This letter was written by a California Gold Seeker named David Stuart from Charleston, South Carolina, where he and other Eastern Tennesseans were awaiting passage to San Francisco by way of the Isthmus of Darien. David’s identity is not yet confirmed but he is believed to be a son of David Stuart (1808-18xx) who is enumerated in the 1860 census residing in Leesburg District, Washington County, Tennessee. He is undoubtedly a grandson of John Thompson Conley — an immigrant from Ireland — who was married to Nancy Ann Stuart (1771-1851) in a union linking the Stuart and Conley families.
David wrote the letter to his cousin, Josiah C. Conley (1831-Aft1900), the son of Samuel Conley (1802-18xx) and Mary Ann (“Polly”) Allen. In the 1850 census, Josiah is enumerated in the household of his father — a wagon maker in Washington County, Tennessee. Josiah was then a 19 year-old farmer. On-line genealogy records suggest that Josiah was born in Rheatown, Greene County, Tennessee. His parents were married in Greene County on 2 August 1823. Josiah eventually settled in Linn, Marshall County, Iowa.
Addressed to Josiah Conley, Leesburg, [Washington County] Tennessee
Charleston, South Carolina
April 6th 1850
Mr. Josiah Conley
I write you a few lines to let you all know how we are all getting along. We are all in fine health; the boys are all in high spirits. Wilson met us at Charleston. R. Woods fell in with us at Greenville. We sold our horses at Union and Columbia. My horse $40.00, saddle $3.00, J. C. Stuart $65.00, William Stuart’s $26.00, saddle $2.50, J. Galen $60.00, Michela $70.00 & $60.00, Brubecker $50.00, Cowan $55.00. Our horses was cut down very much. Under the circumstances, we done very well. We spent about three days a selling our horses.
We are here at Charleston. We have telegraphed to New York to get tickets through to San Francisco. We have got no answer yet. Look for it every hour. If we can’t get tickets through, a vessel will leave this place on the 11th for Chagres. We will take passage on our fifty dollars per man & risk getting a sailing vessel on the Pacific. The steamer Georgia leaves here on the 14th. We are boarding at 62½ cents per day — the best we can do.
Creamer & Blair & twenty-seven Tennessee [men] left here on 15th March for Chagres. Got tickets no farther. All well & in fine health, Tell Uncle Thomas Goldin that Josiah is well contented. There is no California [bound men] here but us. I want you to show this letter to the old man & give my respects to all my old friends. There is some bar iron at James Staton’s. I want father to get it — about 25 lb of rolled iron.
We have received no telegraph dispatch from New York. We have bought tickets to Chagres on the mail steamer Georgia ² for fifty dollars per man [and] leave this place at daylight 16th. This vessel touches at Havana & New Orleans. I think there is no doubt of getting passage at Panama on a steam vessel. The proper course to go to California is to go to New York. There you can get tickets through. My opinion is that steerage passage can be got at New York for the 1st of May clear through from all the information that we could get. We doubted the propriety of going to New York at this time as we believed the tickets were sold up to 1st of May on the Aspinwall line so we took the [Marshall Owen] Roberts’ line of steamers.¹
Our passage on the Pacific well be $150.00. Crossing the Isthmus $25 or $30.00. We will be 12 days at Charleston at 62½ cents per day. Our expenses from the time we left home until we take a vessel [will] be about $120.00. This goes into money but it is the best we can do. We are all well & the boys is kicking up their heels like stall-fed calves.
The citizens of this place is looking for the remains of John C. Calhoun in this place on its way home this week. It will be a great day here. The city authority has appointed 30 to meet it & conduct it home.³
I will not undertake to [describe] Charleston — you know how green we East Tennesseans are on the subject of _______. I have been here five days & I have tried to see it all & I have not got to the end yet.
Goods are as high here as in Leesburg. I can form no correct idea about the shipping done at this place. I had like to forgot to tell you about my ride on the railroad. If you want to travel fast, get on the railroad. It is just what I thought it was — to make money for the few. We rode 130 miles & the country received not one cent. — David Stuart
¹ Marshall Owen Roberts (1813-1880) held the United States contract for mail service. Roberts’ line of steamers ran regularly between New York and Aspinwall, with stops in Havana and New Orleans. When Fort Sumter required provisioning in Charleston harbor in 1861, Roberts sent his steamer Star of the West to the fort but was turned back by secessionists who refused to allow it access to the fort.
² The steamer Georgia was built in 1848 and was one of the first steamers used by Roberts for the mail service run between between New York and Aspinwall. She went down in a storm near Norfolk, Virginia, in September 1853, after disembarking her passengers and the mails.
³ According to Badder’s book, Remembering South Carolina’s Old Pendleton District, Calhoun’s body finally got to Charleston on 25 April 1850 — 26 days after his death in Washington D.C. It had laid in state in Washington, Richmond, Petersburg, and Wilmington before being delivered to Charleston. The Charleston Mercury reported that the funeral absorbed the whole thought, and soul, and presence of the city [and claimed that all of] Charleston was as one house of mourning.