San Francisco History

The Annals of San Francisco


HAVING got the new town of San Francisco fairly planned, and given some general notion to the reader of the elementary composition of its inhabitants, shortly before the time when the discovery of gold was altogether to change its appearance and character, we shall now turn back a little in the order of time, and detail such few scattered notices of previous events as may seem to us worthy of being recorded among the “Annals” of the place.


JULY 8th.—The American flag was, on the morning of this day, hoisted in the plaza, or public square of Yerba Buena, by Capt. Montgomery, of the United States sloop-of-war Portsmouth, then lying in the bay. Two days before Commodore Sloat had despatched a messenger to Capt. Montgomery, informing him of his intention to raise the American flag at Monterey, and commanding him to do the same in the northern parts of the province around the Bay of San Francisco. This Montgomery did at the above date, accompanied by a party of seventy sailors and marines, and under a salute of twenty-one guns from the Portsmouth. The plaza at this time received the name of Portsmouth Square, and the street lying on the beach was called Montgomery Street. It may be mentioned that the American flag was raised at Sonoma on the 10th of this month; and soon afterwards at every principal place in the northern portion of California, where it was generally beheld with tranquillity, if not with applause.

JULY 31st.—The ship “Brooklyn” arrived in San Francisco Bay with a company of Mormon and other immigrants from New York. On landing at Yerba Buena, they immediately set up their tents among the sand-hills close to the beach. Very soon disputes began to arise between the Mormon people and their leaders, which ended in an open rupture, and a secession from their body of several of the principal men. Mr. Samuel Brannan, one of the most prominent of the party, was bitterly reviled, and accused of sundry malversations in his office as president of the association and as one of the managers of their funds. A jury trial—the first ever seen in California—was the consequence; in which Mr. Brannan was successful These proceedings had the effect of preventing the Mormons at this time from selecting lands together and establishing themselves as a distinct community. Soon afterwards many of them volunteered to serve in the war in California, and joined Colonel Fremont’s battalion.

SEPTEMBER 8th.—The people of Yerba Buena, though still few in number, and particularly deficient in the fair sex, seemed determined to enjoy life while they might. A grand ball was given on the evening of this day at the residence of Mr. William A. Leidesdorff by the officers in the service of the United States, and by the citizens of the town; when upwards of one hundred Californian and American ladies were present, with a large number of gentlemen. The dancing was very spirited, and kept up till daylight. This was the first gathering of ladies and gentlemen since the hoisting of the American flag. It was not long allowed to be the only one; for on the 18th of the same month, we find Capt. Simmons, of the American whale-ship “Magnolia,” giving a nautical fête on board his ship on the evening of that day. One hundred and fifty family invitations were issued in Yerba Buena and around the bay. From repeated traces which we find, of subsequent balls, grand dinners and suppers, and other festive entertainments, it may be presumed that the people of Yerba Buena were an exceedingly gay set. Business was brisk, and the town thriving; while the majority of the population being unmarried and without proper homes, it seemed that some such kind of continual public diversion was the only way in which they could unbend their minds from the contemplation of the “almighty dollar,” and enjoy themselves.

OCTOBER 5th.—This day, His Excellency, Commodore Robert F. Stockton, the governor and commander-in-chief of California, was honored with a public reception on the occasion of a visit to San Francisco. At a preliminary meeting to make the necessary arrangements, nearly every male adult of the place had been present; and on this day again all turned out in procession, to welcome the commodore. After the magistracy of the district and foreign consuls, there came the committee of management and the masters of the ships in port, concluding with a long line of citizens. A military escort and band of music attended on the occasion. General M. G. Vallejo, with several other native gentlemen who had held office under the last government, also appeared in the procession. We may mention that the general (many of whose relations were American or English), and some other leading Californians, had been early of opinion that the best hopes for their country lay in immediate annexation to the United States; and, accordingly, on all occasions, when duty permitted, they had been firm friends to the Americans. After an appropriate address to Commodore Stockton, in which he was complimented upon his efforts and success in reducing California, and a suitable reply by him, the ceremonies of the day, after a long procession to the mission and back again, concluded by an excellent collation, followed by a ball in the evening.


JANUARY.—Various attempts have been made of late to establish a public school. The “California Star” has weekly been calling attention to this important subject. At last a committee was appointed to ascertain the amount of subscriptions that might be expected from the inhabitants, the cost of the building and the salary of the teacher. Very unlike the usual proceedings of the citizens, much time and talk seem to have been lost on this subject; nor was the object wished for obtained till upwards of twelve months after this date.

It was in this month that the term Yerba Buena was changed into San Francisco, by an ordinance of the alcalde, as stated in the preceding chapter. There were only about fifty houses at this period in the whole place, most of which were small single story buildings, constructed chiefly of adobes. They were scattered irregularly over the space lying between the foot of Telegraph Hill and Happy Valley. In April, of this year, the population numbered three hundred and seventy-five, without reckoning the Indians, who were by this time few in number.

Suffering Immigrants.FEBRUARY 3d.—A public meeting was held on the evening of this day to consider the alarming situation of a party of immigrants, who the previous year had attempted to reach California by a new route through the Great Basin; but who, in ignorance of the country and other causes, had been so long delayed on the journey, that they were caught among the winter snows of the Sierra Nevada, where some of them had already perished, and the remainder were in imminent peril. Not content, however, with a mere expression of feeling, the meeting subscribed nearly fifteen hundred dollars, and immediately fitted out an expedition of twenty men, with an old mountaineer as guide, to proceed to the mountains with supplies to the sufferers, and to assist in extricating them from danger. Other expeditions, from various parts of the country, one of which was organized and altogether maintained at the personal charges of the benevolent Capt. Sutter of New Helvetia, likewise made the attempt to penetrate the mountains, and carry glad tidings and safety to the unfortunates. By these means those still alive were all rescued by the middle of spring. The descriptions given by the survivors, and by such members of the expeditions as were able to reach them, show a state of things of the most painful and horrible character. Many indeed had perished, through excessive cold and exposure to the weather, bodily fatigue and sheer hunger. When the provisions of the party were exhausted, and there was no strength nor opportunities left to kill game for food, necessity forced them to feed upon the dead bodies of their companions, two of whom (Indian guides), a small detached party of the white people killed for their support. Some even began to relish this kind of food, and sought it in preference when other provisions might have been obtained. One man, particularly, named Kiesburg, was suspected of foul murders to enable him to gratify this new and unnatural propensity. Before the time of trial, however, was over, all were glad enough of opportunities to partake of the horrid messes of human blood and uncooked entrails.

Packed closely together to preserve animal heat, in miserably small tents, with masses of snow beneath and around them, while piercing winds and snow blasts penetrated through all their defences, and the temperature was much below the freezing point, these unhappy beings for months saw only ultimate destruction from cold and hunger before them. There were husbands and wives, parents and children, all bearing the same physical suffering, and the elders likewise the mental anguish of thinking upon the sad fate of their little ones and the females dependent on them. Snow had begun to fall earlier than usual among the mountains, and when the party had arrived at the eastern side of the great pass across the Sierra Nevada, it lay too soft and deep for them to proceed. To retrace their steps was impossible; and, accordingly, they were forced to encamp where they were, with all the gloomy months of winter before them, unprepared, in every respect, in clothing, food, and lodging. Soon despair filled every heart; while the stealthy approaches of starvation and the daily sight of their misery brought insanity in their train. Many died raving mad; while the minds of all were in some sense affected by the horror of their situation. By great efforts and much physical exertion some few scattered members of the company managed to struggle through the snowy barrier, and slowly and painfully, reached the nearest settlements on the western slope of the mountains. The warm hearts of the settlers beat with generous emotion on hearing the sad tidings from the few who had thus escaped, and soon the whole country around San Francisco Bay was aroused to carry relief to the people still among the snows.

The following notice of the appearance of the suffering immigrants when the relief party reached them, is taken from the “California Star” of the 10th April, 1847: —

“The bones of those who had died and been devoured by the miserable ones that still survived, were lying around their tents and cabins. Bodies of men, women and children, with half the flesh torn from them, lay on every side. A woman sat by the side of the body of her husband, who had just died, cutting out his tongue; the heart she had already taken out, broiled and eat! The daughter was seen eating the flesh of the father—the mother that of her children—children that of father and mother. The emaciated, wild and ghastly appearance of the survivors added horror to the scene. Language cannot describe the awful change that a few weeks of dire suffering had wrought in the minds of the wretched and piteous beings. Those who but one month before would have shuddered at the thought of eating human flesh, or of killing their companions and relatives to preserve their own lives, now looked upon the opportunity by these acts afforded them of escaping the most dreadful of deaths, as a providential interference in their behalf. Calculations were coldly made, as they sat gloomily around their camp fires, for the next and succeeding meals. Various expedients were devised to prevent the dreadful crime of murder; but they finally resolved to kill those who had the least claims to longer existence. Just at this moment, however, as if by divine interposition, some of them died, which afforded the rest temporary relief. Some sunk into the arms of death cursing God for their miserable fate, while the last whisperings of others were prayers and songs of praise to the Almighty.

“After the first few deaths, but the one all-absorbing thought of individual self-preservation prevailed. The fountains of natural affection were dried up. The chords that once vibrated with connubial, parental and filial affection were rent asunder, and each one seemed resolved, without regard to the fate of others, to escape from the impending calamity. Even the wild hostile mountain Indians, who once visited their camps, pitied them; and instead of pursuing the natural impulse of their hostile feelings to the whites, and destroying them, as they easily could have done, divided their own scanty supply of food with them.

“So changed had the immigrants become, that when the party sent out arrived with food, some of them cast it aside, and seemed to prefer the putrid human flesh that still remained. The day before the party arrived, one of the immigrants took a child of about four years of age in bed with him, and devoured the whole before morning, and the next day eat another about the same age before noon.

“It is thought that several more of these unfortunate people might have been saved, but for their determination not to leave their property. Some of them who started, loaded themselves with their money and other effects to such an extent that they sunk under them, and died on the road.”

It was expected that this calamity would have had a serious influence in deterring future immigration into California from the United States. But the discovery of gold immediately afterwards destroyed all calculations on the subject, and sent headlong tens of thousands across the plains and over the Rocky and Snowy Mountains where the above party had suffered so much, to encounter in some cases nearly the same amount of misery as they. We have seen that the town of San Francisco nobly did its duty on the lamentable occasion. Of the eighty individuals who composed the party, of whom forty-eight were males and thirty-two females, thirty-six perished. Of these, twenty-eight were males, and only eight females. The story of their sufferings and end make a striking incident in the history of California, and is worthy of being recorded in the “Annals of San Francisco,” if it were only to mark the liberal exertions made by its citizens in their behalf.

FEBRUARY 21st.—Dr. F. Forgeaud, C. L. Ross, Dr. J. Townsend, J. Serrine and W. H. Davis, were appointed trustees of the proposed school.

MARCH 4th.—A meeting of citizens was held this day to consider the propriety of resolving, that the District of San Francisco should be fitly represented by one member in the new legislative council, convened by the governor, until a proper constitution should be obtained for the Territory; when it was resolved to that effect, and Mr. J. G. T. Dunleavy was chosen by a majority of votes, to be representative accordingly. It appeared that the legislative council, recently organized by Com. Stockton, consisted of seven individuals, four of whom were Californians, one Englishman and two Americans; while it was an undoubted fact that the majority of the white population was from the United States, and the constant immigration was daily increasing this majority. Similar meetings complaining of the insufficient American representation in the council were held at Sonoma, Santa Clara, and other places, at which American delegates were chosen to represent their interests, the governor being entreated by these meetings to accept of their choice, and formally to re-appoint their nominees as members of the legislative council. It does not appear that any notice was taken of these proceedings, or that the “people’s choice” became also His Excellency’s. The latter alone had the complete control of the Government—which, so long as war with Mexico lasted, was necessarily a military one—and appointed only such officers to assist him in the same as suited his personal views of the subject.

MARCH 6th.—The ship Thomas H. Perkins arrived from New York, bringing Col. Stevenson of the New York volunteers, and the first detachment of his regiment. With few exceptions, the volunteers were mechanics and single men; and as they were enlisted to serve during the war, and when peace came, to be disbanded only in California, it was expected that they would nearly all remain as permanent settlers in the country. The colonel himself and all his officers, had likewise expressed their wish and determination to make California their home after the termination of hostilities.

MARCH 13th.—There were in the harbor at this date six square-rigged vessels, viz.: the United States ship Cyane, the ships Moscow, Vandalia, Barnstable, Thomas H. Perkins, and the brig Euphemia.

MARCH 20th.—The local newspaper, the “California Star,” is pleased, at last, to acquiesce, very unwillingly, in the change of name from Yerba Buena to San Francisco; and to-day, for the first time, dates its leader from the latter. This change seems not to have gratified every party. Mr. Semple, of the Monterey “Californian,” and Mr. T. O. Larkin, who had jointly founded the new city of Francisca, on the Strait of Carquinez, afraid lest their rising town should be confounded and lost in the name and fame of San Francisco, were forced to change the appellation of the former to Benicia. In those days, Benicia was anticipated by many to be the great future rival of San Francisco. Later times have shown how unnecessary fear was on the subject.

APRIL.—Semi-monthly mails established between San Francisco and San Diego and intermediate places.

MAY 6th.—A public meeting was held to consider the propriety of erecting a church in the town; when a committee was appointed for the purpose of taking steps to procure the erection.

MAY 28th.—First grand illumination in San Francisco. This was in honor of General Taylor’s great victory over the Mexicans at Buena Vista. Every building in the town, of frame or adobe, and shanty itself, shone with as much lustre as an unlimited allowance of oil and tallow could bestow. Fire-arms cracked, and bonfires blazed on all sides.

JULY.—Two great anniversaries were held this month, in a becoming manner, at San Francisco, viz.: the independence-day of the United States, on the 4th,—and the independence or conquest-day of California, on the 7th; on which latter day, in the previous year, the American flag bad been hoisted at Monterey by Com. Sloat. We have already had occasion to notice the celebration of a “glorious fourth,” just eleven years before, when Mr. Leese had erected the first solid building (his house being of frame, while Capt. Richardson’s, erected the preceding year, was only a canvas-covered tent), that was seen in Yerba Buena. Then the country was Mexican, and while the guests were chiefly of that nation, the flags of both Mexico and the United States floated amicably together. Now—only eleven years later—the country was American, and her flag alone was displayed, while the vast majority of those who shared in the festival was of that nation. What a wonderful change these few years had made in the character and prospects of the country! As before we had occasion to chronicle Mr. Leese’s musicians, his six pounders, his dinner, drinks, dancing and general festivities; so we may here say, that the day of 1847 was celebrated in a similar manner, under salutes from men of war in the bay, and the presidio, when people on shore processed to musical strains, and when flags waved, and much powder was burned, and the citizens speechified and hurrahed, toasted, drank, danced and made merry as is usual on such occasions. The 7th was observed in a similar fashion.

JULY 14th.—On this day was held a public meeting of a large number of citizens to consider the conduct of Col. Fremont in California, and his claims to be chosen by the President of the United States as Governor of the Territory. It appears that after the colonel’s volunteer regiment of “mounted riflemen” was disbanded, there had been no money forthcoming for the arrears of pay, or even to reimburse the heavy pecuniary loss and outlay which many of the officers and men had incurred. Governor Kearny, and his successor, Governor Mason, would not, or could not, make such payments from the territorial exchequer, or rather grant available warrants upon the national treasury without the previous sanction of Congress. They had accepted a country conquered partly by these very volunteers, and had entered upon possession of its revenues, and yet would not, or cruelly delayed to pay the necessary cost. Col. Fremont therefore appeared, in the mean time, the only debtor; but as it was impossible that he could pretend to be able to make payment of the very large sums disbursed on account of the war in California, and for the benefit solely of the United States, much personal dissatisfaction was expressed against him by all who had suffered in this way, and by many sympathizing friends, especially in the northern districts of the country. In the southern quarters, from whence he had drawn few or no volunteers, and owed therefore neither pay nor supplies, the colonel had become exceedingly popular; and this although he had been a successful invader. In these parts of the country a petition had been got up and was numerously signed, praying Congress to appoint him Governor of California. The same petition being taken northwards for the approval and signatures of the Americans around San Francisco Bay, excited much angry feeling on the subject. Col. Fremont was in danger of losing all his recent popularity, and in the rage and injustice of the moment, was even denied many of the claims, formerly advanced and elsewhere allowed, to the heroic part he had taken in the conquest of the country. At the meeting above mentioned, a committee of eight gentlemen was formed to investigate and publish all reliable instances of his misconduct; and meantime, the meeting protested against his being chosen as their governor by Congress. It may just farther be stated on this subject, that Congress, a considerable time afterwards, allotted a large sum to satisfy all claims against Fremont on account of the war in California, and which naturally fell upon the United States as accepting the country reduced to their hands.

JULY 20th.—Beginning of the great sale of beach and water lots in San Francisco, as detailed in a preceding chapter.

JULY 28th.—The alcalde, Mr. George Hyde, selected six gentlemen to assist him in disposing of the great and daily accumulation of municipal business. These were the ayuntamiento, or “town council,” as they were called, and were to remain in office until the governor should think fit formally to cause an election to take place among the citizens to fill their places. Accordingly, on

AUGUST 15th, Governor Mason issued an ordinance addressed to Mr. Hyde, in regard to such an election. As it explains the manner in which the municipal government was carried on in those days, we quote the principal portion of it

“There is wanted in San Francisco an efficient town government, more so than is in the power of an alcalde to put in force. There may be soon expected a large number of whalers in your bay, and a large increase of your population by the arrival of immigrants. It is therefore highly necessary that you should at an early day have an efficient town police, proper town laws, town officers, &c., for enforcement of the laws, for the preservation of order, and for the proper protection of persons and property.

“I therefore desire that you call a town meeting for the election of six persons, who when elected shall constitute the town council, and who in conjunction with the alcalde shall constitute the town authorities until the end of the year 1848.

“All the municipal laws and regulations will be framed by the council, but executed by the alcalde in his judicial capacity as at present.

“The first alcalde will preside at all meetings of the council, but shall have no vote, except in cases where the votes are equally divided.

“The town council (not less than four of whom shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business), to appoint all the town officers, such as treasurer, constables, watchmen, &c., and to determine their pay, fees, &c.

“The treasurer to enter into ample and sufficient bonds, conditioned for the faithful performance of his duties: the bonds to be fully executed to the satisfaction of the council before the treasurer enters upon his duties.

“The second alcalde shall, in case of the absence of the first alcalde, take his place and preside at the council, and there perform all the proper functions of the first alcalde.

“No soldier, sailor or marine, nor any person who is not a bona fide resident of the town shall be allowed to vote for a member of the town council.”

In pursuance of the foregoing order, Mr. Hyde fixed the election for six members for a town council, upon

SEPTEMBER 13th.—We give the names of the gentlemen elected, along with the names of those who had previously been appointed by the alcalde, as an interim council: —
Councillors elected. No. of votes. Councillors chosen by Alcalde.
William Glover 126 William A. Leidesdorff
William D. M. Howard 114 Robert A. Parker
William A. Leidesdorff 109 José P. Thompson
E. P. Jones 88 Pedro T. Sherreback
Robert A. Parker 74 John Rose
William S. Clark 72 Benjamin R. Buckelew

The town council chose Mr. Leidesdorff their treasurer. The first alcalde was Mr. George Hyde; and the second, Dr. T. M. Leavenworth. Immediately after the formation of the town council, its members entered with spirit upon the duties of their office. They passed a multitude of laws affecting the general interests of the town, regulating the streets and buildings, the licensing and character of business allowed, appointed constables, &c. Soon, therefore, the place became to assume a steady progressive appearance, and some fair sort of order was every where established. This council may be said to have had every thing to do to found the city. Our work would swell beyond all reasonable limits, should we attempt to name every public act of importance—when nearly all they did was new and of vital consequence to the well-being of San Francisco—performed by this council. We can only, therefore, give an occasional notice in future of their proceedings. One, however, of their earliest resolutions may just be glanced at, viz.: the rescinding of those conditions in the sale of town lands, which made it imperative on the buyer to fence in and erect a building upon his lot within a year after the purchase. One effect of this was certainly to encourage speculation, since jobbers in lots could now safely hold an indefinite number, when not obliged to erect buildings upon them within a limited time.

SEPTEMBER 24th.—Messrs. Leidesdorff, Glover and Clark were appointed by the town council a committee to take measures for the establishment of a public school. Various resolutions were subsequently passed by the council on this subject, and after much public agitation, at length, on 17th March, 1848, a teacher was appointed, with a salary of one thousand dollars; and on the 3d of April following, Mr. Thomas Douglas formally opened the long delayed and much needed school, for the instruction of the youth of both sexes. This was the first public seminary established in San Francisco.

OCTOBER 20th.—A severe Norther visited the harbor which did considerable damage to the shipping. Similar furious gales have since been experienced every year, when more or less loss has been occasioned to the shipping and to the wharves themselves. The exposure to excessive winds from the north and southeast is one of the most serious drawbacks to the safety and convenience of the port. The extension of the city, in late years, over the waters of Yerba Buena Cove, has increased the liability of vessels to damage during the prevalence of these winds.

NOVEMBER 15th.—” The Steamboat,”—being the only one it had no distinct name,—performed an experimental trip round “Wood Island.” This was but a small concern which had been brought by Mr. Leidesdorff from Sitka. It was the first vessel of the kind in San Francisco Bay, and was quite a pet or plaything in its way. Two days afterwards “the steamboat” sailed for Santa Clara. In February following it was lost in a Norther.

NOVEMBER 18th.—The first “Thanksgiving Day” celebrated in New England style. Public worship was performed at the house of Mr. Lincoln. The “Sons of New England” afterwards had a public dinner.

DECEMBER 31st.—The following statistics show the extent of the commerce of San Francisco for the three months ending this day:—

Total value of exports, $49,597.53; imports, $53,589.73. Of the amount of exports, $30,353.85, represent the native produce of California, and were shipped as follows:—To the Sandwich Islands, $320; Peru, $21,448.35; Mazatlan, $560; Sitka, $7,285.50; Tahiti, $700. The other exports, amounting to $19,343.68, were the produce of foreign countries, and were shipped as follows:—$2,060 to the United States; $12,442.18 (of which $11,340 were coined gold and silver), to the Sandwich Islands; and $4,831.50 to Mazatlan. The imports came from the following countries:—United States, $6,790.54; Oregon, $7,701.59; Chili, $3,676.44; Sandwich Islands, $31,740.73; Sitka, $2,471.32; Bremen, $550.54; and Mexico, $160.

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

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