logo of university of south carolina

Lemmond family papers

William J. Lemmond was a tailor by trade who lived with his wife and children in Lancaster District. The two hundred sixteen manuscripts in this collection document Lemmond's departure in 1849 to search for gold in California and his experiences there. Like many others who went to California, Lemmond apparently enjoyed little success as a prospector. Similarly, he never returned home to his family in South Carolina.

Lemmond's occupation as a tailor is documented by two items. The earlier of the two, 19 September 1837, is an indenture whereby fourteen-year-old William Barber apprenticed himself to W.J. Lemmond to learn the tailor's trade. The second, 18 April 1840, concerns a patent for "Improvement in Tailors measuring instruments."

Correspondence and other papers from 1860 through 1925 concern the family and activities of W.D. Lemmond, son of William J. Lemmond. There are courtship letters and invitations to church and social events in the 1860s and 1870s. W.D. engaged in various mercantile enterprises in Lancaster and apparently raised some cotton. An undated business card identifies him as a "Dealer in Plain and French Candies, Jellies, Preserves &c, and Canned Goods, Fruits and Cigars." He also was an active Methodist layman, and included in the collection is correspondence from Methodist ministers and two letters from James H. Carlisle, president of Wofford College.

It is the California gold rush letters of William J. Lemmond, however, that form the nucleus of the collection. Writing to his wife, Susan, from New York on 23 September 1849, Lemmond was preparing to leave for the west coast but uncertain when he would sail. He reported that the price of passage varied from $225 to $250 dollars on first class vessels and further explained that it might prove difficult to purchase life insurance—"the Rush to California of Late, and in fact all the time, has been so great, and the majority who first went out being wild, Intemperate, delicate & foolish young men, clerks & Rich mens sons, that the offices have Sustained Some heavy losses....I Still intend however for the Protection of my Securities to get a policy on my life if it is possible for me to do so."

Lemmond's letter of 24 September 1849 informs Susan that he would sail the following day "in the Brig Tarquena Capt. Molethrop." His passage cost $200 and he had been successful in purchasing a $1,000 life insurance policy. His only advice was that his wife "do the best you can for yourself & Children and do not give way to your feelings of dispondency, be cheerfull and hope for the best."

A serial letter, written in installments dated 2 October to 29 December 1849 and headed "At Sea 7 days and 13 hundred m[ile]s from N.Y.," tells of the ship's departure and successful passage—"the most delightfull weather in the world, a fair wind, a fast Sailing vessell, a perfect gentleman of a Captain, good Sober & agreeable hands, 3 other passengers beside myself (all agreeable) and first rate Living." The 23 October notation urges that Susan have "no uneasiness about my Safety. I feel just as Safe as if I were at home—therefore Look after your own interest at home, and I will look after it abroad, and come back as soon as convenient....Take care of the young ones and when I come home I will bring you a nice peace of Gold for your Trouble." Writing from Valparaiso on 29 December, Lemmond reported that he had met Albert and Augustus Tryon and would be departing for San Francisco on New Year's Day.

Another letter, with entries dated 14 and 17 February 1850, suggests that Lemmond had decided to travel to the gold fields with the Tryons—"I hope the next news you heare from me will convey the delightfull Intelligence that I am making money" and further imparts something of his awe upon arriving in California—"I Can heardly believe my own eyes, and to undertake to give the most faint Idea of California by discription is uterly useless....Just think of it 18 months ago not half a dozen cabins in this place now a population of over one hundred thousand Soales, and the cry is Still they come."

An account of Lemmond's arrival in California is contained in the 17 February 1850 issue of the Camden Journal. Writing from San Francisco, Lemmond spoke in nothing short of glowing terms—"All that I can say is that I am now prepared to believe all that can be said as to the flattering prospect of this country, in the hands of energetic, industrious, persevering men. We want no chicken-hearted old grannies here; those who come here must be ready cocked and primed for any thing that comes to hand." By 25 July Lemmond was at Culloma, Ca. He had abandoned plans for a trip "over the Sieranevadia mountains" since the risk of loosing money was too great. The Tryons, however, were going "as they have means can afford to run greater Risks than I can" and, he reported, if they "find verry Rich diggings...I shall then go." The 24 December 1850 Camden Journal features yet another letter, this one written from Culloma, 15 October, after seven months in the mines. "I shall...confine myself strictly to facts," Lemmond writes, "as I know them from practical experience, and not write hearsays as facts, as nine-tenths of those who write most about the mines of California have never been in them at all." Lauding California as "a great country" despite the fact that "the success of the miners is not so general as I had reasons to believe it would be," Lemmond predicts that the method of mining would change in time—"Large companies will be formed with heavy capital, who will employ any quantity of hands, superintended by regular and practical miners, and the business will be conducted as it should be, and, as it must be, to make it generally profitable."

Leaving Culloma in the spring of 1851 with the Tryons and others, Lemmond journeyed southward on an expedition. From Los Angeles, 13 May, he reported his arrival after "a Long and tedious march of 27 days." In good health and "my spirits unimpaired," Lemmond hoped to see a great deal of the area, but "if I get plenty of the ore (Gold) that will be sufficient." His stay in the south was short-lived. From San Diego, he wrote on 8 June that he was awaiting passage back to San Francisco. The expedition had proven "impracticable." By 10 August Lemmond was back in Culloma. "I am not making any money nor any prospect of making much verry soon," he lamented. "Every thing is dryed and parched up, except on the Rivers, and there, every foot that is practicable to work is taken up and being worked for Gold, every other kind of Business is over done So that men are daily asking for employment even for their Board." Lemmond seemed unsure just what course to pursue: to remain in California—"a hard Country except for those who have Capital and can take care of Such chances as may offer Sure remuneration" or to return home—"it is discouraging, after going through what I have, and Striving So hard to make money that I Should find myself at this Late day (nearly two years since I left home) without any thing, my property here would not now bring 25 cts on the dollar of what it cost for the Lumber, besides the Building—and at present there is no prospect of it ever being worth more."

Still he remained on the illusive trail of fame and fortune. A letter of 24 May [18]52, written from Coon Hollow, a mining camp, speaks of the excitement prospectors experienced when a rich vein of ore was discovered—"It is So dug up all around in every direction, that I am Posatively afraid to step out of the doore 10 steps of a dark night, for fear of falling in a hole." Barely six months later, a letter dated 12 October reports that Lemmond had purchased a fully stocked bar on board the steamer Captain Sutter at Sacramento. Complaining that he had not received a letter from Susan since June, William chided—"now how in Creation, can you be so cruel as to neglect writing. Do you think I care nothing for yourself & Children—and never intend returning, or what do you mean." The final letter from California bears the date 28 February 1853. Written from San Francisco, it indicates that Lemmond was making arrangements "to open a retail Family Grocery" in partnership with another man.

The South Carolina Temperance Advocate of 21 July 1853 carried a notice of W.J. Lemmond's death by his own hand on 5 June. A San Francisco coroner's jury, it reported, returned a verdict of "Suicide in a fit of mental aberration."

| 1997 Manuscripts Collections | 1997 USCS Program Menu | South Caroliniana Library |

This page copyright © 1996-97, The Board of Trustees of the University of South Carolina.
URL http://www.sc.edu/library/socar/uscs/1997/lemmon97.html