History of Boston Company

posted: 10/10/13
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The men of Boston Company, as portrayed in Discovery's show Gold Fever.
Discovery Communications

Boston Company, also known as the Congress and California Mutual Protection Association, was a real joint-stock mining company that set out for the gold fields in California on May 19, 1849. Like most mining companies headed west, Boston Company was led by a former military man, John Webber, a Major in the Massachusetts State Militia. With his military experience, Webber was the perfect guide to guarantee passage through some of the most treacherous territory in the Northern Hemisphere: the California Trail.

The 40 men who traveled to California with Boston Company, like all the 49ers who set out to the gold fields, dreamed of striking it rich overnight. Some, like William Walker, had fought in the Mexican-American war. Others, like jeweler and clockmaker Sylvester Edgerly, had experience handling gold. And then there was the doctor, Charles Robinson, who kept the men alive and well on the trail and in the gold fields. But most of the members of Boston Company were inexperienced, down-on-their-luck guys who needed a fresh start and had left everything behind for a chance to strike the mother lode.

What set Boston Company apart from most mining collectives in the gold fields was their gold washing machine. Expensive and difficult to transport, the gold washer promised easy gold. But by the time Boston Company arrived, their much-touted gold washing machine simply didn't work, breaking down before they were able to uncover any gold. Without their secret weapon, the company quickly slipped into debt. Angered and frustrated, some members (such as William Walker) decided to leave the company and set off on their own.

After a cholera outbreak hit the gold fields, company doctor Charles Robinson developed a treatment that saved dozens of lives, earning him the respect of his fellow miners.

As the Rush went on, Robinson became one of the leading figures in the entire Gold Rush. In 1850, Sam Brannan, a wealthy merchant who had become the most powerful man in California, led a violent charge to take over the gold fields and evict the miners. Robinson led the fight against him, organizing his fellow miners. The standoff culminated in one of the bloodiest battles in California history, the Squatters Riot of August 1850.

The Boston Company charter and constitution has survived and can be viewed at Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, in New Haven, CT.

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