Political intrigue in early California

Thomas O. Larkin

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 1846, President James Polk sent Lieutenant Archibald Gillespie with secret messages for Larkin, John C. Fremont, and Commodore Sloat. These messages likely spelled out the American plan to take California if war was declared.

Larkin House

He then began a dialogue with General Mariano Vallejo for a peaceful annexation of California by the United States, but Vallejo was taken prisoner during the Bear Flag Revolt, and Larkin was captured by the Mexicans and held until the war was over.  After gold was found Larkin’s letters back to Washington helped confirm the magnitude of that discovery and fueled the gold rush fever that swept the world. Later he helped establish the city of Benicia and served in the Constitutional Convention of 1849. San Francisco’s Larkin Street is named for him.


  1. I think people sometimes forget that there were more than a few Americans in California before gold was found. It is almost as if California starts with the gold rush. I loved reading HHJ’s writing about the early missions in the area. Pretty fascinating stuff between you and her.

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