Friday, January 18, 2008

Meet the Ancestors - Benjamin Franklin Maxson

Benjamin Franklin Maxson was born in Friendship, New York, in 1841. In his early twenties he served with the Wisconsin Infantry in the Civil War. On June 7, 1867, the day after his twenty-sixth birthday, he bid adieu to family and friends and began his journey to California to gain for himself “a competence and to aid in establishing a permanent fund for educational purposes.”

His journey began in New York, two years prior to the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. New York city was “rainy and muddy” upon his arrival on the morning of June 8, 1867, but he visited Barnum’s Museum and in the evening he saw America’s first blockbuster musical, The Black Crook. On June 10th he boarded the San Francisco and sailed out to sea. He wrote about the many sea sick passengers during the first several days, as well as the large schools of porpoises and flying fish, and the pleasant feeling of seeing islands such as Cuba and Santo Domingo.

After ten days the San Francisco dropped anchor in the bay near Greytown (San Juan del Norte),Nicaragua, and passengers boarded river boats without landing and began the trip up the San Juan river. Here the natives approached, offering oranges, bananas, pol cakes, rum, wine, etc. Maxson wrote that the tropical scenery was the most beautiful he had ever beheld. “Such rare plants! . . . The clinging vines decked with beautiful flowers forming natural arbors which far surpass any which I have ever seen constructed by the hand of man.” The exotic fauna, the historic ruins of El Castillo, as well as the geology were equally impressive.

This route across Central America followed the San Juan between Nicaragua and Costs Rica by boats, horses and mules, hikes around rapids and sand bars, to Lake Nicaragua, then by boat to La Virgen and overland by mules, horses or carriages to San Juan Del Sur, where Benjamin arrived on June 23, 1867. From there he boarded the steamship America and headed for San Francisco. With sightings of whales and one false fire alarm, the voyage was “rather pleasant”.

On July 6 he wrote that he was in San Francisco, “thank goodness,” put up at the International Hotel. He explored the city, went to Prospect Hill for a bird’s eye view, and to “the Chinese portion to observe their customs and dress.” On July 8 he went aboard a river steamer and started to Sacramento. The “evening pleasant, country
fine and rolling and middling. Thickly settled. Wheat and oats in the sheath ready for gathering. Large droves of cattle . . . feeding in the valleys and on hillside. Arrived at Sacramento next morning after being stuck for two hours on a sand bar.” He stayed at the What Cheer House, now a landmark in Old Sacramento, then camped at Richmond Grove while “fitting out for the mountains.”

The portion of his journal to which this article refers ends at this point. He later farmed in Colusa, then Tustin and El Monte, being among the first commercial walnut growers in that area. He was an early member of the Lexington Lodge (El Monte Masons) and was a trustee on the Mountain View School Board. El Monte’s Maxson Road and Maxson School were named in his honor. He died in 1899. He and his wife, Olive (Merwin) are interred at Savannah.

Submitted by Reed B. Maxson, great-grandson
From the Journal of Benjamin Franklin Maxson

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