Good News for the Holidays…… “Mystic River, December 24, 1871”
Julia Fish Gates, of what is now 218 High Street, Mystic was worried. She had not heard from her husband, Captain George Washington Gates, in five months! Capt. Gates had left New York on August 18, 1871, bound for San Francisco on the clipper ship, Twilight. Charles Mallory and Sons had built the ship in Mystic.
Below are excerpts from a letter Julia wrote to her husband while he was on that voyage.
Mystic River, December 18, 1871
My Dear George,
When I sent my last letter, I thought I should certainly hear from you before I wrote again. But as yet there is no tidings from the Twilight and I am feeling great anxiety. It is five months today since you left New York and the time to me seems very long. There is not a single moment that I am not thinking about you. I am daily and hourly hoping to receive some intelligence from you.
Julia knew that en route from New York to San Francisco her husband had to round dangerous Cape Horn. She was also aware that 4 years earlier, five men aboard the Twilight had been washed overboard and the top part of her mast had broken in a bad storm. However, she had to remind herself, this had not happened under her husband’s watch.
She also tried not to think about George’s brother Charles, of Mystic, and her nephew John, age 19. They had gone down with the ship Cremorne, with Charles as its master, only a year before. All the crew had been lost.
Sailing to San Francisco from a North Atlantic port has been considered by some the most difficult sailing course ever! The total distance was 17,000 miles. 130 days was considered “a fair clipper passage”. Many voyages took longer. So far, Capt. Gates had been gone 122 days. Julia had heard no word from him in all that time.
Since it was December, Julia attempted to keep busy with Christmas preparations, however her heart was heavy with worry. “This is a busy week with those that are preparing for Christmas. I suppose I shall have to assist” at the Union Baptist Church Fair, “but do not feel much interested in it. To live day after day in suspense is very unpleasant.”
The children are talking about Christmas gifts. And of course will expect something. And the thought occurs, where and how will you spend Christmas Day. I do hope I may hear from you before next Monday (Christmas). If not it will be a sad day to me.”
In 1781 winter had arrived early. “The children are enjoying the sliding down the hill. It rained yesterday and froze last night so today everywhere is ice. The lot south of the house. They slide the whole length with the Sled. The weather looks very much like a snowstorm. We are having winter right straight along.”
The “Mystic Journal” reported that on “January 4, 1872 the ship Twilight, Capt. George W. Gates, arrived at San Francisco from New York, Dec. 24, 1871.” According to the Mystic River Historical Society, the custom was for George to telegraph the Mallory’s when he arrived in port.
If George sent his telegram that Christmas Eve, 1871, then Julia would have received the best Christmas Present ever! News that George had again rounded Cape Horn safely! And that he was alive and well.
The above letter from Julia Ann Fish Gates is part of the George W. Gates collection housed in the G.W.Blunt Library at the Mystic Seaport. The collection contains 1200 pieces saved by George. Capt. George Washington Gates sailed for 32 years. He lived to be 73 years old and is buried in Mystic.
Denison Notes– George Gates and Charles Gates are Denison descendants http://www.denisonshomestead.org. George’s nephew, Nathan Stanton Gates, married Annie Denison who gave the 1717 house and land to the Denison Society.
Thanks to the Mystic Seaport for putting pictures on-line. Thanks to the Josh Gates family of MA for sending Gates’ family pictures.