Josiah A. Richmond: The Forty-Niner’s Story
Born in Ashfield, Mass. in 1828, Josiah Andrews Richmond spent his early years in nearby Buckland. He began his career as a contractor and builder and he built the early train station at Greenfield.
In 1849, Josiah Richmond and his brother, Zephaniah, boarded the Salem with the “New York & San Francisco Mutual Benefit Association,” leaving behind his fiancée, Susan Electa Whiting. They sailed from New York on March 13, 1849, going “around the Horn” to the gold fields of California. He met with “varying success” in his search for gold, but after a matter of months returned east to settle in Shelburne Falls, on the Buckland side of the river. Upon his return, Josiah learned that his brother had died at Chagres on his way home.
Josiah Richmond married Miss Whiting and they remained together for nearly fifty years. She passed away just weeks before their golden anniversary.
Richmond operated a sash and blind factory and a lumber business. He served Buckland as a selectman, but later in life, he moved to the Shelburne side of the river. He was on the building committee for the Memorial Hall at Shelburne Falls and at Buckland’s centennial celebration, he gave the welcoming address.
Richmond fought in the Civil War and was elected captain of the 52nd Massachusetts volunteers in 1862, serving in Baton Rouge, Port Hudson, and elsewhere in Louisiana. After the war, he was an active member of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) and was greatly concerned with the issues facing returning veterans of the war. He was a leading member of a dramatic company which gave performances to raise funds for the GAR. He also wrote and lectured on his California adventures.
It is through these lectures that we have been treated to one of the most endearing memoirs of the California experience to be found in the Pioneer Valley. The Buckland Historical Society has a transcript of one of Richmond’s speeches, bearing the complete title of “Of the Days When We Went Gold Hunting, or The Forty-Niner’s Story”. It contains 58 typewritten pages and it provides delightful reading, at times, both humorous and touching. Some excerpts follow:
“As we moved away from the dock, which was crowded with mothers, wives, sisters, sweethearts and friends, who had assembled to bid us goodbye, we received three cheers from the crowd. We could see the waving of handkerchiefs until they were lost to sight in the distance. I well recollect my feelings upon witnessing the parting of comrades from friends, thinking that among all that assembly my eyes rested not on one familiar face. Not one to take me by the hand and say ‘Good-bye, God bless you.’ As I saw the teardrops starting from the eyes of many a stern Californian, as he bade his mother, young wife or sweetheart good-bye, I envied them the painful satisfaction of parting from their friends at the last moment, while I had been obliged to leave mine weeping on the banks of the Deerfield River weeks before.”
“…our eyes grew dim as the Golden Gate swung open to receive us. Passing through, we beheld the flags of nearly all nations floating over vessels of every description, from our own majestic frigate Ohio, with her frowning battery, to the wonderful and comical Chinese junk. The weary and voyage-worn Salem, realizing that the eyes of all nations were upon her, proudly rallied like Holmes’ old horse that won the race for a final effort. Bracing up sharp she gallantly laid her course among the vessels of the earth and the flags of the nations to her anchorage, and the great sluggish anchor, which for seven long months had slept on her bow, with a yawn and a groan, rolled over and dropped into the Pacific sea and the Old Salem stopped short like Grandfather’s Clock, having safely borne her cargo of living freight 2,300 miles without the loss of a man; the voyage of her life was ended.”
“The miners got up a set of rules or regulations by which they agreed to be governed. The rule on claims, on rivers and creeks, generally was, each man could hold 16 feet wide on the stream and as far back as he chose to go. He could hold [it] by leaving some tool, a shovel or a pick on his claim. A miner must not desert his claim for more than three days at a time, unless sick. If he did, it might be jumped. However rich his claim might be, a pick or shovel would hold it the specified time more effectually than a regiment of soldiers, or even a state constable. The rule with regard to stealing was, for sums less than $300, whipping and cutting off one ear and making it lawful for anyone to shoot them at sight if found within five miles of that camp; for sums over $300, they were only hung.”
“Death of Capt. J. A. Richmond,” Springfield Republican, 8 September 1904.
New York Herald, 18 March 1849
Richmond, Josiah A., “Of the Days When We Went Gold Hunting, or The Forty-Niner’s Story,” manuscript at Buckland Historical Society, Buckland, MA.
“Shelburne Falls,” Springfield Republican, 20 February 1896.