Chapter

Precious as Gold Mobility and Family in The Gold Rush and Civil War

in The Postal Age

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print November 2006 | ISBN: 9780226327204
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226327228 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226327228.003.0006
Precious as Gold Mobility and Family in The Gold Rush and Civil War

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This chapter describes how mail came to assume a particular burden in the maintenance of long-term relationships that were threatened (or simply structured) by physical separation, especially of family members. This burden assumed dramatic proportions in the context of the two most publicized internal mobilizations of this period in American history—the California Gold Rush and the Civil War—when large numbers of Americans, mostly men, left their homes for what they hoped or insisted was a short period of time, expecting in the interim to maintain some symbolic presence within those homes. These two events created communities on both sides of a postal divide where the daily rituals of mail delivery assumed especially high stakes, habituating new groups of Americans to the postal culture and dramatizing scenes of mail call for a national readership. At the same time, the dramatic public spectacle of separated kin using the post to perform family obligations and affirm family intimacy helped shape the meaning of mail in American culture.

Keywords: mail; physical separation; postal culture; American culture; long-term relationships; family members; Californian Gold Rush; Civil War

Chapter.  12667 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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