The Committee of Vigilance expands

At about the same time as the coroner’s jury issued its verdict blaming a number of prominent San Franciscans for the hanging of Jenkins, the Committee of Vigilance adopted a series of resolutions and issued them to the people in the form of an address. They said that robbers and arsonist had burned and at other times tried to burn parts of the city, attacked the people, broke into houses, and jeopardized lives and property. Many who had been arrested escaped their confinement through carelessness, connivance, or a lack of the proper means to secure their imprisonment.

View of San Francisco 1850

They notified the citizens that the committee would be ready at all times to receive information on any criminal or suspicious character or any one who associated with them. A warning was issued that any person known to the committee or the police as a felon should leave the port of San Francisco within five days or the committee would compel them to do so. A safety committee of thirty persons had been appointed to visit all vessels arriving in the port and any unsavory or suspicious people on board would be sent back to where they came from. And finally a call was made for all good citizens to assist the committee in carrying out the measures so necessary for the peace, safety and good order of the community.

A vigilante court in the mines

In the meantime the committee had moved to new, larger quarters on Battery near Pine and it was evident that they intended to do what they proposed. Their members were among the best and most influential citizens, their membership grew everyday, and the people approved their objectives. They did have opponents among the officials, politicians and lawyers with whose business they interfered, but with the moral support of the community they went about their way undaunted by fear or hesitation. From the start they had produced consternation among the criminals. Many of whom had already left town for the mines where they soon swelled the number executed by the Lynch law justice occurring there. Others were apprehended and sent away while a few appealed to the committee, and because of a lack of proof, were allowed to stay.

San Francisco Harbor 1851

But some of the most desperate and dangerous villains still remained in town and when the committee attempted to find them there came some opposition in certain quarters to the searches its members conducted. Therefore on July 5th another address was made to the people, first calling for the public to give the committee any information they had about the unsavory characters still in town. It then claimed the right to enter any premises where it had good reason to believe either a criminal or information about his whereabouts was held. The committee, convinced that its cause was a good and just one, intended to stand by its word.

 

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