Friday, August 8, 2014

Books o' the Month: The Journal of a Sea Captain's Wife, The Lives of William Hartnell, Eldorado

I have been very interested in California history lately, specifically the time period of Mexican rule through US conquest to the Gold Rush.  It is completely fascinating to me.  The fate of the native people, the Spanish mission system, the "lotus eating" population--I have found this reference made a number of times--into the political turmoil of the 1830s, all provide a deep back story for this place I love and call home.  The more I read, the more versions of the stories I see, the more intricate and complicated the world of business, society, and politics appears.  I no longer see an Alvarado or Fremont Street and have no notion of where those names came from.  There is a rich history here. 
What I really enjoy is reading old books, contemporary accounts of events and life back in the so-called halcyon days.  One of these is The Journal of a Sea Captain's Wife by Lydia Rider Nye.  In 1842, she traveled from Boston around Cape Horn to the coast of California and the Sandwich Islands (a.k.a. Hawaii) to meet up with her husband.  If you are interested in Hawaiian history, this is a nice resource, as well.  What I also find cool is that names of people and vessels pop up in here that were also mentioned in Dana's book, as well as the next one I read.  California was once a very small world.
William Hartnell was an Englishman who came to California and was, as The Lives of William Hartnell  explains, an adventurer, trader, schoolmaster, rancher, peacemaker, diplomat, and politician.  He also fathered, with his wife Teresa, eighteen children.  There is a community college in Salinas, California named for him.  What I found so interesting about this account of his life is that among the different roles he played, he was also a family man and community member.  He saved a whole lot of correspondence which paints a fascinating portrait of not only the man, but the times, as well.

Next, I read Eldorado: Adventure in the Path of Empire (sorry, I forgot to take a photo) first published in 1849 by a journalist (and poet and travel writer) named Bayard Taylor.  If you are interested in San Fransisco and/or Gold Rush history, this is a must-read.  He chronicled some of the California Constitutional Convention (where Hartnell served as a translator).  What he also does in this book is describe wonderfully the unspoiled California landscape, and comment on gold rush fever, justice, and human nature.

I have more California history books in my queue so, more to come.  But next up, a fiction--a Booker Prize winner from 1978.

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