Nantucketers and the Gold Rush


Whaleship Henry Astor
Unknown Chinese artist
Oil on panel
NHA purchase

More than 650 Nantucketers traveled to California between October 1848 and December 1849 to seek their fortunes in the Gold Rush, and uncounted others followed in the years after. This tiny book lists those first Nantucket Argonauts, most of whom traveled direct from Nantucket, buying shares in one of the joint-stock companies that were set up to purchase or charter ships and procure equipment for the adventure. The ship Henry Astor, recently returned from a four-year whaling voyage, carried the members of the Astor Mining Company (listed on page 8 of this book as the Astor’s seamen) as well as the members of the Sherburne Mining Company (listed on page 9 as the Astor’s passengers), plus a few unaffiliated passengers. The Henry Astor was the second ship to depart Nantucket for California and took 188 days to get there sailing via Cape Horn.

A List of Persons from Nantucket now in California, or on Their Way Thither, 1850
Jethro C. Brock, Nantucket. Ink on paper, 41/8 x 23/4 in.
Rare Book NAN 974.497 B78 copy 1














The List of Persons . . . on Their Way Thither names many Nantucketers who started their journeys from other ports, particularly sailors who were already overseas. Brothers Charles B. (1812–1856) and Rowland H. Macy (1822–1877) decided they could reach California faster if they traveled via the Isthmus of Panama. This required them to go first to New York, where they booked passage to Chagres in the brig Dr. Hitchcock. Once in Panama, they crossed overland to Panama City and caught a steamer to the Golden Gate—a journey of 134 days altogether. Within a year of arriving in California, the brothers had established a dry-goods store in Marysville, an experience that informed R. H. Macy’s later and better-known department-store venture in New York City.


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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