Farewell to California! The Bonniwell party returns (part 4)

If you’re just joining us, you may want to read the first three parts of this series: (part 1), (part 2), and especially (part 3) before continuing with today’s Part 4.

April, 1851: Alfred T. and (George? or Charles?) Bonniwell to NYC

Based on the documents that I have been able to locate so far, the next members of the Bonniwell expeditions to return from California were Alfred T. Bonniwell and one of his older brothers.

Like Henry Bonniwell and P.M. Johnson at the end of 1850, in the spring of 1851 Alfred and his brother had a choice of routes and providers for the return home from San Francisco.

“Vessels Advertised,” for Panama and New York City, San Francisco Daily Alta California, January 10, 1851, page 1.

Like Henry Bonniwell and P.M. Johnson before them, Alfred and his brother appear to have chosen to travel on the ships of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company. They probably sailed on the steamer Sarah Sands from San Francisco to Panama (City). then crossed the isthmus of Panama (via some combination of horse, mule and/or canoe) and boarded the U.S.Mail Steamer Cherokee for the trip to New York:

Arrival notice

The Cherokee’s arrival was covered by at least two New York papers. This article appeared on page 1 of New York Daily Herald, dated April 21, 1851:

“Arrival of the Cherokee,” New York Daily Herald, April 21, 1851 p 1.

The New York Daily Herald informs us that the Cherokee—as in 1850, skippered by Capt. Windle—left Chagres on April 8 and, after a short stop to take on passengers, departed Kingston, Jamaica, on the 12th. The Cherokee arrived in New York on April 20th.

The article reports on the ship’s cargo of “half a million in gold dust” and provides a list of the specie (coin) in the ship’s possession. This is confusing: did the ship carry $500,000 in gold dust in addition to the $403,199 in specie? Or is “specie” meant to be synonymous with “gold dust,” and the Cherokee carried at total of “half a million” in California gold? I’m not sure.

In closing, the Daily Herald mentions a few brief related news items. Most importantly for our purposes, the Daily Herald provides a passenger list for the Cherokee. Among the listed passengers are “G Bonneville” and “A T Bonneville,” presumably Clark House neighbors George Bonniwell and his youngest brother, Alfred T. Bonniwell.

Another arrival notice

The arrival of the steamship Cherokee, with “Half a Million in Gold Dust” was also chronicled on page 2 of the April 21, 1851, New York Evening Post. The Evening Post’s article omits the passenger list, but provides more complete coverage of breaking news from the Isthmus of Panama, and includes news of two deaths at sea aboard the Cherokee. Other news included a report of intense competition for eastbound trans-continental passengers, with a subsequent drop in ticket prices, such that “cabin tickets were sold as low as $30 for New York.”

“Arrival of the Cherokee,” New York Evening Post, April 21, 1851, page 2

The Cherokee’s passenger manifest

Are we sure that the “G Bonneville” and “A T Bonneville,” listed in the Daily Herald’s passenger list are actually George Bonniwell and brother Alfred? Fortunately, we can check the identification of our two returning Bonniwell men, as published in the Daily Herald, April 21, 1851 (see above) against their names as recorded in the ship’s official passenger manifest. On the third of the Cherokee’s four-page manifest1, their names appear as:

The red arrows mark the names of our two returning Bonniwell men. The second marked name is clearly that of “A T Bonniwell” (or, perhaps, “Bonnewell”), age 31, male, a farmer by occupation, and a U.S. citizen returning to the United States. This is certainly Alfred T. Bonniwell, although with a birthday of April 1, 1826, he would be more accurately listed as a bit over 25 years old, an odd, but common discrepancy in these lists.

The other brother on this manifest is harder to decipher. Like Alfred, his surname is spelled clearly enough, as either “Bonniwell” or “Bonnewell.” But what is that first initial? The Daily Herald recorded this name as “G Bonneville.” This first initial does not look much like a “G.” At first glance, it resembles a lower-case “b.” But that makes no sense; none of the Bonniwell prospectors had a first name that began with “B.” Could it be a “C,” for brother—and 1850 Bonniwell overland trek member—Charles Bonniwell?

Creative penmanship

A look at the beginning part of page 1 of the Cherokee’s April 21 [sic], 1851, passenger manifest will clear things up:

I have outlined in red several names and words on this page that begin with a capital letter “C.” As you can see, whoever made this manuscript had, shall we say, rather variable handwriting. In particular, I can’t recall anyone with such essentially readable penmanship that also employed so many forms of capital “C.”

For example, in the first, smaller, red box, note the two forms of “C” in “Mr. Collard” and “Capt. Codman.” (Also note that the Daily Herald’s transcription of the first man spelled his name “Callard.”) The second, larger, red rectangle highlights two other men, Mr. Campbell and Isaac Kellum (sp?). Note their occupations, recorded as “Clerk.”

Both the first letters of “Clerk” and of “Capt.” are identical with the first-name initial of Alfred Bonniwell’s brother, as recorded on page 3 of this manifest. On April 20/21, 1851, I believe Alfred T. Bonniwell arrived in New York harbor with his older brother, Charles Bonniwell.

Charles Bonniwell is recorded on the manifest as being 28 years old, male, a farmer, and a U.S. citizen returning to the U.S. This brings up another question: If this Bonniwell was 28 years old, he would have been born in about 1823. But Charles Bonniwell was born in 1806, making him well over 44 years old when this document was written. It makes one wonder whether the ship’s officer compiling the list was just making up passenger ages or, perhaps, the passengers were really poor at calculating their own current ages.

Spring, 1851 – time for new adventures

Assuming that Alfred and Charles Bonniwell did not tarry too long in New York—where they, presumably, still had a number of friends and relatives—they would have been able to return to Mequon around late-April or early-May, 1851. Charles would have been gone from home for about a year. Alfred would have been away for just over two.

What about the other members of the Bonniwell’s 1849 and 1850 gold rush expeditions? Details are few, but I’ll try and put together a summary of what we know for next time.

And “save the date” — Alfred T. Bonniwell has an appointment to marry Mary (Turck) Clark’s youngest sister, Sarah Turck, in December, 1851.

Then we’ll take a bit of a Bonniwell break, and have another look for clues to Jonathan M. Clark’s early days in Lower Canada and/or northern Vermont.

Thanks for reading. See you soon.



  1. As in our earlier look at the Cherokee’s December 20, 1850, passenger list, the full source citation for the Cherokee’s April 21, 1851 passenger manifest (above), as published on Ancestry.com, reads:

    “Ancestry.com. New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.

    Original data:Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957. Microfilm Publication T715, 8892 rolls. NAI: 300346. Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; National Archives at Washington, D.C. Supplemental Manifests of Alien Passengers and Crew Members Who Arrived on Vessels at New York, New York, Who Were Inspected for Admission, and Related Index, compiled 1887-1952. Microfilm Publication A3461, 21 rolls. NAI: 3887372. RG 85, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; National Archives, Washington, D.C. Index to Alien Crewmen Who Were Discharged or Who Deserted at New York, New York, May 1917-Nov. 1957. Microfilm Publication A3417. NAI: 4497925. National Archives at Washington, D.C. Passenger Lists, 1962-1972, and Crew Lists, 1943-1972, of Vessels Arriving at Oswego, New York. Microfilm Publication A3426. NAI: 4441521. National Archives at Washington, D.C.”

    Looking at the above, you might think—correctly—that the Ancestry passenger list database combines several NARA microfilm publications into one massive, searchable (and useful) database. I believe our passenger manifest is originally part of the NARA publication Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867.

5 thoughts on “Farewell to California! The Bonniwell party returns (part 4)

    • You’re welcome!

      The Gold Rush story of our Clark House neighbors *has* been quite an adventure to research, and a real “rabbit hole” to tumble into; I could easily follow up—for months and months—on the various topics and threads that I’ve only been able to sketch here. I’m glad I can bring the men home to the Bonniwell District, and get back to sharing more immediate Clark House and Clark family history stories.


  1. Reading about the robberies on land, traveling from San Francisco to New York, I’m wondering if there was any piracy at sea with all these ships carrying so much gold dust?

    Also, have you found any information about the Bonniwells’ travels across the isthmus?


    • Good questions. I don’t recall any major piracy at sea incidents, but I think there was—for a time—some concern about that, to the extent that the government put some cannon aboard some of the mail ships. I’ll see if I can find that news item for clarification.

      In any case, the US Mail Steamers that served the Pacific and Atlantic sides of the California mail route were considered the latest and greatest in ocean transportation and I suspect they could probably out run most other ships of the day.

      And sadly, I have no documentary info about the Bonniwell’s travels across the isthmus. I have had to assume that they took the usual, advertised “through route” from San Francisco to New York via the isthmus crossing.


  2. Pingback: Random bits of Gold Rush history | Clark House Historian

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.