San Francisco History

The Annals of San Francisco



JANUARY 4th.—”The Star and Californian” is dropped, and the “Alta California,” a weekly newspaper of the same character and appearance, and published by the same parties, is issued in its stead.

JANUARY 8th.—Election of delegates to the proposed convention at San José, in conformity with the resolutions of the public meeting of 23d ultimo, when Wm. M. Stewart, Francis J. Lippitt, Elbert P. Jones, Myron Norton and John A. Patterson were chosen.

JANUARY 15th.—New election of town council, which resulted in the choice of Stephen C. Harris, Lazarus Everhart, Stephen A. Wright, Daniel Starks, Isaac Montgomery, John Sirrine, and C. E. Wetmore. Mr. Sirrine was appointed president.

There were at this period three town councils in San Francisco, viz.:—the old one of 1848, not yet dissolved, and those elected on the 27th December and 15th January respectively. The former of the two last insisted that the council of the previous year had expired the very day of its own election on the 27th December, and therefore the members met and transacted business as if it alone represented the town. A majority of the old council, however, insisted on continuing in office till those whom they considered their proper successors were chosen, and accordingly, they supported the council elected on the 15th January, and resolved to transfer the municipal records into its hands. The citizens generally seemed adverse to the pretensions of the old council, as scarcely a fourth part of the numbers that voted on the 27th December voted on the second election of the 15th January. Strong party and personal feelings existed among the inhabitants at this time. The alcalde, T. M. Leavenworth, and his official acts, among other subjects of contention, were vigorously attacked by one party, and as strenuously defended by the other.

JANUARY 24th.—The corresponding committee for the District of San Francisco, on the suggestion of the delegates chosen at Monterey, recommend a postponement of the assembling of the convention for framing a civil government to the first day of May, in order to give the southern districts sufficient time to elect delegates and appear at the convention. The movement for the election of such delegates is general over the country, as the people are satisfied that the present state of civil disorganization cannot safely be longer permitted.

FEBRUARY.—It was estimated that the population was now about two thousand.

FEBRUARY 12th.—Public meeting of citizens to consider, the anomalous position of two town councils existing and acting, independently of each other, at the same time. Myron orton was called upon to preside, and T. W. Perkins to act as secretary. George Hyde submitted a plan of municipal organization and government, which was adopted by the meeting; and resolutions were passed requesting the members of both councils to resign, and appointing an election of’ fifteen town councillors and three justices of the peace, to take place on the 21st instant.

FEBRUARY 17th and 24th.—Public meetings to consider the propriety of instructing the delegates to the convention of the 1st of May to oppose any incipient act that might tend to the introduction of negro slavery into California. Capt. J. L. Folsom was chosen president, and B. R. Buckelew secretary. It was known that the whole delay of Congress in providing a territorial government had arisen from the disputes, and the apparent impossibility of agreement between the two great political parties on this subject. The inhabitants of the country itself might be said to be unanimous against slavery in all shapes among them; and they were justly indignant that the Atlantic politicians should pretend to dictate to them any thing on the matter. At these meetings, resolutions were passed, instructing the delegates of the San Francisco district, “by all honorable means to oppose any act, measure, provision or ordinance that is calculated to further the introduction of domestic slavery into the territory of California.”

FEBRUARY 21st.—In compliance with the wishes of the meeting of the 12th instant, the members of both town councils resigned their offices and an election of fifteen members of a legislative assembly and three justices of the peace took place this day, which it was hoped would settle all disputes between the rival partisans. The parties elected were as follows:—

Justices of the Peace.
Myron Norton
Theron R. Per Lee
Wm. M. Stewart.

District Legislature.
Stephen A. Wright
Issac Montgomery
Thomas J. Roach
Alfred J. Ellis
Wm. M. Smith
Wm F. Swasey
Henry A. Harrison
Andrew J. Grayson
Francis J. Lippitt
George C. Hubbard
James Creighton
George F. Lemon
George Hyde
Robert A. Parker

On the 5th proximo these gentlemen met, and chose various officials; but as the whole proceedings were afterwards set aside, it is unnecessary here to detail more of them.

FEBRUARY 28th.—The steamship “California,” being the first of the line of mail steamers along the coast, arrived. The citizens hailed her appearance with many cheers and other demonstrations of joy. General Persifer F. Smith, a passenger on this vessel, came to take command of the Pacific division of the military department of the United States, which comprehends Oregon and California.

MARCH.—An address to the people of California was issued by several of the delegates for San Francisco, Monterey, Sonoma, Sacramento, and other parts of the country, recommending a postponement of the meeting of the convention to frame a civil government, to the first Monday of August, and that the place of meeting be Monterey, instead of San José.

MARCH 31st.—The Pacific mail steamship “Oregon” arrived with about three hundred and fifty passengers, among whom were Col. John W. Geary and family. Col. Geary had been appointed postmaster for San Francisco, with powers to create post-offices and appoint postmasters throughout the territory; also to establish mail routes and make contracts for carrying the mails. He was the bearer of despatches from the United States Government to the commanders of the military and naval forces on the Pacific, and brought with him the first regular mail from the Atlantic States that was opened in San Francisco.

APRIL 13th.—Order issued by Brigadier-General Bennet Riley, announcing that he had assumed command of the tenth military department of the United States, and the administration of civil affairs in California.

JUNE.—For the last six months, and particularly during the last two, the public events of most consequence to San Francisco resolve themselves into two divisions, viz.: the appointment of proper district and municipal authorities, and the formation of a State government. We have already chronicled several meetings on both these heads; but notwithstanding all that had been said or done, no common action could be obtained to promote the ends in view to the satisfaction of all parties.

As regarded the municipal question, the recently appointed legislative assembly abolished the office of alcalde, and substituted the senior justice of the peace in his place. Afterwards, the alcalde, Mr. Leavenworth, was ordered to give up the town documents and official papers in his hands; upon which he applied for advice to General Smith, who recommended him not to comply with the demands of the legislative assembly. That body next ordered the election of a sheriff who, when appointed, proceeded to take what he considered legal steps against Mr. Leavenworth, who had meanwhile resuscitated the old council of 1848, to sanction and confirm his proceedings, which it readily did, appealing to Governor Riley for advice and protection. The governor, accordingly, on the 4th of June, issued a proclamation to the citizens, recognizing the office and power of the existing alcalde, declaring the legislative assembly an illegal body, and forbidding payment of taxes to them.

While that was the state of affairs regarding the municipality and District of San Francisco, the governor, on the 3d of June, issued a proclamation to the people of California, in which, after narrating the position of the country, and the necessity of both district and general governments, he appointed the first day of August for the election, first, of certain specified municipal and district provisional officials over the whole country, according to Mexican custom; and second, of thirty-seven delegates to be chosen from the specified districts, as delegates to a general convention to be held at Monterey, on the first day of September next, for the purpose of forming a State Constitution.

Following upon these proclamations, the people of San Francisco held a mass meeting in Portsmouth Square, on the 12th of June, when Wm. M. Stewart was chosen president, and E. Gould Buffum, secretary. This meeting was large and enthusiastic, and after being addressed by several eloquent speakers, resolved that the people of California had a right to organize a government for their own protection—that, therefore, delegates should be chosen to frame a constitution—and that a committee of five be immediately appointed by the president of the meeting to correspond with the other districts of the country, in order to carry out in a practical manner the said resolutions. The meeting refused to recognize Governor Riley’s proclamations as binding on them. The committee chosen consisted of Peter H. Burnett, Wm. D. M. Howard, Myron Norton, E. Gould Buffum, and E. Gilbert. This committee, on the 18th of June, issued an address to the public, in which, without admitting the right or power in Governor Riley to “appoint” time or place for the election of delegates and assembling of the convention, yet considered it best, as a matter of expediency, to adopt the terms of the governor’s proclamation in these respects.

These steps settled the plan and course of future proceedings so far as the State Government was concerned. In respect to the municipality the legislative assembly published a long address to their constituents, in answer to Governor Riley’s proclamation of the 3d, and the very “uncourteous and disrespectful” one of the 4th June. In this document, they resolved that they were a legally constituted body, and declared their determination to hold office and to act in the same until formally deprived of their authority by the people from whom it was derived. Thus arose a sort of civil war on a small scale. The assembly afterwards having considered it expedient to appeal directly to the people, a ballot was taken on the subject on the 9th July, when one hundred and sixty-seven votes appeared for their continuance in office, and only seven against it. But as this result showed either the indifference of the citizens on the subject, since but a small portion of their number voted, or else their tacit desire that the legislative assembly should altogether cease, that body thought fit, at last, to dissolve itself. Thus the old alcalde, Mr. Leavenworth, was virtually reinstated in triumph, and no obstacle left to the several elections ordered by Governor Riley’s proclamation of the 3d of June. These various meetings and other proceedings narrated may possess little interest for the present inhabitants of San Francisco; but they certainly much excited those who dwelt in the town at the time of their occurrence. The excesses of the “hounds,” fully described in a subsequent chapter, were much encouraged by the dissensions and jealousies which existed among the rival politicians and local partisans of those days.

San Francisco, in 1849, from head of Clay street.During the first half of this year, San Francisco was rapidly increasing the number of its houses and population. Every day added sensibly to both. The mines were continuing to yield large returns, most of which were immediately forwarded to San Francisco, in exchange for new supplies. The bay was filling with shipping from all the ports of the Pacific coast of both Americas, from the Sandwich Islands, and from China, Australia and other ports towards the west. Nearly two hundred square rigged vessels lay at anchor about the end of July. Hosts ot passengers by these vessels, after staying but a little while in the town, hurried off to the diggings. Meanwhile, others who had been fortunate were returning from the mines with bags of gold dust, to squander in gambling, in drinking and all manner of thoughtless extravagance and dissipation. Gambling, which previously had been carried on to so great an extent, was now beginning to be developed on a still larger scale. Saloons, at the public tables of which every variety of game was to be found, arose in all quarters of the town, where play was carried on during the whole twenty-four hours, and where the gross amount of money or gold dust staked was enormous. It might almost be said that the same spirit of gambling or speculation reigned in every department of business; and prices rose and fell, and fortunes were made, and lost, and made again, according to the “play” of the parties engaged. New towns, all of course in splendid locations, were beginning to be projected, and the building lots in them sold for immense sums of money. Sacramento and Stockton were among the first and best needed of these places; and soon they took such positions as commanded success and insured future prosperity. But besides these two cities, a multitude of other and inferior places were projected, and while the future of the whole country was uncertain, but over which hung a certain vague grandeur, their pretensions were very respectably set forth, and speculation in their allotments was rife. Some of these schemes have since shared in the general advancement of the country; while of others probably nothing again will ever be heard.

A short experience of the mines had satisfied most of the citizens of San Francisco that, in vulgar parlance, all was not gold that glittered, and that hard work was not easy,—sorry truisms for weak or lazy men. They returned very soon to their old quarters, and found that much greater profits, with far less labor, were to be found in supplying the necessities of the miners, and speculating in real estate. For a time every body made money, in spite of himself. The continued advance in the price of goods, and especially in the value of real estate, gave riches at once to the fortunate owner of a stock of the former or of a single advantageously situated lot of the latter. When trade was brisk, and profits so large, nobody grudged to pay any price, or any rent, for a proper place of business. Coin was scarce, but bags of gold dust furnished a circulating medium, which answered all purposes. The gamblers at the public saloons staked such bags, or were supplied with money upon them by the “banks,” till the whole was exhausted. There were few regular houses erected, for neither building materials nor sufficient labor were to be had; but canvas tents, or houses of frame, served the immediate needs of the place. Great quantities of goods continued to pour in from the nearer ports, till there were no longer stores to receive and cover them. In addition to Broadway Wharf, Central Wharf was projected, subscribed for, and commenced. Several other small wharves at landing-places were constructed at the cost of private parties. All these, indeed, extended but a little way across the mud flat in the bay, and were of no use at low tide; yet they gave considerable facilities for landing passengers and goods in open boats. The different religious denominations were beginning to make movements as to creating churches and appointing clergymen; while the Freemasons and Odd-Fellows were likewise beginning to take their characteristic first steps. Seamen deserted their vessels, as a matter of course, so soon as they dropped anchor in the bay, and hastened to the mines. Society, not merely there, but in San Francisco, was in a state of utter disorganization, which became worse and more terrible as the autumn and winter months brought new thousands of immigrants upon the place. We have seen that there was neither a proper government for the State, nor recognized municipal authorities, who could have protected the citizens and established order, and made provision for the systematic extension of the town and reception of the coming crowds. There was a military governor, indeed, and martial law could have been adopted, but the governor had not sufficient force at his command to curb the wild elements of the population; nor, at best, would his forcible interference have satisfied American ideas of civil independence and the national privilege of self-government. Thefts, robberies, murders, and other outrages of the most desperate and criminal nature were taking place, and there were no proper officials to take cognizance of them, and bring the offenders to justice. Every man was intent on merely making money, and provided an outrage did not, in a direct manner, personally or pecuniarily affect himself he was content to shut his eyes to the ultimate consequences.

By the beginning of 1849, the population of San Francisco had increased to two thousand. Two months later it was probably about three thousand; whilst in July, when the riots and outrages of the “hounds” came to a height, it might be nearly five thousand. This was what might be called the usual and permanent population of the time—if any thing could be supposed permanent in so frail and fluctuating a place, although every day new arrivals of immigrants added temporarily to the number, till they flocked off to Sacramento, Stockton, and the mines.

Source: Frank Soulé, John H. Gihon, M.D., and James Nisbet. The Annals of San Francisco. 1855: San Francisco.

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