Maud Maxson Letter

Original content by: Laurie Hartnett

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About This Document

In 1870, a young girl named Maud Maxson left her home in Mystic, CT to travel aboard a ship to San Francisco with her uncle, Charles Wheeler, who was the ship's master. This letter recounts her voyage as she writes to her mother back in Mystic. It tells of day-to-day experiences she had onboard the ship, as well as what it was like to travel at this time in history, the changing landscape of the American West Coast, and the life of a child at sea.

Reading by Alison Marseglia.

Historical Context

When Maud was traveling, ship travel was incredibly different than it is now.  The Panama Canal had yet to be built, so any ship traveling from New York to San Francisco had to go around Cape Horn.  Additionally, the first Trans Continental Railroad was completed in 1869, the year before Maud set out on her voyage. She probably saw many Chinese immigrants when she was in San Francisco, as they were instrumental in the railroad's construction, but due to its completion, they mostly wound up in major West Coast cities.

Questions for Further Thought

  1. Compare Maud's voyage in 1870 to a trip from New York to San Francisco today. Would there have been any advantages to traveling then?
  2. How do you think it would have felt to be the only child on board a ship for such a long voyage?
  3. What was Maud's attitude toward the Chinese immigrants? How do you think this attitude might be different today?