passengers' baggage and freight were packed off as fast as possible on the backs of mules. The steamer, at the time of the wreck, had some $5,000 or $6,000 on board, but the purser, as a matter of course, reports it all stolen, with the exception of less than a thousand dollars. There must be in the whole number (of passengers) at least forty women and a hundred children. We are afraid the worst is yet to come, if the agent at San Francisco does not send relief. God only knows the suffering there will be...'
David Clark, somewhere on a beach in Mexico, two days after the wreck, writes to his beloved wife and children (freely transcribed from his diary) - Feb. 27 - pleasant and expecting to get to Acapulco sometime in the night, and wouldn't you know Mrs. Clark, that about eleven at night we ran ashore on the coast of Mexico, and there we pounded all night. They got a line on shore and we began going ashore about 4 in the morning. I stayed on the old craft until about 9. We all got ashore safe and commenced a California city at short notice. The steamer is a wreck, and we have about 60 in our camp, including a doctor, a baker, and a first rate cook and plenty of good provisions - we live like pigs in the clover!
He concludes for the day, and resumes the letter from Acapulco March 6th 1852 (continued freely transcribed) - I spend a few moments to let you know that I am well. We started from the wreck on Tuesday noon, went to St. Marks Wednesday, Thursday, and arrived (Acapulco) Friday noon, a three day journey. Eight of us hired 5 mules for $50.00 and packed two with bagage, and rode the other three. We camped out nights and, Mrs. Clark, we saw every kind of wild animal that you ever heard of, except for the elephant ! When we started from the wreck we went about three miles to a river that we waded, then we crossed a lake about as wide as the Merrimack River. The water was about 18 inches and muc about 18 inches. I waded, and one of the mules that had the bagage on fell down and wet it all. I was riding one on the mules and they wanted me to get off, but I would not, so when I came to the center, the mule fell down, and where do you expect I was then ? In the mud !!
Mrs. Harriet Wilson Clark
Acapulco March 8, 1852 - We are all well and I have plenty to eat and drink. We can lay in our camp and look out on the Pacific and see the whales. I can see two now spouting. I did not go into town yesterday, but I could hear the music. They had cock-fighting. You should see our nice china dishes made of clam shells. We have some girls that rode the mules all alone up and down the mountains, some as steep as the roof of a house in some places, and don't you think that the ladies rode straddle. There are lots of oranges growing here, some trees have 10 or 12 bushels - coconuts...and the woods are filled with wild flowers and plants; birds; and now and then a snake about 8 or ten feet long; tigers; and we saw a bear in central america that weighed 1500 pounds that came from California that they were taking to New York to put in a museum.
Those passengers with money were able to book passage on other ships, those who did not did the best they could to find there way either back east or to California. Many ships stopped and took 20 or 30 individuals, and David Clark booked passage on the Northern Light. He boarded that vessel on April 22, 1852 about 10 am and left Acapulco at 1 pm on the 24th. He arrived at San Francisco May 20, 1852 at about 4 pm, staying at the main hotel. The next day he made his way up river, heading to Stockton.
David Clark returned to Massachusetts and gathered up the equipment and tools he would need to establish a permanent home in California. On his return he began to build the house that wife Harriet would need before bringing herself and the children to join him. He began a successful mill and lumber operation that was later run by several of his sons. From the Maripose Gazette of Sat. May 24, 1879 - "Died - at Clark's Mill, Sun. May 18, 1879, David Clark, a native of New Hampshire, aged 63 years. Sudden death has taken one of our oldest and respected citizens. We have known Mr, Clark for upwards of 25 yrs. and was a faithful husband and father. He leaves a widow and 4 children." Harriet his wife died January 8, 1885.
Top photos of David Clark and his wife taken circa 1850, probably Lowell, MA. Pictures below taken after they removed to California including the homestead during the 1860's. Information and photos courtesy of Roena D. Wilson and Penny Vail. Additional Information on the S.S. North America from the Maritime Heritage Website.