University of Notre Dame


Hesburgh Libraries

Rare Books & Special Collections

Guide to the William H. Zerbe Diary

MSN/EA 8000-1


Collection Summary

Title: William H. Zerbe diary
Dates: 1850-1852
Collection No.: MSN/EA 8000-1
Creator: Zerbe, William H., 1824-1894
Extent: 1 volume
Language: Collection material in English
Repository: University of Notre Dame. Hesburgh Libraries, Department of Special Collections. 102 Hesburgh Library, Notre Dame, IN 46556
Abstract: A manuscript diary recording the experiences during the California gold rush of William H. Zerbe of Berks County, Pennsylvania.

Selected Search Terms

Pioneers -- California -- History -- 19th Century
Adventure and adventurers -- California
California -- Social conditions -- 19th century
California -- History -- 1846-1850

Administrative Information

Restrictions: There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Preferred Citation: William H. Zerbe Diary, Department of Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame.

Acquisition and Processing Note: The date of the acquisition of this diary by the Hesburgh Libraries is not known. Finding aid 2008, by George Rugg.

Biographical Note

William H. Zerbe was born on 19 August 1824, probably in Berks County, Pennsylvania. In July of 1850 he was in California, working a gold mining claim near Rough & Ready in what is now Nevada County. Soon thereafter, on 9 July, Zerbe left the mines, resolving to either cash in on his claim and ship for home or find temporary work in San Francisco. Both cash and work proved elusive, however, and it was not until 1 November 1850 that he was able to embark. After a two-month stay in Callao, in Peru (March-June 1851), Zerbe successfully returned to the United States. On 24 December 1853, at Reading, Berks County, he married Caroline Leitner (1833-1896), with whom he had several children. Zerbe died in 1894.

Scope and Content Note

The Zerbe diary is a single leather-bound volume (13 cm.) of 62 leaves, with around 88 pages of manuscript entries in Zerbe's hand. The first leaf (1r) bears the inscription "Memorandum Book" and the signature "W H Zerbe". Most of the volume consists of daily diary entries running from 1 July to 16 November 1850, a period roughly corresponding to the time between Zerbe's abandonment of mining and his departure from California. Entries are typically brief, of 20 to 50 words, though the occasional entry runs to 100 words. Much of the content of the diary relates to the author's efforts to find work, and his travels to that end, between San Francisco and the gold fields. Entries made during Zerbe's trip home in 1850-51 are irregular and brief. There are also a few financial records (accounts), probably postdating Zerbe's return to Pennsylvania.

Container List

  • Diary. William H. Zerbe, 1850 to 1852. Folder 1 (MSN/EA 8000-01).