William Newell served in Civil War

Written by Joanne Burkett from research taken from Paolo Sioli's History of El Dorado County California, from El Dorado Co. birth, marriage, death and land records and often from interviews.

Gold seekers were a diverse bunch. They were mostly a young, adventurous brand of men; many were first generation emigrants, but some were from old-line American families. California gold seeker William Henry Newell was just 20 years old, the grandson of a Revolutionary War officer and the descendent of long-time Connecticut pioneers when he sailed for San Francisco.

Born in Farmington, Conn. on March 13, 1831, William was the seventh child of Roger Sheldon Newell and Naomi Hawley Newell, their third-born son. His grandfather, Simeon Newell, the Revolutionary War veteran, had been an enlisting officer during his service.

William was raised and educated in Farmington and worked at various occupations until, in November 1851, he sailed from New York via the Panama route, bound for the gold fields of California and some adventurous years ahead.

Arriving in San Francisco on Jan. 1, 1852, William immediately outfitted himself for more travel and proceeded to Coloma, then Columbia Flat, where he eagerly set to work as a gold miner.

By 1856, he was in charge of the mining ditch from Georgetown to the headwaters and would maintain that position through 1857. The following year, he journeyed north to the headwaters of the Trinity River, high in the Trinity Alps of northern California. Altitudes there ranged from six-to- nine thousand feet.

No doubt dissatisfied and homesick, but more probably anxious over escalating tensions and rumors of the coming Civil War, William returned to San Francisco in May 1860 and from there, sailed back to the Atlantic Coast.

According to Paolo Sioli's History of El Dorado County, William Henry Newell enlisted in a Hartford, Conn. rifle company and was discharged due to ill health in 1861. However, actual Civil War rosters show that the regiment was not organized until Aug. 14, 1862, so it is probable that he was actually there later. Furthermore, three Newell's are shown as members of Company K of the 18th Union Army Connecticut Volunteer Regiment: Private Marcus B. Newell, enlisted July 22, 1862 and mustered out June 24, 1865; Private Levi H. Newell, enlisted Aug. 14, 1862 and died Jan. 14, 1863. The birthplace for both is listed as Farmington, Conn. Unfortunately, the listing for William H. Newell only shows that he was a private in Company K, 18th Union Army Connecticut Volunteer Regiment. No dates are shown for him.

After his discharge, William returned to California and was active in developing the mines in his district.

In Dec. 12, 1865, he teamed up with another miner, Robert Doran, and after finding some gold-bearing quartz, to their surprise, they found a large ledge. Here they ran a 400-foot tunnel, extending it 130 feet deep and pulling out enough gold to realize they had something.

Possibly going as far as they could afford to go on their own, they sold the mine to McNewins, Bateman and Buel, who built a 20-stamp mill and brought the mine to such success that in around 1871 or 1872, they, in turn, sold it to an English company for $300,000.

By the time the mine had reached the 500-foot level, some claimed that $2 million in gold had been taken from its six-foot wide vein of gold-bearing quartz. Finally, though, the mine was worked dry and eventually abandoned.

William returned to the east and upon his return, two years later, he resumed working mines and quartz mills. However, he soon grew weary of the uncertain livelihood and decided to farm. That year, he bought David Martin's farm in Columbia Flat, a town that had originally carried the Indian name of Po-no-chitta-toma, which means moon flat. The post office for the area was St. Lawrence.

Over the next years, William became successful, building a life and a family of which he was proud. He served his district as mining recorder, acted as justice of the peace for many years, and was master of the Grange at Garden Valley.

On Jan. 31, 1875, he was united in marriage to Celia Richardson Cole, the daughter of Massachusetts native, William Richardson and his wife, Fannie Frink Richardson. William Richardson had served in the War of 1812. Unfortunately, he died in January 1871, never meeting his future son-in-law.

Celia, who was born in Sheldon, Wyoming County, N.Y. and educated in Bloomington, Ill., along with her mother, journeyed to California in June of that same year, planning to join her three brothers, who had been mining the area since the early 1850s. Three years later, Celia's mother died. Her brother, John, eventually became a prominent member of Sacramento society.

William and Celia are listed in the 1880 census; however, no children are listed. William's name also shows up in Bureau of Land Management records, once in 1879 and again in 1890. Several Newell's are listed in California's 1892 Great Register, but not William.

Permission is granted by the author to use or republish this article, but proper attribution to the author -- Joanne Burkett -- is requested.

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