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Another Perspective

The Life of Alfred Nolan

The following is an account of Alfred Dolan. His story offers a glimpse into the life of prospectors during the California Gold Rush.

Al was born and raised in the Plymouth, Massachusetts. At this time Plymouth was a relatively isolated coastal community dependent on fishing, shipbuilding, and the manufacturing of rope and related products. As a teen, Al worked as a carpenter and fished for cod. He didn’t attend college, but was well read, had a knack for writing, and played the fiddle.

Al’s father, Sam Dolan, was a highly disciplined and respected sea captain. Sam could trace his ancestral roots back to the first colonists who left England in search of religious freedom. While the people who influenced Al’s development believed their expression of faith was the only way to Heaven, they didn’t impose a strict moral code on him.

Al was nineteen when word reached Plymouth that gold had been discovered in California. Al talked with several of his friends and they all agreed it was time to leave New England for the financial freedom California offered. They raised the money they needed by forming the Pilgrim Mining Company. Each boy asked his father and his fathers’ friends to invest in their dream. In exchange for their investment, the financiers were to be paid two-thirds of the gold the boys collected. Al and his buddies used part of the money they received to book passage on the sailing ship Yeoman. As winds blew the Yeoman out of Plymouth harbor, church bells rang beckoning the faithful to worship.

When the Yeoman arrived in San Francisco, Al made his way to the foothill community of Calaveras. There he set up the Plymouth Mining Company. Al spent his days carefully going through a hundred buckets of river dirt looking for nuggets of gold. On a good day he uncovered a few flecks.

Each night Al shared drinks with his fellow miners until he was drunk. As the days passed, Al drank more and mined less. Not surprisingly, the Plymouth Mining Company failed. Not only did the investors lose their money, Al became destitute.

Al enjoyed his time with women. Though he had a girlfriend, Al liked having sex with a variety of women, particularly those who were not White. One night he persuaded a young Indian woman into his tent. He was just about to have sex with her when the girl’s mother burst into the tent and retrieved her daughter. Al was left frustrated and swearing.

Tired of the miner’s life, Al opened a saloon that catered to immigrants. In his saloon, Al drank nonstop. One day in June of 1852, several Mexicans got into an argument with a White man and shot him. Al helped round up the culprits and participated in their hanging.

Al thought often about returning to Plymouth, but he lacked the funds to pay for the journey. The best he could do was to leave Calaveras for the mines in Nevada. Riches evaded him there also.

Al kept a detailed journal of his experiences in California and that’s how we know so much about him. Al’s hometown newspaper, the Plymouth Rock, paid him for his vivid descriptions of life in California. Encouraged by this modest success, Al purchased a local newspaper, the Gold Hill Daily News. But like his other business ventures, this one failed also.

The last years of Alfred’s life were spent in bars telling stories of the early days of the Gold Rush. He’d tell his audiences he had less money at that moment than when he arrived, but was appreciative of the people who’d befriended him while he lived in California and Nevada. At the age of seventy-three, Al died alone in a boarding house in Carson City. *
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* Much of this information was taken from a PBS episode of the American Experience: The Gold Rush/ People & Events.
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