San Francisco History

The Annals of San Francisco

PART FIRST. Chapter I.

IT appears expedient, before entering upon the annals of San Francisco proper, to give a short review of the first discovery, settlement, and progress of California itself; including an account of the aboriginal inhabitants, and of the first establishment, rise, and decline of the priest class, their sovereigns, whose domination forms a most peculiar and interesting phase in the general history of the country. The subject indeed comprehends, or naturally demands, some notice of these points for, up to a recent period, San Francisco, from its being the “golden gate” to the wealth of the State, and from its many physical advantages, its population, the rapidity and grandeur of its wondrous rise and progress, the energy of its citizens, the extent of its home and foreign commerce, its universal fame, arising chiefly from its being associated in the minds of men, Americans as well as foreigners, with the first discovery and subsequent astonishing produce of gold—San Francisco, from these and other causes, has been in a great measure identified with California itself. No history, therefore, of the city, could be complete, unless it included some account of the circumstances which preceded and immediately accompanied its rise, and which have made it what it almost already is, but which it will more plainly soon become, the greatest and most magnificent, wealthy and powerful maritime city in the Pacific—a city which is destined, one day, to be, in riches, grandeur and influence, like Tyre or Carthage of the olden time, or like Liverpool or New York of modern days.

We propose to embody in a succinct and continuous narrative, the subjects already particularly noticed—a general account of the causes, progress, and consequences of the war of 1846, between the Mexican and American States—the cession of California to the latter—the first discovery of gold, and the immediate results of that discovery upon the prosperity and population of the country—its admission as a State into the American Union—and a description of its physical geography, and of its commercial, agricultural, pastoral, and mineral wealth, and capabilities to receive and satisfy millions of additional inhabitants. These matters will form PART FIRST of the work.

We shall afterwards, at somewhat greater length, describe, in a similar continuous narrative, the progress and the various incidents which happened, year by year, and month by month, in San Francisco itself; from the period when California was ceded by the Mexicans, and State and town became American, up to the present time, and which, properly speaking, alone constitute the “ANNALS” of the city. This subject will constitute PART SECOND.

In the subsequent portion of the volume, we shall devote special chapters, in no particular order, to the more minute details of whatever things were most peculiar and interesting—physical and intellectual, social and moral, and their causes and consequences—which marked the progress of the city, and gave it a world-wide reputation for good or for evil. In this division of the work will be included biographical and personal sketches, and anecdotes of the more prominent and distinguished actors in the bustling scenes of the time, and whose names are closely associated either with the general history of California, or with the particular rise and progress of San Francisco itself. These topics will be comprehended in and constitute PART THIRD.

The remembrance of these matters is still fresh in the minds of our people; but, in the silent lapse of years, many of them must gradually fade away. It would then be well, that after the present generation disappears, our posterity should know something of the early history and triumphant progress of their glorious city, and of its worthiest or most noted sons, and the exciting, troublous scenes of the last seven or eight years, all drawn from the fullest and most accurate sources that are still to he had. We propose then to make this book an original record of the subjects alluded to.

The etymology of the name CALIFORNIA is uncertain. Some writers have pretended that it is derived from the two Latin words calida fornax, or, in the Spanish language, caliente fornalla—a hot furnace. This, however, is doubted by Michael Venegas, a Mexican Jesuit, in his “Natural and Civil History of California” (2 vols. Madrid, 1758), a work of much research and high authority. In his opinion, the early Spanish discoverers did not name their new-found lands in this pedantic fashion. “I am therefore inclined to think,” he says, “that this name owed its origin to some accident; possibly to some words spoken by the Indians, and misunderstood by the Spaniards,” as happened in several other cases.

The name California is first found in Bernal Diaz del Castillo, an officer who served under Hernando Cortez, in the conquest of Mexico, and who published a history of that extraordinary expedition; and is by him limited to a single bay on the coast. On the other hand, Jean Bleau, the celebrated geographer (Amsterdam, 1662), includes under the term all those immense tracks of country lying west of New Spain and New Galicia, comprehending the whole coast line from the northern parts of South America to the Straits of Anian (Behring’s Straits). In this larger sense of the word, Jean Bleau is followed by several other geographers. However, whatever be the limits of the country, the name has occasionally changed. In some English maps it is called NEW ALBION, because Sir Francis Drake, the well known English admiral, who touched on the coast in 1579, so styled it. About a century ]ater, it is denominated ISLAS CAROLINAS (the peninsula of California being then supposed to be an island), in honor of Charles II. of Spain; and this designation was adopted by several writers and geographers of repute. After a time, the original name of California was revived, and soon silently and universally adopted.

California—meaning the existing Lower, or Old California, was known to be a peninsula so early as 1541, when a map drawn up at Madrid, by Castillo, already mentioned, represents the direction of the coasts nearly as they are known at present. Yet this fact was unaccountably forgotten for one hundred and sixty years, when Father Kühn (Kino, of the Spaniards) seemed, for the first time, to prove that California was not an island, but a peninsula. In the early part of the sixteenth century, dreams of a direct western opening to the Indias filled men’s minds, as later did those of a north-west passage. This was the first idea of Columbus, which led to his great discoveries, and which he held till death. In 1523, Charles V., in a letter, dated from Valladolid, recommended to Cortez to seek on the eastern and western coasts of New Spain, for such a passage. Cortez, in his answer to the emperor, speaks with the greatest enthusiasm of the probability of such a discovery, “which,” he adds, “will render your majesty master of so many kingdoms that you will be considered as the monarch of the world;” and seems to have undertaken several voyages for the purpose of ascertaining the fact.

In 1534, Cortez fitted out two ships under the command of Hernando Grixalva and Diego Becerra de Mendoza, a relation of his own, partly to learn the fate of a missing vessel of a previous expedition, but chiefly to continue the coast discoveries. These two ships happened to separate the first night following their departure from Tehuantepec, and did not meet again. Grixalva, after sailing three hundred leagues, came to a desert island, which he called Santa Thome, believed to lie near the point of California. This is supposed to be one of the group of islands now called the Revillagigedo Islands. He proceeded no farther north, and made no fresh discoveries; but shortly afterwards returned to New Spain. Becerra, the commander of the other ship of this expedition, was of a choleric, haughty disposition; and, having shown that offensively to his people, was murdered by a malcontent crew, led on by his pilot Ortun, or Fortuño Zimenes, a native of Biscay.

Zimenes afterwards continued the voyage of discovery, and appears to have sailed westward across the gulf; and to have touched the peninsula of California. This was in the year 1534. He therefore was the first discoverer of the country. “But,” says Venegas, “he could not fly from the hand of Omnipotence; for coming to that part which has since been called Santa Cruz Bay, and seems to be part of the inward coast of California, he went ashore, and was there killed by the Indians, with twenty other Spaniards.” Upon this disaster, the remaining crew got frightened, and returned to New Spain. This Bay of Santa Cruz, so named by Cortez the following year, seems to be the same as that now called La Paz, lying on the western side of the Gulf of California, about a hundred miles north of Cape St. Lucas. Some writers, however, suppose it to have been situated much nearer the southern extremity of the peninsula.

Humboldt, in his “Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain,” in stating these circumstances, mentions in a note, that he found in a manuscript preserved in the archives of the vice-royalty of Mexico, that California was discovered in 1526, though he knew not, he says, on what authority this assertion was founded. From an examination which he seems to have made of other manuscripts of the period, preserved in the Academy of History at Madrid, Humboldt seems satisfied that this alleged discovery of California in 1526 was unfounded, and that the country had not even been seen in the expedition of Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, who was a near relation of Cortez, so late as 1532.

In 1535, Cortez himself coasted both sides of the Gulf of California, which was first called the Sea of Cortez, but was more generally known as the Mar Roxo, ó Vermejo, (the Red, or Vermillion Sea), probably from its resembling the Red Sea between Arabia and Egypt in shape, or from the discoloration of its waters at the northern extremity by the Rio Colorado, or Red River. Gomara, the Spanish historian, in 1557, likened it more judiciously to the Adriatic. In the English maps, it is generally marked as the Gulf of California. Francisco de Ulloa, at command and likewise at the personal expense of Cortez, prosecuted farther discoveries along the coast, and during the subsequent two years, succeeded in exploring the gulf nearly to the mouth of the Colorado. Neither Cortez, however, nor Ulloa seems to have discovered the coast of New or Upper California.

That honor was reserved to Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, one of the pilots of Cortez. Cabrillo was a Portuguese by birth, and a man of great courage and honor. On the 27th June, 1542, under instructions from the then viceroy of Spain, Antonio de Mendoza, he sailed from the port of Navidad in Mexico, on an expedition of discovery of the coast towards the north. He touched at various places on the voyage. The large cape between the fortieth and forty-first degrees of latitude he named Cape Mendoza, or Mendocino, in honor of the viceroy. Cabrillo reached 44º lat. N., where he found the cold (10th March) intense. This, the want of provisions, and the bad condition of his ships, compelled him to return to Navidad, the harbor of which place he reentered on 14th April, 1543. This is according to the authority of Venegas. Other accounts say that Cabrillo, who had been long sick, and was overcome at last by the fatigues of the voyage, died at Port Possession, in the Island of San Bernardo, one of the Santa Barbara group, about the thirty-fourth parallel, upon the 3d January, 1543, leaving the subsequent guidance of the expedition farther northwards to Bartolomó Ferrelo, his pilot. Ferrelo is said to have named a promontory about the forty-first degree of latitude, Cabo de Fortunas (Cape of Perils, or Stormy Cape), from the rough weather and dangers encountered in its vicinity. This promontory is supposed to be the same, already noticed, which was called Cape Mendocino. There is therefore some discrepancy between the accounts of the voyage under the command of Cabrillo, or successively of him and his pilot Ferrelo. Neither of these navigators, however, while they noticed and named various prominent points of the coast, seem to have discovered the entrance to the great Bay of San Francisco.

Sir Francis Drake.—From an old English Painting.In 1577, Sir Francis, then only Captain Drake, already distinguished as an experienced navigator, fitted out, with the pecuniary aid of some friends, a buccaneering expedition against the Spaniards, which ultimately led him round the globe. In those days, and for a long time afterwards, the rich Spanish ships, which bore over so many seas the wealth of their new-found world, were the natural prey of the English buccaneers—or, to give them a more honorable title, since they generally sailed under formal license from the government, of the English privateers. Drake, Cavendish, Dampier, and many other famous early navigators, were all of that class. The wealth of the Philippines was generally conveyed by a single annual galleon from Manilla to Acapulco, on its way to Europe. To intercept this particular ship was one great aim of these privateers. Drake, in his expedition of 1577, after safely threading the Straits of Magellan, reached, at length, the Pacific, north of the equator, and appears, in 1579, to have sailed along the shores of California. All along the west coast of the Americas he had been capturing and plundering the newly settled Spanish towns, and such ships as came in his way. Wishing at length to return home, and afraid lest the Spaniards might be waiting to catch him off the Straits of Magellan, he tried to sail westward, and so reach England by the Cape of Good Hope. This was in the autumn of 1579. Contrary winds preventing that course, “he was obliged,” to use the language of an old chronicler of the voyage, “to sail towards the north; in which course, having continued at least six hundred leagues, and being got into forty-thee degrees north latitude, they found it intolerably cold; upon which they steered southwards, till they got into thirty-eight degrees north latitude, where they discovered a country, which, from its white cliffs they called NOVA ALBION, though it is now known by the name of California.

“They here discovered a bay, which entering with a favorable gale, they found several huts by the water side, well defended from the severity of the weather. Going on shore, they found a fire in the middle of each house, and the people lying round it upon rushes. The men go quite naked, but the women have a deer skin over their shoulders, and round their waist a covering of bulrushes after the manner of hemp.

“These people bringing the admiral (Drake) a present of feathers and cauls of network, he entertained them so kindly and generously, that they were extremely pleased, and soon afterwards they sent him a present of feathers and bags of tobacco. A number of them coming to deliver it, gathered themselves together at the top of a small hill, from the highest point of which one of them harangued the admiral, whose tent was placed at the bottom. When the speech was ended, they laid down their arms and came down, offering their presents; at the same time returning what the admiral had given them. The women remaining on the hill, tearing their hair and making dreadful howlings, the admiral supposed them engaged in making sacrifices, and thereupon ordered divine service to be performed at his tent, at which these people attended with astonishment.

Sir Francis Drake and the California Indians.“The arrival of the English in California being soon known through the country, two persons in the character of ambassadors came to the admiral, and informed him, in the best manner they were able, that the king would visit him, if he might be assured of coming in safety. Being satisfied on this point, a numerous company soon appeared, in front of which was a very comely person, bearing a kind of sceptre, on which hung two crowns, and three chains of great length. The chains were of bones, and the crowns of net work, curiously wrought with feathers of many colors.

“Next to the sceptre-bearer came the king, a handsome majestic person, surrounded by a number of tall men, dressed in skins, who were followed by the common people, who, to make the grander appearance, had painted their faces of various colors, and all of them, even the children, being loaded with presents.

“The men being drawn up in line of battle, the admiral stood ready to receive the king within the fences of his tent. The company having halted at a distance, the sceptre-bearer made a speech, half an hour long, at the end of which he began singing and dancing, in which he was followed by the king and all the people; who, continuing to sing and dance, came quite up to the tent; when sitting down, the king took off his crown of feathers, placed it on the admiral’s head, and put on him the other ensigns of royalty; and it is said that he made him a solemn tender of his whole kingdom; all which the admiral accepted in the name of the queen his sovereign, in hopes that these proceedings might, one time or other, contribute to the advantage of England.

“The common people, dispersing themselves among the admiral’s tents, professed the utmost admiration and esteem for the English, whom they considered as more than mortal; and accordingly prepared to offer sacrifices to them, which the English rejected with abhorrence, directing them, by signs, that their religious worship was alone due to the Supreme Maker and Preserver of all things.

“The admiral and some of his people, travelling to a distance in the country, saw such a quantity of rabbits, that it appeared an entire warren; they also saw deer in such plenty as to run a thousand in a herd. THE EARTH OF THE COUNTRY SEEMED TO PROMISE RICH VEINS OF GOLD AND SILVER, SOME OF THE ORE BEING CONSTANTLY FOUND ON DIGGING.

“The admiral, at his departure, set up a pillar with a large plate on it, on which was engraved her majesty’s name, picture, arms, and title to the country; together with the admiral’s name, and the time of his arrival there.”

This is a curious and interesting picture of the aborigines of California. From the description of their naked bodies and painted faces, their howlings, singing and dancing, the girdles of bulrushes of the women, and the “kind of sceptre, on which hung” the chains of bone and the crowns of network “curiously wrought with feathers of many colors,” of the king, it may be presumed that the people were in the rudest state of barbarism. Though the earth seemed streaked with gold, or, as Pinkerton says in his description of Drake’s voyage, “the land is so rich in gold and silver, that upon the slightest turning it up with a spade or pick-axe, these rich metals plainly appear mixed with the mould,” yet the natives do not appear to have worn any ornaments made of these metals, which has usually been the case with other savages when they had access to them. The beauty and purity of the metals named, especially of gold, and the ease of working in them, naturally render them precious in the eyes of the most barbarous tribes. Unless, therefore, we suppose the Indians to have been the most stupid and helpless people existing, it may be reasonably doubted whether so extensive indications of gold and silver were found as the broad statements of the chroniclers seem to imply. Certainly, however, the traces of the precious metals discovered by Drake were the first authentic intimation of the mineral wealth of the country.

There is no reason to suppose that Drake knew of the previous discovery of the country by the Spaniards; and accordingly long afterwards, and even with people to this day, it has been believed that he was the first discoverer of California. Queen Elizabeth afterwards knighted him for his services in this and previous expeditions, “telling him, at the same time,” in the words of the writer of his voyages already quoted, “that his actions did him more honor than his title.” The queen, however, took no steps to secure the country which her admiral had discovered and the “pillar, with a large plate on it,” and all its rusted engravings, may peradventure be yet some day discovered by the antiquary.

Sir Francis Drake's Bay, or Jack's Harbor.In popular estimation the bay which Drake entered is believed to be that of San Francisco; while many who might have had opportunities to examine into the subject have hastily concluded that it must have been Bodega Bay. There is, however, another bay not far from these, and lying between them, known formerly under the very name of Sir Francis Drake’s Bay, though better now as Jack’s Harbor. This, on a careful examination of the subject, seems to have been the true and only bay which Drake ever visited on the coast. There is a sad confusion, even among recent writers and geographers, as to the names and relative positions of these bays. Most of them seem to think that Bodega and Drake’s Bays are the same. Thus Humboldt says, “This port (San Francisco) is frequently confounded by geographers with the Port of Drake farther north, under the 38º 10', of latitude, called by the Spaniards the Puerto de Bodega.” The latitude of Jack’s Harbor, or Drake’s Bay, is 37º 59' 5" (longitude 122º 57½'), thus corresponding exactly with the statement of the chronicler; while San Francisco and Bodega Bays are a good many miles to the south and north respectively of the parallel named by him. If Drake had really entered San Francisco Bay, it is more than likely that he, or his chronicler, would have said something more of its peculiarities—its unusual excellence, and the great arms which it stretches both to south and north. In the English maps, constructed after Drake’s voyage, there is a bay laid down bearing his name; although, owing to the general ignorance of the coast and the confusion in regard to particular bays alluded to, this bay has been often held to be the same as that of Bodega. There is, therefore, every probability that the Bay of San Francisco had never been seen at all by either the Spanish or the English navigators (for there were others of the latter nation after Drake along the California coast), but that, in reality, it was discovered by travellers on land, and most probably first by the missionaries in 1769. It may also be remarked in corroboration of these opinions, that the white cliffs and the abundance of rabbits seen by Drake, closely correspond to the present description of Punta de los Reyes (Cape of Kings), and the country around Jack’s Harbor. The cliffs about this part of the coast, for a space of nearly forty miles, resemble in height and color, those of Great Britain in the English Channel, at Brighton and Dover. Hence the propriety of the old designation of the country, New Albion. We give an illustration of these cliffs and of Drake’s Bay. This bay has somehow grown out of most people’s remembrance, or at least their appreciation, since it is a very safe and most important port of refuge along a foggy and dangerous coast. A number of fishing vessels have made use of it during the last few years, and it was their crews who dubbed it Jack’s Harbor, in ignorance of its previous name. It is likely that public attention will be called to its peculiar advantages before long. We think, however, that no new name should be allowed to supersede the historical one of “Sir Francis Drake’s Bay.” It would be a pity not to preserve some such remembrance of one of the greatest and earliest navigators along our coasts.

On the 14th of October, 1587, Captain Thomas Cavendish, afterwards knighted by Queen Elizabeth, when in a privateering expedition against the Spaniards, fell in with Cape St. Lucas, at the extremity of California. A fine bay, named by the Spaniards Aguada Segura, is within this cape, and there Cavendish lay in wait for the Acapulco galleon, laden with the wealth of the Philippines. At length she appeared, and after a severe fight, was taken possession of by the English admiral. “This prize,” says the relator of the voyage, “contained one hundred and twenty-two thousand pezoes of gold, besides great quantities of rich silks, satins, damask and musk, and a good stock of provisions.” Pretty fair all that for an English adventurer! In those days, piracy was honorable, and legalized by formal license, though the spoil was only gold and silver and light moveable goods—booty of the common robber. After all, the old buccaneers were poor grovelling souls. In our own times, pirates—called “filibusters,” whose business is notoriously unlawful, have much grander views of glory and profit. Cuba and Sonora, which are countries equal to Italy of the old world in beauty, fertility and real wealth, are certainly prizes worth stealing and fighting for—the rewards of Alexanders, Caesars and Bonapartes. But then, principles of action being nearly the same, “Young America” is very much smarter than “Old England.”

Landing of Captain Woodes Rogers, from an old English engraving.The next Englishman who is specially recorded to have touched the California coast is Captain Woodes Rogers, who was in command of the usual filibustering or privateering expeditions. This was in November, 1709. He describes the aborigines of the peninsula as being “quite naked, and strangers to the European manner of trafficking. They lived in huts made of boughs and leaves, erected in the form of bowers, with a fire before the door, round which they lay and slept. The men were quite naked, and the women had only a short petticoat reaching scarcely to the knee, made of silk grass, or the skins of pelicans or deers. Some of them wore pearls about their necks, which they fastened with a string of silk grass, having first notched them round: and Captain Rogers imagined that they did not know how to bore them. These pearls were mixed with sticks, bits of shells and little red berries, which they thought so great an ornament that they would not accept of glass beads of various colors, which the English would have given them. The men are straight and well built, having long black hair, and are of a dark brown complexion. They live by hunting and fishing. They use bows and arrows, and are excellent marksmen. The women, whose features are rather disagreeable, are employed in making fishing lines, or in gathering grain (doubtless what grew spontaneously), which they grind upon a stone. The people were willing to assist the English in filling water, and would supply them with whatever they could get; they were a very honest people, and would not take the least thing without permission.” This description, and that already given from Drake’s voyage, make up a pretty complete picture of the aborigines of the Californias. They appear to have been a simple, honest, good-natured, stupid race of people, and, in most respects, resemble the savages which we find in other newly discovered countries.

Captain Rogers was, of course, lying in ambush for the  “great Manilla ship;” and, in due course of time, she appeared and was captured. “The prize was called Nuestra Señora de la Incarnacion, commanded by Sir John Pichberty, a gallant Frenchman; and the prisoners said that the cargo in India amounted to two millions of dollars. She carried one hundred and ninety-three men, and mounted twenty guns.”

As illustrating the career of these English buccaneers, and the state of terror in which the Spaniards were constantly kept by their depredations, and which was one of the chief causes that induced the Spanish Government, as we shall afterwards see, strenuously to prosecute farther discoveries and settlements along the coast of California, we shall give a copy of a deed, or instrument, executed between the said Captain Rogers and the town of Guiaquil. The exploits of Rogers and his men are indeed much later in date than some of the expeditions yet to be noticed of the Spanish navigators along the California coast; still, as they forcibly explain one reason, at least, why such expeditions were undertaken on the part of the Spaniards, it appears better to notice them here than in mere chronological order. The notices of the voyages of Drake, Cavendish and Rogers, are taken from accounts contained in an old folio volume of voyages and travels kindly placed at our disposal by the “Society of California Pioneers.”

The “high contracting parties” entered into the following agreement:


Whereas the City of Guiaquil, lately in subjection to Philip V., King of Spain, is now taken by storm, and in possession of the Captains Thomas Dover, Woodes Rogers, and Stephen Courtney,”—[the expedition, fitted out at the cost of some “British gentlemen,” consisted of the Duke, a ship of three hundred tons burthen, thirty guns and one hundred and seventy men, commanded by Rogers, and the Duchess, of two hundred and seventy tons, twenty-six guns, and one hundred and fifty-one men, under the command of Courtney)— “commanding a body of her Majesty of Great Britain’s subjects; we, the underwritten, are content to become hostages for the said city, and to continue in the custody of the said Captains Thomas Dover, Woodes Rogers and Stephen Courtney, till thirty thousand pieces of gold should be paid to them for the ransom of the said city, two new ships, and six barks; during which time no hostility is to be committed on either side, between this and Puna: the said sum to be paid at Puna, within six days from the date hereof; and then the hostages to be discharged, and all the prisoners to be delivered immediately; otherwise the said hostages do agree to remain prisoners till the said sum is discharged in any other part of the world.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, We have voluntarily set our hands, this twenty-seventh day of April, old stile, in the year of our Lord, 1709.”

This ransom seems to have been punctually paid, and the hostages faithfully liberated. However, Captains Thomas Dover, Woodes Rogers and Stephen Courtney appear, in addition, to have plundered the town pretty thoroughly.

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

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