Fort Nisqually, Washington Territory: 6 September 1863. Quarto bifolium (ca. 28,5x23 cm). 3 pp. Brown ink on blueish watermarked paper, round blind stamp in the left upper corner. Written in a legible hand. Fold marks, minor splits on folds on the upper margins of both leaves, but overall a very good letter.
A historically interesting letter from noted Hudson’s Bay Co.’s captain and fur trader William Mitchell, with an eye-witness account of the Fraser River Gold Rush (1858-63) as seen by an experienced Pacific Northwest oldtimer. William Mitchell joined the Hudson's Bay Company in 1836 and for almost thirty years was engaged in the Company's fur trade in the Pacific Northwest. In 1851-53 when in charge of the Company's ships "Una" and "Recovery," he tried to take under control the newly discovered gold deposits in the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii), but the enterprise ended without success. In 1853-54 he was the chief trader at Port Simpson, and later the master of Fort Rupert (1859-60), retiring in 1863.
Although having worked on the river for over twenty years, Mitchell had "never heard Indians nor white man mention that any gold was to be found in that part of the country, and now thousands are finding it there"; he felt sorry for many miners who were nearly starving in Victoria, having returned from the goldfields penniless. At the beginning of the letter, he briefly described his recent "fur trading expedition" in the Puget Sound together with Edward Huggins (1832-1907), an HBC's clerk and the proprietor of Fort Nisqually in 1859-69. The letter was written at the end of Mitchell's career and shortly before his retirement in Victoria. Overall a historically interesting original letter referring to the history of the Hudson’s Bay Company in the Pacific Northwest and the Fraser River Gold Rush.
[Original spelling]: "I should have answered your letter earlier, but I was away on a fur trading expedition along with the Gentleman [Edward Huggins] that is in charge of this post and visited a great number of places in Puget Sound and rivers that empty themselves in to the Sound. So I have got a good look at several parts of this territory. I think a good deal of it the Land is good and the waters around it abound with fish of all kinds, it only wants more settlers, but they are beginning to come westward. We got a good number of furs which paid our expenses pretty well, indeed the fur trade has that falling off nothing since I first visited the country in (37), but rather increased in yearly returns.
I have not been in Victoria for a long time, but we are always receiving letters weekly. I believe the gold mines is pretty well for some party but others again are very poorly of[f]. There is a number rushing in to the country from England, that is not fitt to contend with the hardships that they have to encounter. They think that gold is for the picking up, but when they have hundreds of miles to wander over before they reach the promised land and there outfitt all expended and having to return penniless and with a broken constitution, some cursing there folly for leaving good situations in the old country. I have conversed with a number placed in that fix last winter in Victoria, there was numbers nearly starving and if it had not been the work found as a charity, things would have been great deal worse.
That there is plenty of gold in the country, there is not the least doubt, but it is only a few luckey ones that is finding it. But I think as they are forming new roads all through the Country it will make provision cheaper, so that miners will be able to winter and be ready to commence work in the spring.
This gold finding looks to me like a dream, it is now twenty-thre [sic!] years gon [sic!] since I entred [sic!] the Fraser River with one of the Company’s Ships and I never heard Indians nor white man mention that any gold was to be found in that part of the Country, and now thousands are finding it there.
I believe I told you before that I lay with Brig I had Command of in the Frasers River taking the mining licences. I had several officers, marines and sailors from one of man of war ships on Board to assist – and was very glad when it was finished. Well I have not been afloat since and I now belong to the shore establishment, but I would have liked better to have been afloat. Whenever I must not complain as the Company has been very kind to me and as long as I like to remain in the service I will be looked after, both as money & lodgings is concerned.
I do not think of visiting Scotland again. I have been so long in this part of the world that I would not like to leave it <…> I hope Charlie you and I will yet meet at your fire side and spend same happy days in our old age…”.
Price: $2,250.00 USD