One of the toughest
courses ever run by sailing ships was the sea route from North Atlantic
ports to San Francisco by way of Cape Horn. Under normal conditions it
was a run of more than seventeen thousand miles. One hundred and
thirty days sailing was regarded as a fair passage. But those
gold-seekers born and bred in seaports, the sons of men who had outrun
British blockades and traded from L'Orient and Havre to the hongs of
China and the islands of the South Pacific, were not to be terrified by
gales and high seas. Men who could name every tag of rigging and each
plank in a hull would be the last to entrust their fortunes to the
unknown vagaries of mules and wagons.
Cape Horn route had been well advertised (see pages 18 and 19) . Many
adventurers booked single passage, but the stories of the long road by
sea which have come down to us are stories of the "Companies" which
banded together for the run, much as did the overland groups. There
were, however, interesting points of difference.
supposed financial advantage was one of the principal motives behind
company organization for the long voyage. Many sea-going companies
bought their own vessels and paid for them by subscribing cash. Each
member received participating shares in return for his money. It was
the belief of the promoters that the ships could be sold on arrival at
San Francisco, or else used for trading ventures in the Pacific or
along the coast. The return on these ventures was estimated sufficient
to finance the company's mining operations, and any excess profit was
to be paid as dividends to the shareholders.
the articles which the members of these companies signed, a strict
division of labor was to be enforced on arrival at the gold regions.
The men would work for the common good, and the golden yield would be
divided on the basis of the number of shares held. An almost Puritan
code of behavior was made obligatory on the members of the company.
They sailed in most cases with the echoes of earnest farewell sermons
ringing in their ears. One Boston company was given a handsomely-bound
pulpit Bible as a collective gift at parting, and in addition each man
received a small Bible. With these went the admonition that the members
"were going to a far country where all were in ignorance and sin." The
men were told that it was their duty to go with the Bible in one hand
and their good New England civilization in the other; thereby to
conquer wickedness and implant their principles on the soil of
and alack! Stout ships were already going begging at San Francisco—the
days of the coastwise trade were over—sick men and idle men could not
or would not do their share of work—and the highest principles were not
always proof against the social conditions to be found in the mining
camps. Yet the monotonous and often trying voyage in crowded ships
taught lessons of self-reliance and self-control to the stouter-fibred.
When the disappointments and failures encountered at journey's end
broke up and dissipated the companies, many individuals rose out of the
wreck to win success and leave their mark on the law, the politics or
the commercial life of the emerging state.