Sea Stories in Stone
Alvah Jameson (1809-1850) - Riverview, Topsham
Died in San Francisco
Vital records and local history volumes indicate that Alvah Jameson was born in Topsham in 1809. At age 25, Lieutenant Jameson commanded one of the local militia infantries. From 1845-47 Colonel Jameson served as a Selectman for Topsham. And he married Celia Ann Perkins (b.1816), June 6, 1849
On October 31st, 1849, Col. Jameson added two revealing records to the documentary evidence of his sea tale:
His journey continued four days later (November 4th), when the 407 ton ship Birmingham (1836, Bath) sailed from Bath, bound for San Francisco. Under the command of Capt. James Winchell, the ship carried a crew of 27 and "most of the company that owned her" including Col. Jameson with his two shares in the ship and her contents. Historian William Baker wrote that "the Birmingham had in her hold 21 house frames and 'all the material for erecting and finishing the same', 100,000 bricks, 200,000 shingles, six 'lighters', three wagons, and "a variety of other articles'"
They arrived in San Francisco April 7th, 1850. With a stop in Valparaiso (Chile), the voyage around the Horn had taken 156 days.
Imagine San Francisco during the Spring and Summer of 1850: The City of San Francisco had just been formally established. Heavy rains had turned the streets to thick mud. Over 600 vessels lay rotting in the harbor, abandoned by crews run-off to the gold fields. Fires devistated the city in May and again in June. Levi Strauss had just introduced "bibless overalls" to the miners. And 2000 women had recently arrived, much to the relief of the almost entirely male population of about 25,000. Unfortunatley for Col. Jameson and his business partners, early hoarding had lead to overstocked markets and the price of lumber had plummeted.
Finally, his gravemarker tells us that on September 4th, 1850, Col. Jameson died in San Francisco. His journey ended just days before California became a state and a month before a cholera epidemic would kill hundreds in the city.
When the Col.'s estate was first inventoried, March 31, 1851 "some of the [ship's] cargo had been sold and a part [remained] unsold at California"; the Birmingham was on her way home. When the estate was finally settled in September of 1855, the Col's share was worth just over $2000.
This sea tale is not quite finished. Further research may explain why a 40 year-old militia commander would marry only to head for the Gold Rush four months later. Perhaps there is a connection between his wife (nee Perkins) and the company that financed the venture, A.S. Perkins & Co.
Sources: Topsham Vital Records; Wheeler's History of Brunswick, Topsham and Harpswell;
US Census: 1850; Dixon's index, Baker, probate records
NEXT: Philena (Berry) Morrell(1802-1851)
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