George M. Davidson papers
Scope and Contents
The papers are arranged in three groups, Personal Papers, Financial and Business Records, and Mining Records.
Personal Papers consists of Davidson's 1849-50 diary, correspondence for 1848-55, and a portrait of Davidson. The diary covers 153 days from May 12 to October 20, 1849, describing Davidson's "trip across the plains" and his arrival in the California gold fields. Early entries focus on the deaths of emigrants and animals and the general despair and turning back of many emigrants. Much attention is given to the hardships and hazards en route: cholera attacks, straying and stolen cattle, Indian encounters, buffalo hunting, separation from the main wagon train, difficult terrain, bad weather. Despite the numerous hardships, Davidson's optimism remained high on his arrival at the gold mines. "[The] country looked all day as though there might be gold in all the hollows we passed" (October 14). He complains, however, of high prices, and his entries for October 10 and October 18 list the going prices for a number of items. The diary ends on October 20, 1849, shortly after Davidson's arrival in California. It reveals nothing of his mining activities or his life in California.
Several of Davidson's letters reinforce the impressions recorded in his diary. A rather lengthy letter of May 12, 1849 to his brother Lewin details the gathering of provisions prior to leaving Savannah Landing, Missouri, and numerous obstacles and miseries encountered early on the journey:
"All of the emigrants here have suffered desperately with the Cholera [;] its one string of graves from here [a campsite apparently some thirty-five miles from Savannah Landing] to the Settlement, in fact graves have become so common they are hardly noticed. . . . We have become so used to see Cholera that its not noticed half as much as fever is. . . . The whole of the route thus far is full of old waggons deserted, some broke down[,] others lost their stock[,] others their friends and have become so sick of the trip that they [are] willing to sell everything they have if they can only get home once more. . . . I thought I had seen some little distress in my life but nothing like what I have seen thus far on the trip."
Later letters from California comment on Davidson's establishing a general store in Pine Grove and depict the isolation and hard life of the typical mining community. A letter to Davidson from C. G. Jessup, a prospector who owes him money, reveals firsthand the disappointment and penury many faced after fruitlessly working the mines for some time.
A letter from Davidson to his brother on January 12, 1853 mentions his new-found prosperity in his general store. "I regret I did not go to selling goods when I first came to this country." The same letter adds, "If a man is fortunate in this country he will make money fast, but if not, it is one of the hardest countrys in the world to make a living in. You hear only of those who have made their pile and gone home but nothing is said of the thousands that have not a dollar to help themselves with."
Financial and Business Records are organized in three groups reflecting different areas or projects. There are financial accounts for 1843-49, when Davidson lived in Fredericktown, Missouri. The most substantial records concern his general store in Pine Grove. Account books, 1849-55, contain inventories, individual client accounts, debt accounts, and miscellaneous notes. Most volumes are small, under fifty pages, contain several types of records, and overlap chronologically. Two of the account books (folders 9 and 18) are more substantial and contain sales data taken from the day books (a chronological listing of sales, folders 27-32) and re-ordered into individual accounts. Accounts dating 1852-55 record what Davidson purchased in Marysville to retail in Pine Grove (folders 23-26). The cash book and bank books (folders 34 and 35) also contain business records. Finally there are records of Davidson's transactions with Everts Snell & Co., a postal service for which Davidson may have served as a local office.
The mining records are related to Davidson's interests in Butte and Sierra counties.
Conditions Governing Access
Conditions Governing Use
Immediate Source of Acquisition
2.5 Linear Feet (3 boxes)
Language of Materials
A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog
- Account books -- United States
- California -- Gold discoveries
- Davidson, George M(George Mathiot)
- Daybooks -- United States
- Diaries -- United States
- Frontier and pioneer life -- California
- Gold miners -- California
- Gold mines and mining -- California
- Indians of North America -- West (U.S.)
- Overland journeys to the Pacific
- Overland journeys to the Pacific -- 1849
- Pine Grove (Sierra County, Calif.)
- West (U.S.) -- Description and travel
- Guide to the George M. Davidson Papers
- Under Revision
- by William K. Finley and Susie R. Bock
- August 1989
- 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
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