Father Taylor

William Taylor

In September 1849 William Taylor, a Methodist minister, arrived in San Francisco by ship along with his wife and a new baby who had been born in route. Near broke, but filled with the abiding faith that since God had sent him to the gold fields then God would take care of him and his family, Taylor immediately found a small number of local Methodists. They greeted him warmly but could not provide much in the way of housing and income. So Father Taylor set out to give God a hand. Needing shelter he crossed the bay to Oakland where the hills in those days were covered in a forest of redwood trees.

Strong, tall and big-boned, he set to work by himself and within a week had sufficient timber for a house, all cut and squared by hand with a broad ax. He made 3000 shingles and traded some for twenty-four joists. With a drawknife he shaved clapboards into decent looking weatherboarding. He bought doors at the cut-rate price of eleven dollars each, windows at a dollar per ten by twelve inch pane. It cost him twenty-five dollars per thousand feet to haul his lumber to the landing at San Antonio. Here the regular rate to ferry the wood across the bay to San Francisco was forty dollars per thousand feet, so Taylor chartered a boat, loaded it himself and had his lumber transported for half the price. In six weeks his house was finished and his family moved into it and Taylor rented out several extra rooms to cover the cost he had incurred.

Oakland lumber ships 1880s

In those days the steamboat companies, stage lines and even tavern owners felt an obligation to treat men of the cloth with respect, so Father Taylor often enjoyed their services free of charge. But once, when a tavern keeper who had given the good Father free room and board on several occasions, chose to charge him five and a half dollars for a nights stay and breakfast Taylor blamed the offense on the man’s wife who, he said, ‘was the personification of grasping cupidity’ and had forced her husband to treat the good Father so poorly.

San Francisco 1851

Father Taylor kept at his street preaching doggedly, year after year until 1856, but in spite of his pioneering spirit, his energy or his fortitude he had no talent for oratory or writing. His sermons were exceedingly dry, commonplace harangues and his writing dreary and insipid, except in those few occasions where in giving some autobiographical particulars he became interesting in spite of himself. But still he prospered until in August 1856 when bank failures, the many fires of early San Francisco, and perhaps his God, conspired to take from him nearly all he had gained in California. He was given tickets to the east by way of Panama. There he was ordained as a bishop and later sent to Africa, a new and promising locale for a man of his talents.


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