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Chapter First




DEAR READER : If you have visited California, you will find nothing in these pages to interest you; if you have not, they may serve to kill an idle hour. On the 27th of January, 1849, having previously engaged passage, I had my baggage taken on board the bark “Marietta,” lying at Pier No. 4, East River, , preparatory to sailing for Chagres, en route to California. It was 9, A.M. A large concourse of friends and spectators had collected on the pier to witness our departure, and after two hours of confusion and excitement, we let go our hawser-and, as we swung around into the stream, received the last adieus of our friends on shore. We were taken in tow by a steam-tug, and were soon under way, our bowsprit pointing seaward. We occupied our time, while running down the bay, in writing notes to our friends, our pilot having kindly volunteered to deliver them. We passed Forts Hamilton and Diamond at 1, P.M., and at three had made Sandy Hook. Our pilot's boat, which had been laying off, came along side to receive him; we gave our last thoughts into his charge, and bade him adieu.

We had now passed Sandy Hook, and putting our helm down, we stood away to the South. The wind being light, we bent on studding sails, and were soon making our course at the rate of five knots. The excitement had now subsided; and, as the hills were fast receding, we were most painfully admonished that we were leaving home and friends. We soon sunk the highest points of land below the horizon, and felt that we were fairly launched upon the ocean, and that we were traveling to a scene of adventure, the result of which no one could divine. We felt that sinking of spirit one only feels on such occasions; and, at this particular time, clouds as dark as night hung in the horizon of the future. Night came on, and with it a stiff breeze, creating a heavy sea. This caused most of the passengers to forget their friends, and bestow their undivided care upon themselves.

For some cause, at this particular juncture, the passengers were affected with peculiar sensations, mostly in the region of the stomach. They did not think it was sea-sickness. Whatever the cause may have been, the effect was most distressing. It assumed an epidemic form. The symptoms were a sickening sensation and nausea at the stomach; the effect, distressing groans and copious discharges at the mouth. The captain felt no alarm; said he had had similar cases before on board his ship. The night was spent in the most uncomfortable manner imaginable. Many of the passengers, too sick to reach their berths, were lying about on deck, and at every surge would change sides of the vessel. All being actuated by the same impulse, performed the same evolutions.

With the dawn of the 28th, the wind lulled, and our canvas was again spread to a three knot breeze. At noon we took our first observation, and at evening passed a ship, although not within speaking distance. The dawn of the 29th is accompanied by a seven-knot breeze, and we stand away on our course with all sail set. At 3 P.M., we were saluted by a whale, and at 4 entered the Gulf Stream. We here first observe luminous substances in the water, which at night appear like an ocean of fire. During the night it blew a gale, and we ran under double-reefed topsails, with mainsail furled. 30th. Leave the Gulf Stream, the wind blowing a terrific gale. We are tossed about on moun



tainous waves, and all sick. 31st. All sail set, and running six knots ; dolphins and porpoises playing about the ship. We are again saluted by a whale.

1st Feb. Pleasant; all appear at table; enter the trade winds; hoist studding-sails; lovely day; 4, P.M., mate catches a dolphin, and brings him on deck. 2d. Calm summer day. 3d. All on deck; extremely pleasant. 4th. Sunday; pleasant; pass a ship; fine breeze; throw the log; are running eight knots. 5th. Pass through schools of flying-fish, one of which flies on board. We enter the tropic of Cancer. A flock of black heron are flying through the air; we take an observation; are eighty miles from Caycos and Turk's Island; making for the Caycos passage. 7th. 5, P.M. The captain discovers land from the mast-head, and we are cheered with the cry of “Land, Ho!” We pass around Caycos Island, and through the passage; and on the morning of the 8th, are in sight of St. Domingo, sixty miles distant. It looms up from the horizon like a heavy black cloud. 9th. Pass the island of Cuba, and on the 10th enter the Caribbean Sea. We passed near the island of Nevassa, a small rocky island, inhabited only by sea-fowl. They mistaking our vessel for a fowl of a larger species, came off in flocks, until our rigging was filled, and the sun almost obscured. They met with a foul reception. There were eighty passengers on board, all armed. They could not resist the temptation, but wantonly mutilated the unsuspecting birds, many of which expiated with their lives the crime of confiding in strangers. One would receive a charge of shot, with which it would fly back to the island, uttering the most unharmonious screeches, when a new deputation would set off for us, many of them destined to return to the island in the same musical mood. Fortunately, we were driven along by the breeze, and they returned to their homes, and have, no doubt, spent many an evening around the family hearth, speculating upon the peculiar sensations experienced on that occasion. The enthusiasm of the passengers did not immediately subside, but they spent the afternoon in shooting at targets.

11th. Thermometer standing at 80'. We are carried along with a three-knot breeze; our ship bowing gracefully to the undulations of the sea. It being Sunday, home presents itself vividly to our imagination. 13th. Standing in for the coast of New Grenada; at 6 P. M., the captain cries out from the masthead, “ Land Ho!" We shorten sail, and on the morning of the 14th are standing in for the port of Chagres.

A most beautiful scene is spread out before us; we are making directly for the mouth of the river, the left point of the entrance being a bold, rocky promontory, surmounted by fortifications. (See Plate). The coast to the left is bold and rocky, extending a distance of five miles, and terminating in a rocky promontory, one of the points to the entrance of Navy Bay, the anticipated terminus of the Panama railroad. The coast to the right is low, stretching away as far as the eye can reach. In the background is a succession of elevations, terminating in mountains of considerable height, the valleys, as well as the crests of the hills, being covered with a most luxuriant growth of vegetation, together with the palm, cocoa-nut, and other tropical trees of the most gigantic size. As we neared the port, we passed around the steamer Falcon, which had just come to anchor, and passing on to within half a mile of the mouth of the river, we rounded to, and let go our anchor.

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