Skip to main content

David G. Ferson correspondence

Call Number: WA MSS S-1315

Scope and Contents

The David G. Ferson Correspondence consists of twenty-four letters written by David G. Ferson from the California gold fields to his older brother John Ferson and his sister Ann A. Ferson in Massachusetts. The letters span the dates 1850-58, with the majority dating between 1851 and 1855.

The collection consists of chronologically arranged letters followed by transcripts. The transcripts, prepared by a previous owner of the letters, have not been edited and may be inaccurate. The difficulty of deciphering Ferson's handwriting may account for many of the misspellings in the transcripts, although he does not appear to be well educated and his spelling is inconsistent.

The correspondence begins in June 1850 with a description of Ferson's crossing the Isthmus of Panama. A second letter (dated December 1851 but probably written in December 1850) chronicles his activities in the mines at Shaws Flats, in Tuolumne County California, and includes an account of an encounter between a grizzly bear and one of Ferson's companions.

Ferson remained at Shaws Flats until the end of 1851. His letters document the strained relations between the Americans and Mexicans, and he describes the killing of several Mexicans in fighting between the two groups. A letter dated July 10, 1851 contains a long account of a robbery at Camp Saco and the pursuit, trial, and lynching of the thief. Ferson's lawsuit against a neighboring miner is chronicled in an October letter.

At the end of 1851 Ferson left Shaw Flats and went to Columbia, California. His letters describe the house in which he was living and details concerning a spring water project for Columbia. Two letters from 1852 provide further discussion of the water project as well as information about Ferson's wages, local politics, and the price of clothing and lumber.

Sometime during 1852, Ferson left California. He returned to Columbia, however, in April 1853, and his first letter home reports the death of one of his companions aboard ship. Subsequent letters describe Ferson's wages, the activities of his companions, local politics, and the gambling houses in Columbia. In the fall of 1853 Ferson left Columbia for Campbell Flats to begin farming. The correspondence contains details about the farm and the prices for hens and eggs, as well as a request for farming equipment to be sent to him from home.

Ferson gave up farming in 1854 and apparently spent the year mining at the Algiers Camp. Topics he mentions in his letters include wages and economic conditions, a hanging in Sonora, and the burning of the town of Columbia on July 10, 1854. A letter written from the Algerine Camp in January 1855 vividly describes the murder and robbery of a lumber company merchant in Sonora and the several trials and ultimate lynching of the murderer. In the spring of 1855 Ferson went to Knights Ferry on the Stanislaus River, and two letters home include news of his companions as well as comments on wages and food prices. Ferson's last letter is from Knights Ferry in March 1858. It contains a detailed description of an ambush by Indians of four Stanislaus River Water Company employees near Columbia.


  • 1850-1858


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The David G. Ferson Correspondence is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The David G. Ferson Correspondence was purchased in 1988 on the Frederick W. and Carrie S. Beinecke Fund for Western Americana.


0.25 Linear Feet (1 box)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers contain letters from David G. Ferson in California to his sister Ann A. Ferson in Massachusetts, describing life in the gold fields during the 1850s.

Guide to the David G. Ferson Correspondence
Under Revision
by Tina Evans
August 1988
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

P. O. Box 208330
New Haven CT 06520-8330 US
(203) 432-2977


121 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Opening Hours

Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.