History Blog


Documents: From Lyme to the Gold Rush

ON February 24, 2023

Transcribed by John E. Noyes

Featured image: The building at the bottom center is where Henry Noyes received his mail. Henry Firks and Schmidt Label & Lithographic Company, San Francisco, 1849, ca. 1886. Library of Congress 

Henry Noyes (1826-1917) was one of several Lyme men who headed west during the Gold Rush. This letter, which he wrote to his sister Ellen Noyes Chadwick the day he arrived in San Francisco in 1850, describes his sea voyage from Panama to California, recounts his first impressions of San Francisco, and expresses his eagerness to head to the “diggins” to mine for gold.

Noyes would have no success mining, but he remained in California for 11 years, amassing considerable wealth by hunting and selling ducks and other game for the San Francisco market. After returning east, he spent a few years in Maryland and then returned to Lyme, where he took up shad fishing, boat building, and farming.

Discover the letter from San Francisco:

San Francisco, July 11th 1850

Dear Sister

You see by this that I am here safe and sound. We arrived yesterday about 12 oclk in the steamer New World in good health though I have got a very bad cold yet I feel very well. I wrote you a letter when I was at Panama and put into the office there, but there are no such things as punctualities there and you might not have got it so I thought I would write another. San Francisco is a much larger place than I thought it was. There are nearly if not quite a thousand vessels in port at anchor. I am up in John Griswolds office all alone Horace is down aboard of some ship or other with him but I expect him any moment as he is going to write two or three letters to one and another. It’s of no use to tell you any of the stories we hear from the mines for we don’t know how many of them may be true. Capt. Lee Ferry that used to go in the river[?] boats is running here and says that there has been 200 passengers a day for the mines for the last 5 months I dont know how true it is but there are a great many

I will give you a little description of our voyage from Panama to S.F. We left Panama the 21st of June had first rate weather until we got to Acapulco after stopping in there for a day we started again after being out a day or two the wind changed into South East and blew a regular gale (this was in the afternoon of the first of July) it blew that afternoon and that night the next morning we burst the steam chest but the engineer chained it so that we made out to get into a little bay where we lay 1½ days to repair while we were in there we went ashore and killed a wild bull and got some fresh water and adding to that what fish we caught we had a pretty good meal the next day we started got about half way up and got almost out of coal went ashore at San Diego found a man that said there was a vessel bound up ahead of us put on after her and found her at anchor at San Pedro the passengers went ashore gaming and got the chance of seeing a few wolves and rabbits without getting any of them. However we got 50 tons of coal that made out to last us up after a passage of 21 days. (We shall start for the diggins in 2 or 3 days and you need not expect to hear from me for some time) When you write lets know all the Present and all that going on Has Will and Mary Ann come on yet if they have you must be having a time

You ought to be here just once to have your face full of sand it’s just the worst place for that on the face of this ere little earth. When you first get up it is cold thermometer down to 50 then warm and in the afternoon its cold the wind blows and the sand flies so you cant see any thing at all I would’t make S F my home for all the gold here, what time I stay will be principally in the diggins for here it is hot and cold all at the same time and as for getting rid of a cold its next to impossible But then we will try to get out of this in a few days to try (as that old man did the boy in his apple tree) “what virtue there is in stones.”

The last account I got of Roger & Henry Griswold they have started for the mines. I have heard nothing from James but I suppose he is somewhere there too. Some rascal stole my coat crossing the Isthmus but he did not get my money but I can get rid of that fast enough myself without any bodys helping me. How does that girl that I sent you carry sail She is handsome as a hedge fence but she was better than an adage[?]. Write often and send now an then a paper how does the rail road flourish. You ought to see us now if you want to see two beauties not having shave for six weeks and with what sand blows into a fellows face makes him look like a Woodchuck peeking out of his hole in the dirt The mans name that you can put my letters is Macondray & Co I suppose that our folks are haying it now but it dont seem so here for flannel and over coats will not keep a fellow warm Tell Pa not to work to hard this summer

When you write lets know how they made out fishing at Calfs Island but I have not more to say at Present

Give my best respects to our folks and remember me to all my gals

I remain your affc’t brother

H Noyes


Tell Sid and all the other fellows to write so I will know their whereabouts

Tell Abby Horace is very well

Tell Math Enoch & Charles to write and let me know what they want to know and I’ll try and inform them.

Tell Ursula that one of her old beaux (Fred Green) came all the way with us if he had been lucky enough to have fooled her I would have given him a thrashing



Henry Noyes, ca. 1849-1850, Lyme Historical Society Archives at the Florence Griswold Museum


Henry Noyes holding goose, LHSA

For more on Noyes’s adventures, see Profile: Lyme and the California Gold Rush: The Adventures of Henry Noyes and Photographs: Shad Nets.