New book chronicles Peacham couple's Gold Rush journey - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

New book chronicles Peacham couple's Gold Rush journey

Peacham, Vermont -- October 17, 2011

A new nonfiction book by a Vermont author chronicles the life of a 19th century married couple from Peacham and their remarkable voyage to the California Gold Rush.

Archivist and author Lynn Bonfield first discovered the Alfred and Christina Rix diary back in 1972 digging through un-cataloged manuscripts at the California Historical Society where she works.

"I picked up this old copy book, I opened it, I read the first entry and I knew my whole life had changed," says Bonfield.

Beginning on their wedding day at the local congregational church in 1849, the Peacham couple kept a shared diary of their life, observations and poetry.

"So as a woman it was a romantic story to me but as a historian and archivist of American history I realized this was an intimate story of someone from New England who moved west and that to me is one of the most exciting themes of the 19th century," Bonfield says. 

Alfred Rix was headmaster at the Peacham Academy and studying to become a lawyer. Chastina also taught at the academy. They boarded in a house across the street.

The couple was deeply in love -- sharing many details in the diary.

"One of the things that is so unique about this journal is that alfred describes their relationship - including their sexual relationship. He clearly writes when he goes to bed at night 'good night, good night, good night!' indicating, I think, that he was expecting they would be having intercourse," Bonfield explains. "Very racy - especially nineteenth century."

But the journal also touches on more important themes of the day, including the struggles over slavery, westward migration, temperance, and the value of education.

But by 1851 the small town life, with its lack of opportunities, was enough to lure the Rixes -- and many single young men -- to light out for the West.

Alfred Rix set out for the California Gold Fields on an October day. Chastina followed him two years later. Neither of them would ever return to Peacham.

"The fact that a woman left behind on a men's adventure, whether it be war or the Gold Rush or whatever, she wrote how she felt about that and we have very few sources of that life of that feeling, of that deprivation that she felt and she was very clear that she was very unhappy about it," Bonfield says.

After decades of compiling names and places from the diary, Lynn Bonfield's journey eventually led her in the opposite direction of the Rixes. She settled in Peacham where she continues to be captivated by local history.

Click here for more on author Lynn Bonfield.

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