Nimrod Headington Journal, 1852, part 14

Today’s blog post is the fourteenth in a series, the transcription of Nimrod Headington’s 1852 journal, Trip to California.

In his journal Nimrod Headington details his voyage from New York to San Francisco, where he would stake his claim and pan for gold. [1] [2]

Their ship, the Race Hound, set sail from New York on 16 February 1852 and rounded Cape Horn during the night of 4 May. Today’s installment begins on 1 July 1852, as their ship sails toward San Francisco.

From Sea to Land

July 1st. This morning after a refreshing sleep on deck, we found our ship sailing very fast, and the sailors said we had been running at that rate all night. About 8 o’clock it commenced to rain and rained for 3 hours very hard. Then it cleared up and the sun came out, so the captain got to take the sun’s altitude. And we found we had been making very fast time for 3 days—the fastest we had ever made. We had run 924 miles in 3 days and nights. We are now in latitude 18° 47’.

July 2nd. I slept on deck again, and it was uncomfortable cool. We passed a ship at 1 o’clock this morning and at daylight were almost out of sight of her. She was going the same way we were. They day was cloudy and very cool. This is very strange in this latitude, as we were almost directly under the sun. On account of clouds, we did not get the sun’s altitude that day. We saw a large shark pass under the bow of our ship that day and went right off from us. It had been a long time since we had seen one. We were then in the northeast Trade Winds, and a shark is very seldom seen here. We were glad to part with him. The Trade Winds are very strong and steady, and we are sailing very rapidly.

July 3rd. The weather continues very cool, and the wind strong and fair. We wet on deck at 4 o’clock to arrange for the celebration of the 4th of July. We appointed a committee of three to select a speaker from among our passengers and to make such other arrangements as was thought proper for the occasion, and the committee after due deliberation decided that as the 4th came on Sunday, we should celebrate on Monday, the 5th.

July 4th. Strong headwinds and very cold for this latitude. It was so cool that we had to go below to sleep. This was very discouraging to us. We had only about 15 degrees to run on a straight line and could make that in 4 days if the wind was from the right direction. We wanted to run north but had to run west, which was carrying us farther off every hour. The steward killed a hog, which was the last hog with 4 legs we had on board. We had duff for dinner today. Duff is a boiled pudding and is served once a week onboard of the ship. Today we are in latitude 24°18’ north.

July 5th. We are heading northwest by west with strong wind and cool weather. At 11 o’clock we assembled on quarterdeck where the chairman, Mr. Shulery called the meeting to order and introduced Mr. Puleifer as the orator of the day. He immediately came forward and commenced his address. He spoke for about an hour. His speech was well prepared. The sailors hoisted a flag on the forward deck with a large dog on it, with these words written on it: Splice the Main Brace. The captain, seeing it, ordered the mate to go and take it down. He obeyed the command, and soon their flag lay upon the deck. After the speaker was through, Mr. Bliss, Mr. Shaw, Mr. Warner, Mr. Eliott, and Mr. Topliff all offered appropriate toasts, and volunteer responses were made. The “Star Spangled Banner” was sung and the crowd dispersed. The stevedores all got drunk and some of the sailors. The officers of the ship kept sober, or we might have had a serious time. This was the coldest 4th or 5th of July I had ever seen, and we were only 2 degrees from under the sun. We are in latitude 26°21’.

July 6th. Our course is northwest, and we are running 10 knots an hour. Nothing special happened during the day. Now in latitude 28°11’.

July 7th. Wind and weather the same. Running 20 knots an hour in latitude 30°14’.

July 8th. We began to get very much discouraged, as the wind was still at our head. The way we are running, it would take us [missing words] to run up to San Francisco, when if we could have fair winds, we could run in 3 days. As is, we are running farther off every minute and no hope of a change that we could see. The weather still very cool in latitude 32°9’.

July 12th. This morning it rained a light shower and then cleared off and was calm all day. This was the first day the sun had shown all day since we crossed the equator, and it was warm enough to be comfortable. We were now in latitude 38°40’, exactly opposite San Francisco but about 800 miles off and in a dead calm, which is not very encouraging.

July 13th. We came out this morning after a refreshing sleep and found we were still in a calm. The sea looked very beautiful; not a ripple could be seen in any direction. Two seabirds were the only objects in sight. At about two o’clock in the afternoon a light breeze set in from the northwest, which was a favorable wind of us, as we wanted to run east immediately. The yardarms were squared, and the [studding sails] were set, and we began to more again toward the promised land.

July 14th.  We had a splendid wind all day that carried us at about 10 knots per hour right on our course, which was east by north. You may guess how good we felt when we got out of a calm. All were in fine glee, thinking we should get to set foot on terra firma once more. The land of promise, which we had for so long a time had been so anxious to see.

July 15th. Wind still continues fair for us, and we are making good headway. The passengers are beginning to gather up their belongings and making preparation for landing. All are engaged in washing and drying their clothing and blankets, so as to have all clean to go on shore. When the captain took the sun’s altitude, he said we were just 11 degrees from San Francisco.

July 16th. Our breeze was light but right to the purpose. At 10 o’clock today we are 27 miles from the city. The baker and the cabin boy had a fight.

July 17th. This morning we have a splendid breeze from the southwest. While at breakfast this morning, someone cried, “Whale!” We went on deck and saw a large tree with limbs and roots all floating on the water. It was supposed to have come down the Sacramento River. All cried, “Land!” on our weather bow, but it proved to be a cloud. And the day passed without seeing land. Very cloudy and cool. [3]

To be continued…

I had to chuckle when I read Nimrod’s comment, “The steward killed a hog, which was the last hog with 4 legs we had on board.” They had been at sea for five months, on what was probably not a large ship. There were undoubtedly some personality conflicts. I love this comment!

The 17th would be their last full day at sea. They will dock in San Francisco the next day.

I will post Nimrod’s journal in increments, but not necessarily every week.

[1] Nimrod Headington at the age of 24, set sail from New York in February 1852, bound for San Francisco, California, to join the gold rush and to hopefully make his fortune. The Panama Canal had not been built at that time and he sailed around the tip of South America to reach the California coast.     Nimrod Headington kept a diary of his 1852 journey and in 1905 he made a hand-written copy for his daughter Thetis O. Tate. This hand-written copy was eventually passed down to Nimrod’s great-great-granddaughter, Karen (Liffring) Hill (1955-2010). Karen was a book editor and during the last two years of her life she transcribed Nimrod’s journal. Nimrod’s journal, Trip to California, documents his travels between February of 1852 and spring of 1853.

[2] Nimrod Headington (1827-1913) was the son of Nicholas (1790-1856) and Ruth (Phillips) (1794-1865) Headington. He was born in Mt. Vernon, Knox County, Ohio, on 5 August 1827 and married Mary Ann McDonald (1829-1855) in Delaware County, Ohio, in 1849. Nimrod moved to Portland, Jay County, Indiana, by 1860 and during the Civil War served in the 34th Indiana Infantry as a Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel, and Major. Nimrod died 7 January 1913 and is buried in Green Park Cemetery, Portland. Nimrod Headington is my fourth great-granduncle, the brother of my fourth great-grandfather, William Headington (1815-1879).

[3] Nimrod Headington’s journal, transcription and photos courtesy of Ross Hill, 2019, used with permission.


    • Ross Hill on May 9, 2020 at 11:49 am
    • Reply

    Hi Karen, it’s been a while since we last communicated. I just wanted to thank you again for your efforts in presenting Nimrod’s journal in such a professional manner on your website — it’s very much appreciated. I’m still looking for a suitable permanent home for Nimrod’s handwritten journal. Quite awhile ago I sent an inquiry to the Indiana Historical Society, through their website, but never got a response. Haven’t tried the Ohio History Center yet, as I think Indiana is probably a more suitable location, so I need to be more persistent. If you get any inquiries as a result of all your posts, please let me know.


    1. You are very welcome! I am honored that you give me permission to publish it. Readers write to tell me how much they enjoy reading his journal. And, as you may have read, I heard from a person whose ancestor, also from Knox County, was on the same ship with Nimrod. Her ancestor also wrote an account of his journey. How interesting! I will certainly let you know if I learn of a good home for the journal. Great to hear from you again and thanks for writing.

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