1849:  A Few of Mansfield's Citizens who left for California

Richland Co., Ohio


Historical Information

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1849:  A Few of Mansfield's Citizens who left for California Gold

Source:  THE MANSFIELD HERALD:  06 March 1884, Vol. 34, No. 16


Submitted by Amy


The present generation who reads THE HERALD, or by far the majority thereof, know little or nothing of Mansfield's first contribution to California, for a few gentlemen, who, prior to 1849, resided in Mansfield, are numbered, and on the Pacific Coast are notably remembered as forming a part of the Argonauts of California, the forty-niners.  

Our older readers will in memory go back with us nearly thirty-eight years to the period of the Mexican War, and its victorious closing by a treaty of peace which, for fifteen millions of money paid by the United States, brought the acquisition of a country, in area, an empire.  On its acquisition a few, venturesome Americans occupied some portions of the country, and a few officers of the army and navy remained after the war on the Pacific Coast.  Notably among them was Captain William Tecumseh Sherman.  Since then he has deservedly acquired a world wide fame. 

Thee was no special movement into the newly acquired territory until after the spring of 1848.  At the close of the hostilities with Mexico, it is now known, that the entire white population of California was less than 15,000 souls, but in February of 1848 gold was discovered by Colonel Sutter in what is now Eldorado County, in the digging of a mill race.  What a talisman is gold.

According to the legend, a band of heroes of Greek antiquity, under their leader Jason, first navigated unknown and dangerous seas in their good ship the Argo in order, as the legend runs, to capture and carry back the golden fleece of the ram which had carried Phrixus and Helle when they fled from their stepmother Ino.  This golden fleece was watched by a sleepless dragon.  Jason after adventures accomplished his task, and so in all history since he and his comrades are known as the Argonauts.

The glittering sands within the golden gate, immediately after the knowledge of their discovery reached the Atlantic slope, aroused the love of adventure and hope of gain in every hamlet, town and city, east of the Mississippi, and as quickly as arrangements for departure over unknown seas and across untraveled mountain passes could be hastily perfected, bands of men from many neighborhoods were formed to go for gold, more valuable than the golden fleece.

Our little city, much less in population then than now, never behind any other, caught and was captured by the gold fever, and it is of our Argonauts, the men who, first of all our people, reached California, that we desire further to write.  Steamship lines were projected in New York, white-winged ships were taken from their docks and great activity was apparent in commercial and marine affairs.  Vessels were started around Cape Horn, so as to anticipate and accommodate the onflowing immigration after crossing the Isthmus, and reaching the shores of the Pacific Sea.

Late in February, 1849, William McIlvaine, William McNulty, Robt. H. Belden, Charles H. Cummings, A.G. Hedrick, James R. Weldon, J. Wood Pugh, Jonathan Pugh and Wm. Smith Irwin, left Mansfield for California.  Their route of travel seems to us now very strange.  They went south in a hack to Mt. Vernon, and on to Jacktown on the National Pike east of Newark, Ohio.  At Jacktown they took passage in the regular Neil & Moore stage coaches, east on the National Pike, through Brownsville, Uniontown, and on to Cumberland, Maryland and at the last named place took railroad passage to Baltimore, remained all night in Baltimore, then took steamboat to Elkten, and by river to Wilmington, and then again by cars to Philadelphia, and on to New York City.  In those days the Pearl Street House was largely patronized by Western merchants, and at it they were entertained.  The Mansfield party was detained in New York some five or six days.  All the party save the two Pughs secured through tickets to San Francisco, the Pughs only to the Isthmus.  All sailed on the brig Sampson from New York and were over two weeks reaching Gorgona.

The passenger list was large, among them Dr. Harris, who had been quite a celebrated surgeon at Castle Garden.  It took the party some days to make the passage of the Isthmus.  A ton or more of baggage, including provisions, mechanical tools, and some merchandise, had to be transported.  In due time the city of Panama was reached, but the steamer Panama had not arrived around the Horn.  Day by day they waited;  weeks passed away, and on the 17th. of May the Panama hove in sight.  Passengers and baggage were carried aboard by lighters, and after a passage of twenty days, on the morning of June 6th. they steamed within the golden gate, as their eyes glistened and gladdened at the glory of a brilliant surprise.  All the Mansfield party were aboard, except J. Wood Pugh and Jonathan Pugh.  They assayed to reach their destination by sail vessel from Panama, and were many days longer delayed.

On the Panama were many persons who since have become historical characters, Colonel John B. Weller, one of the commissioners appointed by President Polk to determine the new boundaries between the United States and Mexico, with all his attaches.  Wm. M. Guinn, afterwards Senator from California, was one of the number of passengers.  He was a hot Southerner.  Making the same passage was David C. Broderick, the champion of the men from the North.  He too was afterwards honored by an election to the United States Senate, and was murdered by Chief Justice Terry of infamous memory.

The readers of THE HERALD, some of them, may recall the tender, touching, glowing eulogy pronounced over the body of the dead Broderick by Colonel E.D. Baker, who fell at Ball's Bluff in the war.

Mrs. Fremont, daughter of Benton and wife of him who had even then greatly attracted the attention of the savants of the world, but who afterwards was dignified by a great party in making him their candidate for President, was one of the passengers.  Surely our Argonauts were in distinguished company.

When they landed there was but one house of any considerable size -- the Parker Hotel, a frame building.  There were tents, shanties, innumerable.  Think of it, readers of THE HERALD, now one of the grandest cities of the world is there built, and with a population of over a quarter of a million.  

Then it is true it was a polyglottal people, for in the eager greed of gold it seemed that men of all tongues, nations and kindreds of the earth had rushed thither.

What possibilities were presented to William McIlvaine and his comrades if their foresight had been keen, keen as a retrospective view now indicates it might have been.

Following them very shortly came many others.  Gov. Wilson Shannon, of Ohio, soon arrived and the party was offered through him, for a few thousand dollars, a ranch, a hacienda on which is now located the city of Marysville;  but our Argonauts were after the more than golden fleece, and so they failed to see that wealth would come from and through other sources than the pick and shovel, the pan and rocker.

It remains, however, to the honor of our little city that Mansfield, in all Ohio, first sent an organized party of men to California.  What has become of our Argonauts?  Where are they?  Even, who are they?  Many of our present readers may ask.

In the order we first named them is William McIlvaine.  Now, he is Captain McIlvaine, as tall, rugged and hearty now as then, as genial and generous now as then;  the same eager and interested searcher for truth and news now as then -- older, it is true, by the sum of all the intervening years.  More experienced than then, for he made a second trip to the Pacific Coast, and when treason threatened the flag, he stood at the front in defense of liberty and law and the starry banner of beauty.

Captain McIlvaine, we congratulate you on all your past history, and we earnestly pray that yet many years it will be your privilege in life and health to enjoy in an honored age the fruits of a well spent youth and manhood.

William McNulty was, prior to 1849, an active merchant, the second husband of Baldwin Bentley's widow.  He remained in California, occasionally visiting Mansfield.  In Sacramento he was a merchant;  floods and fires assailed him again and again.  Now wealthy and then poor, and so alternately recurred to him good and ill fortune.  Years ago he died;  a sad ending of an active life -- died by his own hand.

Robert H. Belden was a grain and commission merchant, one of the old firm of Hedges, Weldon & Co., when they operated the warehouses at the foot of the hill on West Diamond Street, now the City Mills, and the building to the north of it.  He remained for years in San Francisco.  Was for a time successful.  Returned east to New York, and we have no knowledge of him since 1860.

Charles H. Cummings was a merchant at Windsor Village before the day of railroads, when Windsor and the little valley on whose bosom it rests, smiled with happy homes and cheerful hearth-stones.  Now Windsor is almost abandoned, and business has in the main deserted the original location and leaped over to the railroad station.  Cummings was a son-in-law of Captain Smart, mine host of the Phoenix Hotel, alas, unphoenixlike, it arose not from its ashes.  His anticipations of fortunes in California were not realized.  Returning to Ohio he moved to a Western county, and some years ago, life's fitful fever with him was o'er.

William Smith Irwin, like captain McIlvaine, was strong, active, energetic and prosperous.  He can be found in Morrow County, where he removed after his return from California, where he has been Clerk of Courts, and County Auditor;  filling and discharging well the duties of many positions.  In the war a soldier for his country.  Not yet an old man, he has the love and regard of all who know him.

Alfred G. Hedrick:  Our readers, all out to know him.  For many years, before and since, he has resided in Mansfield.  Once thereafter he made an overland trip to the far west, and for a short time he resided in Kansas.  Now he is with us again.  Older in years of course, on the shady side of life, but still vigorous in body and mind.

James R. Weldon, a nephews of the late James Weldon and son of John Weldon, a pioneer citizen of Mansfield.  Then he was in the vigor of young manhood and a fine specimen of a manly man.  He remained in California for a time, hen came East and engaged in banking in the state of Indiana thereafter.  Then consumption took hold of him and he sought the South land in search of health.  The insatiable archer was not appeased and we readily recall a very cold day, now more than a quarter century ago, when his lifeless body was brought home from the Southern country for burial.  His only son, now a young man, is one of our younger citizens.

While Wood Pugh and his brother started in the race with the others, they as before stated, did not reach the goal so early, still they were in time to be counted among the "Forty Niners".  Wood Pugh returned to Ohio and took out his family, and lived in California the remainder of his days.  Jonathan, if we are correctly informed, on his return to Ohio, with his old father, settled in Iowa, of which State, we understand, he is now a citizen.

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