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Benjamin Sawtell

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Name Benjamin Sawtell
Born about 1805
New York
Resting Place Denison Cemetery
Occupation Cooper[1]
Spouse(s) Mary Matilda Fish (1819-1873)
Children Lewis
Parents James Sawtell, Sr. and Susannah (surname unknown)

Occupation: Barrel maker (Cooper per 1850 Census)

Political Affiliation: Whig

A letter published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer from Benjamin Sawtell details some of the struggles he endured during a brief time working as a gold miner during 1850.

(As published Oct 25, 1850 in the Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Latest from California -- An Interesting Letter from Benj. Sawtell, Esq.

Cold Spring Diggings, Sept. 8th

DEAR FRIEND GRAY: -- Sunday morning has again returned, and my neighbor miners have already commenced thier usual sports. Some are shooting, some gambling, and others are standing around the drinking shops pouring down liquor to keep their spirits up; and I can think of no better way to dispel the gloom that hangs over me, on this day more than all others, than to avail myself of the only alternative of communication (the pen) to write you a few lines, just to give you a picture of what is going on in this God forsaken country.

1881 Atlas showing location of Benjamin Sawtell's property on Newburgh St. (now Denison Ave.)
1881 Atlas showing location of Benjamin Sawtell's property on Newburgh St. (now Denison Ave.)

In my imagination, I have this moment returned from my native land, where with an eye of fancy I took a peep into my own pleasant domicil at Brooklyn Center; there I saw my wife[2] and three children sitting around the old hearth stone, or preparing for church. My numberous friends in Old Cuyahoga next passed in review before my eye; the iron shod steps of the Plain Dealer I passed up with a quick step and seized a paper; sent up a fervent petition for my enemies, if I have any, jumped into a train of thought, all ready on the telegraph, and now I find myself in a valley between these abandoned hills, where I have been incessantly laboring to gather up the particles of gold that have been so long agitating the credulity of the public mind.

Here are hundreds of men from different parts of the States, the most of whom are strapped of every dime, and unable to fit themselves with a set of mining tools, which cost about $50. Some are at work for their board only; some get two or three dollars per day; and others are strolling about in a state of desperation, entirely without means to return home. Their appearance puts me in mind of the man we read of in Scripture "who had been going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down therein."

Many are coming from the North Diggings who have not been able to get a place to work and are going to the South, bringing unfavorable accounts of those who are operating there; many that were here last Season have returned again, bringing with them a number of men at a great expense, and now find themselves entirely ruined; their companies have dissolved and every man left to work out his own salvation as best he can. The ground about the diggings is literally covered with men, and still they come; all doomed to a woful [sic] disappointment, if not a failure. Although some who hae remained here through the season, have raised large dams and turned the rivers from their beds, have made large strikes, and even some of those have been a failure.

My companions and myself arrived here about five weeks since, after practising a while at the art of elbowing, which is the first rudiments of mining, we planted our shovels in the earth up to the handle, where we have since continued to work, raising per man, from nothing at all to $15 per day, averaging perhaps about that ratio. Although that is more than we could do in the States, it seems like selling a birth-right for less than Easau did.

After deducting our enormous expenses for provisions at the rate of 30 cents per pound for pork or beef, 18 for flour, 20 for potatoes, 45 for beans, $1 per pound for cheese, $1 for a quart of molasses, 40 cents per pound for sugar, then to labor at the hardest work ever known, with the sun beating down upon us at the rate of 110 degrees, and then to lie on the hard ground (not to say sleep) with the cold mountain wnd blowing down upon us, and reducing the atmosphere to almost freezing; add to this the hardship of leaving home, and the contingent expenses of time and money in getting here, and I make the balance in favor of those emigrants who have come here wiht a constitution of lignumvitae, who have no friends at home or relish for civilized society, and with the intention of spending their days more or less among gamblers and cut throats. But I am too much of a domestic animal to enjoy life in such a place as this.

I was telling some blacks that are here with their masters, that they were free and could not be taken back without their consent. They replied that they would not stay here for all California, and would much rather return into slavery under any circumstances, and seemed to sympathise deeply with those poor fellows that had no means of returning.

The place where we are has been very healthy so far, although most of the mines are far the reverse. My health was never better than now, and I find that laying on the stones and hard ground, that my skin has become calloused like that of a crocodile. My constitution is yet unshaken, and I have an appetite that can luxuriate on a Bologna. Yet if I survive the process of hardening, I shall break for home, and as the Irishman said, if I get one foot on my native shore, I will not be caught here again.

I shall leave this place for the South in a few days, as we design to see some of those diggings and if I do not find more favorable prospects, I shall start for home, perhaps before you will receive this. I have many things to write, but have not time, as I have five miles to go to the office. I should like to speak something of the effect of civil law in this country, but I have seen nothing of a religious here. I believe, however, that there are a few athiests here, from the freedome in which they call on the name of God.

I will now close, hoping that I shall be remembered by many friends in old Cuyahoga, and that their prayers will ascend for my wellfare during my absence, and now in bond of friendship I remain most respectfully yours,



  1. 1850 U.S. Census - Brooklyn, Ohio - residences 854-862 - pg60a
  2. Benjamin is referring to his 2nd wife, Mary Matilda Fish, daughter of Ebenezer Fish.
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