This letter was written by Nathan Lafayette Drew (1824-1898) to his brother Capt. Charles Cheney Drew (1825-1924). They were two of at least nine children born to Levi Lacey Drew (1800-1850) and Rhoda Ames (1796-1852) of Holderness, Grafton County, New Hampshire.
Charles Drew married Sarah Frances Ferson in 1852 and moved to Oshkosh, Wisconsin in 1856 where he and his brother-in-law set up the first circular saw mill. He later moved to Iowa and then Minnesota. Charles’ appellation as “Capt.” must have referred to a ranking in the state militia as he was not in the U. S. Military service or a sea captain.
Nathan Drew was married to Sarah Anne Bates on 16 November 1844 in Boston, Massachusetts. She died in Sacramento in 1852 — the same year in which Nathan opened the first lumber yard in the city, which served the community for over twenty years. Nathan was a carpenter, like his father and two brothers, Charles Cheney Drew and Levi Burleigh Drew. Levi eventually came to settle in Sacramento as well. We learn from this letter that Nathan went to California in the winter of 1850-51 by way of the Isthmus of Panama and that he was contracted to built structures for Mr. Lewis (Lewis & Bailey) of Sacramento.
Nathan refers to a story that must have been published in the newspapers about his marriage which captivated readers and gained him some notoriety as the man who “came to Chelsea to get his wife.” Unfortunately I have not been able to find anything related to it though it is curious to notice that Chelsea is just across the river from Boston where the couple are said to have been married in 1844.
Addressed to Capt. C.C. Drew, Holderness, New Hampshire
October 19th 1850
We are now within three hundred and fifty miles of Chagres and as I shall have no time to write after my arrival there thinking that you would like to hear from me and the prospect that is before me on my outward bound passage which is very good as things look at present although it is a long distance from the port of my destination. Yesterday I had a very good a very good offer to stop at Chagres and build home houses for a man in Boston but it is impossible for me to stop as I saw Mr. Lewis in New York and I have got two buildings to put up for him on my arrival at California in addition to his store and a house to build for him for he is a going to get married and take his wife out and he wants me to wait and not build mine till he comes out for he wants me to build with him a small double house which I think I shall do as it will be some cheaper for me and as he has a plenty of money, land and lumber, it will be of some advantage to me. I stopped with him while in New York. His father & brother own more than one hundred fifty vessels and some 8 or 10 of them have been sent round to Lewis & Bayley, Sacramento City, and the addition to his store will have to build as soon as I get there. So you will see, it will be impossible for me to stop at Chagres. But I think some of taking a contract and leaving a gang of help. If I had a good man that I could depend upon, I would have no hesitation in doing something of the kind but as it is, I cannot tell what I will do. And as this goes so soon from Chagres to New York, I shall not have time. We shall arrive at Chagres on Sunday — is tomorrow night — so I will write you from Panama, which letter you will in two weeks. After you get this, we shall have 2 days to cross the Isthmus.
We have five passengers on this that came on with me which makes it very pleasant for me and 10 or 12 that knew all about me by seeing in the papers that a man come to Chelsea to get his wife &c. and Capt. Hutchens told me that his wife said that if he did not send for her in six months that she would start out to meet him. Said he [paper torn] want another Chelsea Scr[paper torn]. I then asked him what he would give to see that man and know the end of it. He said, “Considerable.” Said I, “Look and behold.” He then asked me if I was the man. I said yes. He then caught hold of my hand and shook almost off, then introduced me to some 8 or 10 of his friends and I tell you that I have a fine lot of fellows to spend my time with. I go in the steerage but a friend gave me an invitation in his state room in the cabin so you see that I have all the privileges of the cabin.
Yours truly, — Nathan L. Drew