Jefferson Martenet was born on July 24, 1828. He left Baltimore Maryland on September 16, 1852 to northern California with plans to get rich quick off the California Gold Rush and return home within a few months. He arrived via steamer to San Francisco on October 30, 1852, but spent six months recovering from a sickness in San Francisco until April of 1853. He then went to mine in Harbaugh camp near Jackson, California for ten months until February of 1854. He spent less than a month in Jackson where he worked as a cook and returned to San Francisco by May of 1854. Martenet remained in San Francisco the rest of his life (at least until 1892) trying to accumulate enough wealth to live comfortably back in Baltimore. His first job in San Francisco was a cook and then he opened up a book stand in 1855. In May of 1857 he sold his stand and was hired by Epes Ellery and Agustus Doyle as a clerk for the Antiquarian Bookstore at least until 1859. During these years he joined the “Know Nothing” political party and joined a San Francisco volunteer police force in June of 1856, better known as the Vigilance Committee of ’56. During the U.S. Civil War Martenet supported the Democrats and the South. He also made his only visit back to Baltimore, made another futile attempt to strike it rich in mining, and married Louise Wiegel.The couple had at least three children, Kate, Jefferson, and Morris. From 1866 to 1870, Martenet was associated with Dr. T.W. Brotherton, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, in the publication of the Pacific churchman, official newspaper of the Episcopal Diocese in California. April 1868 Martenet was elected treasurer of the Churchman publication until it was discontinued in November 1869. As of the Fall of 1868 Martenet engaged in a collection agency business. Jefferson Martenet also wrote poetry, spun yarn, played the guitar and piano, and sang. While there is no record of Jefferson Martenet’s death, this collection has evidence of him living at least until November of 1892. Therefore it is likely that Martenet died in 1893 at the age of 65 or after.
Scope and Content
The correspondence includes 365 letters separated chronologically into 37 folders by year. Box 1 has 20 folders inclusive of the years 1837-1859. Twenty folders account for one folder for each year except 1838, 1839, and 1843 which do not have any correspondence. Letters 1-46 are mostly between Jefferson Martenet in Baltimore, Md. and his cousin Jefferson Morris Wampler. The letters between Martenet and Wampler deal with the topics of surveying after Texas Independence and the Mexican American War, courting, and family relations. Letters 47-192 are mostly between Jefferson Martenet in Calif. and his mother Catherine Margaretta Richardson in Baltimore, Md. There also a small number of letters to and from his siblings. During the 1850s Martenet began to write mostly to Mrs. Richardson about his hardships in California with mining and his opinions on the slavery question nationwide. Martenet comments about many major incidents and people before the U.S. Civil War including: “Bleeding Kansas,” John Brown’s Raid, the Know Nothing Party, and the Knights of the Golden Circle. Two people in particular he and his mother comment on are Millard Fillmore and Baltimore Mayor Thomas Swann. Martenet also made many off-hand remarks regarding race during the 1850s, especially African Americans, Chinese Americans, Indians, and Mexicans with his regular use of Spanish. Box 2 has 17 folders, one for each year from 1860 to 1892, except for 1871-1879, 1881-1882, and 1884-1890. With the exception of occasional letters to his siblings, the overwhelming majority of the letters in Box 2 are between Jefferson Martenet in San Francisco, California and his mother Catherine M. Richardson in Baltimore, Maryland. The first half of the letters in this box discuss the hardships of living in Baltimore during the U.S. Civil War and Jefferson Martenet’s political opinions of politicians and military generals including: “Black” or “Radical” Republicans, Abraham Lincoln, John C. Breckinridge and Joseph Lane, Martin F. Conway, the Battle of Bull Run, General Robert E. Lee, and the election of Ulysses S. Grant. The second half focuses less so on politics and more on Jefferson Martenet’s business ventures, involvement with an Episcopalian church, and family relations.