Gold Rush misers

Peep at Washoe, Returned from Frazer River

Early in the gold rush men sometimes hoarded their gold, but over all there were few who could be considered misers. As time passed however money-grubbing characters with sufficient enterprise to amass sizable fortunes did exist though none so colorful as the famous Englishman of the 18th century, Blewbury Jones, the Vicar of Blewbury who, it is said, took his clothes from scarecrows because they were patched so often that not a shred of the original remained, and who was the inspiration for Blackberry Jones in Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. The Vicar Jones was well known for visiting parishioners at mealtime so that they would feel honor bound to share their dinner. He died with a large fortune unspent.

One noted gold rush miser was John P. Davidson, likely an Irishman brought up in Kentucky. A devout Presbyterian he attended church regularly and talked about his religion on every possible occasion, but when the collection plate passed he could not find it within himself to part with a single cent. In his business dealings he was known to lie and cheat or to induce others to do it for him in order that he could gain an unjust advantage. He took only one meal a day at the dining room of his hotel but would eat enough at that sitting to make up for the other two meals. And when the Civil War broke out he fled to England to avoid paying taxes. He later returned to the United States and died in St. Louis, leaving some $80,000 to distant relatives.

The Chagres River, Panama

Panama, the Chagres River by Charles Christian Nahl

And according to some there were two other noted misers in the early gold rush. They were an older English couple who had managed to accumulate around $5,000 each after several years of hard work and decided to go back to the old country to live out their days. They booked the most economical passage they could on a Pacific Mail Steamship that would take them to Nicaragua where they would then cross to the Atlantic and take another ship home. They were so poorly dressed that they could be considered not entirely decent and carried their money in belts hidden under their ragged clothes. At San Juan del Sur they got into a small boat that was to take them to a small steamer that would ferry them across Lake Nicaragua to San Juan del Norte but the boat capsized and all the passengers were thrown overboard. Everyone was quickly plucked from the water except for the miserly old couple who were so loaded down with the gold strapped around their waist that they sank before help could reach them.

 

Comments

  1. Talk about object lessons, John! Greed not only kills, it’s not a lot of fun, either.

    Carol

    • Many miners sent their money back east by way of an express company like Wells Fargo. It cost a little bit more than hiding it in your money belt but at least you could swim if you fell in.

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