Letter from Nathaniel Dudley Goodell to his brother in Amherst




Letter from Nathaniel Dudley Goodell to his brother in Amherst


Frontier and pioneer life
Amherst (Mass.)


Letter from Nathaniel Dudley Goodell to his brother Noble Thomas Goodell in Amherst. Dudley Goodell traveled to California in 1849 to dig for gold. This letter describes the part of the journey that took him across the Isthmus of Panama, and up the Chagres River by boat, then 26 miles by foot to Panama (now called Panama City).


Goodell, Nathaniel Dudley


Jones Library Special Collections




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Is part of the Goodell/Goodale Family Papers, Jones Library Special Collections








Folder: Goodell, Ira Chafee--Correspondence

Original Format



Panama April 21th 1849

Br Ira C. Goodell

According to my engagement
to you I take the first opportunity to fulfill it.
We left N York the 26 of March at ?----- four o clock P.M.
Anchored som three miles West of Chagres on the 12 of
April at ?----- four O’clock P.M. Thursday making the passage
in just 17 days from N York The first night after we
left N.Y. the wind blew very hard It rained & snowed &
hailed the ship went first onto one side then onto
the other it was almost imposible to lay in one
berths Of all the spueing that I ever see or heard
of I see that night and the next day. But as good
luck would have it I was not much sick only some 15
or 20 minutes though I have not much appetite to eat
for a week or so. We steared directly towards Turk Island
we came in sight of it in twelve days we left it at
the left of us we sailed between the Islands of Cuba
& St Domingo also come in sight of Jamaica left it at
the right of us Right glad we were when we arrived
at Chagres this place has been most awfully belied I
never was so happily disapointed in my life It is a
village of some 200 huts and about 800 inhabitants all
dress clean & neat except some of the children the
men however when they are roweing their boats up &
down the river Chagres take off their shirts or frocks (which
are always on the outside of their pants) and then take their

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pants & tie the legs around their bodys & let the
body of the pants hang down in front of their middle
there is now and then one that strip entirely naked
While I was stoping at Chagres I went to see some 50 women
washing clothes in a little stream near the village they stood
in the stream & used the stone to wash on each woman
had a large flat stone which she used they use no hot water
their washing looks very clean & nice there is a large port
here built some 3 hundred years ago all going to decay it
extends out into the sea some 50 roods its about 150 ft high
there is an number large recesses or dark caverns in underground
what they were build for I could not tell but probably they
they were built for prisons the large brass cannons lay
scattered around on the ground or rather on top of the
port which is noting more nor less than the ground for it is
all grown over to grass & wead the walls on three sids next
to the sea are about 100 ft high 8 ft thick than between this &
the main prt their is a dish or channel about 10 ft wide 25
ft deep than comes the main port whoes walls are some
80 ft higher than the outside walls
54 of our passengers that come in the Brig Leveret hire our passage
to-gether up as far as Gorgona 7.17 each person it took us
about 2½ days to go from Chagres to Gorgona we were out three
nights of which I slept in the boat on the soft sid
of a board covered myself with a blanket head and all
slept very well ?---- the first 1½ day we had trouble
with the natives that rowed us up the river some time
it would be with one boat some time it would be
with another it was with mine only once we got

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about half way to Gorgona our boatman said he
would not go any further without more pay while we
were on the bank of the river eating diner we see our
money chest going off into an other boat we went down
with our pistols in hand and ordered it brought back
which was done very quick. when we got ready to go they
said they would not go any further two of our men on
an other boat stood on the bank with their guns cocked
the natives see them so they get in & pushed us off which
was the last trouble we had with them till we got to
Gorgona the man we contracte with claimed pay for
one man more than their was of us so we went before the
Alca---? held a cork and got our case
There is some four hundred Americans in Gorgona now
Gorgona is a place about ¾ as large as Chagres it is not as
plesant in any respect nor can you live here so cheap as
you can at Chagres Chagres River is about as large
as Chicopee river where it emties into the connecticut river
and is the most crooked of any river that I ever see it
runs at every point of compass No one knows the
distance from Chagres to Gorgona by the river route but it is
probably about 50 or 60 miles if you could get through
by land it would not be more than 20 or 25 miles the
last part of the journey we walked 5 miles it was 12
miles by river Three of our company walked from
Gorgana to Panama in one day (26 miles) there is a very
good path only it is up hill and down all of the way
It will be uterly imposible to pass from Gorgana to

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Panam one month after the wet season commences
which has already begun So far as Panama is concerned
you have read descriptions of in papers times enough written &
my giving you one But I will say there is about 20
catholic churches here they are opened every morning you
can see the little black brats kneeling down all over the
churches and some ½ dozen priests in attendance the
streets are narrow the buildings are all going to decay
there is not a window glass in the whole city that I
have seen the windows are wooden shutters you can
hire rooms here for a dollar a day large enough to accom?---
12 or 15 men there is about 3000 Americans here and at
Gorgona there has not been a single vessel or steamer left
here for San Francisco since the Origon left which was
about the first of March tickets from here to San Francisco
in sailing vessels sell from 150 to 350 dollars but this
specilation is soon over I think there is 14 vessels here now
which will sail in the corse of 3 or 4 weeks they will take
off about half of them about 6 or 8 hundred have steamer
tickets the remainder have either gambled & lost their
money or are going back to the states thus they will
get of some home I have bought 2 tickets for our company
I shall probably go for one the sail the last of next week
or the very first of week after next (about the 27 of ?---
we though it would be best for a cupple of our company
to go along up if we had to pay a little more I think
that tickets will be bought in the course of two or 3
weeks for a 100 dollars I paid one hundred & ninety for
mine Oil is worth 50 dollars a barrel here Butter one dollar
a pound eggs 20 ct a dozen flower 4 dollars a barrel you can
live here after all as cheep as you can in NY saleratus

N D Goodell

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I forgot tell you that your corn & cucumber
& c we can get if we like corn is growing in all
stages from the first planting up to the full grown
corn in the ear that is ripe almost everything grows here
spontainously that hart can wish when I say here I
mean within a few miles of here let a ?--- yankeys come
here and they could make money just as fast as
they were a mind to with a very little labour
There is a great deal of mahogeny or bay wood here
in the woods I see one tree I should think would
measure 25 feet through it all of the canews are
made out of mahogeny trees some of them are
6 or 8 ft across and 25 or 30 ft long capable of
takeing 25 men with their baggage up the river Chagre

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the city of Panama is built after the old gothic
stile most all of the building have a piazza the roof project
over there is no colums to any of the buildings out
side a great many of the building are tumbleing down
the walls of the city are also falling down in about every
thing going to decay there is some 200 mules & horses
dead between here & Gorgana stench enough to knock
a fellow over therometer stands here at from 80
to 90 degrees In regard to my health it hasent
been better for the last 4 year than it has since
I have been on the Isthmus Pleas to excuse all
mistakes & poor writing for I have in hast as I
have 4 others letter to write to day and to morrow
Give my love to you wife and children from
your Br. N D Goodell


Goodell, Nathaniel Dudley, “Letter from Nathaniel Dudley Goodell to his brother in Amherst,” Digital Amherst, accessed June 25, 2022, https://digitalamherst.org/items/show/880.