DECEMBER MEETING, 1929
A Stated Meeting of the Society, was held at the invitation of Mr. William C. Endicott, at No. 163 Marlborough Street, Boston, on Thursday, December 19, 1929, at three o’clock in the afternoon, the President, Samuel Eliot Morison, in the chair.
The Records of the last Stated Meeting were read and approved.
Mr. James Rowland Angell of New Haven, Connecticut; Mr. Thomas Stearns Eliot of London, England; and Mr. George Andrews Moriarty, Jr., of Bristol, Rhode Island, were elected Corresponding Members; and Mr. Michael Joseph Canavan of Boston, and Mr. Fulmer Mood of Cambridge, were elected Associate Members.
Mr. Philip P. Chase read the following paper:
ON THE PANAMA ROUTE DURING THE GOLD RUSH TO CALIFORNIA
The story of the Forty-Niners has been told generally in connection with the overland trek from the Missouri to the Sacramento, but for Americans of the Atlantic coast and for Europeans the way to California was by way of the Horn or the Isthmus, by paddle-wheel steamer or sailing ship rather than locomotive or prairie schooner.
By Christmas time, 1849, the news of the gold discoveries had spread throughout the world. The incredulous had been convinced by the sight of actual gold dust and nuggets. During the preceding eighteen months fifty-three thousand passengers had departed from New York by sea for California in eight hundred ships, and shipping agents strove to take advantage of the opportunity by putting into commission anything that would float. Every issue of the New York dailies devoted columns to news from California, editorial comment on the conditions reported, and advertisements of sailings.
Significant of this second year of the rush was the coming of the general merchants — the sutlers to the army of gold diggers. For California gave promise of being more than a mining camp; it was to be the seat of a new civilization. Geographically this movement was epochal; California was an American outpost on the Pacific. Politically it was dynamic, even explosive; the admission of a new state under conditions then existing meant a possible change in the balance of power between free and slave states in Congress. Besides all this the development of one of the favorite routes to California, that via the Isthmus, involved a change in the relations between two hemispheres and between two Oceans. Almost at once the significance of the Isthmus, whether crossed by railroad or pierced by canal, impressed itself on the popular imagination which had not been stirred by the earlier consideration which the problem of transit had received at the hands of diplomats when the only occasion for interest had been Oregon, the new fur trade, China, and the Sandwich Islands.
Under such circumstances, on February 15, John Batchelder Peirce of Salem sailed from New York with three hundred and thirty fellow passengers on the paddle-wheel steamer Cherokee bound for Chagres on the Isthmus.
The letters this Yankee merchant sent home to his wife afford a fresh and personal description of the conditions of travel on what was then accounted the quickest and most comfortable route to San Francisco.
The ship’s company in itself presented an interesting cross section of American society at the mid-century. Even at sea, slavery and its extension in the West, the great subject of political controversy of the generation, would not down. We see it in the letters through the eyes of an ardent abolitionist, a personal friend of William Lloyd Garrison.
In its New Year’s issue of 1850, the New York Herald after a summary of the events of the past year said: “Such was the year 1849. . . . What are the prospects for 1850? . . . The whole commerce of the world is about to be revolutionized, by opening communications between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, which will make this country the entrepot of the trade of the whole civilized world.”
On another page of the same issue of that journal appear among several columns of shipping advertisements the following items:
Only through ticket line for San Francisco, via Chagres direct, by the U. S. Mail steamers on the Pacific, on Monday, 14th day of January. Fare Reduced. The new and splendid United States mail steamer CHEROKEE, 1,300 tons, will leave for Chagres direct, from her dock at Pier No. 4 North River, N. York, on Monday, 14th January, at 3 o’clock. The Cherokee is the only steamer running direct to Chagres, in connection with the U. S. Pacific Mail Steamers from Panama to San Francisco. Passengers by the Cherokee will find comforts and accommodation unsurpassed by any other steamer, and will be sure to connect with the U. S. Mail steamer at Panama, and have a preference over all others.
Reduced Rates of Fare — to Chagres.
After Saloon, only two berths in state room
Forward Saloon state room
All the above dine at the same table, and have the privilege of the Saloon.
Steerage, found with mattress and board $65
From Panama to San Francisco
Early application is necessary to secure Through Tickets and choice of berths. For freight or passage, apply to Howland & Aspinwall, 55 South street.
Boston and New York papers every few days were carrying a heading “Arrival of mails from California.” Here were reported the arrival of ships, lists of returning passengers, and details of cargoes of gold dust, and, more disconcerting, the stories of fabulous mineral wealth still untouched, dazzling opportunities for commercial and mercantile enterprise in the development of the rapidly growing communities springing up like magic along the approaches to the mining areas. In response to such inducements John Batchelder Peirce determined to leave his mercantile business in Salem, to bid farewell to his wife and children, and investigate the opportunities for business in the new El Dorado.
From Howland & Aspinwall he engaged passage for the February sailing of the S. S. Cherokee whose January 14 trip was advertised as stated above. In the meantime the news from California became more and more exciting.
On January 9, by the S. S. Ohio, came word of the return of Commodore Vanderbilt and Mr. Charles Morgan from an expedition to arrange for the survey of the Isthmian Transit from Greytown on the San Juan through Lake Nicaragua with a view to the establishment of new steamship lines from New York to San Francisco, the Sandwich Islands, and China. “These new lines,” said the Herald optimistically, “will go into operation in about two months and will be one of the most extensive enterprises in ocean steam navigation.”
The following day the same paper carried an editorial on the Nicaragua Negotiations.
On January 11 immense shipments of gold dust to England were reported, and from Chagres came the information that by a law passed by the Granadian Congress at Bogota in the previous summer, “The principles of free trade have been established on the Isthmus and will take effect after the first of January next.”
In the same journal occurs the statement, “There is no abatement in the rush for California.” Fifty vessels are listed as clearing for San Francisco during the month of December. “The number of passengers in the above vessels and those that have left during the same period by way of Chagres is nearly 2500, making a total of 53,000 who have left for San Francisco by sea during the past 18 months in about 800 vessels.”
On January 14 the ship in which John B. Peirce had secured passage outbound arrived at New York with half a million dollars in gold dust. The “Herald” expatiated upon her arrival as follows:
The fine steamship Cherokee, Capt. C. Forbes, from Chagres, via Kingston, arrived yesterday morning. The Cherokee made the passage out in eight days and four hours, in ample time to meet the steamer Panama on the Pacific. On her return, she left Chagres Thursday, Jan. 3d, with 244 passengers and $320,000 in specie on freight, and about the same amount in the hands of the passengers . . . making nine days from Chagres, and five days and 16 hours from Kingston. . . .
We learn that the Cherokee left $400,000 in gold dust at Chagres. It had been brought down by the Pacific steamer, and marked for the Crescent City. Owing to the unfortunate accident to that steamer, it will have to remain there till the arrival of the Empire City. The following is the amount of gold dust brought by the C. on freight. . . .
The Cherokee brought also the latest news from the gold fields, both good and bad. On the one hand were reports of serious disorder and danger to persons and property in the rough mining towns, a terrible fire that swept away one-half of San Francisco, and a flood that inundated Sacramento. On the other hand great confidence for the future stability of the region was gained from the news published in New York on the fifteenth of January of the adoption of the State Constitution and the election of senators and two representatives who were speedily on their way to Washington by way of the Isthmus to demand seats in Congress.
Other terrors for the traveller were found nearer home. Just before the date of the Cherokee’s sailing occurred the loss of the Steamer Rhode Island bound for the Isthmus with forty-four passengers. This ship was a former paddle-wheel Sound steamer which had been pressed into a service for which she was ill-fitted and still further incapacitated by being so overloaded with freight and deckloads of coal that her guards were barely above the water’s edge when she started out. She is an example of the frightful chances that shipping concerns were taking to profit by the demand for ocean transportation, an experience which was repeated with tragic consequences in the Alaska gold rush of 1895.
Despite the gloom cast by this and other horrible examples, on Saturday, February 16, Peirce sailed on the Cherokee down New York harbor. The departure of a band of emigrants Frisco-bound created a stir on the waterfront. He writes:
We left New York with the slip and everything on or near it and all surrounding ships, every post and spar and boat covered with a crowded mass of people, spectators to see us sail, and the roar upon roar of cheers that went up as our huge paddles moved us slowly down the dock . . . and the answering shout from the ship altogether was great.
Three days out they had run into a gale which caused them to lie hove to and drift back toward New York for nineteen hours.
Fair weather followed and by the next day he was able to get about and take stock of the ship’s company and the arrangements for their entertainment. Of the latter he says:
We have to have two tables and sometimes three set in succession to feed the hungry multitude and the way the Beef, Pork, Geese, Turkeys & Chickens with the various fixins disappear is truly incredible. The 1st Cabin were to have the precedence but independent Yankees can’t wait, and so steerage and second Cabin take possession of the dining rooms and sit one or two hours waiting for the dinner to be served, so that if we had not ample supplies for 2d & 3d table reserved we should come out minus. As it is I think we fare quite as well.
But meal time shows their metal, and they dive at the first jingle of the bell for the table as if their life depended on speed and the way they handle the silver forks & put in to the nice fixins is a caution. The 1st Cabin has first chance but if Hoosier by chance gets in it’s amusing to see him operate — Soup, Turkey, Ducks, Ham, Fish & vegetables, Ice water, Plum(b) puddings, Sauces, jellies, pies, Pine apple, cheese, Almonds, Prunes, Raisins, Nuts & Apples, all disappear before his voracious jaw, like the small fish before the huge jaw of the shark, and waiter, steward, John or whoever may happen near him are called upon to hand on till at last filled with the variety and the quantity, he retires and awaits anxiously the dong of the supper bell, when he dives into the Tea, white sugar, Hot cakes, dried beef, sliced Ham, corn bread, belonas, oysters, etcetera, as before and retires to dream of what will be served up for breakfast.
As to the ship’s company his first impression was generally good, although as time went on he had some reason to alter his opinion.
We of course have all sorts on board. It is a motley group I can assure you, every costume worn in the States together with all the whims of 330 passengers being displayed. . . . We have some few rowdies but taking so many men together you will seldom see more intelligent or well behaved persons, 1st Cabin in particular. I believe every state in the Union is represented on board — my chum, berth over my head, is a Jew from Germany now from New Orleans — born and educated on the banks of the Rhine, and a very clever and intelligent man.
Many of the passengers, however, came from some of our neighboring towns. He says:
We have quite a delegation from Salem consisting of Messrs. Hill, Burnet, Perkins, Barker, Townsend, Ames, Fabens and Andrews and Hubbard, a fair representation in number and quality. We have also ten or twelve from Lowell, good men; several from Nantucket, five men and Mrs. Palmer from same place going out with her brother to meet her husband, a fine woman and quite a lady. She is sister, I learn, of Mr. Wright the member elect to Congress from California. . . . These are all cabin passengers. Then there are the steerage passengers & crew forward, hard, sun brown men with Hoosier rig on, a tan colored short frock and trows, heavy soled boots or bare-foot as the case may be, with the round slouch hat California cut — all colors, white, red, green, brown, black & dun.
John B. Peirce was an abolitionist, a great admirer of Garrison. It was not long, therefore, before he got involved in the discussion of the subject, as it was currently referred to. When off San Domingo, he writes:
Passing these Islands brot up the “subject” and for two hours a remark I happened to drop touching slavery kept the subject before the company who seemed to feel a deep interest. . . . [They] listened quietly (till) [while] the Missouri man, who first took up the cudgel but soon resigned it to a Virginian and it passed to the Texan tried to defend the peculiar, and to stigmatize the Abolitionist. (&) They finally all retreated, with the conclusion that some of the Abolitionists were completely posted up and twas best to knock off and go to breakfast, all in good nature however, & we all came to the full conclusion that slavery was bad any way they could fix it. I have on no occasion started the thing, but this is the third time it has come up on deck in (which) [such a manner that] I have felt compelled to take my part, and I find my Liberator arguments all hot shot in the lockers of the Slavites.
Without further incident the Cherokee arrived off Chagres River on February 25, nine days out of New York.
Peirce had entered into a sort of partnership with three fellow travellers, one or more known to him at home, to secure facilities for crossing the Isthmus and, being warned in advance of crowded conditions and of possible delays, they had laid their plans to hasten ashore early, engage their boatmen at once and start up the river before dark so as to avoid passing even one night in the overcrowded town.
To their dismay, however, the sea was so rough off the mouth of the river that no large boats could be brought alongside for lightering the passengers and cargoes ashore. Accordingly, two of their party were set ashore to secure boatmen while Peirce and another stayed on board to guard their luggage as the ship steamed some miles down the coast to a cove called Navy Bay. Here the water was smooth enough to permit a small steamer to bring on board $300,000 in gold dust and to take off the passengers and freight. Though arrived at the village of Chagres by noon they were unable to start up the river and had to seek lodgings. Aside from some eighty native huts of bamboo and thatch there were only two buildings to hold travellers. The so-called hotel was so crowded that not even a cot was to be had. Peirce and his friends were lucky to find space to sleep on the floor with forty-six other men packed into a loft room forty feet wide and eighty feet long.
In the morning they felt better about their own accommodations when they found that some of their fellow passengers had been forced to content themselves with passing the night in the hall of another building squeezed in with a hundred other men, two of whom were down with fever — one of the two died in the night.
Through prompt action upon disembarking, Peirce’s comrades had secured for the ascent of the Chagres River a dugout canoe twenty-five feet long and five or six feet wide, manned by a Spanish captain and two rowers, one Indian, the other Spanish. About one third of the capacity of the boat was occupied by baggage and provisions of bread, dried beef, cheese, and drinking water. The three days’ trip to the head of canoe navigation at Gorgona cost $50.
The mention of water among the provisions emphasizes the fact that Peirce records that he drank nothing but water on his whole trip and experienced none of the digestive troubles which beset many of his companions who avoided the water and relied chiefly on wines, beer, and whiskey in bottled water. This abstention from liquor was not entirely due to his confidence in its efficacy as a sanitary measure, as Peirce had been an enthusiastic advocate of temperance as well as of abolition and the free church movements.
Getting away to an early start at four in the morning the voyagers sailed in their canoe with a fair breeze over the broad reaches of the lower river. After ascending a few miles the country surrounding them became more hilly, and nine miles up they reached their first native town, Gatun, which contained about fifty thatched houses of bamboo.
At this point the traveller introduces an idyllic account of the native women and children washing their clothes at a small creek. The description would suggest that the writer had recently been reading his Odyssey. The river above Gatun is about a hundred yards wide, and for twenty miles is very deep with very little current, but in the heat of the day the boatmen were able to make progress of scarcely three miles an hour. The river is very crooked, which more than doubles the mileage.
Toward noon they stopped at a ranch, Dos Hermanzo, where they obtained coffee and hot rice bread at five cents a meal, but no milk. Although the natives have cattle and milch cows they seem too indolent, as he says, to make use of them.
Going on at four o’clock, they stopped at Rancho Peno Blanco for the night. This seemed to be a regular stopping place on this road. There Peirce obtained a cup of milk, coffee, and rice bread, and the privilege of sleeping on the ground in an open shed with a roof of thatch. The boatmen lay beside their boats wrapped in their blankets. In the shed they spread out a bullock’s hide and on it laid their own coats for pillows. The dew fell, Peirce says, so heavily that everything was as wet as if it had rained, so they were glad to have rubber coats to throw over them, but even so, when he woke he found his hair as wet as if he had been soused with a basin of water.
He describes this ranch house as one of the more substantial ones.
It had no shutters or doors to the openings, and as a result the domestic animals have full range of the premises. The room inside is furnished with a great pot or bake kettle, used for all cooking purposes. There are also a few blocks of wood to sit upon, sometimes a board for a table. There are calashes and open jars for water, usually a hammock across the room, a few hides thrown in the corner on which to sleep. Four or five families at a rancho will use the same cooking utensils and fire wood. They will have two or three iron spoons, one wine glass for measuring liquor, some have bowls and cups, but mostly calashes or gourds. Few of them have shoes and their clothing is reduced to a minimum.
Again they started at four o’clock, while the moon was still up, in order to reach Gorgona before the noon heat should require a halt, and also to anticipate the arrival of a dozen other canoe-loads likewise pushing toward this point to secure the pick of the mules needed to complete the journey down to the Pacific coast.
This day the river was narrower, its course more crooked and interrupted with rocks, and the current so swift as to require the use of setting poles. Progress was slow — not over two miles an hour.
Gorgona was the point of transshipment. Baggage was sent forward by mule train to Panama at the rate of eight cents a pound, and the travellers selected riding mules for themselves. Peirce writes:
We found the path hilly, — up, up, up by the side of a mountain, hundreds of feet above our heads on the right, and a deep gorge or valley on the left in which the tops of lofty trees were far below us. The path was dry and safe, but romantic in the extreme, and I must truly say I never enjoyed a ride like it.
The air was warm but not so very sultry as to make riding in shirt sleeves uncomfortable; occasionally we came to an open space where our umbrellas were usefull but the path was mostly shady. We travelled but slowly as it was either up or down almost all the time. Up hill we could trot a little but down hill the mule wont trot but steps carefully and chooses his path. They wear no shoes at this season of the year, the path being as dry as a sidewalk in summer except the gullies & brooks in the valleys, and a large number of our passengers walked over. The pack men who tote the loads across on their shoulders have the same price as the mules and carry nearly as much load even up to 250 lbs. for the stoutest men and they go through the route from sun to sun, 27 miles.
It is a curious sight to see a stout native with his frame something like one of the old fashioned plain flag bottom chairs inverted with the trunk high up over his head fastened to this bamboo frame and secured to his shoulders. I could not credit the weight till I saw it today on the man’s back, and one runner assured me he could do it day after day, 250 lbs., 27 miles in the hot sun. It is bad enough to load the poor mules so but it seems worse to make a man a beast of burden. It is all voluntary, however, & they earn much.
When the crossings are bad they, the men, cannot carry much as their feet slip, and the mules have to be shod. They sometimes give out and fall down the steeps and die. Where they fall they lie till the birds, buzzards & flies carry off all but the bones, leaving a sad stench by the roadside. We passed I think 20 or more skeletons some the bones only & some undergoing putrifaction.
In the ascent of the Chagres River, Peirce had been charmed by the wonders of the tropical jungle and interested in the habits of the natives. It was nearly if not quite as natural as when the Spanish explorers saw it. But from Gorgona on it is not nature but the romance of the human history of the place which fascinated him. The first evidence of this is the change of route — nature made the Chagres — the Spaniard built the road from Gorgona to Panama.
The river is navigable for canoes to Cruces (6 miles above Gorgona) where we took mules, and this was the original route, and is now, when the river is swelled with rains, but from having no pains taken to clear away logs and other obstructions the navigation now is very difficult and risky at this season of the year. The former route, as I said, was by way of Cruces and so important was the route that the Spanish government went to the enormous expense of building a paved road from Cruces the whole distance through to Panama, 27 miles, a fine perfect turnpike, 8 feet wide where the nature of the land would allow it, and in some places only just wide enough to admit the width of their Gun carriages 2½ to 3 feet. This pavement appears to have been laid in cement and for a few miles over which we have travelled on it, we could see patches of it in as perfect a state of preservation as if built only a year or two since, and still as true and level as the best pavement in Boston.
The road being on so hilly a country has been washed out by the mountain torrents in many places, and gullied down 10 or 20 feet below its original level; in other places sand and earth have washed in and entirely covered it; in other places roots of huge trees have undermined and thrown it up in inequalities so that now the mule path does not pass over one fourth of its former length, and only where the level has preserved it in good travelling order.
When we arrive in sight of . . . the gates of Panama, the mind is struck with surprise at the vastness of the labor and expense which must have been expended in building and fortifying the city. The main road approaching the city is paved beautifully for half a mile outside the walls, and a small stream crossing the road has a stone bridge laid in masonry and in perfect state of preservation, not a joint open or a crack to be seen, altho built probably as much as 200 years ago. The arch is finely proportioned and but a single span about 25 or 30 feet across. A thick stone wall of solid masonry runs entirely around the city, about two feet thick and nearly level at top. It is about 10 or 12 feet high (and) on the bay side which embraces more than half the circumference of the city. On the side commanding the harbour where the shipping lies is the battery built in the strongest possible manner, all solid stone masonry, in many places 30 to 50 feet above the water level. The battery is still mostly uninjured by the lapse of time and the wearing of the elements, but the sea has made some breaches and let down the strong wall in ruins. On this level battery are 6 splendid brass cannons of six inch calibre, about 12 ft. long, most perfect instruments of their kind and very valuable, twenty thousand dollars each having been offered for them by our Government. There are also several brass 6-pounders of [the] same metal all said to be made partly of silver instead of the ordinary brass. They were cast at Barcelona and Seville. There are several large mortars for shells and some iron guns of large size. On the battery the citizens walk evenings, or promenade to breath the sea breeze, and if the mules and pigs were excluded, it would be really a most delightful promenade. But here whatever falls lies, turkey buzzards being the only scavengers and the air naturally so pure and sweet is polluted with all sorts of villainous odors.
The barracks and public buildings are falling gradually to decay, and as no repairs are done, time will level this city of stone fortresses, which it once was, into total ruin.
This California emigration has brought some stir and trade here, but it is done by Yankees nearly all. Some few natives keep stores for trade, but excepting a few Spanish dealers who keep large lots of goods to sell out to the small dealers, the trade is on a small puny system by the native women who have little shops all round the city, selling oranges, plantains and a few simple articles. The shops keep wines and liquors as staples, and all other articles merely as accessories.
During the period of his stay in the city of Panama awaiting transportation to California, Peirce apparently used his time to good advantage in exploring the place. He describes it as follows:
Water is brot into the city for drinking purposes by mules with a pair of Panniers or cane frames fixed to his Saddle, and two large cans or jars of water on each side; between the jars the waterman (a tall negro perhaps) sits with his long legs hanging dangling down over the mule’s breast, a great strong lazy fellow better able to carry the mule, than the mule to carry him and his burden. I thought I had seen unfeeling drivers at home, but the way they abuse Horse & Mule flesh here is past endurance for one brought up in Yankeedom.
The Houses as I said are of Stone built very solidly with large wooden doors & wooden shutters which are closed on the street at night. The second story & the third if any, have verandahs built out about four feet wide with wooden or iron railings on a level with the floors and the large doors & windows all open on a level with them making the verandah part & parcel of the room of the house. The houses are very high studded, the lower rooms perhaps 12 ft., 2d story 15 to 25 ft. In fact they seem to be built with a view to ventilation and air as the climate requires. The outer walls are smoothly plastered & whitened & the Doors, Windows & Verandahs generally painted green. The Roofs are covered with tiles in the old Dutch Style such as we see in Albany & New York.
The Streets are very narrow, the main ones not more than about 30 ft. from Wall to Wall & the narrow ones not more than 20, from which must be taken the verandah, leaving most of the streets not more than about 12 ft. from side to side — on these verandahs the people sit when the morning air draws up cool from the Bay, and enjoy it. The Streets are paved and have good side walks, and as they have no drays or heavy carriages to cut them up, they last a long time. Everything (refuse) goes into the street, and the Pigs & carrion birds have all the cleaning to do, the Alcalde or Military chief not troubling himself with such matters. Notwithstanding the filth thrown out, the intense heat dries the wet up, and the sea breeze carries off part of the effluvia, so that it is not an unhealthy place to live in but quite the reverse.
Weeds & Plants spring up in every vacant Spot, and on the top of the walls of the next house opposite my eye as I now write (the roof having [fallen] in) bushes 6 feet tall are growing, resembling in appearance a garden hedge — everything here is so queer I cannot describe it so you can understand, I fear.
I said every house was a fortress, and the portholes left by the builders for the defending them on the inside remain in most of them, in some they have been filled up & plastered over. The Houses are in continuous blocks running from street to street, and a large gate or door opens from the street into a paved court into which the laden mules enter to deliver their loads. There are no cellars but the basements are used for all such purposes and the people live up one or two flights of stone steps.
The people all talk Spanish except the Yankees. The women (not the ladies) smoke cigars and wear hats & go barefooted through the streets & to church. The women and girls carry all their bundles & burdens on their heads, and it is no matter how light or how heavy, a Demijohn of Water, or a couple of oranges or a handfull of bananas, or a pitcher, or coal, wood, or what not, on their head it goes.
In every shop & house you see the Hammock swing, and usually occupied by the lazy lounging husband. They marry young, the males at 15 to 17, girls 12, 13. There are some of the old Spanish families remaining who live entirely secluded from the native population, go to their parties after dark, and return at three or four in the morning & sleep all day. They are rich, proud & exclusive, well educated & intelligent. One to get into their company must understand the Spanish language and have a formal introduction.
The religion of these people as far as I can learn is Catholic, and the same ignorance of the people, and the same pride & vice of the Priests is seen here as among the Catholic Irish. The Priests here are great cockfighters, and only last Sunday the Priest dismissed his people an hour earlier than usual, he having been appointed judge of a cockfight. One of our Cherokee boys who went into the church said twas a fact, and he heard one of his cocks crow in the Pulpit, he having carried them with him in a bag.
The New England Puritan was much shocked at many aspects of Papist practices and at the disregard of the conventional respect for the observance of the Sabbath and for religious ceremonies. On the other hand it is evident that the Spanish population and their Roman priests were likewise distressed by what they regarded as the flouting of their faith by many of the irresponsible travellers, for we learn from a despatch from Panama printed in the New York Herald, Friday, January 11, 1850:
At the door of the churches, and in the hotels and restaurants will be placed in English, French and Spanish languages, the following advertisement:— “It has been remarked with displeasure, that some of the foreigners who cross this city, show intentional disrespect for the religion, Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman, which is predominant in this republic; and have, in some instances, interrupted the rites and ceremony of the church. In these circumstances it is the duty of the authorities to inform the public that there are in the penal law some enactments which punish the infraction to the respect due to religion.”
After his long passage of the Isthmus, Peirce was naturally much interested in the history of the early explorers, and especially in Morgan’s famous raid in 1670. This he apparently studied in some detail as he recounts quite fully the story of that great buccaneer’s landing at Fort Lorenzo, rapid ascent of the Chagres River, and his descent like a whirlwind with thirteen hundred men upon the old city of Panama, which had up to that time remained in its full splendor.
The city in the old days had been composed of over six thousand houses, eight convents, a cathedral and a large hospital. Over two thousand mules were then in constant use carrying goods back and forth across the Isthmus. Now, he says, after the fire which swept the city after Morgan’s visit, only a few stone buildings remain, the ruins of which meet your eye as you approach the city and serve as monuments to mark the ravages of the spirit of conquest.
reproduced for the colonial society of massachusetts from the original owned by mr. philip p. chase
The ruins of the old city he found surrounded by thickets — a tangle of bushes in the small clearings through which many wild cattle were grazing. A great tower, sixteen feet across on the inside, with walls of stone masonry six feet through, rose in perfect condition some hundred feet in the air. This tower once formed one of a pair of the cathedral towers, its fellow having fallen in ruins. The ground plan of the great cathedral could still be followed, although vegetation had sprung up to cover the fallen ruins, and trees some of them four feet in diameter had grown up through the rubbish. Much of the finished stone work which now decorates the principal buildings of the new city was removed from the ruins of the old. All along the beach were found great masses of dressed stone taken from the old city and left in preparation for transportation to the new town.
The old city stood at a point on the shore where the shelving rocky beach runs out so level that even at high tide vessels of sufficient draft to carry heavy guns could not be brought within range of the walls of the town.
Returning from the exploration of the ruins of the old town, the travellers were met with new excitements. The Steamer Oregon had just arrived from California with three hundred home-bound passengers richly laden with the precious dust. “The report says that three million dollars in gold dust is sent in the captain’s care, besides large sums in the hands of the passengers estimated at as much more.” The prices from California are “quite as high as we expected and in fact higher, and the wet season over and the city perfectly healthy.”
During this period of imprisonment, as they regarded it, in Panama, the travellers’ minds turned frequently to their homes, and one of them declares that he believes that a Boston paper fifteen days old would bring five dollars immediately in the street. “In fact,” he said, “we pay fifty cents for a San Francisco paper printed on brown paper, and we jump to get it.”
The constant expectation of the arrival of their steamer began to tell on the party’s nerves. Instead of making use of their time to study Spanish and inform themselves of the business habits of the region, they fretted over the unexpected delays, and were excited over every rumor of a probable early departure on the ship whose whereabouts they had really no means of ascertaining. As they waited from day to day in Panama new arrivals from the Atlantic side increased their numbers. Among those specially noted were a group of ten women and several ministers — an Episcopalian from New York, a Methodist from Staten Island, a Free Will preacher from Massachusetts, two Methodist missionaries from Delaware, and a Calvinist from Ohio.
The hotel in which these travellers stayed, known as the Western, appears to have been one of the best in the town. Peirce describes it as being of stone, the basement floor even with the ground, paved with tiles.
Here is found the bar room, the room for storing their baggage, the kitchens. On the second floor are three rooms, — across the Eastern end the travellers’ own room was 32 ft., which was the width of the house, by 20 feet, and between 20 to 25 ft. in height, open entirely to the roof. It is divided from the hall by a tall partition running up high at the plate, and is white-washed, roof and all. Doors open through the outer walls on to verandas on each side. The doorways properly are 6 ft. wide and 10 ft. high, but are closed at night by shutters, leaving only a slight aperture 3 by 1½ feet, which allows a circulation of air through the room.
In this room 32 by 20 are 10 cots, all but one of them occupied by their party and one extra guest, who proved to be the editor of the Panama paper.
On this street, which is the main one running from gate to gate of the town, the Yankees have taken about all the stores and converted them into hotels, restaurants, shops, gambling rooms, etc., and it has quite an American look.
There are said to be over two thousand Americans waiting to go either to or from California. Gambling abounds with great vigor. There is repeated the usual stories of the losses of fortunes brought from the mines and lost in these gambling halls. There is also a theatre open on Sunday evenings, and one every other night in the week.
It was at this place that the travellers had their best opportunity to see representatives of the older Spanish families who had come in from their ranches. Otherwise, the Yankees in the passage of the Isthmus saw little of the Spanish dons and their families, as they lived very much secluded, and made their social calls usually after dark.
The crowd of Americans awaiting passage had become great and the accommodations in the city were limited by the ordinance which forbade erection of temporary wooden buildings or tents, so that many were forced to camp out in the fields or in tents pitched outside the gates of the city.
The churches in the new city were miserable affairs, although in a tolerable state of preservation. The decorations both in sculpture and painting were crude and showy. The church organs were in very bad condition as to tone and served only to spoil the excellent choir, often of female voices trained in the chants.
In this town of some six thousand souls there was no school except one small private establishment where a few Spanish boys were taught.
Although there was no general epidemic of illness, a considerable number of those waiting for transportation fell ill from day to day, and there were a few deaths. In view of the lack of all sanitary arrangements in the city, it seems remarkable that no general epidemic developed. Animals that fell dead from overwork were allowed to lie where they fell until the carrion birds ate them up. Peirce says:
The stench is all over the city from such causes.
The drinking water is brought in on mules, besides which there is a large drinking well attached to the court of each two houses used in common for washing water.
It was a matter of great moment when a Yankee cart drove through the town with a yoke of oxen. The native’s management of the bullocks caused much amusement to the New Englanders.
It seemed to be the prevailing opinion that bathing in sea water at that point on the coast was unhealthy, and that on account possibly of the laval formation of the beach the fish and oysters of that coast were not edible.
The travellers, however, tried some of this sea food with no ill effects, but found that they preferred bathing in fresh water rather than in the ocean. The fresh water baths were arranged in little bamboo rooms with great jars of water, soap, and a good clean towel. The dirt floor had a few tiles spread on the bottom so that the water might run off between them. There were not many of the baths that were available to the public, but the better Spanish houses were well equipped. The ordinary native population appeared to take no interest in bathing.
To the New England Puritan the Sundays in Panama were particularly irksome, the work of the world being carried on as usual although on certain occasions the day was treated as a festival and frequently extra masses were held in the cathedral. Sunday was the gala day for cock-fighting, the chief amusement of the populace.
The pit was a large circular room about 40 feet in diameter. All around were raised seats for spectators and in the centre a hard floor of earth smoothly and cleanly swept. In this circle were the owners of the birds and their backers. They were of all grades, natives and Spaniards, some almost naked, some elegantly dressed, all excited and earnest for the contest and ready to put up cash on their favorites. . . . Each bird like the Southern duellist has his second who arranges his weapons and sees that all is fair for the bloody contest, the left leg of each bird being armed with a crooked sword about 3 inches long and whetted up on the spot to a keen edge. . . . The money is laid down in piles on a little round board in front of the negro who is to decide the battle. Now they put the birds down facing each other and in their hands toss them up towards each other near enough almost to touch their bills to excite and get up their warlike spirits . . . At this pit I was told that the stakes sometimes run to a thousand dollars on a single battle.
The Yankee visitors in Panama apparently had clashes with the local judiciary.
The delays, — call it no worse, — of native justice are the cause for the last outburst when a group of Yankees broke open the jail and took out one of their friends who had been put in for stealing. They did not set him at liberty at once but took him before the Alcalde, gave bonds for his appearance, and then set him free.
Confusion as to currency on the Isthmus was more apparent than real.
The Yankee landlords state their price at so much a week in American currency, while the Spanish traders will exchange 11 of their dollars for 1 American eagle, and half-eagles in the same proportion, and pay change in 8 dimes to the dollar.
As the delay in transportation continued, great bitterness of feeling against the Howland and Aspinwall Company for crowding their ships to suffocation with passengers and accumulating so many passengers here with no arrangements made for their relief if the Tennessee should fail to arrive. Already some had been waiting with their tickets for this ship for more than seven weeks.
When at last she arrived she turned out to be small, only thirteen hundred tons, and inadequate to carry properly even those passengers who had through tickets, let alone the mob which had collected by various means and from various places at the Isthmus, all expecting transportation up the coast to’ Frisco.
She was originally built for an ocean boat to run from Savannah to New Orleans. . . . She would accommodate packed full 200 steerage or forward cabin and 100 first cabin passengers. But this even at the enormous prices did not satisfy the owners, and they went to work and decked her over an entire room seven feet high all over the ship. This almost doubled her capacity for passengers and is called the hurricane deck . . . aft of the engines it is fitted up in good style for first class passengers, forward fitted with open berths. You now understand we have upper and main cabins aft of the machinery and upper and main forward cabins, or steerage as it is called.
The cabin price of passage was 300 dollars, and the forward or steerage price was one hundred and fifty dollars. . . .
[Even] this [expansion of the ship upward] did not quite satisfy them, — the call for passage was so great they cleared out the run or cellar under, down below all the others and fitted up more berths, and many a poor fellow when he came on board and was shown his shelf in the cellar — damp, dark, stench as it is — turns up his nose and says this surely is not what I bargained for. . . .
Nearly twenty steerage passengers have neither upper nor lower steerage shelves saved for them, and in case of a heavy rain storm have no place of refuge of their own, not even a shelf where they can flee to in an emergency. These are poor fellows indeed, and the purser has meted out an old mainsail for them which with a perquisite of five or ten dollars he hopes will satisfy them.
By this system of packing they have crowded three hundred and thirty steerage and one hundred and seventy cabin passengers into this ship; 500 passengers have paid the round sum of one hundred thousand dollars for passage only. . . .
In addition to passengers the steamship company had undertaken to carry some freight besides, for which at that time they were receiving a very fair remuneration as freights went, although there seems to have been from the list of sailings from New York considerable competition in the business, at least on the Atlantic side. Even without the freight the receipt of $100,000 for carrying five hundred passengers from Panama to San Francisco seems a fair remuneration for a vessel of the size of the Tennessee. To this should be added the amount received from the government for the carriage of mails, which, in the case of this trip, amounted to some forty large bags.
As to the accommodations and rations received by the passengers in return for the fare, the rations were on the Tennessee, as they had been on the Cherokee, plentiful and wholesome, but the living accommodations left much to be desired. Three passengers paying for a first-cabin ticket were put in a room six feet long, five feet wide and six and one half feet high. In this space had been built three berths or bunks, the lowest five inches from the floor, and the space between the bunks was barely sufficient to allow a man to squeeze in flat-wise. Besides these three berths there was only space in the state-room for one small clothes closet. The three men who occupied this room were together paying the company nine hundred dollars, which included their board and the liberty of the ship. This, however, was practically limited, on account of the crowding of the lower decks, to the use of the promenade deck, or roof which had been constructed over the temporary upper tier of cabins. Around this promenade deck iron posts had been fastened and a netting stretched. Here there were about fifty arm chairs available for the first-cabin passengers’ use. The others had to find seats upon the rows of passengers’ trunks piled around against the nettings.
As the number of first-cabin passengers was too great to be accommodated at one time at table, lots were drawn and the company divided between first and second tables, each man being assigned a regular seat. In this respect the arrangements on the Tennessee were far more orderly and satisfactory than on the Cherokee.
The gambling on these ships was very heavy, — “a thousand dollars passes out or in to the bank in less time than it takes me to record it. I have seen a man in half an hour win and lose over three thousand dollars, and when he left had lost in all eleven hundred and forty-five dollars.”
In the games of monte and poker the banker sat with his piles of doubloons, eagles, half eagles, dollars and dimes spread out before him. The long tables used for their meals were in constant use between meals for gambling. Peirce declares, “Such a delegation of desperate blacklegs I never expect to fall in with again.”
There are, he says, “300 steerage passengers, who on the whole in moral worth and character are of higher grade than the average cabin passenger. They are positively forbidden entrance into our part of the ship, and must keep forward of the wheel house. Their meals are served out in messes and is regular sailor fare. It is dealt out and their mode of feeding is the soup house style, each man with his tin pan and tin pot goes up to the bar and gets his quantum of beef, duff, coffee or soup as the case may be, and plants himself down where he can to eat it.”
When they were one hundred and fourteen miles from their destination the passengers were notified by the United States Mail agent that he would demand all letters from passengers, and that if they did not give them up they would be liable to a fine of twenty-five dollars for each violation. The passengers as the time for landing approached began to show some excitement.
They have held an indignation meeting forward today and passed strong resolutions and evince a full determination to see the owners and libel the ship, for damages and redress. Cabin passengers do not participate to any extent, but will probably jump ashore and try to forget the Tennessee and their grievances as soon as they can.
When still a day’s sail from San Francisco, John Peirce writes to his aunt in summary of his trip as follows:
Our distance now from Port is twenty-four or thirty-six hours sail, and you may suppose the sight this morning from our deck of the green shores of our new home is a pleasant one, broken and rough though it be, and cold and bleak as its hill-tops look, snow-capped and glittering in the sunbeams. We look to it as our journey’s end, as a relief from the crowded cage in which we have been prisoned, wave tossed and nauseated, with disgust for twenty long days and nights.
I am in perfect health and thankfull indeed for the blessing, thankfull for the preserving care of a kind Providence, which has kept us through the perils of so long a journey, with no serious accident, and very little sickness, and no deaths. Six hundred men, women and children, from all parts of the country, representing all grades in society, all bound for one Port, for one object. A motley company, on a strange pilgrimage. . . .
With the exception of the crowded state of our ship and our detention at Panama so long, the whole thing has been a pleasure trip, and after the railroad across the Isthmus is built, and the lines of steamers arranged so as to avoid detention, I shall have no objection at all to take the trip once a year. . . .
We have twenty ladies and a dozen children on board our boat. It is a hard place for women at best, and I would not for a moment wish a lady friend of mine to undertake it. For comfort I should much rather a lady would go the other route, round Cape Horn.
When on Sunday, April 14, the Tennessee entered the Golden Gate, the splendor of the great bay, the concourse of shipping, and the straggling settlements on the hillsides where John Peirce was to make his home for the next two years, were all lost upon him. Not a word does he record at the time of all these impressions. The Chagres River and the ruins of Old Panama appealed to his esthetic and romantic nature at a time when there were no immediate business problems before him. Now the moment to which he had looked forward had arrived — a new start in business under conditions of competition, and with prizes so vast as to challenge the ambition of any merchant. He dryly notes: “I . . . like the appearance of things here full as well as I had expected to find it . . . My prospect for business looks as favorable as I had reason to expect.”
Mr. Albert Matthews spoke on:
ORIGIN OF THE TERM LYNCH LAW
In a paper on “The Term Lynch Law,”403 published in 1904, the history of that term and its many sinister derivatives was given from its then first known appearance (under the form “Lynch’s law”) in 1817; and the paper concluded with a discussion of the claims advanced on behalf of several persons to the doubtful honor of having given the term its name, of whom three only were deemed worthy of extended notice — namely, James Lynch, Stephen Lynch, and Charles Lynch.
In 1493 James Lynch Fitz Stephen was mayor of Galway, Ireland, and in the course of two centuries there grew up a tradition in regard to an event which is said to have occurred in that year. A son of James Lynch murdered a young Spaniard, confessed his crime, was tried, found guilty, and condemned to die. Spurred on by feelings of compassion, the populace endeavored to save the youth’s life; but the inexorable father, in order to prevent a miscarriage of justice, either took upon himself the office of executioner and hanged his own son or saw that the sentence was carried out. Whether this tradition has some historical basis, and if so exactly what, perhaps will never be known; but what the actual facts were is really immaterial, for the commentators have been singularly at fault in seeing in this story an instance of lynch law. The son either did or did not commit a crime. If he was innocent and yet was hanged by his father, it was a case of simple murder on the part of the father; but if the son was guilty, and the father insisted on the carrying out of a duly imposed sentence, the father was merely playing the part of an Irish Brutus.
On January 20, 1688, James II issued a proclamation for the effectual reducing and suppressing of pirates and privateers in America; and on February 8 it was announced that Stephen Lynch had been “Appointed, with His Majesties Approbation, One of the Agents of Sir Robert Holmes His Majesties Sole Commissioner for suppressing of Pirats in America, and . . . to carry his Majesties late Proclamation in that behalf to Jamaica,” where he was to remain “for the further performance of this Service.” Stephen Lynch was in Jamaica by April 24, 1688, he visited certain of the Spanish ports, he left Jamaica for home March 15, 1689, and during his year’s stay in the West Indies he appears to have incurred the dislike of everyone. His proceedings were perhaps arbitrary and ill-advised, but he did not inflict illegal punishments, and he never set foot on the soil of the present United States. Hence Stephen Lynch, like James Lynch, did not come within the pale of lynch law.
“In the year 1792,” wrote Judge Spencer Roane in 1817, “there were many suits on the south side of James river, for inflicting Lynch’s law;” and a footnote, presumably written by William Wirt, added: “Thirty-nine lashes, inflicted without trial or law, on mere suspicion of guilt, which could not be legally proven. This lawless practice . . . took its name from the gentleman who set the first example of it.”404 It cannot be doubted that the proper place to look for “the gentleman who set the first example” of lynch law is in this country; and it has been generally held that he was Charles Lynch (1736–1796) of Bedford County, Virginia, who in 1780 illegally fined and imprisoned certain Tories. Yet many others were equally concerned in such illegal acts. Thus in 1777 “the Governour and Council, and others” were indemnified “for removing and confining Suspected Persons during the late publick danger;” in 1779 “William Campbell, Walter Crockett, and others” were indemnified for illegal acts committed “in suppressing a late conspiracy;” in 1782 “William Preston, Robert Adams, junior, James Callaway, and Charles Lynch, and other faithful citizens” were indemnified for measures (taken in suppressing a conspiracy in 1780) not “strictly warranted by law, although justifiable from the imminence of the danger;” and in 1784 all persons were indemnified who committed “any insult or injury against the person of a certain Joseph Williamson” on October 10, 1783, “which was previous to the ratification of the definitive treaty between Great Britain and America.” It is seen, then, not only that Charles Lynch was one of many who resorted to illegal proceedings, but that it was not he who “set the first example” of such proceedings. Moreover, it is to be noted that all these illegal punishments were inflicted for offences that were political, not criminal, whereas it would seem as if the originator of lynch law must have inflicted punishments for offences that were criminal, not political. And so, since there is no evidence that Charles Lynch was concerned in illegal punishments for criminal offences, my previous paper concluded with the words: “In the opinion of the present writer, so far as Charles Lynch is concerned, the Scotch verdict of ‘not proven’ must be rendered; and the true origin of the term lynch law has yet to be determined.”405
In the quarter of a century that has elapsed since the above sentence was written, one new candidate has been brought forward and the claims of an old one require reconsideration. In 1909 a correspondent of a London journal, referring to the Oxford English Dictionary, said: “It is somewhat remarkable that, with the analogies of the words ‘boycott’ and ‘burke’ before them, the compilers do not in any way refer to the case of the Irishman Lynchy, the date of which was 1816.”406 What happened is thus described by a contemporary under date of November 1 in that year:
Ireland. . . . A man named Lynchy, and who lived at a place within three miles of Andee, in the county of Louth, had prosecuted, at the last Assizes for that county, three men who had broken into his house at night. Upon the testimony of Lynchy, and of his son-in-law, Rooney, those malefactors . . . were convicted, and suffered death accordingly. Lynchy was aware of the danger to which his own life was exposed, by having brought those house-breakers to justice; but being a man of a firm and intrepid character, he resolved not to change his residence, and to defend himself against any violence.
On Tuesday night last, at the hour of midnight, Lynchy was doomed to atone, by his death, for having sought redress from the public justice of his country. A body of men, supposed to amount to forty, and well mounted, rode up to his dwelling, which they surrounded; and, without a single compunction at the indiscriminate destruction in which they were about to involve, so many, they set fire to this unfortunate man’s house, and destroyed, in this diabolical deed, not only Lynchy and his son-in-law, Rooney, but his wife, two children, two servant maids, and two young men!!407
Apart from the fact that the name of the victim of this atrocity was not Lynch but Lynchy, the case was one of simple murder and not of lynch law at all. Moreover, as will presently be shown, the term lynch law was in existence in this country in 1811, or five years before the Lynchy affair occurred, and no doubt, though examples have yet to be found, was in use much earlier.
In its original form, the practice of lynch law existed only along the frontiers, and between 1820 and 1830 writers regarded it as on the wane and likely soon to disappear before advancing civilization; but in the next decade came the anti-slavery agitation, the practice revived and spread throughout the country, punishments became more and more severe, finally including death, and negroes then first became victims. One result of this revival was that speculation as to the origin of the term became rife, and all sorts of wild guesses were hazarded.408 It was in 1836 that a William Lynch was first mentioned in print in connection with the subject, in an editorial written by Edgar Allan Poe:
Frequent inquiry has been made within the last year as to the origin of Lynch’s law. This subject now possesses historical interest. It will be perceived from the annexed paper, that the law, so called, originated in 1780, in Pittsylvania, Virginia. Colonel William Lynch, of that county, was its author; and we are informed by a resident, who was a member of a body formed for the purpose of carrying it into effect, that the efforts of the association were wholly successful. A trained band of villains, whose operations extended from North to South, whose well concerted schemes had bidden defiance to the ordinary laws of the land, and whose success encouraged them to persevere in depredations upon an unoffending community, was dispersed and laid prostrate under the infliction of Lynch’s law. Of how many terrible, and deeply to be lamented consequences — of how great an amount of permanent evil — has the partial and temporary good been productive!
“Whereas, many of the inhabitants of the county of Pittsylvania, as well as elsewhere, have sustained great and intolerable losses by a set of lawless men who have banded themselves together to deprive honest men of their just rights and property, by stealing their horses, counterfeiting, and passing paper currency, and committing many other species of villainy, too tedious to mention, and that those vile miscreants do still persist in their diabolical practices, and have hitherto escaped the civil power with impunity, it being almost useless and unnecessary to have recourse to our laws to suppress and punish those freebooters, they having it in their power to extricate themselves when brought to justice by suborning witnesses who do swear them clear — we, the subscribers, being determined to put a stop to the iniquitous practices of those unlawful and abandoned wretches, do enter into the following association, to wit: that next to our consciences, soul and body, we hold our rights and property, sacred and inviolable. We solemnly protest before God and the world, that (for the future) upon hearing or having sufficient reason to believe, that any villainy or species of villainy having been committed within our neighborhood, we will forthwith embody ourselves, and repair immediately to the person or persons suspected, or those under suspicious characters, harboring, aiding, or assisting those villains, and if they will not desist from their evil practices, we will inflict such corporeal punishment on him or them, as to us shall seem adequate to the crime committed or the damage sustained; that we will protect and defend each and every one of us, the subscribers, as well jointly as severally, from the insults and assaults offered by any other person in their behalf; and further, we do bind ourselves jointly and severally, our joint and several heirs etc. to pay or cause to be paid, all damages that shall or may accrue in consequence of this our laudable undertaking, and will pay an equal proportion according to our several abilities; and we, after having a sufficient number of subscribers to this association, will convene ourselves to some convenient place, and will make choice of our body five of the best and most discreet men belonging to our body, to direct and govern the whole, and we will strictly adhere to their determinations in all cases whatsoever relative to the above undertaking; and if any of our body summoned to attend the execution of this our plan, and fail so to do without a reasonable excuse, they shall forfeit and pay the sum of one hundred pounds current money of Virginia, to be appropriated towards defraying the contingent expenses of this our undertaking. In witness whereof we have hereunto set our hands, this 22d day September 1780.”409
This account was known to me in 1904,410 but as no trace could then be found of a William Lynch in Virginia at that time, he was dismissed, along with several other persons, as mythical. A renewed quest, however, has recently disclosed the fact that a William Lynch represented Pittsylvania County in the Virginia House of Delegates from October 15, 1787, to January 8, 1788.411 And lately there has come to light an extraordinarily interesting passage in which is described an interview with a certain “Captain Lynch” who asserted that he was himself the veritable originator of lynch law. In April, 1811, Andrew Ellicott, the well-known surveyor, received an appointment from Georgia to determine the boundary between that State and North Carolina, and in October of that year he wrote the following sketch of “Captain Lynch”:
It was now thought advisable to take a new position as near to the 35 degree of N. latitude as a convenient situation would admit of. For this purpose we left our first position on the 25th and arrived at Mr. Lynch’s near the south end of the table mountain on the evening of the 26th a traverse having been carried on from the hickory ridge to that place. The 27th was spent in examining the most prominent ridges a few miles to the westward but finding none that would answer our purpose a traverse was directed to be carried on to the cane creek mountain.
Captain Lynch just mentioned was the author of the Lynch laws so well known and so frequently carried into effect some years ago in the southern states in violation of every principle of justice and jurisprudence. — Mr. Lynch resided in Pittsylvania in the state of Virginia when he commenced legislator and carried his system into effect: — the detail I had from himself and is nearly as follows.—
The Lynch-men associated for the purpose of punishing crimes in a summary way without the tedious and technical forms of our courts of justice. Upon complaint being made to any member of the association of a crime being committed within the vicinity of their jurisdiction the person complained of was immediately pursued and taken if possible. If apprehended he was carried before some members of the association and examined: — if his answers were not satisfactory he was whipped till they were so. Those extorted answers generally involved others in the supposed crime who in their turn were punished in like manner. These punishments were sometimes severe and not unfrequently inflicted upon the innocent thro spite or in consequence of answers extorted under the smarting of the whip to interrogatories put by the members of the association.
Mr. Lynch informed me that he had never in any case given a vote for the punishment of death some however he acknowledged had been actually hanged tho not in the common way a horse in part became the executioner: the manner was this. — The person who it was supposed ought to suffer death was placed on a horse with his hands tied behind him and a rope about his neck which was fastened to the limb of a tree over his head. In this situation the person was left and when the horse in pursuit of food or any other cause moved from his position the unfortunate person was left suspended by the neck, — this was called aiding the civil authority. —
It seems almost incredible that such proceedings should be had in a civilized country governed by known laws it may nevertheless be relied on. I should not have asserted it as a fact had it not been related to me by Mr. Lynch himself and his neighbor Mr. Lay, one of the original association together with several other Lynch-men as they are called. This self created judicial tribunal was first organized in the state of Virginia about the year 1776 from whence it extended southward as before observed.
Mr. Lynch has the appearance of an antient athlet and had he lived in the times of the Olympic games would probably have figured “on the bloody arena:” — he possesses a strong but uncultivated mind is hospitable and generous to an extreme to which may be added a great stickler for equality and the rights of man as established by law! so contradictory are the ideas and conduct of the only creatures supposed to be endowed with reason and judgement in the universe. . . . Mr. Lynch since he left his native state of Virginia has resided on the Olenoy one of the branches of the Saludy.412
It is thus seen that Ellicott and Captain Lynch met at the latter’s house on Oolenoy Creek,413 a tributary of Saluda River, at the foot of Table Mountain,414 in the northwest corner of South Carolina in what was then Pendleton District415 and is now Pickens County, and almost exactly on the 35th degree of North Latitude. That entire region was wild and remote, having been the home of the Cherokees until they were dispossessed during the Revolutionary War, and few white settlers intruded into it until after the close of that war. With the locality definitely determined, two or three other allusions to the reputed author of lynch law were immediately turned up. In 1826 Robert Mills, referring to (though not naming) Table Mountain, wrote: “At the foot of the mountain resides Capt. John Lynch, the author of the famous law called by his name, of very notable effect.”416 In the same year the Lynch house, labelled “Linche’s,” was located in Robert Mills’s Atlas of the State of South Carolina.417 And in 1843 William Gilmore Simms, referring to Pendleton District, said: “In this district also lived captain John Lynch, supposed to have originated the notorious frontier law which still bears his name.”418
Reviewing the evidence thus far given, it appears that within a period of twenty-five years three writers referred to the originator of lynch law. In 1811 Ellicott, whose information was derived chiefly from “Captain Lynch” himself but partly from “his neighbor Mr. Lay,419 one of the original association” and “several other Lynchmen,”420 stated that “Mr. Lynch resided in Pittsylvania in the state of Virginia when he commenced legislator and carried his system into effect,” that “this self created judicial tribunal was first organized . . . about the year 1776,” that “Mr. Lynch since he left his native state of Virginia has resided on the Olenoy,” and described the manner in which the purpose of the association was carried out. In 1836 Poe, whose information came from “a resident” — presumably of Charleston, South Carolina — “who was a member of a body formed for the purpose of carrying it into effect,” asserted that “Colonel William Lynch” of Pittsylvania County, Virginia, was the author of the law, and then proceeded to give the very words of the agreement drawn up on September 22, 1780. Thus we have the testimony, though at second hand, of various persons — “Captain Lynch,” “Mr. Lay,” “several other Lynch-men,” and Poe’s unknown correspondent — all of whom were members of the association in question and one of whom was living as late as 1836. Neither Ellicott nor Poe could have known what the other had said or written, yet their statements are in singular accord. In 1826 Mills stated that in Pendleton District, South Carolina, “resides Capt. John Lynch, the author of the famous law called by his name,” and in his Atlas located the Lynch house. Ellicott failed to indicate the christian name of his “Captain Lynch;” Mills called his man “Capt. John Lynch;” while Poe gave the name of his man as “Colonel William Lynch.” Thus the only substantial discrepancy in the three accounts is in the name of the “author” of lynch law. Was Ellicott’s “Captain Lynch” identical with Poe’s “Colonel William Lynch”? Did Mills write “John” by mistake for “William”? Is it possible that William Lynch died between 1811 and 1826, that Mills had not heard of his death, that in 1826 William’s house was occupied by a John Lynch, who may have been a relative, perhaps even a son, of William? If such was the case, Mills’s confusion in names would be easily accounted for.
Further evidence has been obtained from various correspondents in South Carolina, and is presented — along with certain facts already proved — in chronological order. In 1742 a Captain William Lynch was born. On September 22, 1780, an agreement was drawn up by a Colonel William Lynch. In 1787–88 a William Lynch was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Pittsylvania County. On November 28, 1790, Nathaniel Lynch, a son of Captain William Lynch, was born in Pittsylvania County, Virginia.421 On June 11, 1798, a William Lynch was granted land on Oolenoy Creek in Pendleton District, South Carolina.422 In 1811 a William Lynch, Jr., presumably a son of Captain William Lynch, was granted land in Pendleton District. On June 2, 1820, Captain William Lynch of Pendleton District made his will, which yields the information that he had been twice married; that by his first wife he had three sons and three daughters; that by his second wife Ann he had William, Nathaniel, John, and three daughters; and that on the death of his wife Ann certain property was to be sold, “except the land which I now live on which I then give and devise unto my youngest son, John Lynch.”423
On July 15, 1820, Captain William Lynch died, the following obituary appearing in the Pendleton Messenger of August 8:
Died.] On the 15th ult. Capt. William Lynch; aged 78. He was an old revolutionary soldier, a friend to the widow, and orphan, and a good farmer: he died in possession of Christianity and the good will of all honest people who knew him.424
On September 4, 1820, Captain William Lynch’s will was proved; and on October 18 the following advertisement was printed in the Pendleton Messenger:
Look Sharp. All persons indebted to the estate of William Lynch, deceased, are requested to call on me and settle their accounts on or before the 20th inst. as I am obliged to leave this district for a few months, to conduct some business in the Alabama state. John M. Lynch, Administrator. October 12, 1820.425
In view of this evidence there can, it seems to me, be no reasonable doubt that the William Lynch who represented Pittsylvania County in the Virginia House of Delegates in 1787–88, and the William Lynch who was granted land in Pendleton District in 1798, and the “Captain Lynch” whom Ellicott met in Pendleton District in 1811, and the Captain William Lynch of Pendleton District who died in 1820, and Mills’s “Capt. John Lynch” of Pendleton District, and Poe’s “Colonel William Lynch” of Pittsylvania County, were one and the same man; that this William Lynch, who with his associates inflicted illegal punishments for offences that were criminal, not political, was the person from whom lynch law derived its name; and that when Mills called him “Capt. John Lynch” he mistook the son John, who in 1826 was presumably living in the Lynch house, for the father William, who had died six years before.426
Yet if William Lynch was in fact the originator of lynch law, how is it that the name has come to be associated with Charles Lynch to such an extent that to-day he is all but universally regarded as the person from whom it was derived? An answer to this question is, I think, not far to seek.
The history of new terms usually follows one general course: those who, at the time of origin, perhaps know its real explanation, fail to record it, and then, a generation or so having passed by and the true origin having been forgotten, a series of guesses is indulged in. So has it been with lynch law, and anyone named Lynch has been a fair target. The assertion that Charles Lynch was the man first appeared in print in 1842,427 or forty-six years after his death. He had been a man of prominence in his local community, he had certainly inflicted illegal punishments on Tories, and so it is not surprising that when guesses were being freely made a century or so ago the choice should have fallen on him, even though he had not inflicted illegal punishments for criminal offences. On the other hand, William Lynch was apparently an uneducated man,428 Ellicott declared that he had an “uncultivated mind,” he had not been a person of marked note in Pittsylvania County, he left Virginia late in the eighteenth century, and then in a remote corner of South Carolina he led a life so obscure that his death was recorded in a local paper only429 and even so well informed a man as Robert Mills had not heard of it. But that he was the originator of lynch law was well known to his contemporaries, for he had been mentioned in print by his true name in 1836, or sixteen years after his death; he had been mentioned in print, but under the name of John Lynch, in 1826; and he was not only mentioned, though without a christian name, but an interview with him was placed on record in 1811, or nine years before his death and thirty-one years before Charles Lynch had been heard of in connection with the term lynch law.
In short, when the guessers hit on Charles Lynch they picked out the wrong man. Such mistakes are by no means uncommon. Thus, Governor Jonathan Trumbull of Connecticut died in 1785 and not until 1846, or sixty-one years later, was his name associated with Brother Jonathan; yet the nickname certainly was not derived from Trumbull.430 Again, it was not until 1836 that “bowie knife” is known to have come into general vogue,431 and the weapon is usually (though not always) said to have been invented by Colonel James Bowie (1799–1836); but in a letter dated August 24, 1838, Rezin P. Bowie, an older brother of James, said: “The first Bowie knife was made by myself.”432 Rezin Bowie was a man of some local repute in Louisiana but was not generally known throughout the country, while James Bowie burst into great notoriety through his spectacular death at the Alamo in March, 1836, and not unnaturally the terrible knife was associated with him. Finally, the sobriquet Uncle Sam made its appearance in 1813, and in 1842, or twenty-nine years later, it was asserted to have been derived from Samuel Wilson of Troy, said to have been known as “Uncle Sam;” but the true origin of the sobriquet had been indicated as early as September 7, 1813: “This cant name for our government has got almost as current as ‘John Bull.’ The letters U. S. on the government waggons, &c are supposed to have given rise to it.”433 Similar mistakes must have occurred many and many a time, but these instances will suffice by way of illustration.
Thus at last, after a lapse of a century and a half, the identity of “the gentleman who set the first example” of lynch law is revealed.