Henry Meiggs escapes California

Recognizing that his exposure for forgery was imminent, Henry Meiggs carefully planned his escape, knowing how dangerous it would be to stay in California after he had swindled so many powerful people. He had control of a small brig of several hundred tons that he supplied with ample provisions including fine wines and delicacies. On October 6, 1854, after spreading the word that he was going for a cruise around the bay, he took his brother and family aboard and sailed out through the Golden Gate, gone forever from San Francisco, the golden state and the creditors he had abandoned.

Brig off Sandy Hook by Edward Moran

It did not take long for the holders of his warrants to realize he had fled and there was a rush to the controller’s office to determine the validity of their warrants. And as the truth came out it caused quite a stir about the city. Meiggs had been impartial in his dealings. His victims numbered in the hundreds and included members of every class in town, from bankers, merchants and city officials to mechanics, draymen, and even many women. Meiggs had been an unbiased man, never preferring one friend over another. Honest Henry Meiggs had taken advantage of everyone who had trusted him, including his washerwoman.

Jenny Lind Theater, San Francisco’s City Hall

There was never any accurate count of the amount of money that Meiggs owed when he left but popular estimates at the time put the figure at eight hundred thousand dollars, quite a fortune for those days. While his brother John Meiggs had recently been elected city controller, it is doubtful that this could have helped Henry put off the inevitable discovery of his crimes and it is reasonable to assume that Meiggs knew very well that he had played his desperate gamble to the last card and in the end he had lost.



  1. Harold Grice says

    SF had all the intrigue of the world within that period of history. The stories you bring forth are fascinating. Thank you.

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