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Home | Looking Back with Aurore Eaton

Looking Back with Auore Eaton: The Manchester 'forty-niners' seek their fortunes in California

December 24. 2013 12:29AM

This oil painting depicts the mining camp of Dr. William Whittier Brown and John Clarke. Manchester Historic Association

The group of eager California "gold rushers" from Manchester who departed from Boston by ship on Feb. 2, 1849, finally arrived in San Francisco on Aug. 14, 1849. The arduous journey had taken 6½ months. The original assemblage of 41 men had been reduced by at least one. According to an account kept by Manchester's Deacon Daniel Haines, Mr. Clough, originally of Enfield, died in Panama on April 23 of a "short illness." This is likely the T.C. Clough who is included on a hand-written list of the local "forty-niners" that survives to this day in the Manchester Historic Association's archives.

One of the locals, John B. Clarke, was the salvation of the group when he purchased the brig Copiapo with a partner, Mr. Chenery of Maine. Without this bold move the Manchester men would likely have remained stranded on the Isthmus of Panama indefinitely. Once the Copiapo landed in the frontier town of San Francisco, the Manchester contingent split up into smaller groups which set off in different directions in search of gold.

Unfortunately, only brief summaries of John Clarke's adventures in California exist. There is, however, one tantalizing source of information that shows daily life in his mining camp. This is an illustration painted on the spot by fellow Manchester adventurer, Dr. William Whittier Brown. Dr. Brown was originally from Vershire, Vt. He practiced medicine in Poplin (now Fremont) and Chester, for several years before settling in Manchester in 1846. At 44 years of age in 1849, he was one of the older members of the Manchester group.

Dr. Brown was a talented amateur artist, and thought to take the time and effort to paint a scene of his and John B. Clarke's mining camp.

This remarkable oil painting is quite descriptive. It shows the miners trading with a family of local Indians. A man, possibly a merchant, leads a mule and a donkey away from the camp. The mule is carrying a large barrel that may have contained food or drink that the men had purchased.

Canvas tents can be seen, with the largest tent covered in a superstructure made of branches and sticks. One man is shown carrying a shovel, and there is a deep hole in the foreground that appears to contain another man who is in the process of digging for gold.

A rough canal comes down the hillside, diverting water from a well or stream, and two miners are shown panning for gold next to a wooden trough at the bottom of the hill.

While not searching for gold nuggets, Dr. Brown practiced medicine. He came back to Manchester in 1850 with a considerable sum of money, which he invested in real estate.

John Clarke also engaged in his profession in California, taking on legal cases. He stayed in the region for about 14 months, and then spent several weeks in Central America.

John Clarke failed to achieve his dream of striking it rich. He returned home in February 1851, faced with the necessity of having to work again as a lawyer to make a living. He considered moving to Salem, Mass., but soon settled in Manchester, where he began taking on clients.

Although he was successful, he found the work unsatisfying.

He didn't realize it at the time, but he would eventually strike gold in an unexpected way, right here in Manchester! In February 1852 John C. Emerson, the owner the Daily Mirror newspaper, asked John Clarke to take on the management of the editorial department. Despite having no experience in the newspaper industry, he eagerly accepted the job.

However, Mr. Emerson was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, and by October he was forced to sell his property at auction. John Clarke stepped in, acquiring the Daily Mirror, the Weekly Mirror and the associated job-printing operation, all for a bargain price of less than $1,000.

According to writer George Franklyn Willey in his "Semi-Centennial Book of Nutfield" (1896), "He (John B. Clarke) had no newspaper experience and little money, but he had confidence in himself, enthusiasm, energy, good judgment, and a willingness to work early and late for the success he was determined to achieve."


Next Week: A Valley Cemetery Story — The Copiapo arrives in California.

Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association; email her at

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