On the Water

Van Valen’s Gold Rush Journey

Day 20 – Feb. 14, 1849

Questions

Based on the careful examination of Van Valen’s journal and supporting primary sources:

  1. How many crew and how many passengers were aboard the Hersilia?
  2. How did the conditions on board compare with those promised on the clipper cards?
  3. Do you think Van Valen sailed on a clipper ship? Which pieces of evidence support your theory?

Van Valen’s Journal Entry

Wednesday Feb 14, 1849. 6 a.no. Cloudy. Weather mild,
light winds and variable, we now begin to feel the
inconvenience of a Small Ship crowded with Pass-
-engers, a Small Cabin crowded with Baggage & no
Ventillation, and to make the place still more
disagreeable especially in the warm Latitudes
the Cabin is furnished with 3 or 4 dirty & half trimed
Oil Lamps, which emits a Smoke equal to a
Blast furnace. 12 m Lat 10° 25' North Long 25° 05' West.
nothing worthy of note occurred the remainder of
the day. I find it quite a task, especially one
like myself who have allways been engaged in
other pursuits than writing, to find material
about which to write. there is much of a Sameness
on Ship Board day after day, and seldom anything
occurs to change the Monotony of the Scenes.
Thursday Feby, 15, 1849 5 am. Arose this morning
and took a Bath, which is performed in the
following maner, some 4 or 5 club together, one of
which takes a Bucket, draws the water and
dashes it upon the rest & Visa Versa.
Weather warm
light wind from the North East. The Temperature
of the weather about the same as July or August in
New York. 12 m, Lat 8° 01' North. Long 25° 05' West.

Primary Sources

Crew and Passenger List for the gold rush Ship Hersilia, 1849

At the beginning of his daily journal, the ship passenger and forty-niner Alex Van Valen wrote up a list of everyone aboard the bark Hersilia. The crew, which consisted of the captain, mates, seamen, cooks and stewards, managed the ship and all its passengers. There were no women aboard the Hersilia; the crew and passengers were together for a 199-day voyage around Cape Horn from New York to San Francisco Bay from January to August 1849.

Alex Baxter Capt
J Hopkins 1st Mate
Mr. Abley 2nd do
Mr. Bodfish 3rd do
7 Seamen
——————
Passengers
C.B. Reynolds NY
J. Sawyer “
D. Drake “
S. Baker “
H. B. Braston R.I
C.F. Rea “
Wm Larned “
Wm Levins “
J. A. Sanger
Thos Barnes “
J. Conley N.Y.
E.B. Hegeman “
A.D. Chapin “
R Atwill “
W. Willis “
S. Cunningham “
H. F. Joseph
C. Bucklin “
Mr Brower “
Mr. Winslow R.I
A. Mobray NY
Mr King R.I
Mr Wacob NY
Mr Oakly “
H.C. Gardiner R.I
J. Sherman “
Mr Isbel Conn
H.B. Congdon R.I
T.H. Carr
S.V. Carr RI
S.L. Hale “
A. Morgan “
A. Van Valen NY
M Van Siclen “
R. J. Paulison “
Wm Byxbee “
S.P. Clark “
A. Johnson RI
G. G. Green “
J. C. Stone “
J Russell “
E. W. Nottage “
B. Nelson “
F. P. Kilburn “
T. Haslan “
W. H. Hoyt “
W. L. Carpenter “
J. Watts “
C. Hane Mass
A. Wheeler “
I.B. Read R.I
N Cogswell “
G.I Gardiner “
I. Hathaway “
I. Converse “
Wm Wirling “
I. E. York “
Mr Short NYConn
Mr Thompson NY
Mr Seidell “
R Dunn “
Mr Tate Conn
W. L. Judson “
Mr. Winchel “
A. Stewart N.Y
J. Stewart “
H. B. Platt “
I. E. Dechyse “
W Deforest “
I. Deforest “
W Crocheron “
Tyson & 2 Sons “
Sexton & Son “
Mr Waters R.I
Making a total
of 77 Passengers
& 8 Cooks & Stewards

Passengers 77
Officers & Seamen 11
Cooks & Stewards 8
——————
96

Clipper cards, 1850s and 1860s

Merchants used mythical, romantic, and patriotic imagery to attract customers to their ships. In the early 1850s, the immensely valuable trade with China for spices, tea, and other high-profit cargoes put a premium on speed, even at the cost of cargo capacity. British and American shipbuilders answered with clipper ships—long, narrow vessels with towering masts and clouds of canvas. They were the fastest commercial sailing vessels ever built.