1832-1885; bulk: 1884-1885

Guide to the Collection

Collection Summary


This collection contains thirty notebooks of sketches written by Thomas Greaves Cary (1824-1888) of events in the history of California, including early settlement, the gold rush, vigilance committees, and the Mexican-American War. It also includes several records of the Cabarras Gold Mining Company kept by Cary's father Thomas Greaves Cary (1791-1859) related to the gold rush in North Carolina.

Biographical Sketch

Thomas Greaves Cary (1824-1888) was the son of Thomas Greaves Cary (1791-1859) and Mary Ann Perkins Cary. A prominent member of Boston society, Cary's father served as a Massachusetts state senator in 1846-1847 and 1852-1853, and served as president of the Boston Athenaeum and the Perkins Institute for the Blind. The younger Cary was a member of the California Vigilance Committee of 1856, a vigilante group that attempted to control crime and political corruption. Describing his experiences in California in 1856, he referred to himself as one of San Francisco's "oldest residents." Cary also traveled to Argentina and Uruguay in 1865 to gather specimens and information for the research of his brother-in-law Louis Agassiz. He spent his later years in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he wrote his historical sketches and reminiscences of his years in California.

Collection Description

The Thomas Greaves Cary papers consist of two series: Cabarras Gold Mining Company records, 1832-1853, and the Thomas Greaves Cary (1824-1888) sketches. The smaller, first series contains a mining account book, letterbook, and receipt book of the Cabarras Gold Mining Company of North Carolina recorded by Thomas Greaves Cary (1791-1859). The mining company owned over 2,000 acres in Cabarrus, Mecklenburg, and Lincoln counties during the North Carolina gold rush.

The second series consists of sketches written by Cary's son Thomas Greaves Cary (1824-1888), containing his recollections and historical research about the American west. Specific topics include the history of California from the 16th to 19th century, the Mexican-American War, California vigilance committees, California gold mining, Nevada silver mining, Chinese emigration to California, Native American tensions in Nevada, and the Pacific Railroad. California history sketches include essays about the period before and after Cortes, the explorers of the Californian coast, border conflicts between the United States and Mexico, and the gold rush era.

Cary's writings are grouped together in three separate subseries by date and by the type of volume: blue softbound drafts, ca. 1884; hardbound black notebooks, 1884;, and marbled softbound notebooks, 1885. Some writings appear to have been copied from one set of notebooks to another, and many subjects are repeated among the three sets. Cary composed his sketches in 1884 during his recovery from a broken leg. Although he wrote these sketches specifically for the Massachusetts Historical Society, similar essays by Cary can be found in the Boston Public Library and the Harvard University Library.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Thomas G. Cary, June 1884.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Cabarras Gold Mining Company records, 1832-1853

This series contains the Cabarras Gold Mining Company account book, letterbook, and receipt book. These records were kept by Thomas Greaves Cary (1791-1856).

A. Account book, 1832-1838

This mining account book contains the financial transactions recorded by Thomas Greaves Cary (1791-1859) for the Cabarras Gold Mining Company from November 1832 to October 1838. The listed expenses include machinery, cash expenses, sundries, labor, and payments to the trustees.

Vol. 1

B. Letterbook, 1833-1853

This letterbook contains business letters written for the Cabarras Gold Mining Company by Thomas Greaves Cary (1791-1859). The bulk of the letters are addressed to Jesse B. Quinby, the North Carolina superintendent for the Cabarras Gold Mining Company. Other letters are addressed to the stockholders of the company, including Israel Thorndike and William Alexander.

Vol. 2

C. Receipt book, 1833-1834

This receipt book contains a few receipts from the work of Thomas Greaves Cary (1791-1859) for the Cabarras Gold Mining Company with additional writings in an unknown hand.

Vol. 3

II. Thomas Greaves Cary (1824-1888) sketches, 1884-1885

Thomas Greaves Cary (1824-1888) wrote his recollections and historical sketches of California and the American West in 1884 while recuperating from a broken leg, as described in a note within the collection. His sketches comprise three sets of notebooks: 19 softbound blue drafts written ca. 1884; 8 hardbound black notebooks containing sketches written in 1884; and 3 softbound marbled notebooks containing sketches written in 1885.

Cary's sketches of California describe the history of the exploration of the California coast and its inhabitants from the time of Cortes in the 16th century to the 18th century, detailing the efforts of explorers Francisco Vasque de Coronado, Hernando de Alarcon, Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo, Sebastian Vizcaino, and Sir Francis Drake. 19th-century topics include the history of the Mexican War of Independence from 1810 to1821, the Bear Flag Revolt in 1846, and the various border conflicts between Mexicans and Americans in California, including the 1848 Mexican-American War and its causes. The sketches illustrate the military endeavors leading to the war, including the capture of Monterey by Commodore John Sloat in 1846 and the capture of Los Angeles by Commodore Robert Stockton, as well as the arrival of General Stephen Kearny to the area.

The sketches provide detailed accounts of the discovery of gold in California in 1848 at Sutter’s Fort by Captain John Sutter and James W. Marshall and the resulting gold rush in the area which later became Sacramento. Cary also wrote about the discovery of silver in Washoe, Nevada during 1859-1860 and the resulting emigration from California, as well as the tensions between the mining community and the Washoe Paiutes after the discovery. One sketch includes excerpts from articles in the New York Times and London Times on the question of Chinese immigration to California while another sketch contains an explanation of hostilities toward the Chinese in California created through the legislation of Governor John Bigler. The vigilance committees in San Francisco in the 1850s and the lynch laws in Sacramento were also discussed by Cary, as was the history of the Pacific Railroad from 1836 to 1869.

A. Historical sketch drafts, ca. 1884

Arranged as ordered by the author.

Vol. 4
"Causes of the war with Mexico"

This essay contains a hand-drawn map of the western United States, including Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Alta California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Indian Territory, and Mexico.

Vol. 5
"California in the time of Cortes"
Vol. 6
"California from the Mexican revolution to the Bear Flag war"

This essay contains a hand-drawn map of Mexico and the United States territory.

Vol. 7
"Commodore Sloat takes possession of Monterey; He claims California as United States territory"
Vol. 8
"California after the time of Cortes"
Vol. 9
"Taking of the City of Los Angeles by Commodore Stockton; Revolt of the Californians; Arrival of General Kearny; Re-capture of Los Angeles"

This essay contains a hand-drawn map of New Mexico and Arizona and a hand-drawn map of Alta California that illustrate the travels of General Stephen Kearny.

Vol. 10
"Causes of the War between the United States and Mexico"
Vol. 11
"Commodore Stockton appoints Colonel Fremont, provisional governor in his stead; Misunderstanding between General Kearny and Colonel Fremont; Fremont’s trial by Court martial"
Vol. 12
"Discovery of Gold in California"
Vol. 13
"The Mexicans driven from the mines; Riots of the “Hounds” in San Francisco; Rapid growth of San Francisco"
Vol. 14
"Trial of Windred and Burdue; Lynch Law at Sacramento; Great Fire in San Francisco May 3rd, 1851"
Vol. 15
"Committee of Vigilance formed June, 1851"
Vol. 16
"A letter from the Chinamen of California to the Governor of California April, 1852"
Vol. 17
"The New York 'Times' and The London 'Times' on the Chinese question"
Vol. 18
"Discovery of Silver at Washoe"
Vol. 19
"The Indians of Washoe; Pah Utahs or Pi Utes; Massacre of the whites"
Vol. 20
"Pacific Railroad; An English view of Asa Whitney’s project; Panama Railroad"

This sketch contains a map of the Central Pacific Railway and its connections.

Vol. 21
"The Pacific Railroad to its completion in 1869"

This sketch contains a map of the Southern Pacific Railroad and its connections, a table of the connections, two schedules for the Omaha-San Francisco route, and a map of the Central Pacific Railway, as seen in volume 20.

Vol. 22
"Pacific Railroad to its completion in 1869"

This contains the Central Pacific Railway map that is attached to both volume 20 and 21.

B. Hardbound historical sketches, 1884

Vol. 23
"Alta California 1846 to 1848"
Vol. 24
"The Chinese in California"
Vol. 25
"Vigilance Committee ’51"
Vol. 26
"Discovery of Gold; First Vigilance Committee 1851"
Vol. 27
"The Effects of the Vigilance Committee"
Vol. 28
"The Second Vigilance Committee 1856"
Vol. 29
"Pacific Railroad 1836 to 1869; Clipper Ships and the China Trade"
Vol. 30
"Mining Bubbles; Trouble with the Indians in Washoe May 1860"

C. Softbound historical sketches, 1885

Vol. 31
"Alta California 1846 to 1848; Discovery of Gold in 1848"
Vol. 32
"San Francisco Vigilance Committees 1856"
Vol. 33
"Mining Bubbles and Silver at Washoe; Trouble with the Indians, Washoe, May 1860; The Pacific Rail Road 1836 to 1869"

Preferred Citation

Thomas Greaves Cary papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.


Cary, Thomas G. (Thomas Greaves), 1791-1859.


Cabarras Gold Mining Co.
Pacific Railroad Company.


Account books --1832-1838.
California --Gold discoveries.
California --History --1846-1850.
California --History --Maps.
Gold mines and mining --North Carolina.
Mexican War, 1846-1848.
North Carolina --History --1775-1865.
Vigilance committees --California.