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“Westward Ho ”: Westwrard Migration in the 1840s and 50s: Who, Where, Why, How? Primary Sources

Theme: An Industrious People: American Economic History
“Westward Ho ”: Westward Migration in the 1840s and 50s: Who, Where, Why, How?
Date: April 2006

Primary Sources from Partner Collections
| maps | objects | letters | ship journals | other manuscripts | published documents

Primary Sources from Local Archives and Collections

Additional Primary Sources Used in Content and Follow-up Sessions

Selections by SALEM in History Staff with contributions by Samuel Scott, Assistant Curator, Peabody Essex Museum. Annotations by SIH program Staff.

Primary Sources from Partner Collections



Bradley, Abraham Jr.  Map Of the United States.  Washington, D.C., 1804. (Phillips Library call # 912.73 / B811)

This map shows the existing land holdings and major roads in the United States in 1804.



Colton, J.H.  Colton’s Map of the United States, Mexico, & C.  Showing the Gold Region in California.  Drawn and Engraved by J.M. Atwood.  NY:  J.H. Colton, 1849. (Phillips Library call # 912.73 / A88 / c.2)

The California Gold Rush made an impact on the United States in terms of the number of people who migrated, and also in terms of popular imagination. The romantic adventure, potential for instant wealth, and travel to distant areas of the country with many new peoples intrigued those who did not make the journey.  Maps helped people to conceive of the changes taking place.



Federal Works Agency.  United States System of Highways... 11 November 1926.  [Washington, D.C.?]: The Geological Survey, 1943.  (Phillips Library call # 912.73 / U58 / 1943 -large)

This map suggests that 20th century highways continued to follow paths used during Westward Migration in the 19th century. 


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Clipper Cards, 1840 – 1860
Boston and New York

Clipper Cards advertised particular voyages.


Ship Duxbury for California, 1849
Propeller Power Presses
Woodblock Print
Gift of the Bostonian Society

This advertisement is for a voyage to California, and highlights new “ladies” quarters that are available onboard.  Although the popular image of Westward Migration is the Overland Trail, most people actually reached the west by sea.


Great Clipper Trade Wind for Panama, ca. 1853
San Francisco Herald Print
San Francisco
Gift of Mrs. Henry A. Cook

The Trade Wind is temporarily replacing a steamship for this voyage.  The steamer would have required a longer period in order to reach the West.


Ishi, the Last Wild Indian, 2001
David P. Bradley, White Earth Ojibwe (1954 -  )
Santa Fe, N.M.
Mixed Media on Board
Gift of Mr. & Mrs. James N. Krebs, 2001

Ishi (c.1860-1916) was the last living member of the Yahi tribe, the southernmost tribe of the Yana people who inhabited northern California and the Sacramento Valley. The California gold rush and influx of foreigners contributed to the quick demise of the Yana tribes through conflict and disease. In this work, Bradley uses old scientific and journalistic photographs, a California license plate, his own drawing and paintings, and words in the Yahi language to convey the story and contemporary debate surrounding Ishi, the “Last Wild Indian.”



Richard Orr (1903 – 1959)
Model of the 1853 Clipper Red Jacket, mid 20th century
United States
Wood, cordage, paint, metal
Gift of Mrs. H. Harrison Proctor in memory of H. H. Proctor, 1948

The Red Jacket offers an excellent example of clipper ship design.  Clipper Ships were much faster than early ship designs, and they helped promote trade.  Early travel to California would have been done in older vessels because there was no intention of return voyages.  In the years following the 1848 discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, many people flooded to California to search for gold.  Eventually, there was enough traffic both heading to and returning from that state to warrant return trips to the east coast.  Clipper ships were advertised for these passages, since they were the fastest ships available. To compare the form of a cllipper ship with an earlier form, see the Friendship.


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Ebenezer French, Curtises Creek, CA to his wife [location unknown]. 11 December 1852. Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.   Transcription by Abaigeal Duda.  (Manuscripts: FAM MSS)

French writes to his wife and family to describe his health, and poor luck in searching for gold. He worries that his benefactor, Mr. Nye, will believe that French is either not working hard enough, or is using poor judgment in selecting mining sites.


Leonard Withington Noyes, Chicago, IL, to B.H. Noyes, Esq [Newburyport?]. 7 January 1849. Leonard Withington Noyes Collection, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. Transcription by Abaigeal Duda.  (Manuscripts: FAM MSS)

Leonard Withington Noyes (1819 – 1880) was born in Newburyport, MA.  Seeking better economic opportunities, Noyes journeyed to Chicago.  Some of his business ventures included purchasing a half-interest in a vessel that he used for fishing and ferrying boats and passengers.  This is the first letter where Noyes mentioned California and the Gold Rush.  He wrote unenthusiastically to his brother about the prospects of gold mining and its future: “I hope all those young men you speak of going to California will do well when they get there, but think it is doubtfull [sic], as the United States will take hold of it soon and take posetion [sic] of all the Gold Reagons [sic].”

In later letters, Noyes showed a change of heart about the prospects of gold mining.  He suggested that competition by others who started operating ferryboats drove his profits to losses, but the cholera epidemic may also have influenced his decision.  Whatever his reasons, Noyes ventured to California during the fall of 1849.

Leonard Withington Noyes, aboard the St. Br Indiana,Chicago, IL, to his sister [Newburyport?]. 28 May 1849. Leonard Withington Noyes Collection, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. Transcription by Abaigeal Duda. (Manuscripts: FAM MSS)

Noyes shares his economic progress with enthusiasm for its potential.  He also describes the presence of a cholera epidemic in Chicago.

Leonard Withington Noyes, aboard the St. Br Indiana,Bridgeport, to his brother [Newburyport?]. 25 July 1849. Leonard Withington Noyes Collection, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. Transcription by Abaigeal Duda. (Manuscripts: FAM MSS)

By July, the Cholera epidemic seems to be increasing in Chicago.  Still, Noyes suggests that among those infected,

nine out of ten of the cases are people that do not take care of themselves as they should.  get Drunkkeep Bad hoursnot Reagulere [sic] in their Diet & c., we use nothing on the Boat but salt provisions.  I suppose Priscilla gets the Paper not that I sent it as you know how the cholera is going here but you may depend the ½ is not told of this place.  altho [sic] I have no doubt the Board of Health Report all the cases they get, but the Dutch burey [sic] themselves and no one knowes [sic] how maney [sic] per day, a very small proportion of the Deaths are among the Americans mostly Irish & Dutch, altho [sic] now and then a god respectable citsen [sic] is taken from amongst us.  every one complains of being unwell some how there is something in the air that is not right.

Leonard Withington Noyes, New Orleans, to his brother [Newburyport?]. 24 October 1849. Leonard Withington Noyes Collection, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. Transcription by Abaigeal Duda. (Manuscripts: FAM MSS)

Noyes wrote this letter to his brother while he was on his way to California to join the Gold Rush.  Competition from economic rivals in Chicago cost Noyes his profits.  He sold what he could from his fishing enterprise, left his vessel with its half-owner, and borrowed money from his brother and sister in order to afford transportation to the west coast. At present, he is making his way to Panama.

Leonard Withington Noyes, Murphy’s Camp, CA, to his brother [Newburyport?]. 10  February 1854. Leonard Withington Noyes Collection, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. Transcription by Phillips Library. (Manuscripts: FAM MSS)

Noyes discusses his business ventures as well as his mining activities.  In this letter, he indicates that he sold his bakery business, and plans to sell his house.  He also owns horses and mules.  He plans to finalize all off his affairs and return home to the East during the summer.  There is no evidence that he ever returned home. 

Two Native American Indian women are currently at Murphy’s Camp, and Noyes describes both what he directly observes of them, and the rumors that he hears about their customs and practices.  His descriptions suggest both fascination and disdain.

Leonard Withington Noyes, Owlsboro, to his brother [Newburyport?]. 13 December 1854. Leonard Withington Noyes Collection, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. Transcription by Phillips Library. (Manuscripts: FAM MSS)

Mining camps were a gathering point for people from all over the United States, and people from other countries, especially China and Mexico.  Here, Noyes describes that diversity and the negative sense of “other” he feels toward many of these groups. 


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Ship Journals
Delap, Nathan. Journal, 1849 – 1851.  Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.  [Excerpts] Transcription by Abaigeal Duda. (Manuscripts: FAM MSS)

Delap’s Journal is a record of his trip to California on the Bark La Grange.  This excerpt includes names and occupations of passengers with their occupations.  Casting off information from 17 March, 1849 is also included.

Harrington, Augustus. Steward’s Journal on Bark La Grange,  March-September 1849. Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. [Excerpts] Transcription by Abaigeal Duda. (LOG 1849L3)

Augustus Harrington kept one of five surviving journals from the voyage on the La Grange from Salem to San Francisco in 1849.  Upon their return to Salem, a number of survivors of the journey recognized the import of their expedition and founded a society for those who made the journey on the La Grange in 1849.  Eventually, other California “pioneers” wished to join, and the group renamed itself to include all of New England.



Kitfield, A.E.  Journal on Bark La Grange, March 1849-August 1850. Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. [Excerpts] Transcription by Abaigeal Duda. (LOG 1849L2 (B15))

Mr. Kitfield, a carpenter, kept a journal of his travels from Salem to San Francisco on the La Grange. The Phillips Library manuscript catalog suggests that there is a transcript available for this journal.


Tuttle, Henry A.  Journal on Bark La Grange, March-September 1849. Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. [Excerpts] Transcription by Abaigeal Duda. (LOG 1849L)

In 1849, Henry Tuttle voyaged from Salem to San Francisco aboard the La Grange.  He includes a number of port and ship illustrations in his account, as well as  descriptions of seafaring life, seamen’s recreation, and ship-board medicine.  His journal was presented to the Essex Institute (now known as the Phillips Library) by former shipmate Richard Harrington in 1911. 


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Other Manuscripts



Hale, Enoch.  Diary, 1839-1849.  Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. [excerpts] Transcription by Abaigeal Duda.  (Manuscripts: MSS 0.190)

Hale is a Newburyport printer & newspaper writer. Among his entries from 1849 are descriptions of the number of men from the area who traveled to California. 

Hale also writes avidly about politics:  slavery, north/south rivalries, and new territories, and local and national elections. In earlier entries in the diary, Hale describes his education.

Broughton, Glover. Letterbook: Moses Hawks Contract, August 1849.  Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.  (Manuscripts: MSS 0.109)

Broughton worked as an agent for the Marblehead Trading and Mining Association. This entry is in letterbook is an agreement between Moses Hawks and the Marblehead Trading and Mining Association.

Broughton, Glover. Letterbook: Contract for Ferax passage (n.d.). Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.  (Manuscripts: MSS 0.109)

This entry is a blank contract for passage to San Francisco on the Ferax.  The contract cites exact terms expected.

Broughton, Glover. Letterbook:  Orders to Captain William Stacey, Master of the Ferax (n.d.).  Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.  (Manuscripts: MSS 0.109)

Broughton, Glover. Letterbook: Memorandum voyage to Sacramento and Feather River (n.d.)  Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.  (Manuscripts: MSS 0.109)

Memorandum for “20 men, 30 days up the Sacramento and Feather River” (no date).


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Published Documents

Westward Migration: Public Land Arguments & Issues



Hall, James. “The Public Domain.” The West: Its Soil Surface, and Productions.  Cincinnati:  Derby, Bradley, & Co., 1848: 197- 211.

This chapter delves into arguments about the ownership rights of new states in the Union.  A major question is whether the Federal government has the right to claim property within new states as Public Domain. 

Rantoul, Robert.  Interests of the Old States in Western Avenues of Intercourse.  House of Representatives, 18 February 1852.  Washington, DC: Globe Office, 1852. Phillips Library. E/R213.1 / 1852

Rantoul presents an argument regarding the value of land and its potential value, should some public lands be used to construct roads and railroads.  He also discusses tariff issues that affect both agriculture and industry, and the potential for regional industry, located near the site of raw material production.


Westward Migration: Geographies


Among the many resources that can be used to examine the depiction of "the West" are educational publications of the period. The Salem State College Archives has a collection of school geographies, published in the 1840s and 1850s, which were used in classrooms across the country. In these geographies, we can track the westward expansion of the United States and its territories, as well as changing depictions of migrants, Native Americans and the frontier. Some of these geographies include maps and woodblock engravings, as well.

Smith, Roswell Chamberlain. Geography on the Productive System for Schools. New York: Paine & Burgess, 1845, p. 161-165.

Of particular interest may be the engravings: "A Herd of Wild Horses" (p. 161) and "Tents of the Mandan Indians" (p. 162). Note the references to wild animals in the Wisconsin Territory and the description that it is "mostly inhabited by Indians and has been little explored except by hunters." Also note the descriptions of the "civilized" Native Americans living in Indian Territory: "These Indians pay considerable attention to education, print books, build houses, keep cattle, sheep, etc. For these attainments in civilization, they are principally indebted to the benevolent exertions of Christian missionaries."

Woodbridge, William C. Modern School Geography. Hartford, CT: Belknap & Hammersley, 1846, p. 202-203, 214-216.

Note the following engravings: "Emigrants in a Newly-Settled State" (p. 203), "Sioux Hunting Buffalos" (p. 214) and "Indians in their Canoes" (p. 215). And another description of those living in Indian Territory: "Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole Indians… are governed by their own laws and chiefs; and the United States government assures them of a permanent residence
here." (p. 214)

Mitchell, S. Augustus. A System of Modern Geography. Philadelphia: Thomas, Cowperthwait & Co., 1850, p. 10.

This geography includes an extensive introduction and overview of world history. Of particular relevance are the sections on "Races of Men" and "Stages of Society," which shed light on mid-19th century ideas about race and civilization, particularly as applied to the treatment of Native Americans, African slaves and immigrants from Asia.

Olney, J. A Practical System of Modern Geography. New York: Pratt, Woodford & Co., 1853, p. 138-141.

See, in particular, references to Native Americans and missionaries (p. 138) and the California Gold Rush (p. 140).

Mitchell, Samuel Augustus. Mitchell's School Geography. n.p, 1854, p. 118-119, 156-158, 172-182.

See the following engravings:

 " "Emigrants to the West" (p. 119), depicting "active and industrious settlers to the western country" heading off in covered wagons.

 " "Traders fighting with the Indians" (p. 172), with text that describes the "extensive emigration over the western prairies to Oregon and California" and how the emigrants must defend themselves from Indian attacks.

 " "Missionary preaching to the Indian" (p. 179).

 " "Indians Emigrating" (p. 182), with text that describes the Native Americans as having benefited from their forced removal.

It is also interesting to compare the depictions of Utah's settlers (p. 177). The Mormon settlers "cultivate the ground with industry and skill and enjoy all the necessaries of life" while the Native Americans "from the sterility of the country, barely sustain life."


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Primary Sources from Local Archives and Collections



“A Regular Line of Packets to San Francisco”  Boston Daily Atlas 13 February 1852.  Transcribed by Lars Bruzelius.  [Online at: The Maritime History Virtual Archives (viewed 19 August 2005)]

This and other newspaper items are primarily release information about new ships or voyages launched, and would have been a regular item in the Boston Daily Atlas.  Also valuable at this site is Clipper ships, a bibliography.

“New Clipper Ship Westward Ho! of Boston”  The Boston Daily Atlas 12 September 1852.  Transcribed by Lars Bruzelius.  [Online at: The Maritime History Virtual Archives (viewed 19 August 2005)]

The Archives also includes a timeline of the ship’s voyages.  See entries for Westward Ho. 

“New Clipper Ship Witchcraft, of Salem” The Boston Daily Atlas 20 January 1851.  Transcribed by Lars Bruzelius.  [Online at: The Maritime History Virtual Archives (viewed 19 August 2005)]

Note that the Phillips Library collection includes a clipper card for this vessel.


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Additional Primary Sources Used in Content and Follow-up Sessions

--none suggested--


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