Introduction: In this article, Melissa Davenport Berry continues telling stories about the California Gold Rush, based on letters a 49er, Francis Henry Nicholson, wrote to his fiancée, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Charles. Melissa is a genealogist who has a blog, AnceStory Archives, and a Facebook group, New England Family Genealogy and History.
Today I continue with my series “Letters from California Gold Rush ‘49er.’” William Luckow, a client, shared a large collection of letters written by his ancestor Francis Henry Nicholson, who was among the many Americans who got the “gold rush fever” and headed out to California to make his fortune in 1849. Many of the letters were written to his future wife Elizabeth “Lizzie” Charles.
After his gold prospecting days, Francis remained in California and flourished as a merchant, married Lizzie, and had a family. Below is a photo of Lizzie and family taken in 1910 after Francis’ death.
Francis Nicholson lived in Nevada City, California, and in November of 1856 he was elected to be the public administrator. He held that office until February of 1859. Here is his nomination appointment, published in the Daily Democratic State Journal on 12 September 1856.
Francis handled many estates of the mining families. More on that in future stories.
My last story contained a snippet of a letter that Francis wrote to Lizzie from Nevada City, California, on 21 May 1858. The letter gives a glimpse into gold mining and the social activities of the times.
Here is part of that letter:
…Hank Kinney has bought back into some diggings at Relief Hill – which are reported as being pretty good claims… Mr. Van Dusen is again solvent. Has paid all his debts & reports his family well – Td Lambert was down also – is well and doing well – within the last three weeks there have been killed on Woolsey’s Flat two men – neither of whom I was acquainted with – Ned is at work in his claims at Woolsey’s and doing splendidly here – F. & Merriman [aka Merryman] are collecting toll on the new road – they failed to make the trade with the County. Buck Gnar was buried up once – but fortunately escaped injury. Sam Funk is living at Woolsey’s – has bought into Van Dusen’s claims – They also say that Hank Kinney spends a great deal of time at father-in-law Arnold’s house – something may grow out of it, but I think nothing serious – Well I believe that is all the items I have now – with this exception – the dancing community are rather busy – Madam & Ada Clark are teaching at Cherokee. Enclosed you will find a copy of invitation issued by Geo Turney for a ball to which I have received some pressing [requests] to attend but I shall not – Mrs. Geo Turney was down here the other day at Madam Clark’s – she looks very well…
Intrigued by the mentions of Madam Clark, Ada Clark, George Turney, and several miners, I did some more research. GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives were a huge help in finding these individuals and providing further clues. Many of the miners descend from the early Pilgrims and Puritans of New England as well as early settlers of New York.
First, I found some of the subjects listed in a delinquent tax list published by the Nevada Journal on 25 November 1859.
Here is one of the listings.
This tax listing reported:
Fox & Merryman house and furniture on east side Main street Woolsey’s Flat, toll road and bridge from Woolsey’s Flat to Bloody Run, improvement on mining claims on east side Moore’s Flat [named after miner Henry Montgomery Moore of New York]
This listing mentioned Woolsey’s Flat and Moore’s Flat, two of the three towns (along with Orleans Flat) that made up “The Flats,” mining towns settled in 1851 in Eureka Township, about 19 miles northeast of Nevada City, California.
Francis mentioned in his 21 May 1858 letter to Lizzie that George Turney was hosting a ball. Three of the Turney’s (Eugene, James, and George) were reported in the Nevada Journal’s delinquent tax list.
According to sources, Eugene and his family owned the hotel, while George and his wife gave dance lessons and hosted balls in their home.
Here is a mention of one Turney ball from the Hydraulic Press newspaper. This one was hosted by Mrs. George Turney, who was paid a big compliment for her talent in conducting a “brilliant occasion.” She was praised for her “ability to properly entertain a large number of people.”
Mrs. Ada Clark ran a dance studio, and this is one place where the mining community learned how to cut a rug at the balls.
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Note on the header image: “The Sluice”; hydraulic mining for gold in California. Published in “The Century” illustrated monthly magazine, January 1883. Credit: Henry Sandham; Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.