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Stephen Charnock Massett (1819 - 1898)

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Stephen Charnock Massett
Born in Saint Botolph without Aldgate, London, England, United Kingdommap
Son of and [mother unknown]
[spouse(s) unknown]
[children unknown]
Died in Manhattan, New York County, New York, United Statesmap
Profile last modified 16 Apr 2019 | Created 1 Mar 2019
This page has been accessed 26 times.


Stephen Charnock Masset was born 04 Aug 1819 in St. Botolph Bishopgate, Middlesex, England. Based on records he was registered as non conformist; presbyterian/independent or baptist, with brother Benjamin on May 16, 1821 Dr Williams' Library Registry, Birth Certificates, 1820-1824. At age 17, he took the "Hampton" to USA. His mother had died 2 years previous and his father and sister saw him off, he thought forever. He spent 95 days on the ship to NYC traveling with his brother Jack on Jul 1837 from London. In 1849, Stephen C Massett opened at courthouse as the first professional entertainer in San Francisco. It may have been necessity rather than talent that caused the opening--his gold fever took him there in January 1849.

Biography [1]


Excerpt from Maritime Heritage "Stephen Charnock Massett: From the Maritime Heritage Project.

San Francisco's first entertainer, Stephen C. Massett, was the true Bohemian type. He was an artist, with an equal capacity for work and diversion, whose ruling principle was, "If your pocket is light make your heart light to match it; if your coat is torn, laugh while you you patch it."

Massett was a "red-faced little Englishman" with a wealth of copper-colored curls, a heavy mustache and goatee, a face full and mobile, with the nose of the philosopher and the eyes of the dreamer. He was poet-actor, song and dance artist, composer, essayist, lawyer, auctioneer, notary public, and "wandering minstrel in many lands." He was best known to San Francisco as "Jeems Pipes of Pipesville," his nom de plume as a writer of humorous prose. It pleased Mr. Massett, after his characteristic vein of humor, to call Pipesville a "ranch," but in reality it was "a little house not much larger than a full-sized Saratoga trunk" in a bog near the "bridge" on Mission Street.

Massett came to this country by sailing vessel from England in 1837. He articled himself in Buffalo, as a law student, where to "an occasional line of Blackstone, a half-page of Kent, or a speech of Charles Phillips," he devoured Shakespeare, "learning 'Richard III' by heart, a portion of "Othello," and a scene from 'Macbeth'." Finally concluding that his chances of becoming distinguished at the bar were slim, and not being able to penetrate at all into the mysteries of Coke, Kent, or Blackstone, he drifted. He eked out an existence in countinghouse and theater, as clerk, bookkeeper, salesman, wandering minstrels, from New York to Boston, to Charleston, back again to New York, to the Mediterranean, to Malta, Constantinople, and returned once more to New York, there to remain four years as clerk in the law firm of Brady & Maurice.

It was while he was living in Charleston, Massett confesses, that "happening to fall in love with a large pair of dark eyes, I gave vent to my feelings in the words and music of a song—my maiden effort—'When the Moon on the Lake is Beaming'."

A victim of the gold fever, Massett set sail by schooner for San Francisco in January, 1849. He was eight days crossing the Isthmus by muleback, jolt, bump, jolt, across streams and hills, into bogs and holes and out again. Then, for thirty days, he was becalmed on the Pacific, in dreadful heat, and with malignant fever among the passengers. The horror seemed never-ending. The ship was ninety-eight days making its way from Panama to the Golden Gate.

This awful journey, this need for some less perilous mode of travel, later inspired Massett to compose the stirring music of "Clear the Way," for a poem by Charles Mackay. More than any other one thing, it is said, "Clear the Way" helped to create public sentiment in favor of a transcontinental railroad.

CLEAR THE WAY; OR, SONG OF THE WAGON ROAD Words by Charles Mackay; Music by Stephen C. Massett (Composed for and dedicated to the Pioneers of the Great Pacific Railroad) (The first stanza)

Men of thought, be up and stirring, night an day; Sow the seed, withdraw the curtain, Clear the way! Men of action, aid and cheer, as ye may; There's a found about to stream, There's a light about to beam, There's a warmth about to glow There's a flower about to blow There's a midnight blackness changing into gray, Men of thought, and men of action, Clear the way!


  • *"England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975," database, FamilySearch ( : 11 February 2018, Stephen Charnock Massett, 04 Aug 1819); citing , index based upon data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City; FHL microfilm 816,008.
  • "United States Census, 1850," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 12 April 2016), Stephen C Massatt in household of J B Starr, Sacramento, Sacramento, California, United States; citing family 424, NARA microfilm publication M432 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

"Find A Grave Index," database, FamilySearch ( : 17 December 2018), Stephen Charnock Massett, ; Burial, Brooklyn, Kings (Brooklyn), New York, United States of America, Green-Wood Cemetery; citing record ID 155825655, Find a Grave,

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Stephen is 41 degrees from Danielle Liard, 36 degrees from Jack London and 33 degrees from Henry VIII of England on our single family tree. Login to find your connection.