Irish Surveyor Nicholas Gray Jr.: The California Gold Rush

The Bear Flag Revolt, was from June to July in 1846. American settlers in California rebelled against the Mexican government and proclaimed California an independent republic.  After the Bear Flag  was raised, the U.S. military began to occupy California. In 1850 California joined the Union and in 1911 the Bear Flag became the official state flag. [1]Gettyimages

Nicholas Gray Jr. was born  at the Whitefort House, Wexford, Ireland.  He was the son of United Irishman Nicholas and Elinor  Hughes Gray. His uncle was United Irishman Henry Hughes. Nicholas Gray Jr. married Ellen N. Rogers in Adams County, Mississippi on December 18, 1832.  Eleanor  'Ellen'  Rogers, was a relative of Thomas O Larkin.”  Nicholas Gray Jr. would become employed by Thomas O Larkin, as a surveyor  and  later became a United States Deputy Surveyor in the Northern District of California.  Larkin had acquired several old Spanish land grants and was a master of land speculation. In the 1850s, he was reputed to be the richest man in California.

Thomas O Larkin was known in Spanish as Don Thomas Larkin.  The earliest days of California statehood was very much influenced by the life of Thomas Oliver Larkin. He was an American diplomat and businessman. Larkin served as the only U.S. consul to Alta California during the Mexican era and was covertly involved in U.S. plans to annex California from Mexico. Consul Larkin's firsthand reports from Monterey became a vital ingredient of the expansionist campaign to win California. President James K. Polk embraced Larkin's program to secure the aid of the people of California for the coming of United States rule. Polk authorized Larkin to encourage a movement of independence in California. After the American Conquest of California and the end of the Mexican-American War. Larkin participated at the Monterey Constitutional Convention in 1849 and was singer of the Constitution of California. [2]  

Thomas O. Larkin on June 1, 1848  reports to the State Department about the discovery of gold. Larkin states  “this is one of the most astonishing excitements and state of affairs now existing in this country.  On the American fork of the Sacramento and Feather River, another branch of the same, and the adjoining lands, there has been within the present year discovered a placer, a vast tract of land containing gold, in small particles. This gold, thus far, has been taken on the bank of the river, from the surface to eighteen inches in depth, and is supposed deeper, and to extend over the country”. [3]

The Wexford Lodge named in honor of Co. Wexford, Ireland  is located in the "Vicksburg National Military Park" and was built in the 1830's by Nicholas Gray, Jr.  The stately house was used by General  Grant as his headquarters during the siege of Vicksburg and he observed the movements of the Confederate troops from the second story windows.  The only structure in the park to survive the Battle of Vicksburg.  Photo credit "Vicksburg National Military Park"

Nicholas Gray Jr. states - Natchez Ms. ,December 26, 1823.” I certify that I was employed by Thomas Freeman, late surveyor of the lands of the United States south of the State of Tennessee, as a clerk in his office, before the month of May 1821”. [4]  Nicholas Gray Jr. was nominated by John Quincy Adams to be Register of the Land Office at Washington, Mississippi on May 9, 1826. His appointment was confirmed on May 10, 1826.  [5]

Nicholas Gray Jr. learned his surveying skills from his father United Irishman Nicholas Gray. He was also employed by Irish surveyor Thomas Freeman.  Freeman had a national reputation for precision and trustworthiness.  An Irish immigrant who had come to the colonies in 1774. He caught the attention of master surveyor George Washington and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. Thomas Freeman played a major role in the settlement of the District of Columbia,  Alabama and Mississippi. 

Nicholas Gray writes Thomas Oliver Larkin from Vicksburg, Ms  on March 2nd, 1848.  “As you are relative of my wife [cousin Eleanor Rogers formerly] and frequently mentioned by her. I will introduce myself to your acquaintance. I have resided here since boy hood, have practiced farming, and the cultivation of cotton, sugar and tobacco. I have also practiced surveying and engineering. Now as I have given you a slight sketch of my life, perhaps you can judge how I could succeed in a Country like California. You perceive that I can do a little of most everything. I should be pleased to hear from you soon, altho it will be many months before I can expect news from your side of the world.” Nicholas Gray [6]

[Eleanor N. Gray to Thomas Oliver Larkin and Nicholas Gray to Larkin]. from Vicksburg, Miss, January 31, 1849.  Dear Cousin Oliver,  "I will introduce to your acquaintance, a nephew of Mr Gray's, Henry T. Moore, who goes to California [like many others] to increase his worldly goods. Any attention you may show him to further his views or advance his interests will be gratefully received by your affectionate Cousin." signed Eleanor N. Gray  In the same letter to  Larkin, Nicholas Gray writes  Dear Sir, "I take the opportunity of my nephew's going to your part of the world, to acknowledge the receipt of your valuable favor.  Mr. Moore is a licensed attorney and counsellor at law in our courts here. Perhaps his profession may aid him in California. Your advise concerning goods will be duly considered and valued, when I arrange my matters here, so as to make a move your way.  At present, the times are so hard, and money so scarce, that it is next to an impossibility to sell real estate. This difficulty will detain me longer than I wish, but hope the gold will not all be gone before I arrive".  signed Nicholas Gray  [Henry T. Moore was the son of Sophia Eleanor Gray Moore the daughter of United Irishman Nicholas Gray. Sophia was a school teacher living in Vicksburg, Ms]  [7] 

In the following letter Gray, is describing his surveying qualifications to Larkin.  [Nicholas Gray to Thomas Oliver Larkin] St. Louis, Mo.,  February 15th, 1851. " In answer to your enquiry as to my qualifications will say that in early life I was Chief clerk in the Surveyor General's Office in Mississippi, and with the preparation for the sale of lands according to the practice, of the Government, familiar with Spanish grants, and others of lands. I am and I have practiced surveying both for the U.S. Government  as a Deputy Surveyor, and I have also served in a private capacity, as well as a city engineer and Surveyor. During the administration of General Taylor I was highly recommended as I thought for the office of Surveyor General of California. But unfortunately General Taylor died, and a new administration coming to power." [8]

In a letter to Thomas O. Larkin from Saint Louis, Mo dated Feb 16 and March 4th, 1851. Gray is replying to a letter he received form Larkin on Feb 3rd, 1851, from New York.. Your remarks are just, and correct, that you would make no person your agent without seeing and knowing him. Nicholas Gray Jr writes "to place my family in a situation so that I could consistently leave them. You may consider this as an offer, binding on my part, if you accede thereto, $2000 pr annum, and a commission on sales of 1%, board, room rent, and traveling expenses, going to California and in that country while engaged in your business. I shall require $1000 as an advance, with an amount sufficient to cover my expenses going out, say $500 or thereabout.  I am confident that I will suit you in the way a business you wish to engage me at. I can leave within 20 to 25 days after receiving the needful from you".  Be pleased to accept my best respects and wishes for good health and happiness. signed Nicholas Gray [9]

Nicholas Gray to Thomas Oliver Larkin ] Saint Louis August 27, 1851. “Since the reception of your letter I have been quite busily employed in my preparation for my departure for San Francisco and hope to be there about the middle of October or first November at farthest. I intend going via New Orleans  and the Isthmus”. [10]

William J. Eames living in San Francisco was the California agent for Thomas O Larkin. Nicholas Gray and William J. Eames  corresponded about the property of Larkin. Gray had the power of attorney of numerous individuals to sell or lease property out of San Francisco and Sacramento.

Nicholas Gray, Colusa, Cal writes William J. Eames San Francisco, California dated Dec 11th, 1851 Dear Sir "When in Sacramento I came across a man who offered a surveying compass to me for $30.00 which I thought a bargain and I purchased it, supposing that it would be wanted up here shortly. I have spoken to 6 or 7 of the squatters and warned them of their trespasses upon the land with an offer to sell it to them. They all said that they wished to buy the land when the title was settled, so that I am pretty confident no arrangement can be made with those persons at present, unless the law is resorted to, and even then, we could not in the present state of affairs calculate upon a jury made up of squatters to give us our just claims". signed Nicholas Gray

Nicholas Gray writes William J. Eames on Dec 22nd, 1851. Dear Sir, I thank you for the letters from home, forwarded  per last mail. They are all well, thank God, and look forward to the time when I shall say come out to California  with a good deal of anxiety. You will oblige me very much by procuring a Draft for $100 in favor of Mrs. Ellen N Gray. I have now the power of attorney from Judge Hastings and Major Seawell to sell or lease property out of San Francisco and Sacramento. The Surveyor General says he is waiting for instruction even when parties offer to pay the expense of a survey. Still he will not act. He has no decision of character, or he is very timid, I am afraid.  In this same letter Gray is asking to obtain something in the shape of employment or office out here from the Government at Washington". [11] 

Eleanor N. Gray to Thomas O. Larkin  from Vicksburg, Ms.  "My Dear Cousin, I do hope to one day reach California and promise myself to use all my energies to improve my fortunes. California is still looked to as the goal of happiness, by many, those particularly whose happiness depends upon money. I have been wishing and entreating my husband to return [if he cannot send for me soon], but he is so infatuated with California, the climate, that it would be hard to persuade him to come back. We still have some land claims here, but my husband writes me he would not give one acre in California for one hundred in Mississippi.  At the age of 16 he received a salary of one thousand dollars at the Land Office. This separation is intolerable. God grant it may not be much longer. Now, Dear Cousin, that you are there, I do earnestly entreat you to exert your influence in his behalf". signed E.N.Gray

 This letter from Nicholas Gray, Colusa, Cal, to William J. Eames, San Francisco is dated December 26, 1851.  "Mr . Moore has withdrawn his Stages from this end of the route on account, as he says, of the bad state of the road. It is, however, thought here that he is acting in bad faith towards the town of Colusa and Hastings . We have had a vast amount of rain but occasionally the sun shines and gives us a prospect of having some dry weather soon. I have finally induced two squatters below the Belden tract to lease their improvements, with the right to purchase when the claim is confirmed at $1.50 per acre. They have not yet signed the leases, but think they will. If so, I believe others will follow the example, they are strong in faith as to Uncle Sam's title and he will give them a pre-emption. I would not sell the front lands at $1.50 per acre. It is worth $3 to $5 maybe more in some locations. Give me your opinion on this subject, if you please, in your next letter. Have you lately heard from Mr. Larkin?  And when does he say he will return, because if he stays some time, I would like to write to him", Yours truly Nicholas Gray [12]

Gray writes to Larkin from Hamilton on June 17th, 1852.  "I have just returned from a 2nd trip in the mountains, and with this you'll receive another box quartz specimens procured in the vicinity of Long's Bar, about 1/2 mile from the river. These specimens you'll perceive the gold intermixed with the quartz. This ledge is an extensive one, and in fact I have observed the whole region within the bounds of the grant is rich in gold combined with quartz. Those localities known as Oregon Gulch and Morrison's Ravine and the hills around have been found to be rich, and there are very many miners now at work. The only complaint I now here of is the want of water in these ravines.” Nicholas Gray  [13]

Nicholas Gray Jr. discovered gold and quartz gold deposits on several of Larkin's ranches.  [Nicholas Gray to Thomas Oliver Larkin]  Hamilton June 12th, 1852. " Dear sir,  I gave you a sketch of the river and localities also which I hope may inform you something relative to the grant. There are not over one hundred acres arable land within this portion of country - all hills and mountains, and ravines, rich in gold and I believe also rich in quartz gold".  Nicholas Gray surveyed the grant of Rancho Boga, for Larkin and found considerable evidence of placer gold and quartz deposits. With appropriate works, Gray said, the property would yield profitably for at least a century.'  Larkin had visions of becoming much richer and offered his Rancho Boga, for sale in the London market, for  $ 1,000,000. Larkin set up a new company called the Feather River Land. & Gold Mining Company. [14] 

Image - 1852 California Gold Rush - Wikipedia.  In a letter dated June 18, 1852.  Nicholas Gray tells Thomas O Larkin  "In places the earth is conveyed in troughs made of plank from the mountain tops or nearly so, to the waters edge and there washed out by rockers which pay well. The sketch of the country annexed to the mine accompanied with a box of quartz specimens which I hope you have received  does not vary much from a correct delineation of the features of this country. I have from some persons obtained some reliable information, which by and bye is very scarce on the subject of mines and quartz. Very few persons will convey any or much information unless with some idea of profit to himself or his company in which he may have an interest, either as to the locality of good diggings, quartz ledges or even distances, all differ. I have met Judge Sherwood and asked some questions, but he is also a miner and the information conveyed by him was not very luminous or interesting.  The lands only value is the gold and other minerals yet to be discovered and in which those hills and mountains abound, I am sure, from the indications apparent everywhere". Yours truly, Nicholas Gray [15]

Nicholas Gray to Thomas Oliver Larkin from Hamilton, California June 18, 1852

"I have just returned from a second trip among the mountains, and procured a few specimens of rock containing gold and I believe other valuable minerals.  I have not in my examination of the country within the lines proceeded to the extreme north point for two reasons.  One was the excessively hot weather and rough country to travel over, and mostly on foot, and the other was the shortness of my funds. I have procured some information as to the richness of this portion of the mines and if those samples forwarded to you proved satisfactory and if further explorations were deemed proper.  I shall remain at this place until I receive funds from you with further orders. Morrison's Ravine, Oregon gulch, Rich gulch, Long's bar and many others of less note are all within your lines of latitude, are all paying very well, and even the mountain tops and sides contain the gold”. signed Nicholas Gray [16]

Gray writes to Larkin from West Branch Feather River on July 30, 1852. I have progressed pretty well with the survey of your tract of land.  The soil is poor, and gently rolling towards the northern boundary, fine timber for lumber and in quantities {pine]. I had the chance of losing my mule today. She died of cholic I believe and will have to purchase another, and therefore with other expenses will have to call upon you for Draft on Adams & Co., Marysville, for $500 direct to Hamilton. Respectfully,  signed Nicholas Gray  [17]

Nicholas Gray writes Thomas Oliver Larkin from Goodman and Conklin’s Store, 2 Miles from Nelson’s Bar August 2nd, 1852. “ I endeavored to procure the services of a Mr. Cleal, the County Surveyor at Sacramento, but from some cause or another he did not come up to Hamilton as he promised. You will therefore oblige me by procuring some person well skilled and who has the proper instruments to come to Hamilton”. Respectfully,  Nicholas Gray

Nicholas Gray Jr. to Thomas O. Larkin from Colusa, California, dated Dec, 25th, 1853. “ I cross the Sacramento river to remeasure some lines over there, and may proceed towards Feather River should it be necessary. I have met with a man who has been in this country a long time comparatively and who built a log cabin near the bank of Feather river upon the Flugge Rancho, whom I think could be induced for a small sum to sell it. I contemplate being at San Francisco the first week in January. Wishing you a happy new year, I am yours truly", signed Nicholas Gray [18 ]

"Gray's Map: by Nicholas Gray, 1856: 4 pages: the map was recorded at the County Recorder's office as 4 separate pages and each page is available here NW NE SW SE . The property owners of Rancho San Pablo are believed to have commissioned this map to help understand exactly who owned which pieces of land in Rancho San Pablo. Nicholas Gray was U.S. Deputy Surveyor. A James Forbes was also associated with the project  and sometimes this map is referred to as "Forbes's  Map". There was also one other person who is listed as having participated in this project but his name is unknown". [19]  

Map of San Francisco Bay surveyed and created by Nicholas Gray  - Image Courtesy of UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library - Title: Map of a survey of lands situated between San Leandro and San Lorenzo Creeks, the Bay of San Francisco and the range of mountains to the east, exhibiting the boundaries of the "Rancho San Leandro" and adjoining lands : [Calif.]  Description: Pen-and-ink and watercolor on tracing cloth. From: U.S. District Court. California, Northern District.  Shows drainage, survey markers, boundaries, roads, acreages, fields, etc.  Creator/Contributor: Nicholas Gray, surveyor., author United States. District Court (California : Northern District).  November 1855  [20]

The Marin County Great Register of 1880. " Shows Emmet Gray, son of Nicholas Gray Jr., at the age of 44, born in Ms., as a govt. employee and local residence of Richardson".  Capt. Emmet Gray was the Tide Observer at Sausalito, Bay of San Francisco.  "Capt. Emmet Gray was in the service of the government for a quarter of a century as Tidal Observer; and during that time he performed his duties with marked ability and complete satisfaction to the engineers under whom he served." [21]

The following  dated  October 26, 1898  from the “San Francisco Bulletin” of Monday relates to a former well known citizen of this county, whose home was on the Sebastopol lagoon, at a place known as Gray’s lake: “Emmet Gray a well known pioneer, was accidentally killed by gas last night”.  Gray held the position as tidal observer in the government  as a member of the Coast Geodetic Survey service at the Presidio and later at Sausalito for about thirty years. -Recently he has been employed by Grace & Co. as an inspector of lumber. He returned yesterday from Fort Bragg, where he had been on business, and went to his residence at 2718 California street. He retired early and failed to completely shut off the gas.  “The decedent was born in Mississippi sixty-five years ago. He leaves a widow and two young daughters. ” [22] 

[1] Wikipedia

[2] Wikipedia

[3] History of California by Theodore H. Hittell

[4] American State Papers-House of Representatives, 19th Congress, 2nd Session Public Lands: Volume 4.

[5] American Memory Journal of the executive proceedings of the  Senate of the United States of American, 1815 - 1829

[6] The Larkin Papers By Thomas Oliver Larkin, UC Berkley, Bancroft Library-Banc Mss C-B 37-45

[7], The Larkin Papers by George Petter Hammond

[8] The Larkin Papers by Thomas O Larkin, Anna Marie Hager and Everett Gordon Hager, page 391

[9] The Larkin Papers for the History of California by George Petter Hammond

[10] The Larkin Papers By Thomas Oliver Larkin, UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library-Banc Miss C-B 37-45.

[11]  The Larkin Papers by George P Hammond

[12] The Larkin Papers for the History of California by George Petter Hammond

[13] The Larkin Papers for the History of California by George Petter Hammond

[14] Thomas O. Larkin: A Life of Patriotism and Profit in Old California by Harlan Hague

[15] The Larkin Papers for the History of California by George Petter Hammond

[16] The Larkin Papers for the History of California by George Petter Hammond

[17]  The Larkin Papers for the History of California by George Petter Hammond

[18] The Larkin Papers

[19] Gray’s Map: by Nicholas Gray, 1856: 4 pages. El Cerrito Historical Society P.O. Box 304, El Cerrito, CA 94530 

[20]  UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library

[21]  Sausalito News, Volume 12, Number 8, March 28, 1896 - A Faithful Officer

[22] California Digital Newspaper Collection

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Tags: Exploration, Genealogy, History of Ireland, Military History, United States


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