May 3, 1849 (Thursday)

To-day the beautiful ship “Susan G. Owens” started for California, having been going for the last month or more.  Attended Dr. Baird’s lecture this evening on Greece and Turkey, which was not quite so interesting as I had anticipated.  The house, as usual, was crowded.

For more information of the lectures of Dr. Robert Baird, see the entry for April 23.

As early as March 13, 1849, the owners of the Susan G. Owens, Messrs. Buckhead and Pierce of Baltimore, were advertising the imminent departure of 200 passengers aboard the “coppered and copper fastened,” fast, sailing ship. The S. G. Owens, as she was sometimes called, weighed in at 730 tons burthen and had arrived from Liverpool on January 30 with 92 English, Scottish, and Irish immigrants. On April 9, the Philadelphia Inquirer was reporting that the ship, commanded by Captain J. O. Barclay, “will sail about Saturday next [April 14].” The Inquirer continued, “This vessel is the most magnificent thing of the kind ever yet fitted out for the gold diggings, everything on board having been arranged in a style creditable to the enterprising owners, and the gentlemanly commander, who is an old and experienced navigator.” The Owens, included among other amenities, an extensive library with the latest titles.

The ship left Philadelphia on May 3 but was not fully out to sea until May 8. By August 24, the Inquirer was reporting on a letter they had received from Captain Barclay. Among other things, he mentioned there was some dissatisfaction among the passengers but did not give a reason (alternatively, the newspaper, ever the booster of commerce, may have chosen to suppress the reason). However, a competing newspaper, the Public Ledger, was not shy about stating the reasons. In their August 25 issue, they published a letter, dispatched from Rio de Janeiro, from an Owens passenger . The unnamed letter writer reported great dissatisfaction among the passengers caused by the drunkenness, spreeing [binge drinking], quarreling, and swearing of the seaman.  Other passengers, who were supposed to be “the most respectable set of gentlemen that have as yet to embark for California” were not much better. There were illicit affairs and a dead pig was thrown into a passenger’s cabin. The brutal treatment of the seaman by the officers was also very offensive to some. One sailor was whipped until his tormenter collapsed from exhaustion. Only a murder and mutiny were missing from the dramatic catalog, according to the letterist.

By December 11, 1849, the  Inquirer reported the Susan G. Owens had arrived in San Francisco safe and sound.  No deaths occurred on the voyage and there was no further mention of customer dissatisfaction.

Passenger List, Susan G. Owens, January 30, 1849

National Archives and Records Administration, micro-publication M425, roll 68.

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