Harry Fassett (b. May 17, 1794, Cambridge, Vermont, d. May 19, 1872, San Francisco, California) was one of two sons of Gen. Elias Fassett (b. December 20, 1771, Bennington, Vermont, d. August 15, 1822, Cambridge, Vermont) and his wife, Sarah Walbridge Fassett (b. April 10, 1772, Bennington, Vermont, d. September 9, 1809). He was a grandson of Capt. John Fassett (b. June 3, 1743, Hardwick, Massachusetts, d. April 2, 1803, Cambridge, Vermont), one of Ethan Allen's Green Mountain Boys, and a long-time resident of the region in and around Bennington, Vermont.
Harry studied medicine in Vermont, and in 1819 at the age of 25 with a medical degree in hand, he set off on horseback for Ohio to join his brother, Elias, Jr., who had gone two years earlier to farm at Granville, Ohio. Even earlier, their uncle, Joseph Fassett (b. September 10, 1778, Bennington, Vermont, d. November 21, 1846, Granville, Ohio), a brother of Gen. Elias Fassett, had moved to Granville and set up a farm just east of town. Harry set up a medical practice in Johnstown near Granville, and became one of the first physicians to practice in the region. Soon he fell in love and in 1822 he married a Johnstown girl, Clarissa Harlow Peck (b. January 26, 1803, Halifax, Nova Scotia, d. July 7, 1890, San Francisco, California), and they proceeded to raise a family consisting of five boys and five girls. Harry practiced medicine in Johnstown until, in 1854 at the age of 60, he retired to a farm near Granville.
In 1849 gold was discovered in California and soon a massive influx of hopefuls began their migration over land or by sea to seek their fortune. Two of Harry and Clarissa's children, Ann and Chitt, joined the crowd in 1852, to be joined by a third, Harris, in 1854. Ann, their oldest daughter, born in Johnstown July 31, 1824, had married Parker Germain in 1845, and by spring 1852 was 27 years old with three young children Dwight, Guy, and Clara, aged six to two. Noah Chittenden Fassett (known as Chitt) was 23 and single. The five Germains and Chitt left home in mid March 1852, traveling by train to Cincinnati, then by steamer to St. Louis and St. Joseph, Missouri. They left St. Jo on April 24 with their wagons, cattle, and provisions and arrived in Hangtown (Placerville) August 6. Accompanying them for part of the way were several men from the Granville area including George Green, Noyce Gregory, and James Morrow.
Parker and Chitt tried their hands at prospecting, but Chitt soon realized that mining was less rewarding than shop keeping, and he started a business in Placerville. Parker made some money in the mines, but after five years moved to Pacheco where he farmed for many years. Chitt's business prospered, and in 1854 he returned to Johnstown to visit his family and to bring a younger brother Harris Hardinge Fassett, who by that time was 22 years old and ready for adventure, to work with him in the business.
These three Fassett children wrote back to their parents in Ohio over a period of years, and 103 of their letters written between 1852 and 1862 have survived. After the parents moved to California to join their children in 1872, the letters remained on the farm in St. Albans Township, Ohio, where a younger sister Sarah Fassett Castle and her descendants lived after her marriage in 1854 to William Augustus Castle. Transcripts of these letters are gradually being made available on the Internet.
The same year that Ann and Chitt emigrated to California, their father's cousin, also from Granville, the 44 year old Truman Newel Fassett (b. September 1, 1807, Cambridge Township, Vermont, d. 1881, Sacramento?, California), one of Joseph Fassett's sons, emigrated by ship. He eventually sent for his wife Lydia [Hillyer] and their four children, Henry, Lewis, Lucy, and Julia who joined him in 1855. Truman worked briefly for Chitt in Placerville, but eventually turned to farming in the Sacramento area.
Some years after their first arrival in the west, Chitt moved to the San Francisco area, opened up a business in San Francisco, married, and made quite a bit of money, some of which he sent home to his father who had by that time retired from his medical practice. Harris also married and settled in San Francisco. To complete the story, Dr. Harry Fassett, his wife Clarissa, together with two more of their sons, Harry, who was only ten in 1852, and Willie who was just three, emigrated permanently to California by train in 1872 after the rail link had been opened in 1869.
Transcripts of the
letters are available at
A Preface written by
Harry Fassett's great grandson William
A. Castle who transcribed the letters in the 1960s may be found at
Email may be sent to Roger P. Kohin
Roger P. Kohin
January 8, 2002
revision June 25, 2008