SURNAMES: SPENCER, TREADWELL
William Wright, one of the pioneer agriculturists of Santa Clara County, dates his birth in Harford County, Maryland, March 18, 1826. His parents, William and Mary (Spencer) Wright, were natives of that State. Of their six children, the subject of this sketch was the fourth child. At the age of fifteen years he left home to learn the miller’s trade. Sickness compelled him to abandon that work. He then, not long after, entered a mercantile establishment, conducted by his brother, in Havre de Grace, where he remained as a clerk until January, 1849, at which time he contracted the gold fever, and in company with seven others, young men from the same town, started for California, the New El Dorado. Going to Philadelphia, they joined the “Gordon Association,” after visiting New York city, where they remained about three weeks. The company was divided, one division to go overland, and one, numbering one hundred and thirty, to sail by way of Cape Horn. Mr. Wright and his friends from Havre de Grace joined their fortunes with the last-mentioned party, all sharing alike in the purchase of a complete outfit for provisions, mining tools, tents, etc. Before reaching San Francisco the company broke up, but the party of eight, including Mr. Wright and his friends from his town, held together.
A few incidents connected with the voyage, and mining life later, have sufficient interest to be worthy of mention, and are given in Mr. Wright’s own words. The vessel left New York city February 6, 1849. Forty-eight days passed before reaching Rio de Janeiro. Forty-five days the ship was becalmed off the Cape of St. Roque, during which time she did not make five degrees. In entering the port of Rio [de] Janeiro during the darkness of a stormy night, the ship barely escaped being wrecked on the rock-bound shore; it was a narrow escape. In that port ten days were passed in provisioning and taking in water supplies. Finally, upon sailing, through the carelessness or indifference of the captain, thirteen of the party were left on shore. The turning of Cape Horn brought them into midwinter (June). The vessel, to have sea room, amid the severe snow-storms incident to the season, made sixty-one degrees south. No port was made between Rio [de] Janeiro and San Francisco, and toward the last all were placed upon a short allowance, both of water and food. September 12, after a voyage of over twenty-four thousand six hundred miles, covering seven months and six days, the party, with glad hearts and joyous anticipations, landed at San Francisco. Their surprise can hardly be told at finding their thirteen friends waiting to receive them. They had secured passage from Rio [de] Janeiro after a delay of but few days, and beat the old ship several days into San Francisco. Mr. Wright had only $4.00 in his pocket, with no meal to be obtained, or lodging, at less than $1.00 for the poorest; so he was obliged to seek employment at once. Strong-handed and willing, with the demand for labor at big pay, he was always employed at various occupations, during a stay in the city of sufficient length to earn enough to buy supplies for a campaign in the placer diggings. With his friends (the original party made up at home) he embarked in a small schooner for Stockton, where they hired an ox team to carry their tent and traps to a camp on Woods Creek, sixty miles away.
The rains made the journey through the flooded and muddy country slow and tedious. Some days not more than three miles were traveled. Brush had to be cut and pressed into the mud to make a foundation for blankets before sleeping. Eight days brought the party to camp. A few days later they moved a short distance, to Woods Creek. There, in their tent and a log cabin built by themselves, the winter was passed, but continuous rain kept them from doing much. Running short of provisions, they paid at the rate of $1.00 per pound for flour, pork, salt, or anything in the way of food. Scurvy in one of the party compelled the paying of $4.00 per pound for potatoes. Spring opening, some of the party returned East, some to San Francisco, and some to other points. In the early summer Mr. Wright, and those who remained with him, moved to the Tuolumne River, where Mr. Wright bought into a company, in what was called the “Missouri Bar,” a gold claim. Here they worked all summer, until the month of September, digging a canal and building a dam, preparatory to turning the course of the river. When they had about completed their labors in this direction, a freshet came and overflowed everything, and carried the dam away, thus destroying what they had labored so hard to accomplish. Then four or five of the party went a little farther up the river and built a wing dam.
At this time Mr. Wright left the river and went to a place called “Chinese Camp,” for dry diggings, where he built a house, and, with a partner, went into the mercantile business in the winter of 1850-51. This was a very dry winter, there not being sufficient water for the miners to work. In consequence a great many engaged in hauling goods to the camp, and there offered them for sale for less than what Mr. Wright had paid for his goods in Stockton. This was up-hill business. The roads being in good condition, enabled a great many to engage in it. In the spring Mr. Wright bought out his partner, and during the summer closed the business altogether. In November he came down to Santa Clara Valley, and with a partner bought the place where he now lives. He then returned to Stockton, and made arrangements preparatory to working the farm. He bought a team and farming implements, and drove across the mountains back to the valley. Not being familiar with the art of farming, they hired a man to come with them, at a salary of $100 per month, to teach them what to do. In the course of a year Mr. Wright bought out his partner, and has made this his home up to the present time. The ranch originally contained one hundred and sixty acres, and Mr. Wright has added to it one hundred and sixty acres more, making in all three hundred and twenty acres, principally a grain and stock farm, with only a few acres in vines and trees. In April, 1863, after having lived on the place for fifteen years, he returned East to his native town, and there, on the twenty-eighth of September, 1863, was married to Helena Treadwell, a daughter of Dr. Samuel E. and Ann Treadwell, of Havre de Grace. They have two children, Dora T. and William T.
Pen Pictures From The
Garden of the World or Santa Clara County, California, Illustrated.
- Edited by H. S. Foote.- Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1888.
Transcribed by Kathy Sedler
Proofread by Betty Vickroy
SANTA CLARA COUNTY The Valley of Heart's Delight