Crime and Scandal

The Wilson Sisters Wonder When Father Will Return From The California Gold Rush

The three Wilson sisters were left to fend for themselves in their Keene, N.H., Wilson sisters californiahome in 1850 when their widowed father went west. James Wilson was a congressman from New Hampshire who left for the California Gold Rush – and to escape unpleasantness back home. His daughters – Mary Elizabeth, Annie and Charlotte – struggled along for 12 years, wondering when he’d return and trying to save their home.

On May 17, 1861, Lizzie wrote to her father from New York:

My dear Father

…The Maine Regiment passes today with green springs in their hats. This little sprig of hemlock is as romantic and eloquent as the white plume of Henry of Navarre and will like that famous adornment undoubtedly wave in the thickest of the fight. The great trouble seems to be that these men get nothing to eat on their journeys, a very wrong thing…

My Hamilton came to ask you and us to spend some days at his place in the country and wished me to let him know when you came. He was full of interesting anecdotes of the early days of the republic and says South Carolina tried to secede in 1791, at the passage of the first Tariff. “What this pestilent little d–d state was ever in the Union for I don’t know” he said getting rather excited, and asking my pardon. He says we are going to have a war of Conquest, we northerners.

Lawrence Williams has been made a Major, under Genl McClelland of Ohio with $4000 a year, and three horses. Loyalty pays…

What am I to do with a dozen night shirts I have had made for you. They are large enough for the Vermont and Maine Regiments broth, so if you don’t want them you can present them to the volunteers.

Charlotte will rejoin you in a few days. Are you not coming back to us at all? I hope so, and I want you to go to Delhi…

Ever yours affectionately,


With thanks to Sister of Fortune by Nancy Coffey Heffernan and Ann Page Stecker.

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