Archives for April 2011

The official report that sparked the gold rush

Richard Barnes Mason, a colonel in the United States Dragoons the unit that later became the U.S. 1st Cavalry, followed his own commander, General Stephen Watts Kearny, as Governor General of California, and faced some of the most important changes in California’s history, the end of the war with Mexico and the discovery of gold at Sutter’s mill. In 1882 San Francisco’s Civil War fortifications at Point San Jose were named in his honor and Fort Mason was later used as a temporary hospital after … [Read more...]

Political intrigue in early California

A grandson of the man who gave Paul Revere the horse he used in his famous ride, Thomas O. Larkin landed at Yerba Buena Cove in April 1832. By the next year he had enough money to marry and in 1835 he built his wife a house in Monterey that today is known as the Larkin House and is a National Historic Landmark. For a while he avoided the intrigues of politics but in 1843 President Tyler appointed Larkin US Consul. The next year he stopped a British attempt to take over California. Then, in … [Read more...]

San Francisco’s buried gold rush ships

In 1847 William W. Clark built a small wharf near Battery and Broadway as this was the best spot for boats to land in Yerba Buena Cove. Then in early 1848 the Central Wharf, or long wharf, was built between Clay and Leidesdorff Streets and stretched 800 feet into the bay. In 1850 it was extended to 2000 feet and is the location of today’s Commercial Street. Soon everything east of Montgomery between Broadway and California Streets was filled with wharves. After the discovery of gold, … [Read more...]

Bronze Spanish cannon guard San Francisco

Battery Street, running from Pier 29 at the Embarcadero, across Broadway, past the Embarcadero Center to Market Street, is now a major artery in San Francisco’s bustling Financial District, but once it was an integral part of the waterfront of the small Mexican village of Yerba Buena. It was named after a short-lived America fortification atop a bluff known as Punta del Embarcadero at the edge of Yerba Buena Cove, between the modern Vallejo and Green Streets. On July 9, 1846 the USS … [Read more...]

Mariano Vallejo and the Bear Flag Revolt

Born in Monterey on July 4, 1807, Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo was a powerful pro-America force during the troubled times that led up to the war with Mexico. The San Francisco Bay city of Vallejo was named for him and California’s former state capital, Benicia, for his wife. By 1833 he was commander of the Presidio of San Francisco and two years later he was the ranking military commander in Northern California and tasked with protecting against the Russians at Fort Ross as well as the local … [Read more...]

The New York Volunteers and Joseph Libbey Folsom

In the fall of 1846 Joseph Libbey Folsom left on a six-month voyage to California with the 770 man First Regiment of New York Volunteers under Colonel Jonathon D. Stevenson, a unit organized on the premise that each man would remain in California after mustering out of the army. These men were some of the luckiest men in the world at the time. Many of them, along with the Mormons who sailed west on the Brooklyn with Sam Brannan or those who followed Kearny by land across the American southwest, … [Read more...]

The first African American in San Francisco

The schooner Julia Ann first sailed into San Francisco Bay and dropped anchor at the small village of Yerba Buena in 1841. William Leidsdorff had found a home. Born on what was then Denmark’s St. Croix Island, the illegitimate son of a Danish planter and Anna Maria Spark, a woman of mixed ancestry, he made his way to New Orleans at an early age and became a prosperous trader and the owner of twelve ships. When he found himself unceremoniously banned from the home of the woman he was deeply in … [Read more...]

The battle of Mule Hill

Born in Newark, New Jersey in 1794, Stephen Watts Kearny went to Columbia University before enlisting in the military. He served as a lieutenant in the War of 1812 and after that on the American frontier. In 1826 he was the first commander of Jefferson Barracks, where he met William Clark and married his stepdaughter, Mary Radford. He organized a regiment of dragoons, later to become the 1st U. S. Cavalry, and instituted a policy of military protection for wagon trains heading west. When … [Read more...]

The naval officer who won California

Born in Princeton, New Jersey on August 20, 1795, Robert Field Stockton could boast of a father who was a senator and a grandfather who signed the Declaration of Independence. He went to sea at 16, served during the War of 1812 as a lieutenant, then in the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and off the coast of Africa where he was the first American navel officer to fight against the slave trade. While there he also aided in the negotiation of a treaty that resulted in the foundation of Liberia.  … [Read more...]

The first American flag flies in California

John Drake Sloat was born in Sloatsburg, New York on July 6, 1781 two months after a British soldier killed his father. When his mother died soon after his grandparents raised him. A midshipman in the navy by 1800, he served as sailing master under Captain Stephen Decatur on the USS United States during the War of 1812 and distinguished himself in the capture of the powerful British warship HMS Macedonian, a feat comparable to the famous victory of the USS Constitution over the HMS Guerriere. … [Read more...]