Saturday, January 24, 2015

Uncle Reuben Lowell and the California Gold Rush

Clipper Ship
"California Clipper 500" by G.F. Nesbitt & Co., printer
Wikimedia Commons 
Today is the 167th anniversary of the discovery of gold in California. An extensive Wikipedia article notes that on January 24, 1848, James W. Marshall found gold at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California. This started the "Gold Rush" of men going to California to seek their fortune.

I have a second great grand uncle (probably two) who traveled from Maine to California as part of the Gold Rush.

Reuben Braddock Lowell (1827-1910) was a son of Reuben Lowell and Sarah (Smith) Lowell of Calais, Maine. (His sister, Sarah Lowell, is my second great-grandmother.)

The Historic Genealogy of the Lowells of America from 1639 to 1899 by Delmar Lowell (1899) (see Google Books, p. 488) claims that Reuben's brother George Albert Lowell (1831-1907) also went to California in 1849 with his brother Reuben, but George doesn't appear in the 1850 census. He may have been missed, as taking the census in California in 1850 was a challenge for enumerators.

"Natives of Maine in the California Census of 1850" compiled by Frank Mortimer Hawes, was published in volume 91 of the New England Historical and Genealogical Register in 1937. The article's introduction notes that his list includes the names of more than 2,700 Maine natives who were in California as of the 1850 U.S. Federal Census, the original returns of which the compiler consulted at Washington, D.C.

The entry for my second great grand uncle:

The code after his name (3:208) is a reference to volume 3 (of the California pages, I believe), page 208 of the U.S. Census. (There is no entry for his brother George.)

Of course now with census records online, it took me about ten seconds to do an search in the 1850 census for birthplace: Maine, USA and residence place: California, USA, which gave me 2,635 results. When I add "Lowell" as a surname, the only result is "Ruben Lowell," the only Lowell in California at that time, according to the 1850 census.

Here is the difficult-to-read census entry:

1850 U.S. Federal Census: Jacksonville, Tuolumne, California,
page 104B (written page 208), line 10, for "Ruben" Lowell.
Reuben is 23 years old, a white male, working as a Miner, born in Maine.

I don't believe he stayed for very long. According to the Lowell genealogy, he returned to Calais after two years. Certainly he was back in Maine before 1856, as his marriage to Elizabeth Emerson was in January 1856. In the 1860 U.S. Census, he was a Livery Stable Keeper in Calais, with his wife and daughter, Minerva (born 1857). Another daughter, Mary, was born in 1864.

Reuben B. Lowell led a comfortable life. In the 1880 U.S. Census, he worked as an Inspector of U.S. Customs, and in 1910, he is living with his daughter in New York with "own income" in the occupation field. He died in Manhattan on June 23, 1910.

He is buried in Calais Cemetery in Calais, Maine.


  1. Interesting! I wish I had relatives that went on the Gold Rush! :)

    1. It would be neat if I had a journal or letters home, but at least I found a few records for this 2nd great grant uncle.

      Thanks for the comment.