SUFFERS EXTREME PRIVATION
1861-1865 AGE, 22-26
The Georges at first lived in the old City Hotel on K Street, just around the corner from the "Union" office where the husband worked. One morning Mr. George sent a hurried message to his wife to get her lunch, that he would join her at once, for the water was coming. The hotel dining-room was on the ground floor, and out in the street had accumulated a small pool, and so rapidly did the water rise that before the hasty repast was over all in the dining-room were standing on their chairs and left the room on a bridge or pathway of them.
But everybody was showing what is said to be an American characteristic – good humour in face of the inevitable. People abandoned first stories and lived and did business above. Printers in the "Union" office came to the City Hotel over roof tops. The members of the legislature moved about in boats, as did everyone else who could get them; and failing boats, used wash tubs, bath tubs and rafts. All things seemed to pass the hotel, and among them came a section of sidewalk bearing a man and his dog, the man on a stool, calmly contemplating the watery aspect of city and country. Bakers' ovens were early submerged, so that for a time fruit cake in stock became a substitute for bread. Spirituous liquors were, also, for a time exceedingly scarce – a serious deprivation in a community, where, as in every new country, custom had made drinking of some sort one of the common marks of cordiality in daily social life. This afforded Henry George special opportunity for amusement. While on the "Evening Journal" he had obtained from a druggist, who had no other way of settling an advertising bill, some toilet articles, and among them twelve bottles of "New England Rum," all of which he had given to Miss Fox, and which were sent to her with her personal effects by her relatives after her marriage. Mr. George now took the "New England Rum" to his thirsty printer friends, and to his intense amusement, they emptied the bottles in a twinkle. When Mrs. George heard of this she was in consternation. "It was not for the stomach, but for the head – a hair tonic," she said. One of the printers ventured to explain that what was good for the hair must be good for the stomach, and that at any rate the liquid had tasted well and had produced no ill effects.
After perhaps four months' residence at the City Hotel, the Georges went to boarding and then to housekeeping, taking one house after another. They were so restless that in answer to an acquaintance's question afterwards as to what time of year they cleaned house, Mr. George jokingly said: "We didn't clean house; we moved, instead!" In October of 1862 he wrote home to his sisters:
On November 3 (1862) the first child was born, a boy, who was named after his father. Added responsibilities made the young printer ready to turn his hand to whatever would bring him a living. And it happened that a young newspaper man named Samuel L. Clemens, who, under the nom de plume of "Mark Twain," had won a reputation on the Coast as a humourist of a dry and original quality, came to Sacramento to lecture. Another newspaper man, Denis E. McCarthy, acting as manager, hired Henry George to take tickets at the door.
Close, hard work had enabled Mr. George to pay up pretty much all that he owed in San Francisco at the time of his marriage. Then getting some money ahead, he had, following the old infatuation, invested it in mining stocks. But these stocks, instead of yielding dividends or even advancing in value, brought constant assessments, which meant privation or more indebtedness, and frequently both. He had in the mining ventures gone in with Isaac Trump, who was deeply interested in what was known as the Gettysburg and Swansea Mining Company, working a copper claim. The situation is explained in letters to and from Trump.
Sacramento, October 12, 1863
100 feet Swansea .............. $300.00 100 " Pine Bark ............ 100.00 37½ " Red Rock ............. 37.50 25 " Yorkville ............ 25.00 ——————— $462.50
The others, I don't suppose you count at anything. If this money could be got,
however, I would be very well satisfied, you may be sure. I would be willing
to take almost half that amount for everything.
"You tell me to sell down here, but that is a sheer impossibility. The claims are not known here. If they were Sacramento companies it might be different. As it is, I could only sell to one who would take my word for their value, which no one but a very intimate friend would do, and to such I would not sell in that way. I suppose it would be a like impossibility with you to get in cash anything like the figures you have named, but I suppose something could be got.
"Outside of the Swansea I should like to sell everything for whatever it would bring. I can't pay any more assessments without getting something back – with my liabilities it is impossible. Twenty-five or fifty feet of the Swansea I would like to hold. The remainder I want to sell.
"The year is fast closing and prices are not likely to improve before another season. I am deeply in debt and I want to make another effort by Spring at farthest and think the sooner we realize what we can the better it will be for us.
"I write you as well as I can what I think and want and leave you to act. If you don't want to sell, but can sell for me, without injuring yourself, do so.
Marysville, Nov. 8, 1863
"DEAR HARRY: I received your note a few days
ago. I do not think I will be able to come down for a month yet. I cannot
raise the money. Unless something turns up before Christmas I am gone in. I
have gone everything on copper and now I see no way of extricating myself,
unless I give up near all my 'feet.' Plenty have Swansea who will not sell
at any price, and others again can hardly give it away. We are about giving
a contract to sink a shaft 35 feet deeper. The majority of the company think
it will pay its own way after we get down 10 feet farther. An assessment on
the Swansea is levied – ten cents a foot, payable before the 20th of
"It is very uncertain about my stopping here any length of time, for I am very much discouraged and feel like starting out on the hills to prospect. I want excitement and think I could pet plenty of it on a prospecting tour. I have a good locality in view where they have struck the richest kind of copper (so it is said). If I could only hold onto my stock a few months longer I feel confident I must come out all right.
"Harry, the Swansea is actually worth $6.00 per foot, but people here have paid out considerable this summer, and likewise the market is over-stocked with 'feet,' and folks have been 'stuck' so often that it is almost impossible to get men to purchase in any claim no matter how cheap it is offered. If one offers to sell low they come to the conclusion it is a sell, no matter how good your prospect is. And so it is, and so it will be, so long as men will be found who are ever willing to swindle their fellow men for the sake of a few paltry dollars. If I had been mean enough to take advantage of parties who had placed confidence in me since I have been on the 'copper lay,' I could have come out considerably ahead by this time. I do not regret acting honourably to them, but I do think there is a mighty slim chance for 'the poor whites' ever making anything by acting on the square.
"I feel quite depressed in spirits, but nevertheless, I am determined to persevere and try it again. As McFadden said: 'It is a gold ring or a wooden leg.'
"I have had sad news from home – a death in the family and my mother in poor circumstances. And to think I cannot send her one dollar at present! 'It is hard, but I suppose fair.' If I live, by the help of God, I will come out all right yet.
"My love to all,
In the end – and the end was soon after the interchange of these letters – the mining ventures involved the two speculators in the loss of nearly all that they had invested. In his efforts to "get his nose out of the space box," George had been trying about this time to promote a project for a newspaper in the mining region of Reese River, but this, too, had failed, and the year was closing with him in what to a man in his circumstances were embarrassing debts.
It had been a year of hard work and considerable worry with the young printer, affording little time for attention to occurrences beyond his own small sphere; yet two events of first magnitude engaged his earnest thought. On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation, which forever killed chattel bondage in the United States, and in the eyes of the world changing the issue from secession to slavery, gave the North new vigour for the conflict and cut off the South's hope of foreign aid.
The other event that intensely interested George was close at hand. Leland Stanford, a grocery and provision dealer in Sacramento, had been elected to the office of Governor of California on the new Republican party tidal wave. He was also president of the Central Pacific Rail road Company and on the 8th of January, 1863, amid a crowd of people at the corner of Front and K Streets, Sacramento, he turned the first shovelful of earth in the construction of a railroad system which at that time looked puny enough, but which, under the extraordinarily energetic, able and unscrupulous management of Stanford, Charles Crocker, a Sacramento dry goods merchant, and Collis P. Huntington and Mark Hopkins, Sacramento hardware dealers, was within the next half dozen years to cross the State, climb over the mountains, span the Nevada desert, and meeting the line coming from the Missouri River, join with unbroken track, the West with the East. The young hard-working printer took an intense interest in what nearly everyone in the State at the time seemed to hail with applause. He may, indeed, have been one of the unnoticed men in the crowd at the initial ceremonies; but his mind beginning to open, questions were beginning to creep in, and he was before long to see that the enterprise – and likewise every such enterprise – in private hands, must involve gigantic public evils. And taking a clear mental stand against this, thought was to expand to other and deeper problems, and at length bring the obscure type-setter into the world's gaze as a new champion of equal rights. But no outward sign of such thought was to appear for years yet.
The first break in Mr. George's affairs at Sacramento was on the 26th of January, 1861, after he had been working on the "Union" for more than a year. That evening, after the midnight lunch, he got into an altercation with the foreman, John Timmins, about some matter that does not now appear clear, and was discharged. He was too proud to linger around or try to get back, and two days later left by steamer for San Francisco to look for work there. The day after his arrival in San Francisco he wrote to his wife:
The young wife, with the baby, at once followed her husband to San Francisco where they went for a few days to the old Oriental Hotel, then very much run down, and afterwards took private rooms. The husband was on the alert for work from the moment he had arrived. Nothing whatever presented itself until Knowlton of the "Evening Journal" suggested that he canvass for subscribers for that paper on a commission basis. Isaac Trump, pursued by hard luck, had meanwhile come down from the mountains and was trying to see what he could do at selling clothes wringers, and he suggested that George should sell some wringers at the same time that he canvassed for the newspaper. George started out vigorously on the plan, but after five days of hard walking and talking through the suburban parts of Alameda County, just across San Francisco Bay, he returned without having sold a single wringer and with scarcely more than half a dozen subscribers. Then he went to setting type on the "Evening Journal," though the paper was in an obviously shaky condition, and he had difficulty in getting his wages. Indeed, the money due for his share in the paper sold more than two years before had not yet been fully paid him. But for a time no other position opened to him. He was now nearly two hundred dollars in debt, with no prospect of steady employment. However, one of the regular type setters on the "Evening Bulletin" being taken down with a serious illness, George received a call to the place as substitute and made good wages while the position lasted. In April he left the "Bulletin" and went on the "American Flag." A little later, having got somewhat out of debt, he and his wife took a little house on Russ Street, or rather the upper flat of a two-story wooden house, and paid eighteen dollars rent. A change came in the "Flag" office on October 18, when the foreman, Mr. Bradford, discharged Mr. George for "claiming an advertisement." Next day the young man asked for a meeting of the "chapel" (the body of journeyman printers in the office), and after a hearing, was justified and under the typographical union rules was entitled to go back to work, but feeling that the foreman had taken a dislike to him, he concluded to re sign. This threw him back upon "subbing" and he worked around odd days and nights wherever a friend laid off and gave him a call. All during the year he had at various times been talking with first one and then another about newspaper schemes that would give him better wages, in the future if not at once, and a chance to do something more than set type. He talked of the Sonora "Eagle," and of starting papers at Silver Mountain, Susanville, and La Paz, but none of these schemes took form, and when Isaac Trump suggested going into a partnership with him and a skilled job type setter named Peter Daley in a job-printing office, he decided that that was the thing to do.
Isaac Trump was a square, generous-minded man, of restless nature, sanguine temperament and great energy. With small schooling, he had a shrewdness and quickness of mind that adapted him to circumstances, and a love of mechanical contrivances that made him ready to turn his hand to anything. The ways that Trump had tried during the past few years to make a living were legion. He had learned the trade of gas fitter in his native city of Philadelphia, had shipped on the Shubrick for California as coal passer, had attempted farming on landing, had lived for a while by mending pumps and when that failed took to mending watches, though he knew little about either; had "gone broke" at mining, and when he had done a job of wall papering and the complaint was made that the figure in the paper was up-side-down, he admitted that that was so, but that he had supposed the job was to be done in "first-class Eastern style" where it had become the fashion to invert the paper! He had got a delivery route on the "Flag," but, sold it and now panted for a job-printing office, suggesting that he should solicit business while Daley and George should set type and do the mechancial work. The "Evening Journal" had at last died in June and its plant of type was lying idle. In December, 1864, George purchased some of this plant for the new business, agreeing to pay $400 and give $100 worth of work, making money payment in what cash he could borrow and giving notes for the remainder.
Thus heavily weighted at the outset, the three men opened their office. But hard times had come. A drought had shortened the grain crop, killed great numbers of cattle and lessened the gold supply, and the losses that the farming, ranching and mineral regions suffered affected all the commercial and industrial activities of the State, so that there was a general depression. Business not coming into their office, the three partners went out to hunt for it; and yet it was elusive, so that they had very little to do and soon were in extremities for living necessities, even for wood for the kitchen fire. Henry George had fitfully kept a pocket diary during 1864, and a few entries at this job-hunting period tell of the pass of affairs.
"1st. In every case to determine rationally what is best to be done.
"2nd. To do everything determined upon immediately, or as soon as an opportunity presents.
"3rd. To write down what I shall determine upon doing for the succeeding day.
"Saw landlady and told her I was not able to pay rent.
"December 26. 7A.M.:
"1st. Propose to-day in addition to work in office, to write to Boyne.
"2nd. To get wood in trade.
"3rd. To talk with Dr. Eaton, and perhaps, Dr. Morse.
"Rose at quarter to seven. Stopped at six wood yards trying to get wood in exchange for printing, but failed. Did very little in office. Walked and talked with Ike. Felt very blue and thought of drawing out. Saw Dr. Eaton, but failed to make a trade. In evening saw Dr. Morse. Have not done all, nor as well as I could wish. Also wrote to Boyne, but did not mail letter.
"January 1. (Sunday) Annie not very well. Got down town about 11 o'clock. Went with Ike to Chinaman's to see about paper bags. Returned to office and worked off a lot.
"January 2. Got down town about 8 o'clock. Worked some labels. Not much doing.
"January 3. Working in office all day. DeLong called to talk about getting out a journal. Did our best day's work."
From time to time they got a little business, enough at any rate to encourage Trump and George to continue with the office, though Daley dropped out; and each day that the money was there the two partners took out of the business twenty-five cents apiece, which they together spent for food, Trump's wife being with her relatives and he taking his dinner with the Georges. They lived chiefly on corn meal and milk, potatoes, bread and sturgeon, for meat they could not afford and sturgeon was the cheapest fish they could find. Mr. George generally went to the office early without breakfast, saying that he would get it down town; but knowing that he had no money, his wife more than suspected that many a morning passed without his getting a mouthful. Nor could he borrow money except occasionally, for the drought that had made general business so bad had hurt all his friends, and indeed, many of them had already borrowed from him while he had anything to lend; and he was too proud to complain now to them. Nor did his wife complain, though what deepened their anxieties was that they looked for the coming of a second child. Mrs. George would not run up bills that she did not have money to meet. She parted with her little pieces of jewellery and smaller trinkets one by one, until only her wedding ring had not been pawned. And then she told the milkman that she could no longer afford to take milk, but he offered to continue to supply it for printed cards, which she accepted. Mr. George's diary is blank just here, but at another time he said:
The baby came at seven o'clock in the morning of January 27, 1865. When it was born the wife heard the doctor say: "Don't stop to wash the child; he is starving. Feed him!" After the doctor had gone and mother and baby had fallen asleep, the husband left them alone in the house, and taking the elder child to a neighbour's, himself went to his business in a desperate state of mind, for his wife's condition made money – some money – an absolute and immediate necessity. But nothing came into the office and he did not know where to borrow. What then happened he told sixteen years subsequently.
The diary notes commence again twenty days after the new baby's birth and show that the struggle for subsistence was still continuing, that Henry George abandoned the job-printing office and that he and his wife and babies had moved into a smaller house where he had to pay a rent of only nine dollars a month – just half of his former rent. This diary consists simply of two half sheets of white note paper, folded twice and pinned in the middle, forming two small neat books of eight pages each of about the size of a visiting card. The writing is very small, but clear.
"I am starting out afresh, very much crippled and embarrassed, owing over $200. I have been unsuccessful in everything. I wish to profit by my experience and to cultivate those qualities necessary to success in which I have been lacking. I have not saved as much as I ought and am resolved to practice a rigid economy until I have something ahead.
"1st. To make every cent I can.
"2nd. To spend nothing unnecessarily.
"3rd. To put something by each week, if it is only a five cent piece borrowed for the purpose.
"4th. Not to run in debt if it can be avoided.
"1st. To endeavour to make an acquaintance and friend of every one with whom I
am brought in contact.
"2nd. To stay at home less, and be more social.
"3rd. To strive to think consecutively and decide quickly.
"Feb. 18. Rose at 6 o'clock. Took cards to wood man. Went to post office and
got two letters, one from Wallazz and another from mother. Heard that Smith
was up and would probably not go down. Tried to hunt him up. Ran around after
him a great deal. Saw him; made an appointment, but he did not come. Finally
met him about 4. He said that he had written up for a man, who had first
choice; but he would do all he could. I was much disappointed. Went back to
office; then after Knowlton, but got no money. Then went to 'Alta' office.
Smith there. Stood talking till they went to work. Then to job office. Ike had
got four bits [50 cents] from Dr. Josselyn. Went home, and he came out to
"Got up in good season.
"Tried to be energetic about seeing Smith. Have not done with that matter yet, but will try every means.
"To-morrow will write to Cousin Sophia, and perhaps to Wallazz and mother, and will try to make acquaintances. Am in very desperate plight. Courage!"
"Feb. 19. (Sunday) Rose about 9. Ran a small bill with Wessling for flour, coffee and butter. After breakfast took Harry around to Wilbur's. Talked awhile. Went down town. Could not get in office. Went into 'Alta' office several times. Then walked around, hoping to strike Smith. Ike to dinner. Afterwards walked with him, looking for house. Was at 'Alta' office at 6, but no work. Went with Ike to Stickney's and together went to 'Californian' office. Came home and summed up assets and liabilities. At 10 went to bed, with determination of getting up at 6 and going to 'Bulletin' office.
"Have wasted a great deal of time in looking for Smith. Think it would have been better to have hunted him at once or else trusted to luck. There seems to be very little show for me down there. Don't know what to do.
"Feb. 20. Got up too late to go to the 'Bulletin' office. Got $1 from woodman. Got my pants from the tailor. Saw Smith and had a long talk with him. He seemed sorry that he had not thought of me, but said another man had been spoken to and was anxious to go. Went to 'Alta' office several times. Came home early and went to 'Alta' office at 6 and to 'Call' at 7, but got no work. Went to Ike Trump's room, and then came home.
"Was not prompt enough in rising. Have been walking around a good part of the day without definite purpose, thereby losing time.
"Feb. 21. Worked for Ike. Did two cards for $1. Saw about books, and thought some of travelling with them. Went to 'Alta' before coming home. In evening had row with Chinaman. Foolish.
"Feb. 22. Hand very sore. Did not go down till late. Went to work in 'Bulletin' at 12. Got $3. Saw Boyne. Went to library in evening. Thinking of economy.
"Feb. 26. Went to 'Bulletin'; no work. Went with Ike Trump to look at house on hill; came home to breakfast. Decided to take house on Perry Street with Mrs. Stone; took it. Came home and moved. Paid $5 of rent. About 6 o'clock went down town. Saw Ike; got 50 cents. Walked around and went to Typographical Union meeting. Then saw Ike again. Found Knowlton had paid him for printing plant, and demanded some of the money. He gave me $5 with very bad humour.
"Feb. 27. Saw Ike in afternoon and had further talk. In evening went to work for Col. Strong on 'Alta.' Smith lent me $3.
"Feb. 28. Worked again for Strong. Got $5 from John McComb.
"Feb. 29. Got $5 from Barstow, and paid Charlie Coddington the $10 I had borrowed from him on Friday last. On Monday left at Mrs. Lauders [the Russ Street landlady] $1.25 for extra rent and $1.50 for milkman.
"March 1. Rose early, went to 'Bulletin'; but got no work. Looked in at Valentine's and saw George Foster, who told me to go to Frank Eastman's [print ing office]. Did so and was told to call again. Came home; had breakfast. Went to 'Alta' in evening, but no work. Went to Germania Lodge and then to Stickney's.
"March 2. Went to Eastman's about 11 o'clock and was put to work.
"March 3. At work.
"March 4. At work. Got $5 in evening."
The strength of the storm had now passed. The young printer began to get some work at "subbing," though it was scant and irregular. His wife, who paid the second month's rent of the Perry Street house by sewing for her landlady, remarked to her husband how contentedly they should be able to live if he could be sure of making regularly twenty dollars a week.