American Alchemy: The California Gold Rush and Middle-Class by Brian Roberts

By Brian Roberts

California in the course of the gold rush was once a spot of disputed claims, shoot-outs, playing halls, and prostitution; a spot populated by way of that tough and rebellious determine, the forty-niner; briefly, a spot that turns out totally unconnected to middle-class tradition. In American Alchemy, despite the fact that, Brian Roberts bargains a stunning problem to this assumption.

Roberts issues to a long-neglected fact of the gold rush: a number of the northeastern forty-niners who ventured westward have been in reality middle-class in beginning, prestige, and values. Tracing the stories and adventures either one of those males and of the "unseen" forty-niners--women who stayed again East whereas their husbands went out West--he exhibits that, no matter what else the gold seekers deserted at the highway to California, they didn't easily flip their backs on middle-class culture.

Ultimately, Roberts argues, the tale informed the following unearths an ignored bankruptcy within the heritage of the formation of the center category. whereas the purchase of respectability displays one degree during this background, he says, the gold rush constitutes a moment stage--a uprising opposed to criteria of respectability.

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Here this diverse household slept, ate, talked, and lived together as a type of extended family. ∞Ω In the 1830s and 1840s, the traditional ties of this corporate family structure underwent a slow process of fragmentation. Traditional concep- california gold and filthy lucre d 25 tions of a wider, extended family broke down, to be replaced by new standards emphasizing privatization and the separation of work, along with workers, from the home. Merchants and artisans increasingly located their shops away from their homes.

For many observers of the time, the city was a dangerous place, particularly for recent arrivals from the country. According to reformers, it was a place of dizzying temptations, a confusing matrix of shadows and light. Good and proper neighborhoods, the well-lit streets near Broadway and the bucolic residential areas of Brooklyn, seemed a bit too close to the darker mysteries of the Five Points District and the Bowery. These largely working-class districts were filled with dangerous urban toughs, pimps, and prostitutes, with shifty merchants plying trades from bodily desires and with drunkards giving in to them.

The ceremony took place at the Virginia home of Margaret’s sister Julia, the wife of former president of the United States John Tyler. Beeckman was also a keen speculator, his plan in going to California simple but ambitious: buy land while prices were low, sell high when the gold seekers finally realized the advantages of locating permanently in California. ∂∞ A graduate of Princeton College, William Prince owned a booming nursery business on Long Island. He too saw the rush as a business a√air.

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