San Francisco History

The Annals of San Francisco



JANUARY 11th.—Stringent resolutions were passed by the council regarding gambling. This vice bad been growing in popular favor, and at this period and for years afterwards, became one of the leading characteristics of the inhabitants. Besides heavily fining parties engaged in gambling, one of the resolutions authorized the authorities “to seize for the benefit of the town all the money found on a gambling table where cards are played.” If this had been in force a short time afterwards, when the gold discoveries had enriched thousands, and the reckless miners hurried to San Francisco to spend their gains in the great public gaming saloons of the period, the town in a single night would have become wealthy. But at the next meeting of the council these resolutions were all repealed.

MARCH 5th.—A great public sale took place by the town of some of its real estate. The preferable lots had already been secured by speculators, under the old regulations, at a nominal price, by private arrangement with the alcalde. The prices obtained at this sale do not show much advance in the value of town property, since the lots only brought from sixteen to fifty dollars, averaging about twenty-two dollars and fifty cents each for fifty-two lots. It is certain, however, that the value of desirable locations was immensely higher than this; and the citizens, from their eagerness in getting up houses, and the high prices of labor and building materials, seem to have been satisfied on this subject. The population of the town was fast improving.

MARCH 15th.—As a sign of the times, a weekly wholesale price-current was first published in San Francisco in the columns of the “Californian” of this date. In the “California Star,” of the 18th instant, likewise appeared a similar document, and remarks on the state of the market, for the first time.

About this period the population of the town was ascertained by the Board of School Trustees, in canvassing the place for educational purposes, to be, 575 male and 177 female adults, and 60 children of ages to attend school, making a total of 812. Adding the number of infants and children still too young to attend school, the whole number of inhabitants amounted to about 850. The buildings of all kinds numbered 200. There were two large hotels in the place, besides boarding and public houses, and houses attached to ten-pin alleys, billiard saloons, &c. ; so that the town was becoming one of some consequence, and was assuming the pretensions and attractions of older, wealthier and more populous communities. Two wharves were in the course of construction, and extensive stores and warehouses had been erected. There were twelve mercantile houses established, consisting of agencies for large firms in the East and in the Sandwich Islands, auction and commission houses, and importers from the United States direct. The facilities for discharging ships and filling them anew with cargo, were rapidly increasing. There was much bustle, and even enthusiasm among the inhabitants, which promised a flattering future to the town. Current expenses were too high to prevent immediate fortunes being made; still most persons in business believed they were laying the firm foundations of early wealth.

APRIL 1st.—The “California Star Express” left San Francisco, to proceed overland to Independence, Mo. The passage was guaranteed to be accomplished in sixty days. Fifty cents was charged as the postage on single letters.

APRIL 3d.—The first public school was opened. Dr. J. Townsend was also sworn in before the council, as first alcalde, vice George Hyde, resigned. Serious complaints had been made in regard to Mr. Hyde’s conduct in office, which, being reported to Governor Mason, led to a formal inquiry on the subject. Some nine or ten charges of a criminal nature were made against the former alcalde, only two of which were ultimately held to be established by proof. These, in the whole circumstances of the case, seemed insufficient to warrant His Excellency to remove Mr. Hyde from office. But as popular clamor was somewhat loud and vexatious on the matter, that gentleman thought fit to resign his trust.

MAY 18th.—Mr. Wm. A. Leidesdorff died of the brain fever. This gentleman was the United States vice-consul at San Francisco, and was closely connected with all the interests of the place. His decease was much regretted by the town’s people, a large number of whom attended in his funeral procession. All places of business and entertainment were closed on the occasion, the flags at the barracks and of the vessels in port hung at halfmast during the day; while minute guns were fired as the burial train moved on towards the Mission Dolores, in the churchyard of which place the body was interred. Mr. Leidesdorff was of Danish extraction, and of the Roman Catholic religion. He had been nearly nine years in business in San Francisco, and was about thirty-six years old. The property he left was of considerable value at the time of his death, (though heavily burdened with debts;) while, as much of it consisted of real estate, on which the growing city afterwards spread, its value at this date is immense. The deceased left no legal heirs on the spot, and his estate was administered by Mr. Wm. D. M. Howard, under authority of the alcalde, for behoof of all concerned. Much litigation, among parties claiming to be administrators, or heirs or assignees of heirs of the deceased, afterwards resulted, which it is believed is not yet fairly ended. The law proceedings and history of the estate generally form quite an event in the annals of the town, and deserve a more particular notice, which will be given in a subsequent chapter.

Rush for the gold regions.The promising state of things in San Francisoo shortly before described was now to be suddenly checked by means which, unpromising at first, ultimately led to the most extraordinary prosperity in the city. Early in the spring of this year, occasional intelligence had been received of the finding of gold in large quantities among the foot hills of the Sierra Nevada, the particulars of which discovery we have already given. Small parcels of the precious metal had also been forwarded to San Francisco, while visitors from the mines, and some actual diggers arrived, to tell the wonders of the region and the golden gains of those engaged in exploring and working it. In consequence of such representations, the inhabitants began gradually, in bands and singly, to desert their previous occupations, and betake themselves to the American River and other auriferous parts of the great Sacramento valley. Labor, from the deficiency of hands, rose rapidly in value, and soon all business and work, except the most urgent, was forced to be stopped. Seamen deserted from their ships in the bay and soldiers from the barracks. Over all the country the excitement was the same. Neither threats, punishment nor money could keep men to their most solemn engagements. Gold was the irresistible magnet that drew human souls to the place where it lay, rudely snapping asunder the feebler ties of affection and duty. Avarice and the overweening desire to be suddenly rich, from whence sprang the hope and moral certainty of being so, grew into a disease, and the infection spread on all sides, and led to a general migration of every class of the community to the golden quarters. The daily laborer, who had worked for the good and at the command of another, for one or two dollars a day, could not be restrained from flying to the happy spot where he could earn six or ten times the amount, and might possibly gain a hundred or even a thousand times the sum in one lucky day’s chance. Then the life, at worst, promised to be one of continual adventure and excitement, and the miner was his own master. While this was the case with the common laborer, his employer, wanting his services, suddenly found his occupation at an end; while shopkeepers and the like, dependent on both, discovered themselves in the same predicament. The glowing tales of the successful miners all the while reached their ears, and threw their own steady and large gains comparatively in the shade. They therefore could do no better, in a pecuniary sense even, for themselves, than to hasten after their old servants, and share in their new labor and its extraordinary gains, or pack up their former business stock, and travelling with it to the mines, open their new stores and shops and stalls, and dispose of their old articles to the fortunate diggers, at a rise of five hundred or a thousand per cent.

In the month of May it was computed that, at least one hundred and fifty people had left San Francisco, and every day since was adding to their number. Some were occasionally returning from the auriferous quarter; but they had little time to stop and expatiate upon what they had seen. They had hastily come back, as they had hastily gone away at first, leaving their household and business to waste and ruin, now to fasten more properly their houses, and remove goods, family and all, at once to the gold region. Their hurried movements, more even than the words they uttered, excited the curiosity and then the eager desire of others to accompany them. And so it was. Day after day the bay was covered with launches filled with the inhabitants and their goods, hastening up the Sacramento. This state of matters soon came to a head; and master and man alike hurried to the placeres, leaving San Francisco, like a place where the plague reigns, forsaken by its old inhabitants, a melancholy solitude.

On the 29th of May the “Californian” published a fly-sheet, apologizing for the future non-issue of the paper, until better days came, when they might expect to retain their servants for some amount of remuneration, which at present was impossible, as all, from the “subs” to the “devil,” had indignantly rejected every offer, and gone off to the diggings. “The whole country,” said the last editorial of the paper, “from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and from the sea shore to the base of the Sierra Nevada, resounds with the sordid cry of gold! GOLD!! GOLD!!!—while the field is left half planted, the house half built, and every thing neglected but the manufacture of shovels and pickaxes, and the means of transportation to the spot where one man obtained one hundred and twenty-eight dollars’ worth of the real stuff in one day’s washing, and the average for all concerned is twenty dollars per diem!”

On the 14th of June the “California Star” likewise ceased. In the explanatory fly-sheet, the editor simply and sadly said, that his paper “could not be made by magic, and the labor of mechanism was as essential to its existence as to all other arts.” And as every body was deserting him, why, the press and the paper stopped together—that was all.

JULY 15TH.—The “Californian” revives, and promises an occasional paper, if that can be managed. It gives this day the first intelligence of the French revolution, under the alarming head, “THE WHOLE WORLD AT WAR!” though little did the golddiggers and the speculative traders in San Francisco care about that. It chronicles likewise the observance of another “glorious fourth” which was held in the town as spiritedly as the few remaining inhabitants could manage. The rest of the news, and many of the advertisements were about the mines and gold. The city itself afforded few items of intelligence, except the continued desertion of the place, and the high and increasing prices of labor. The council had not met for two months; and its members, with many officials of the town, had all “gone to the diggings.”

JULY 25th.—Governor Mason issued a proclamation calling on the people to assist the authorities in apprehending deserters, who had now become very numerous from both the army and navy service.

JULY 31st.—His Excellency consents to receive gold dust in payment of duties at the custom-house at a low rate, with right of redemption of the whole by the payer, within one hundred and eighty days, or of the half within ninety days, upon giving the proper amount in gold or silver coin. Several public meetings have been held on this subject, in which the community was much interested.

AUGUST 11th.—A second grand illumination. This time it was in celebration of the peace between Mexico and the United States, the official news of which reached Monterey on the 6th instant. In the early part of the day guns were fired on all sides, from the presidio and barracks, ships in harbor, and by every youngster on shore who happily owned, or could buy, borrow, or steal a little gunpowder and a fire-arm, from a musket to a rusty key with a priming-hole filed across the barrel. A cavalcade of citizens proceeded through the streets. In the evening, the windows of every house remaining inhabited were illuminated, many of them brilliantly. Tar barrels and bonfires blazed on all sides. Squibs, crackers and pistols boomed off in harmony with the general rejoicing.

AUGUST 29th.—Dr. T. M. Leavenworth elected first alcalde.

SEPTEMBER 6th.—The first brick house was erected by Mellus & Howard, at the corner of Montgomery and Clay streets. This was the second brick building erected in Upper California, one having been previously constructed at Monterey.

San Francisco, Winter of 1848.SEPTEMBER 9th.—A great public meeting was held to consider how best to fix the price of gold dust at a certain reasonable amount, to pass as a currency in the country, during the scarcity of coin, and until a branch mint could be established. This was supposed to be the largest meeting that had ever assembled in San Francisco, most of the old inhabitants having returned for a season from the mines. Dr. T. M. Leavenworth was called to the chair, and Mr. J. D. Hoppe appointed secretary. The meeting unanimously decided and resolved that sixteen dollars an ounce was a fair price for gold dust, and that it ought to be taken in all business transactions at that rate. A committee was also appointed to urge upon Congress the immediate establishment of a branch mint at San Francisco.

This month a square-rigged vessel (the brig Belfast, from New York,) first discharged a cargo at Broadway wharf. The price of goods consequently fell twenty-five per cent., while real estate rose from fifty to one hundred per cent. A vacant lot at the corner of Montgomery and Washington streets was offered the day previous to the opening of the wharf for five thousand dollars, but there were no buyers. The next day the same lot sold readily at ten thousand dollars. This shows how property was beginning to be affected by the improvement of the town.

OCTOBER 3d.—At a second election, Dr. T. M. Leavenworth was again chosen first alcalde. B. R. Buckelew and Barton Mowrey were also elected town councillors. One hundred and fifty-eight votes were polled.

OCTOBER 9th.—First meeting of the town council since May last. At an adjourned meeting held on the 11th, it was resolved that the limits of the town for the administration of justice should be as follows, viz.: “That the line shall commence at the mouth of Creek Guadalupe, where it empties into the Bay of San Francisco, following the course of said stream to its head waters; from thence a due west line to the Pacific Ocean; thence northwards along the coast to the inlet to the harbor of the bay; thence eastwardly, through the middle of the said inlet into the Bay of San Francisco, and embracing the entire anchorage ground from the inlet to the mouth of the Creek Guadalupe.”

NOVEMBER 1st.—No regular church had hitherto been established; but nearly every Sunday, for a long period back, occasional religious services had been performed by clergymen of various denominations; or, in their absence, by some serious minded layman. This day, the Rev. T. D. Hunt, who had been invited from Honolulu, was chosen Protestant chaplain to the citizens, and an annual salary of two thousand five hundred dollars appropriated to him, to be defrayed out of the subscriptions of various town’s people. Divine worship on Sundays to take place in the Public Institute, (school-house,) Portsmouth Square.

NOVEMBER 18th.—The “Californian,” having been bought up by the proprietors of the “California Star,” a new paper, similar in appearance to both these, and virtually a continuation of the latter, which had stopped five months before, was issued this day under the title, “The Star and Californian.”

DECEMBER.—The markets, as might be expected, were very high about this time, though prices fluctuated considerably. On the 1st of this month, flour was twenty-seven dollars a barrel, beef twenty, pork sixty; butter was ninety cents a pound, and cheese seventy. Two weeks later, flour sold at from twelve to fifteen dollars a barrel, while other articles had fallen in proportion. Brandy was in demand at eight dollars a gallon, and gold dust dull of sale at ten dollars and a half an ounce.

DECEMBER 12th.—The public school, after having been closed for many months during the gold-mania, re-opened. Rates of tuition were announced to be eight dollars a term.

DECEMBER 21st and 23d.—Great public meetings were held, (Dr. Townsend in the chair,) regarding the propriety, and growing necessity of immediately organizing a provisional government. For some time back, much public agitation had existed on this subject. The frequent murders and other daring outrages committed of late in different parts of the country, especially at the mines, while there was no proper legal protection for the lives and property of the citizens, had forced the people to conclude that Congress had been trifling with them in delaying the long proposed constitution—that there was no more time to wait—and therefore that instant steps should be taken to establish a form of government for themselves. At these meetings resolutions were passed to the above effect, and five delegates appointed to be chosen at a subsequent public meeting, to represent the town and district at a general convention to be held at San José, in March next, for the purpose of framing a form of constitution. A meeting to the same effect had been held at San José on the 11th instant, which had fixed the assembling of the convention so early as the 2d of January following, and similar meetings were beginning to be called all over the country.

DECEMBER 27th—The following gentlemen were elected as town council, or ayuntamiento, for 1849, viz.: Stephen C. Harris, Win. D. M. Howard, George C. Hubbard, Robert A. Parker, Thomas J. Roach, John Sirrine, and John Townsend—the last of whom was chosen president. The number of votes polled was three hundred and forty-seven.

DECEMBER 28th, 29th and 30th.—Various meetings were held of the old town council, which ended in its resolving that the election of the 27th instant was invalid, owing to the votes of a small number of unqualified parties having been received; and a new election was ordered for the 15th proximo.

The duties collected at the custom-house, during 1848, were as follows:—First quarter, $11,931; second quarter, $8,835; third quarter, $74,827; fourth quarter, $100,480. The value of imported goods during the year was about one million of dollars. Coin was also imported to about the same amount. Gold dust to the value of two millions of dollars was exported in the last six months of 1848. A few years later as great a quantity was exported by every semi-monthly mail.

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

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