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October 27, 1861: Benicia

October 27, 2011

Camp 62

[I]t cleared up in the morning and the day was most wonderfully clear. It was the loveliest day for a long time. Two gentlemen called at camp—Judge Hastings and a Mr. Whitman. Judge Hastings invited us to dinner…After dressing, Averill and I went into town and attended the Episcopal church, the first service of that denomination I have attended for a long time. The church was small but neat, the attendance good, and very “respectable.” At the close, we were met at the door by Mr. Whitman, one of the vestrymen, who invited us to his house near to take a whiskey cocktail. As it was too early to go to Judge Hastings we went in, he being an old friend of Averill’s. We sat an hour, walked into his garden, the most noticeable feature of which was an abundance of most delicious almonds, now just ripe. The cocktail story may seem a large one, but it is literally true—you have no idea how prevalent drinking is in this state—one scarcely ever goes into a house without being invited to drink. If you go to dinner you are asked to drink before, but a refusal to drink is always courteously received—at least, I have always found it so, as I quite seldom accept the invitation except wine.

At three we went to Judge Hastings’ and were most cordially received. The Judge is quite a noted man here, has made much money, is a man of influence, was once one of the supreme judges of the state. He has a pretty wife and several children; some of the latter very pretty, others not.

Don’t ask me to describe dinners, that is out of my line. The dinner was quite ordinary—two or three courses. The waiters were three Digger Indians, of the homeliest kind, two young squaws, and a boy—far from neat, yet tolerably handy. After dinner Mrs. Hastings bragged of her Indians, told me all their merits and demerits, admired them as servants, but not as cooks—she has a Chinaman cook. So are the races mixed up here. Judge Hastings is a convert to the Roman church; his wife is a leading Presbyterian here. He, like all proselytes, is very zealous, is probably the most influential man in that church here. He had traveled abroad, and gave us a most interesting description of his presentation to the Pope.

Benicia is noted for its schools. There is a college, and there are two large female schools. One of the latter is Roman Catholic, in charge of nuns (sisters, rather) of the order of Ste. Catherine. They have recently made great enlargements, put up a new building at an expense of thirty or thirty-five thousand dollars, and have made proportionate improvements. Judge Hastings asked if we would like to visit it, so we did, were introduced to the “Mother” (Mother Mary) at the head, and went through many of the rooms. About thirty-five sisters have charge, dressed in the most untasteful white garbs of their order. They are very kind and the pupils are greatly attached to them. There were about a hundred girls (besides the day scholars), who, of course, are kept very secluded. It being Sunday there were no studies, but we met them all coming out of the chapel and saw most of them there or in some large recreation rooms. A peculiar feature was an examination hall, apart from the other buildings, in the grounds. It is a building with roof, lattice sides, and floor, built in a hollow, with the ground rising on each side forming a natural amphitheater. It was an excellent arrangement, but of course only suited to a Californian climate.

Our visit there so prolonged our stay that we rode back after dark in the chilly night air. The night was glorious, but cool. The day had been of the most lovely kind, the sky intensely blue, and the mountains across the bay, twenty miles distant, seemed scarcely three miles away.

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