To wrap up this mini-series of historical essays I’ve written, I’m putting one up about the social atmosphere of the California Gold Rush. It’s probably underappreciated how lonely and scary this trek was; men streamed in from all corners of the globe, and found themselves without the communities they’d built their lives on. Even on the frontier of the Middle West, people moved as a family; in fact, in the Ohio River Valley people frequently created massive fortresses to keep out Native Americans. In California, where diversity thrived like almost nowhere beforehand in American history, people had to cope with others many were used to disregarding. As always, the first paragraph of the essay under the fold:
In the massive social upheaval that was the California Gold Rush, thousands upon thousands of men – and many fewer women – made their way by land and sea, in tremendous danger and frequently in deep loneliness, towards the hills buttressing San Francisco. The sudden prospect of prosperity drew people from across the world, and in the chaos of competition and the isolation from hearth and home men were thrown into social groups they could not have anticipated – and would not have found acceptable – in normal circumstances. To nurse a dying Mexican man, to sup with someone hailing from China, to bunk with a black man – all of these would have seemed incredible, impossible situations to Anglo-Americans before the context of fear and rapid change that was the California Gold Rush enveloped them, and forced new social values upon them.