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John Wilson letters

Identifier: VAULT-Ayer-MS-3207


Collection of correspondence (1859-1865) from Virginia City, Nevada written by or regarding John Wilson to his wife in Vermont. Wilson, a young farmer from Vermont, left his pregnant wife and sailed for the West in Sept. 1859 to seek his fortune. After his arrival in San Francisco, he headed for Virginia City crossing the Sierra Mountains on foot in May 1860. Using his income as a bartender, Wilson immediately began to stake out claims. Many of his letters give a vivid and detailed firsthand account of the notorious town. He had hoped to go home with enough money "to build a hows of his own and ride in our ow carige." However, following a drunken argument, he was murdered by his employer on Jan. 14, 1862. The remaining letters were written to his wife by Wilson's friend, Horace Mickel, who had witnessed the murder and tried in vain to recover some of Wilson's assets on his widow's behalf. There are also several newspaper clippings of the murder case and trial, two Wells Fargo checks sent to his wife, and a guardianship document for his child.


  • Creation: 1859-1865


Biography of John Wilson

The discovery of gold and silver in the Comstock Lode (Nevada) in the summer of 1859 brought thousands of would-be prospectors to the new mining district. Most of the prospectors crossed the trails from California and concentrated in Virginia City, a boom town created within months after the initial gold rush. The Comstock Lode was so rich that Virginia City soon became an important political, financial, and social hub for the entire region. By 1890, as the mines were exhausted, the town rapidly declined.


0.1 Linear Feet (1 box)

Language of Materials


Ownership and Custodial History

Forms part of the Edward E. Ayer Manuscript Collection (Newberry Library)

Processing Information Note

Formerly known as Ayer MS 1008a.

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Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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