Bradford S. Mason
researched & written by David Mason, Halifax, MA
For many years, the family lore was that my great great grandfather had traveled to California during the gold rush, a total of three times and on the last trip had stopped in Iowa where he became one of the original settlers of Webster City, Iowa. I even have a gold pocket watch that allegedly was made from the gold he found.
All of this was suspect to me without any actual proof ever provided. Until recently when a re-found friend, who is a subscriber to GenealogyBank and had access to newspaper records. But first, a brief background.
The Sampson Mason family emigrated from England in the mid 1600’s to Swansea and Rehoboth, Massachusetts. The family grew and expanded and eventually a great great great (3) grandson left the area. This was Jesse Mason (1791-1857) along with his wife Sally Thompson Mason (1792-1887) who moved to Cummington, Mass., settled there and raised a family.
Bradford Stillman Mason (1827-1902) was their son and my great great grandfather. When he was 23 years old, he and a good friend, Alonzo Thompson, decided to make the long trip to California to join in the gold find. As I said, we were never sure about this legend, but now we have a copy of the news article from Thurs. Dec. 18, 1851 in The Sun (Pittsfield). It was written:
The steamship OHIO which sailed from New York for Navy Bay on the 10th had among the rest, the following persons from Chester Village – California bound ! Messrs Emery Taylor, S.S. Clap, E. Ormsby, James Pease, William Lyman, BRADFORD MASON & ALONZO THOMPSON.
So now I had a start to begin looking for more information on the passage. We had always assumed their trip was overland, but now I had evidence that they actually went by ship. Once I figured out that Navy Bay wasn’t in California and actually in Panama I had a bit more luck. I couldn’t find any evidence of the Ohioactually arriving in Panama, but I had an approximate date based on their departure.
I searched all of the records for overland travel in Panama and then the ships leaving from the west for California, eventually coming upon the website www.maritimeheritage.org which had the following news article.
Through from New York to San Francisco in twenty-nine Days!!
The new and magnificent steamship Golden Gate, C.P. Patterson, Esq., commander, astonished our community last night by her unexpected arrival, after the quickest run from Panama that has ever been made. She left Panama on the night of the 27th ult. At 11 o’clock, and brings the large U.S. mail which left New York on the 11th of December, together with the largest number of passengers ever brought to this port in one vessel, among whom are seventy ladies and fifty children. But of this mass of human beings, we have but one death to record; the ethers, through the watchfulness and skill of her Surgeon, Doctor Holmes, will land to-day free from sickness.
The Golden Gate has thus made the passage from Panama to San Francisco, including stoppages at Acapulco, San Diego and Monterey, in less than thirteen days, and her passengers, many of whom left New York on the evening of the 11th ult. are in this city after a passage of only twenty-nine days from port to port. This is the quickest trip yet made. Her run down to Panama was made in 12 days and 1 hour.
Listed among the passengers on board were “BS Mason” and “A. Thompson”. So now I had my link to the gold fields! This would have been January 8 or 9 of 1852. We know that BS Mason was settled in Iowa in 1855 and in 1853 he had returned to Cummington and married Marie S. Leonard of Middlefield/Worthington.
I also have an account from The Biographical Record & Portrait Album of Webster & Hamilton Counties, Iowa which has the following passage. It said, in part, that Frank R. Mason was also one of the earliest settlers of Hamilton Co. and Frank is brother to BS Mason.
In 1860 Frank & his brother B. “C.” (probably meant B.”S.”) & others went to Pike’s Peak in search of GOLD. They located in the middle bank, 160 miles west of Denver where the town of Breckenridge is now situated, but they did not meet with any marked success & returned to Webster City in the fall. The gold mining seems to have been just a “flash in the pan”
So it now appears that I have at least two trips for the gold and now I need to find out why they chose Webster City, Iowa to settle. Alonzo Thompson also settled there and remained friends with BS. After Marie Mason died and Alonzo died, BS married Thompson’s widow.
The search goes on but at least I now know that my GG grandfather was among the Argonauts who went to California.