The New York Volunteers and Joseph Libbey Folsom

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, were in an ideal position to profit wildly in the early days of the gold rush.

By 1848, with the war over and after the discovery of gold, the potential in California was clear to the eager Folsom. He wrote in a letter, ‘I think California affords means for the investment of capital such as few other countries offer. Any person who could come in here now with ready cash would be certain of doubling his money in a few months. Large fortunes will be made here within the ensuing year, and I am told that there are some hundreds of persons who have already made on an average, $25,000 each.’ Toward this end he bought San Francisco property from William Leidesdorff, but when Leidesdorff died unexpectedly without a will, Folsom heard the knock of opportunity. He raised enough money to sail to St. Croix, where Leidesdorff’s mother lived, and pay her $75,000 for the estate, which included more property in San Francisco as well as the 35,000 acre Rancho de los Americanos in the heart of the gold country. Afterwards controversy and litigation would hound Folsom the rest of his life.

Theodore Judah

Early in 1855, Folsom hired Theodore Judah, who would later be instrumental in planning the transcontinental railroad, to map a new town along the American River above Sacramento, which he named Granite City. But on July 19th Folsom also died suddenly and at the same age as had William Leidesdorff. The next year Folsom’s executors’ renamed Granite City in his honor and it is the city of Folsom we know today.

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