NEW DIGGINGS ON THE FEVER 1824-1864
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"...Full of Money and Becoming Wealthy"
Pages 53 - 59
A Methodist circuit rider named Alfred Brunson who felt called in 1835 "to go on a mission to the Indians of the Upper Mississippi", stopped off in the mines on his way to Prairie du Chien. He described the miners as "mostly intelligent, enterprising and healthy, but too much absorbed in the cares of the world to think of regigion." he added that the mines, being rich, were a source of wealth to the country. "The lead taken away," he wrote, "more than pays for the goods and provisions brought back, so the country is full of money and becoming wealthy. Farmers are much needed to supply the miners with provisions, which when done will save thier price to the country and of course increase its wealth in the same proportion...." he described Galena as having grown to "a place of great business, about 1200 inhabitants....There are two streets in the town," he added, "too narrow to admit of teams passing with convenience, and one so much higher than the other that the peole on the upper street can look down into the chimneys of those on the lower street....On the opposite side of the river is better ground for a town', he concluded, ' and a half mile back of it on the hill commences a beautiful Prairie, to which the town must ultimately extend." 1
At about the time that the Reverend Brunson approached the mines from the south, the young Italian missioner and priest, Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, arrived from the north and east, passing through the mines on his way to the newly settled village of Dubuque. the priest's interest in the mining communities led him, a few years later, to the east bank of the Mississippi, where he was to spend the remainder of his life, first at Galena and Sinsinawa Mound and later in the settlements along the Fever and its branches, ministering to the wants of a wide-spread parish of Irish farmers and miners. It was Father Mazzuchelli who opened with prayer the first meeting of the territorial legislature at Belmont.
By December, 1836, one hundred twenty million dollars in paper money was circulating throughout the United States. Wages climbed; prices shot up; riches appeared to be everywhere. President Jackson, viewing with alarm the infationary trend and the speculative frenzy accompanying it, had issued in
July the Specie Circular, requiring that in the future all lands in the public domain were to be purchased with specie rather than paper money. Although the Circular met with decided opposition in many quarters, Jackson's stand was upheld by Martin Van Buren, who succeeded him to the presidency and was inaugurated in March, 1837. by that time, however, the damage had been done. The government, which had "practically underwritten the whole banking system of the United States by allowing land to be bought with wildcat currency", 2 had moved out from in under the deluge with the issuance of the Circular and the withdrawal of government funds from the United States Bank.
Soon all banks were calling in their loans, and the "Panic" ensued. The business community was hard hit. People who had counted their fortunes in paper and found themselves rich were suddenly plunged into debt and unable to meet their obligations. As Van Buren called a special session of Congress to deal with the situation, the Northwestern Gazette and Galena Advertiser printed a letter written from St. Louis in June, 1837, describing conditions in the West. It read:
"I have found them (the people of the west) in a more sound and healthy state that I expected. It is true, nevertheless, that they are affected to some extent by the same causes that have borne so hard on Eastern states, yet those causes have been comparatively light. There has been speculation, but the people have not run mad as with us; and there has been some overtrading, the merchants are considerably in debt and they have goods enough of all kinds, generally speaking, now on hand to last a twelve-month, yet the farmers, the body of the people, are in good circumstances. Produce of all kinds brought a high price last year and the farmers raised good crops and got their money for them. The mass of the people are not involved, having such rich agricultural and mineral resources, there is no danger that the;y will be very delinquent in fulfilling their engagements. They form a perfect contrast to the Southern and Southwestern states. There all has been extravagance and wild speculation; here all has been economy and industry. The west will pay well, I am sure, although I do not think that the full force of the pressure has reached them yet....An immense amount of money is now held by merchants in this region."
But by April of 1838, the editor of the Northwestern Gazette and Galena Advertiser, revealed that if "an immense amount of money' was being held by anyone in the mining region, it wasn't in specie currency, for he remarked:
"There have been no transactions in this article of late, for the good reason that there is none in the market, It was rumored last week, but we place little reliance on the report, that a glimpse was caught of a piece of gold, shinning through the "interstices of a long silken purse" in the hands of a stranger. He was supposed to be a walking subtreasury. The affair produced quite a sensation. 'Wild cat' money is getting into such bad odour that even out specie currency men turn up their noses at it considerably....Lead is, at present, the main anchor of our circulating medium. It is not convenient pocket change, however."
As the following year (1839) drew to a close, the Miners' Free Press in Mineral Point declared editorially:
Here in this territory where money should be plenty and everything cheap, or at least reasonable, the very reverse is the fact. There is scarcely an article of produce, or of merchandise, but a most exorbitant price is demanded for it and paid. And what are the true reasons? It is easier to answer this question than it will be to set people about to rectify their grievances. But all must sooner or later have recourse to that and that only which will ease our burdens---enable every man to pay his debts, and make us a happy and prosperous people. In the past three years we have speculated too much, and since the mania has passed we are a do-nothing people. Many own hundreds of acres of land upon which a plow has nevr been set, and for which they are every day upon the lookout for a customer to purchase, that they may raise a little money to pay their most pressing debts, and indulge a little longer in their idle habits, which within the last two years they have contracted. We say to them, go to work on your lands, improve them, and raise wheat, corn, oats, potatoes, etc., send them to market, and if they do not bring a high price, take a low one...."
Only ten days before this editorial appeared in the Mineral Point paper, William Field wrote in his journal:
"October 5, 1839
Have on hand twenty three peases of Goal five Dollars each 115.00
three Hundred and fifteen dollars in Bank notes 315.00
five hundred an eighty Dollars in silver including
fifteen Dollars in Goal 530
|1839||R.H. McGoon Dr.||100.00|
|R. H. Hord J
an intrust at 20 per cent
|John & Charles Hover||600.44|
|an forty on Hester John||40.00|
| an twenty too dollars an
ten cents worth of mineral
Oct 5 1839 this is all Due me on those good men"
Obviously Field was doing fairly well in spite of hard times. He had by that time acquired a blacksmith shop and was about to set up business as proprietor of a "groggery," - the term used to indicate a combination grocery and bar. Of the blacksmith shop he wrote in 1837:
"When Charles Hood commenced worke ther war 17 an 80 pound of iron in the Shop on the Ellis Branch an was toock to the Springs to the Shop thar
amount of iron one thousan and seven hundred an eighty pounds 1,780"
Since Josiah Hazell who operated a blacksmith shop in the vicinity in 1837 was unable to make payments on a debt owed to Field, it is possible that the latter took over this ship in payment. However such a transaction, if it took place, is not recorded. In April of 1839, filed listed "picks taking to the Springs", - 28 of them, along with 2 plows, 5 "coulters", 2 cast steel augers, a tamping hammer, 20 scrapers, 15 "neadles". He listed under "wagon work" for one of his customers, 1 "mineral Bead (bed of wagon used for hauling ore), 2 wagon beds, 2 axeltrees and 1 axeltree timber." Meanwhile he received a letter from a friend in Mt. Eden, Kentucky in which the friend listed prevailing prices of commodities in that area.
(PAGE 57) (is a picture) New Diggings - Atlas of Lafayette Co. -1874
|listed on the map is Reference:||A.||Champion & Dering's Survey|
|B.||Smith & Cothren's Add'n|
|New Diggings Directory.||S & C. Vickers, General Dealers in Clothing, Dry Goods and Groceries|
|Geo. Watson, General Dealer in Dry Goods, Groceries, Hats, Caps, Boots, Shoes, Etc.|
|Jas. H. Bunt, Proprietor of Hotel.|
|R. H. Emerson, Proprietor of Etna Mills, Sec. 11|
|(names I found on the map)||Geo. Leekley|
|Champion & Dering|
"Dried apples", wrote Levi Smith, "sell at 75c; peaches from 2 dollars to 2.50 per bushel. Lead retails at 12 1/2c per pound, corn 2 dollars per bu; wheat 62 1/2 cents per B, Whiskey 50 and sometimes 56 cents per gallon. Flour is worth $3.00 per barrel, prot 14 dollars per barrel."
Field bought 4 sacks (451 pounds) of laguira coffee for $72.16 of B. F. Knapp & Co., Chicago, and went into business.
How others in the "diggings" fared during these years of depression is not recorded. The county historian says simply that
"the miners did not suffer, although the general public were subjected to the severest experiences ever known in the territory. Mineral, flour, pork, etc. were at the lowest ebb. There was no sale for oats or corn, and the settlers depended upon the invoices of commodities brought up the river from St. Louis for supplies."
Hard times lasted into the early 1840's. Meanwhile, an increasing number of Irish as well as the earliest of the English immigrants were making their way into the mines. They worked, for the most part, as day laborers, being content at first to "squat" on small pieces of reserved land or as tenants on land recently purchased by their predecessors. The first to arrive from England were the Cornish, driven from the mines of Cornwall by the low wages, hard times and decreasing opoortunities in their homeland. In 1835, there had been perhaps seventy-five but fewer than one hundred Cornishmen in the mining area; by the early 1840's this number had increased greatly. Since they were skilled miners, they had no trouble obtaining work in the diggings. They tended to congregate in groups of their own, notably at Hazel Green, Mineral Point and Shullsburg. Few remained in the New Diggings area, although a few descendents of these "Cornish jacks" remain there still.
It was the people from the north of England who, arriving beginning about 1839 and flocking in during the 1840's and 50's, established homes in this area. From the hills and mines of Swaledale and Arkengarthdale in Yorkshire, from the lakes and leas of Durham and Cumberland, where hard times had set in and word had come of opportunities in the new world, these English made their way into the diggings. Some came by way of New Orleans and the Mississippi; others by way of Canada and the Great Lakes to Milwaukee or Chicago and then overland. After working temporarily as day laborers or in trades, these thrifty people bought small holdings as they were able. Thus,
(PAGE 59) (picture) The village of Etna - now extinct
when the reserved lands were opened up for sale in 1847, these more recent comers were in a position to acquire some of the choice mineral lands of the area. With the exodus of moners to the gold fields at the end of the decade, they were in a position to acquire other properties also.
"The Hub of a Busy Wheel of Industry" Pages 60-66)
"New Diggings on the Fever 1824 - 1864" Lafayette County Homepage
County Coordinator Dori Leekley
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