Editor’s Note: The late Louis J. Rasmussen pioneered in transcribing ships’ passenger and overland passenger lists of individuals who braved the arduous cross (or around)-country journey in their migration to California beginning in 1849. Please click the links to see more information about his extensive works San Francisco Ship Passenger Lists Volume I [1850-1864], San Francisco Ship Passenger Lists Vol. II [1850-1851], and San Francisco Ship Passenger Lists. Vol. III: November 7, 1851 to June 17, 1852.
The cumulative effect of the massive rush of souls seeking their fortunes – by wagon, rail, steamship, or sail – transformed California from a sleepy backwater of the former Mexican Republic to Statehood in scarcely two years. Mr. Rasmussen captured the impact of this remarkable population upheaval in the Introduction to the second of his ship passenger volumes, which is excerpted below:
By 1851 the State of California had become a country unequaled almost in history for the rapidity with which the emigration of other countries sought residency. California became a sort of depot toward which everybody was pushing, and at which everybody stopped. Those who did not remain permanently either returned home or visited some other territory or country near the Pacific shores.
The Oregon Territory could serve as an example. In 1848 the territory was comparatively unknown, less known by far than California. By the year 1851, men were rushing into Oregon sowing her soil with wheat and converting her lofty pines into building material. A large percentage of the 1851 Oregon population had gone there from California.
The Sandwich Islands profited also by California. A new market for the rich products of the tropical soil of the Islands was opened by the settlement of California–and the island received accessions in the way of emigration. Mexico and several South American States were also areas in which men settled, after first acquiring financial stability in the mines and commerce of California.
During the first quarter of 1851, competition was fast bringing down the cost of travel between the United States and California. Continue reading…