Western Cover Society  
Exhibits | Western Expresses
San Francisco -
Gateway to the Gold Fields
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Posted: Thursday, August 30, 2012
Revised: Thursday, July 17, 2014


Western Expresses
Western Expresses were private individuals or companies that operated west of the Mississippi River and carried letter mail between cities, mining camps, and other settlements. This group of companies became prominent after 1849. Letter mail was handled by them to areas and towns that did not have established post offices and hence the carriage did not contravene any postal laws that prohibited mail carried privately on postal routes. Although the carriage of letter mail was usually a component of their business, many of these companies also handled gold, parcels, and some even provided banking services. Some issued adhesive stamps for premium services or sold government postal entires that bore an additional frank to indicate prepayment of express fees. Western Expresses came into prominence during the California gold rush and were in their heyday in the 1850's and 1860's.
Base Towns For Many Of The Smaller Express Feeders
The cities of Marysville, Sacramento, and Stockton acted as base towns for many of the smaller express feeders into the mining regions of inland California. These base towns were themselves fed from San Francisco.



Western Expresses San Francisco - Gateway to the Gold Fields
San Francisco June 20 (1849) Straight Line Postmark

San Francisco June 20 (1849) straight line postmark and 40 rate designation. The rate for mail to or from the Pacific Coast was 40¢ per ½ ounce effective Jul 1, 1847 to Jul 1, 1851.
  • Pacific Mail Steamship Company Panama from San Francisco on June 21 with arrival to the west coast of Panama on July 12
  • Seven days across the isthmus of Panama via mule and canoe
  • United States Mail Steamship Company Falcon from Chagres on July 28 with arrival into New Orleans on August 3
  • New Orleans to Augusta, GA via rail
  • Turned cover (shown below) postmarked Augusta, Ga Aug 17 with 10 in circle rate stamp to Janesville, Penna.
Turned cover postmarked Augusta, Ga Aug 17 with 10 in circle rate stamp to Janesville, Penna




Western Expresses San Francisco - Gateway to the Gold Fields
San Francisco July 2 (1849) Straight Line Postmark

San Francisco July 2 (1849) straight line postmark and 40 rate designation (double weight rate). The rate for mail to or from the Pacific Coast was 40 per ounce effective Jul 1, 1847 to Jul 1, 1851.
  • PMSC Oregon from San Francisco July 2; arrival to west coast of Panama on July 21
  • Seven days across the isthmus of Panama via mule and canoe
  • US Mail Steamship Company Falcon from Chagres on July 28; arrival New York August 17
Enclosed letter (transcribed on following page) reads in part: ...I am anxiously waiting for the arrival of the steamer California...The steamer Panama sailed a few days previous and the Oregon in a few days will also leave and I was unaware of it until yesterday or I would have written to you by the first...I have been in this country about 2 months and have not as yet been up to the mines having as much as I can any ways possibly attend to at merchandising in Stockton...About 30 miles from here a few days ago at the Sonoranian camp a lump of gold was found to weigh 28 1/2 pounds and at the same time another one was also found and weighed 6 1/2 # all solid...Charles L Peck


San Francisco in October, 1849

San Francisco in October, 1849



Western Expresses San Francisco - Gateway to the Gold Fields

Datelined Stockton

Dear Lizzie,

I suppose you are by this time beginning to think that I have entirely forgotten you, by my so long a negligence about writing to you since I have been on this coast, but no indeed Lizzie! For since I have heard of one or 2 little circumstances connected with us. It has made me think night and day of you. I am anxiously waiting for the arrival of the steamer California with a guilting head and feelings to hear from you, and should a letter fail to come, oh! how sad I will be.

The steamer Panama sailed a few days previous and the Oregon in a few days will also leave and I was unaware of it until yesterday or I would have written to you by the first. Please excuse my negligence and rely upon the future steamers leaving our ports for one each time. And of course you will gratify my feelings by responding frequently or oftener as your convenience will agreeably permit. I know that we are a long ways apart but my feelings often bring us nearer.

I have been in this country about 2 months and have not as yet been up to the mines having as much as I can any ways possibly attend to at merchandising in Stockton, about 150 miles up the San Joaquin River from San Francisco and about 30 to 60 miles from the different mining districts. I am doing exceedingly well or I would otherwise go to the mines and in fact I expect to remain in the mines most all the ensuing winter and if I have good luck I will then return to the states in the spring or summer next. And its only one identical thing that will lead me to come at that time, and you can well guess what that is. Some people here have made an immense fortune in a short time and many are yet doing well. I am clearing of all expenses from $1500 to $2000 per month. Everything here is very extravagant indeed. About 30 miles from here a few days ago at the Sonoranian camp a lump of gold was found to weigh 28 1/2 pounds and at the same time another one was also found and weighed 6 1/2 # all solid. I have seen one of the largest pieces. Lizzie how would you like to come out to California? Providing a good opportunity would prevail. I wish that I had the answering of this question I could soon decide upon what to do. How many times have I bitterly thought of my misdemeanor for not going to see you while in Berlin, and if such an opportunity would now offer, you would be seen first in preference to all relatives. You are very kind indeed to forgive me and many thanks are entitled to you for it.

I am thankfully blessed with health and have been so ever since I left Berlin. And may this find you in like circumstances is my earnest prayer. Good bye dear and excuse all errors.

Charles L Peck

Now don't forget to write on receipt of this for I have not heard from your self since I left England.

Stockton is very near, if not quite as large as Berlin but four hundred or more times the quantity of business is done here than in Berlin. We have in this place about 15 stores both wholesale and retail, and all are doing a splendid business. Mine is the second largest in the place.

Charlie

Miss E.A.P
Gold Mines
Love Mines
C.L.P.



Western Expresses San Francisco - Gateway to the Gold Fields
San Francisco July 2 (1849) straight line postmark and 40 rate designation.

San Francisco July 2 (1849) straight line postmark and 40 rate designation. The rate for mail to or from the Pacific Coast was 40 per ounce effective Jul 1, 1847 to Jul 1, 1851.
  • PMSC Oregon from San Francisco July 2; arrival to west coast of Panama on July 21
  • Seven days across the isthmus of Panama via mule and canoe
  • US Mail Steamship Company Falcon from Chagres on July 28; arrival New York August 17
Enclosed letter (transcribed on following page) reads in part: ...I am anxiously waiting for the arrival of the steamer California...The steamer Panama sailed a few days previous and the Oregon in a few days will also leave and I was unaware of it until yesterday or I would have written to you by the first...I have been in this country about 2 months and have not as yet been up to the mines having as much as I can any ways possibly attend to at merchandising in Stockton...About 30 miles from here a few days ago at the Sonoranian camp a lump of gold was found to weigh 28 1/2 pounds and at the same time another one was also found and weighed 6 1/2 # all solid...Charles L Peck


Portsmouth Square, San Francisco in April, 1849

Portsmouth Square, San Francisco in April, 1849



Western Expresses San Francisco - Gateway to the Gold Fields


per Oregon                San Francisco 2 July 1849
My dear Uncle

Our prospects have materially improved since the return of Mr. Brersch a week since, with the results of his trading voyage to the mines. Our house is now complete and we move in tomorrow. We lead a camp life - all sleep on the same floor - rise at the same hour - all assist in preparing the breakfast & the room & the dinner & make our own beds. The chopping and hauling of the wood has been my peculiar province and I am glad to find that I can now handle the axe as well as at the farm.

None of our cargoes have arrived but we shall be able to worry through until they come with the aid of such goods as we have left & the proceeds of those disposed of. In a few days I am going to the mines on a trading expedition & hope to be back upon the sailing of the next steamer.

Having not yet got up our shingle I have taken no pains to appear in the market as I've drawers per this steamer. I trust that you will not omit to secure in Invoices as I hope to remit you some gold by the 1st August. I have written to Mr. Prince upon the subject for this steamer.

In my last letter I expatiated at some length upon the frontier & prospects of this place - Today I have nothing to add of a speculative character. We have had some 15 or 16 arrivals from the states since the departure of the Panama & I suppose the month of July will see some 100 American sail enter the harbor. We have also vessels from Peru, Chili, China, New South Wales & the Sandwich Islands. In supplying our camp the other day we bought Manilla rice by the bag at 5 cents & the best [Sonchung?] tea at 40 cts per lb. For Beef we pay 1/6 by the beef steak and a shilling or 10 cents if we take a large price - mutton 25 cts a lb. The other day we had occasion for some potatoes. I priced them and shrank from buying them @ $6.50 a bushel - not to trouble the shopkeeper for nothing I told him I could take some onions - these were still dearer - 6/ a lb. They sell readily here at $8 a hundred.

There is a great difference here between the value of things at private sale and at auction - sometimes 50 & sometimes 100 percent and the fluctuations in prices of all active commodities are almost incredible. Lumber very often rises 50% in a day - the lumber of our house cost us on the average about $300 pr [?]. We could now sell it at $400. Whenever lumber arrived here it was current @ $600. Large cargoes are expected from Oregon & Chili & many houses from the U.S. and yet there is no apprehension of its falling for some time to come below $200. A small house which cost in the US $250, say 20 x 22 was sold at auction yesterday for $1750, deliverable on board and the landing of it will cost some $125 more. The same house on shore [under?] have brought $2500 - because time is so precious that people take into and all that is lost in landing ground which can only be done at high water.

The last steamer to be down $350 and this will take nearly as much. These runs may improve the time in Wall Street but they are better to sell than to buy upon.

The greatest feat accomplished by the possessor was the sale of some Wine Cloth at $112, which cost in N York $8. He also got $30 for pistols costing NY . I have written jury friend Chamberlain & Phelps respecting the best articles to send to this market - I did this under the impression that they will make use of the information imparted. Should they decide to make no use of my letter which has been addressed to no other firm and [?] any information for the benefit parties [?] shipping hi then who would consign cargoes but please get my letter from Mr. Chamberlain for that purpose.

Mr Sim's bark the Collooney arrived last week in 100 days from Panama - more than we took to come all the way round - no vessel has got up here from that place in less than 80 days.

I have only time to send my love to the girls and to all friends in Bond Street.

Your affectionate
Sam'l Ward

Mr. Brersch desires to be remembered.
P.S. I just learn that one of our vessels the Tahmaroo is aground onside in the entrance of the harbor, if so we shall have to call upon the Atlantic
July 2d - the Tahmaroo is off the beach & anchored in this harbor.

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