These are mementos of Seth Mitchell, a young man who left Nantucket for California only to die within a year of getting there. The small photograph is one he had taken at a Nantucket photo studio to give to family members before he left the island. (The photographer’s negative is also in the NHA collection.) The beaded purse bearing his initials he likely made around the same time as a gift for a loved one. The lock of hair is a baby curl his mother kept.
Seth Mitchell (1838–1865) was born on Nantucket and worked in his teens as a cabinetmaker. His 1863 army draft registration lists him as a seaman, although information on his earliest voyages has not been found. In 1864, he headed to San Francisco. We don’t know exactly why, but as Nantucket’s whaling industry declined during 1850s and 1860s, many Nantucketers went to California seeking economic opportunities. To reach the West Coast, Mitchell signed aboard the ship Asia out of New Bedford, bound to Hawaii to pick up whale oil from New Bedford ships and return it to Massachusetts. The Asia’s crew list describes Mitchell as 5’3-1/4” tall with dark hair and tanned skin. He left the Asia at Honolulu in November 1864 and took another vessel to San Francisco, probably one of the many vessels freighting sugar and molasses to the city from the islands. How he employed himself in the city is unknown, but he died on November 3, 1865, at age 27.
All objects in photos displayed were gifts of Ella Denham Cook.