Becoming argonauts: Scots in the California Gold Rush, 1848-1860
Devin C., Grier
This thesis examines the Scottish experience in the California Gold Rush through the lens of the Scottish diaspora. From 1848 to 1860, at least 3,000 Scots from across Scotland and its wider diaspora funnelled into the Golden State in search of wealth and opportunity. The resulting Scottish population in California, representing over twenty countries and five continents of first-time migrants and transmigrants alike, was a coming together of the Scottish diaspora from far apart. Dubbed ‘Argonauts’, those who took part in the California Gold Rush were primarily sojourners, temporary migrants who intended to eventually return home. In contrast to the existing Scottish diaspora historiography, this thesis asserts the dynamic role of diaspora throughout the entirety of the migrant experience. Traditionally, the existence of a diaspora in a host society is defined on the basis of collective manifestations of a distinctive culture. Addressing the limited understanding of the more ‘invisible’ migrants or ethnics who appeared to assimilate to the host society, this study emphasises the active role and experience of the individual migrant in the Scottish diaspora. Intent on returning home, Scottish Argonauts integrated with the Anglo-American community and left little trace of Scottish ethnic communities and institutions during the Gold Rush. Meanwhile, in the private realm, Scottish Argonauts employed letters as transnational agents to maintain vital links with the homeland. As this study demonstrates, personal correspondence was a central mechanism of the Scottish diaspora as it sustained ethnic networks and could play a large role in negotiating migrants’ identities abroad. Over the course of their stay in California, as the rush for gold diminished, some of these Scottish Argonauts decided to remain. Notably, the shift in what the individual migrant sought affected the ways in which they interacted with their homeland connections and diaspora. No longer Argonauts, Scottish Californians paid more heed to rebuilding their ethnic communities in their new homes. More broadly, this thesis offers a comparative context to other Scottish diaspora locations across the globe and throughout time, refining the understanding of locational influences on Scottish communities abroad and how we understand the Scottish diaspora as whole. This study uses a variety of sources to reconstruct the Scottish Gold Rush experience. The first chapter employs data from the 1850 Federal Census, the 1852 California State Census, and the 1860 Federal Census to identify and situate the Scottish demographic presence in California. The remaining chapters employ a range of Scottish-authored diaries, correspondence, and memoirs, as well as Scottish and Americans periodicals, to construct a narrative arc that begins in Scotland with the arrival of news of the Gold Rush and concludes a decade later in California. From the journey to California, to their arrival, and whether they eventually returned back home, remigrated elsewhere, or chose to settle in California, Scottish Argonauts’ relationship with the homeland and diaspora was both affirmed and reshaped by the processes of sojourning and settlement. Through the context of the California Gold Rush, this study offers some important insights into the nature of movement across the Scottish diaspora, the diasporic actions of individual migrants, and their shifting conceptions of opportunity, home, and ethnic expression abroad.