At the Gold Rush by Accident

Charles B. Swain (1806–1876) went to sea at the age of eleven in his father’s whaleship President. His first command was the David Paddack, which sailed for the Pacific in late 1845. This ship wrecked in La Perouse Strait exiting the Sea of Japan in July 1848; its large cargo of whale oil was partially salvaged and carried home by other American vessels. Swain was then hired to bring the Peruvian brig Pacifico with a cargo of Chinese merchandise from Hong Kong to San Francisco, where he arrived June 30, 1849, the height of the Gold Rush. He didn’t stay to seek his fortune in the gold fields, however, but returned to Nantucket. In 1850, Swain took out the ship Enterprise on a highly successful whaling cruise to the Arctic. After retiring from the sea, Swain worked as assistant keeper of the Sankaty Lighthouse and keeper of the lights along the Cliff.

Portrait of Captain Charles B. Swain, attributed to William Swain
Gift of Sarah B. Swain, 1905

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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