Gone to California

Over the course of many years exploring the history of my family, one man has always eluded me. His name was Andrew Taylor Tompkins, and he was my great-great-great-great-grandfather. Many of the facts of Andrew’s early life are known with certainty. He was born 17 February 1808 in Little Compton, Rhode Island, to Uriah Tompkins and Mary Taylor.[1] Andrew married Harriet Arnold Dillingham, the daughter of Captain Edward Dillingham (a descendant of Edward Dillingham, one of the early founders of Sandwich, Massachusetts) and Susannah Sherman, on 20 August 1834 in New Bedford, Massachusetts.[2] Andrew and Harriet had five children, the first of whom was Ellen Hughes (Tompkins) Luther, my ancestor.

One of Andrew’s sons, Andrew Taylor Tompkins Jr., had a rap sheet worthy of an article unto itself which included a four-and-a-half-year sentence to Sing Sing Prison in New York for defrauding the owner of a boarding house out of $1,000.[3] Interestingly, there was another, unrelated man named Andrew Tompkins who lived in New Bedford as well, although this Andrew married a woman named Eliza Sanford, and they remained married until well after 1834, effectively proving that there must have been two Andrews.

The elder Andrew Taylor Tompkins lived in New Bedford with his wife and children and worked as a jeweler, living a fairly inconspicuous life. Inconspicuous, that is, until 1849. I had always been unable to determine the fate of the elder Andrew until one record provided me with a clue as to where he could possibly be found after 1848. The 1849 directory of New Bedford lists an Andrew T. Tompkins of 40 South Second Street; the word “California” appears next to his address. “California” also appears next to another Andrew Tompkins, just preceding this entry; this may have been the other Andrew Tompkins of New Bedford, the husband of Eliza (Sanford) Tompkins.[4] In 1849, thousands of men made their way to California to take part in the Gold Rush, and it appears that my ancestor was among those men.

According to an announcement published in the Boston Daily Bee, Andrew T. Tompkins of New Bedford was among the passengers on board the schooner Emily Bourne[5] in February 1849. This ship was operated on behalf of the Emily Bourne Mining Company and departed New Bedford on 9 February and arrived in San Francisco 8 August 1849.[6]  Shortly after his departure, Andrew’s wife Harriet died in New Bedford at the age of 38 on 17 June 1849.[7] According to its log book, the Emily Bourne stopped in Rio de Janeiro, the Straits of Magellan, and the Juan Fernández Islands.[8]

After years of research, including searching for other passengers on the Emily Bourne, and searching for records of his children, the ultimate fate of Andrew Taylor Tompkins is still unknown, as there do not appear to be any records of his life in California, making it unclear if he even survived the long journey to the West Coast. In 1869, Andrew Sr.’s son, Andrew Jr., is found on a voter list in San Joaquin County, California, although the elder Andrew is not listed.[9]

The only possible clue which survives to suggest the possible fate of Andrew Taylor Tompkins was a newspaper announcement informing readers of the death of an Andrew T. Tompkins who died on 14 January 1870 at the age of 62 in Elko, Nevada. This Andrew T. Tompkins was said to have been a resident of Nantucket, Massachusetts.[10] Unfortunately, no further records of this Andrew who was residing in Elko have been found; if this proved to be the same Andrew who left New Bedford in 1849, his life between 1849 and 1870  remains a mystery.


[1]  James N. Arnold, Rhode Island, Vital Extracts, 1636-1899, vol. 4, Newport County, p. 180.

[2] “Marriage/Engagement Notice,” New Bedford Mercury, 22 August 1834, vol. 28, issue 7, p. 2.

[3] “His Pension Betrayed Him,” New York Herald, 10 May 1886, Issue 130, p. 6.

[4] U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995, New Bedford, Massachusetts, 1849, p. 154.

[5] “Passengers,” Boston Daily Bee, 10 February 1849, p. 3.

[6] The Maritime Heritage Project, Ship Passengers: 1846-1899, http://www.shippassengers.com/passengers/mining.html#Emily-Bourne.

[7] Massachusetts, Death Records, 1841-1915, Deaths Registered in the City of New Bedford for the Year 1849, p. 109, No. 360.

[8] Online Archive of California, Abstract of the Log Book of the Schooner Emily Bourne, http://findaid.oac.cdlib.org/search?group=Items;idT=UCb21912131x.

[9] California State Library, California History Section; Great Registers, 1866-1898; Collection Number: 4 – 2A; CSL Roll Number: 118; FHL Roll Number: 0977,281.

[10] “Died,” Sacramento Daily Union, 21 January 1870, p. 2.

About Zachary Garceau

Zachary Garceau joined the Research and Library Services team in 2014 after receiving a master’s degree in Historical Studies with a concentration in Public History from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County and a B.A. in History from the University of Rhode Island. Zack also works for the Rhode Island Department of Health as the Chief of the Office of Health Regulation. Areas of expertise: Rhode Island, French-Canadian Genealogy and Sports History. He also enjoys working on heraldic and royal research.

7 thoughts on “Gone to California

  1. Another example of how family genealogy is a lifelong pursuit. I hope this __x great grandparent shows up at some point as it’s always disconcerting to have a loose end (or an ancestor we want to fully remember) esp. in the 1800s.

  2. I offer a wild straw, based on the name Bourne. In Grass Valley, Nevada County, California; is one of the gold country’s largest underground mines. It continued operation until 1957 and is now a state park. It was owned by William Bourne. I do not know if his wife or mother was Emily, or if there is any other connection to the Emily Bourne Mining Co. Maybe your ancestor was a friend of Bourne? And since he was a jeweler, perhaps he worked in that capacity in Nevada County?? Though Bourne owned the Grass Valley mine, his mansion is in San Mateo County. Another place to search.

    1. Often times the “mining companies,” put together in their home towns, were named after the vessel they sailed on. I’m familiar with several such companies that set out from Nantucket (the “Astor Mining Company” sailed to California on the ship “Henry Astor” springs to mind) and I suspect that this one was the same.

  3. My great great grandfather came to California for gold and quickly realized that it was hard work. He tried other things, always looking for a get rich quick scheme and never quite got there. One of his tries was several years in Nevada trying to find and develop silver mines around the same time of the death of your relative. The Nevada Historical Society had letters in their collection that helped me. If you haven’t already done so, you might check there.

  4. That’s quite a story, Zackery. A sad one and an intriguing one with several mysteries. I hope that you find a clue to your xggrandfather. You tell a story well, and this is one I’d like to read more of (having a few relatives missing under odd circumstances myself!).

  5. My gr-gr-grandfather, William Middleton Phyfe, was a silversmith in Brooklyn. On ancestry.com, I found his application for a passport. He left New York in Jan. 1849 on the Brig Cordelia, which was referenced in the Argonauts of California by C. W. Haskins, I think also on ancestry.com. He is on the 1850 Placerville Census in California (CA – El Dorado County, pg 308, Placerville, #CAS7a4233284), and his wife listed him on the 1850 census in Brooklyn. He returned to Brooklyn in 1852. Unfortunately, the Argonauts was not indexed and that needs to be found on line.

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