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E-BOOK 18491882 Letters to Roscoe, Illinois

1864 Letters from New York and San Francisco

By two young Ralston men who traveled from Illinois to San Francisco via New York and the Panama Isthmus. Taking 29 days from New York.
To their father Peter, in Harlem Township, Winnebago Co, Illinois, USA.
As children, they had immigrated to the USA from Scotland in 1840 on the British Barque "Tay".
Verbatum copies.
New York, April 4, 1864
Dear Father. We arrived safe on Friday about 4 o'clock. We were behind time and failed to make connections, we missed the express at Detroit and we had to go on the mail train and they stop at every station. When we got to the office of the steamboat, he was writing out the last tickets for steerage, we could not get one. That we would have to wait for the 13. So we thought that if we would have to board 10 days, it would be cheaper, all considered, to buy a second cabin ticket, so we bought one at $175 each. There will be a big crowd. The name of the steamer is the Champion. She connects with the Constitution the other side of Panama.
We went to hear Dr. McElroy of the Scotch Presbyterian Church, Sunday. We did not hear him as he had Dr. Shadd preach for him that day. They have a presentor and part of them stands up at prayer. We got along very well through the great city of New York. We had to pay $2¼ per day. We sail today at 12:00 noon. No more at present.
We remain your affectionate sons,
C. Ralston, P. Ralston.
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San Francisco, May 3d 1864
Dear Father
We arrived at Aspinwall on the 16th, Saturday, of April, at 2 o'clock and we stayed till 6 o'clock and then took the cars across the isthmus. It is a small place and there is quite a stir when a steamer arrives. It was pretty warm. The blacks were going around selling cold lemonade for 10cts a glass, and all kinds of fruit. The passengers were eating and drinking regardless of health. We started at 6 o'clock. There was three trains. The road is through a marshy and small brush and little trees and hills. It is very crooked, curving around hills very high.. We saw a few huts thatched with bark or leaves. Some of them with the sides open. It was at night and you would see them sitting on the ground with a lamp burning. There was a few places along the road like that. You would wonder how the road was built. We arrived at Panama at about 11 o'clock at night. Went aboard a steam tug that brought us to the steamer anchored out in the bay. We got aboard about 1 o'clock and started at 6 Sunday morning. We had a very good passage, but head winds for two or three days. It blowed very hard ahead. But the Pacific is not like Atlantic, it don't get so rough. If we had such a blow on the Atlantic we would have a very rough sea. The steamer called at Acapulco, a place in Mexico, for coal and water. She also took aboard several head of cattle. She carries her own beef on the hoof. The natives came in their boats selling oranges, bananas, pine apples, coconuts, shells, etc. We got along without anything of interest. Sometimes in sight of land. All high land, very high mountains, all rocky and barren. There was a case of Panama fever brought on by eating Panama fruit. There was plenty measles aboard, of course we thought we were all right, we had had the measles. On the 27th and 28th it was rough, the ship rode up and down and passengers were a little (illegible) not much than me and Peter did not feel just quite well. On Friday morning when I saw Peter's face it was all over with spots. Well it could not be the measles for he had them before. He was up all the time, and did not feel very sick, for we had no place lie but on the deck. After breakfast, (he could not eat any breakfast), he got sick and had to go below, A man gave him his bunk. So I called the Dr. and he said it was the measles. He called it the black measle. The worst measle. He said if a person did not have the measles right it would be the black measles. This was on Friday. On Saturday we arrived at San Francisco and he was in his bed. He had to get up and go ashore into an omnibus to the hotel. He put on his overcoat and mine and walked to the bus. We got to the hotel and got him to bed. He was none the worse for it. He was not very sick at all. It was not like the measles in Illinois. He was fevered the first day but after that he had no fever, did not drink hardly any, very little of the symptoms that he had before. He lay Sunday and Monday till 11 o'clock and got up. He felt a little weak but gained strength very fast.

Monday, May 8.
We have stayed in San Francisco till now so that Peter would get well. He has got well now. Everything is dried up in this State, no rain fell for 2 years. The crops is mostly ruined. Some places they turn in their stock. Times is dull. We calculated to go to Nevada Territory but they say that the times is dull and many idle on account of dry weather. Water is scarse in some places. We start up the Sacramento river today. We paid 7 dollars a week for board. This place is a sandy and dusty city. We are anxious to hear from home, and to hear how you are and how you are getting along. And if you are in good health and all the rest. As soon as we get a place we will write Thomas. We are thankful to God who has led us this far through many dangers, may he keep us in his keeping, and we shall be safe. Let Thomas see this. No more at present.
I remain your Affectionate son.
C. Ralston.

Three San Francisco newspaper clippings tell of the steamer Constitution's arrival:

Daily Evening Bulletin, May 2, 1864, page 5.


Daily Evening Bulletin, May 2, 1864, page 5.


Daily Alta California, May 1, page 6.


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The following information about their trip appears in "The Argyle Settlement In History and Story" by Daniel G Harvey, 1924. "Charles and Peter Ralston, were the sons of Elder Peter Ralston who owned the farm on West Lane formerly owned by J. R. McDonald, emigrated to California in the spring of 1864. On leaving the settlement, they went to New York and took passage on a boat for Panama to sail the fourth of May, (the letter home was dated April), 1864. They were ten days in going from New York to Panama. They crossed the Isthmus by rail, there being a railway across to the Pacific Ocean at that time. From there they took ship to San Francisco, arriving on June 6, (the letter home was dated May), 1864. They remained during the summer then went to Oregon. Later they came to Kansas where they bought a farm four miles from Lawrence. Charles Ralston married, and the brothers lived together for a number of years. The later years of Charles' life were devoted to earnest Christian work. When a child he was baptised in the Presbyterian Church. In later years he united with the Baptist Church and was immersed believing that to be the true rite of Baptism. He died some years ago. He had one son, Ernest Ralston who is on his father's farm. Peter Ralston never married and lived with his nephew until his death which was in the month of March, 1916."
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From: "Classics in Maritime History Series"," Kemble: The Panama Route, 1848-1869", page 218.


"Iron side-wheel steamer; 3 decks, 2 masts, round stern, no figurehead; 1,419 15/95 tons; 235 ft. x 35 ft. x 18 ft. (1859); 1, 452 66/100 tons (186); draft 12 ft.; double-beam engine built by Harlan and Hollingsworth; diameter of cylinders 3 ft. 6 in., length of stroke 10 ft.; 2 boilers 24 ft. 4 in. x 0 ft., 28 lbs. pressure. First iron ship of any size built in the United States. Hull plates of wrought iron 1/2 to 7/8 in. thick. Four water-tight compartments. Upper deck had two tiers of staterooms entered only from deck outside. Ninety-six state rooms in main cabin containing sleeping accommodations for 388 cabin passengers; room for 350 steerage passengers; total passenger capacity, 900. Schooner-rigged. Cost $145.000."
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Picture of ship

"Wooden side-wheel steamer; 3 decks, 2 masts, round stern, no head; 3,315 3/95 tons; 342 ft. 6 in. x 44 ft. 8 in. x 22 ft. 4 in. (1861); 3,575 36/100 tons (1856); vertical-beam engine built by the Novelty Iron Works; diameter of cylinder 8 ft. 9 in., length of stroke 12 ft., diameter of paddle wheels 40 ft.; face of paddles 18 ft. Built by William H. Webb, New York, for the Pacific Mail Steamship Company. Keel laid December 8, 1860. Launched May 25, 1861. Chartered by the Quartermaster's Department, War Department, in 1861 and 1862 at $2,500 per day. Sailed from New York for San Francisco on June 19, 1862. Served between San Francisco and Panama from 1862 through June, 1869. Broken up at San Francisco in 1879."