San Francisco History



In the year of 1849, a man arrived here, by the name of Samuel Dennison, who rented from Parker a piece of land, on which he built a gambling saloon, and gave it the name of the ''Dennison House.'' In the latter part of '49 he sold out to Thomas Bartell, a Southerner. On the same land now stands the Union Hotel. As we have been mentioning some of the first things which happened in San Francisco, under the American Flag, I will now give an account of the first vessel burned in this harbor: One Sunday morning, an English vessel, which had arrived two days previous, loaded with coal, took fire, and the entire ship with its cargo was destroyed. At one time there was a large number of vessels in the harbor. But the gold fever raged to such an extent that it was next to impossible to keep sailors aboard the vessels, as they would almost universally run away to the mines. I remember one instance well. The captain of a Boston ship arrived here in the early part of '49. He had intended to go from here to China, but he found out that the wages of sailors would amount to more than the whole freight of the cargo would come too. The sailors in the coasting trade would receive from two hundred to two hundred and fifty dollars per month, and were very hard to get even at those figures. The above named captain obtained instructions from Boston to bring the vessel home at any cost, and when he left this port, he observed, that there was not a man on board, who did not receive double the amount in wages that he did; I think the captain's name was Avery. A gentleman arrived in the above named vessel from Boston, by the name of Stone, who brought to this country a large amount of goods and liquors. He came here principally for his health; he left here for Sacramento, but I never could find out what became of him. Before the captain left port, Mr. Parker went to the mines on business; also with the intention of finding Stone, if he could, so that he might return to Boston. After making all manner of inquiries, and learning nothing satisfactory concerning him, it was supposed he must have met with the same fate as many others, and was either murdered or made away with for his money. In the summer of '49, there was another vessel sent from here to the States, by T. M. Leavensworth. It was a very difficult task to obtain a crew. The captain's name was Jeremiah P. Wilbur. A part of the crew consisted of men who had committed various depredations, and were known as bad characters. Leavensworth gave them the choice of going to prison or shipping on board the vessel. One of the sailors was known by the name of Scotty. He was said to be a most desperate character. The chances were that the vessel would never arrive at its distination; but contrary to the expectations of all, she made a good voyage, and reached the port in safety. Captain Wilbur returned again to California in 1852. A vessel arrived in port with a large number of emigrants in '49. All hands left the ship but the captain. Articles such as tinware, and other utensils were very scarce at that time; and every evening when the captain would come ashore, he would bring in a bag such things as he had to sell, and as he and I were ''good on the trade,'' he never would take them anywhere else. The last night he left his vessel to come ashore, he brought the only article left, namely: a second-handed broom. He wanted a dollar for it; but, for ''friendship's sake'' he gave it to me for fifty cents. The above named captain is now living in the city. For many years he followed the business of stevedore, and knowing how to take care of his money, he accumulated quite a fortune. He now goes by the name of Commodore.

I have often heard it remarked. ''If I had come to California in early days, I would have been worth millions.'' The persons who were here in early days, and those who came when gold was first discovered, were a different class of people altogether from those of the present day. Money was of little if any value to them, and they were always ready with open heart and hand to help their fellow men, especially a friend, in a most liberal manner. I will here mention a few things that happened to my certain knowledge: In the first place, as far as I was concerned myself, I never allowed any person to want for a meal, and many a time I have fed them for weeks together without pay, or even expecting to be paid. I will name one instance: A young man came here from New York, who informed me that he would give me anything he had, if I would keep him at the hotel for a few days, and give him something to do that would enable him to go to the mines and try his luck. I could see by his behavior that he was well brought up. I did not like to offer him money for fear it might be a temptation to lead him astray, so I offered him something to do that enabled him to make enough in a few days to take him out of the city. When I went to pay him for what work he had done, I informed Parker and John Owens of my intention, and they each gave me ten dollars to swell the amount. I heard of his death sometime afterwards at Stockton, and have received two letters from his mother, thanking me for my kindness; also making some inquiries as to what had become of his effects. There were three persons residing in the city, doing a good business, whose names were as follows: John Owen, Richard Ross and Captain Robert Harly. These persons were well known by all who came here from Texas, most of whom were usually ''dead broke.'' As soon as they could find either of the above mentioned parties, they would receive what assistance they needed. John Owens informed me that inside of ten months he had given away over six thousand dollars. I know Dick Ross must have given away that amount, if not more. Another man I knew, from Indiana, gave away thousands for charitable purposes, out of pure generosity of heart. I know of one person, belonging to Indiana, who went to the mines, where he was not at all successful. He returned to the city and applied to George McDougal for assistance. The man was pretty well along in years; Mr. McDougal gave him a slug, and told him to call again in about three days. When he came back, McDougal had bought him a cabin passage on the steamer, and also gave him five hundred dollars, so that he might go home to his family. Another of McDougal's good deeds occurred as late as the year '51: He wanted me to take a ride with him out to the race course. On passing through Kearny street, on our way to the stables, to obtain a horse and buggy, McDougal suddenly came to a full stop, and looking very attentively at a man who was laboring, repairing the street; he said to me: ''I know that man's face well; I must find out, who he is,'' and going up to the man, he accosted him and asked him if his name was not _______, from Indiana. He said it was; McDougal told him to throw down the shovel, and come with him to the hotel. He hired a room for the man, and engaged his board. He then got him a suit of clothes at Cronin and Markley's, and gave him means to go to the mines. I will now speak of another person, who, when possessed of means, had a heart equal to half a dozen such men as you will find nowadays. No person ever asked him for a loan or any thing he had, but he would give with a good free heart. This man's name was Robert A. Parker. I will mention one circumstance that happened about this time: I was in debt to a firm, and owed a balance of three hundred and sixty dollars. As Parker was going down the street in that direction, I gave him the amount, and asked him to please call and settle it for me; it was in gold dust. I did not hear anything concerning it for about three weeks, when one day a collector for Ward and Smith, by the name of Craner, presented the bill for payment. I informed him that it had been paid already by Robert A. Parker. Thinking there must have been some mistake to whom they gave the credit for that amount, I went and called Parker into the office, and informed him in regard to the matter. Parker smiled, and said he never thought of telling me, that there were two poor fellows whom he met on his way to the store, whose parents he had known in Boston, and being informed that that they were dead broke, and having no other money with him, except what I had given him, he gave them the loan of it instead of paying the debt. They told Parker that they got to gambling and lost all, and as they were anxious to go to the mines, Parker took this means of helping them out. After making this explanation, Parker called Crane into his office and paid the debt. The parties who received the loan were very careful never to pay it back again. I have known of this same Parker helping many persons, and he has often borrowed money of me for the purpose. I do believe if Parker had had a ship load of gold dust, any person from Boston, particularly, if they chanced to be acquainted with his father, could get all they wanted, by simply asking for it. There were many men who became wealthy through what they got out of Parker. I will mention one more person who did much good by his generosity of heart. The man's name was Jack Hays. During the time he was Sheriff, there was an execution handed him to serve. He gave it to one of his deputies, who went to serve it. He found the man in a dying condition, and the family, which consisted of a wife and five children, very needy. The deputy returned the writ to Jack, saying he could not serve it, under the circumstances. The parties for whom the money was to be collected, sent to Hays, to know if the amount had been received. The next day Hays called, not for the purpose of serving the execution; but to ascertain for himself the true state of affairs He found things in a much worse condition than he anticipated. He put his hand in his pocket, and gave the women what money he had with him, promising to assist them farther. He then sent to the man's relief, Dr. Nelson, one of the most noted physicians then in the city. When Jack returned to his office, he told the parties to send and get their pay. He made out a receipt, and by the side of it he placed thirty dollars. He informed the parties in regard to the straightened circumstances of the family, who were without a dime in the house. The reply was, ''that they could not afford to lose their money in that way.'' Jack told the man to sign the receipt, and that there was the thirty dollars, which he would pay out of his own pocket; but, if he took the money, he would get the worst whipping he ever had, if it cost him a thousand dollars. The party signed the receipt in full, but was very careful not to take the money, as he thought Jack was a little more than he cared to handle. There are many other acts of goodness and generosity which Jack did; but I cite the above, because it came under my own personal knowledge.

There is one more thing I will write about, that I suppose very few will believe to be possible, judging by the price property is valued at now. In the year of 1849, I rented to T. M. Leavensworth, two rooms in the City Hotel, facing Portsmouth Square, for two hundred and fifty dollars per month. Leavensworth paid me the first four months in cash; for three months after that, he could not pay me, as there was no money in the treasury; and the only alternative I had, was to take city property, such as fifty and one hundred vara lots in payment. I had to pay him for fifty vara lots, twelve dollars and a half; and for one hundred vara lots, twenty-five dollars. He would also charge me two dollars and a half on each lot, for recording and other expenses. For a month or so this did very well, as I got lots in that way for many of my friends; some of the property I disposed of at first cost; but I gave most of the lots away for presents. I could name many persons to whom I gave, as presents, fifty and a hundred vara lots, that would now be a little fortune.

After Jasper o'Farrell had made his survey of the city of San Francisco, in the latter part of November, 1847, the Treasury was short of cash, and it was proposed to sell some city lots by auction, to raise money to pay the debts of the city. George Hyde was then Alcalda, and he could only dispose of a few at the city's price, namely: twelve dollars and a half for fifty vara lots, and twenty-five dollars for one hundred vara lots, also, expenses for making deeds and recording; and there were but very few they could sell even at the above named prices, so the sale was stopped. The water lots sold for much better prices, and were mostly all disposed of; excepting some that were reserved for the use of the Government. If I had taken from Leavensworth all the lots he wanted me to take in pay for rent of office, I might have had over two hundred. We often had angry words on account of his not paying cash for the rent of his office. By this you will be able to form an idea of the value of property in 1849. There were some lots from Jackson to Sacramento streets that were considered valuable. Many of the lots that I refused are now in the heart of the city, and at that time they were only banks of sand. A young man, who was Alcalda's clerk for Judge Bryant, received a grant to a fifty vara lot on Kearny street, which, as well as I can remember, could not have been far from California street. He boarded at the hotel, and being short of money for two weeks' board, was much obliged to me for accepting a fifty vara lot in payment for two weeks' board and lodging; he thought I had done him a great favor.

The first person that started a general bakery business, was a German, by the name of Denikie. Messrs. Rose and Reynolds arrived on the Londreser, from Napa, and brought with them to the city, very near four tons of flour. This was a larger amount than they usually carried, and it was difficult to dispose of it. What they could not sell, they left with me to sell for cash. There were nearly three tons I sold to Denikie for one dollar and sixty cents per robe. When he came to pay for the flour, he was fifty dollars short, and as I was not allowed to trust, he proposed for me to make the amount good and he would pay me in bread, and the interest was to be two loaves more on each dollars' worth. He paid me in bread all but fourteen dollars. One night he got to gambling and lost all he had. He sold out his bakery, intending to leave the city, in which case those to whom he was indebted would have had to get their pay the best way they could. I went after Denikie for the payment of the balance due me on the flour; but was perfectly satisfied as to his insolvency, and after considerable talk, he offered me for the debt a fifty vara lot on Pacific street. I offered the land to Reynolds for the balance   due, but could not persuade him to accept it, and I found my only plan was to take the land or nothing. That same lot I sold in the year 1849, for six thousand dollars; and when I got the property for the debt, I thought I was being greatly imposed upon. I always had the idea that property would in some future day, be of great value; but business men, who were then dealing in land, got it on such easy terms, and at such low figures, that they all advised me to sell, whenever they could make a profit or obtain what they thought was any where near the value of the property. In the latter part of 1848, I made a bargain for a fifty vara lot on Washington street, with a small frame house, for one thousand dollars, thinking that it would become valuable. While I was down the street, for the purpose of paying for it, I met George McDougal and Mr. Parker, and on their inquiring what I intended doing with the money I had with me, I told them I was going to pay for the lot; they said I could get out of the bargain by paying two hundred dollars, forfeit money, and they urged me to do so, as I could never sell the property for the same money, and I took their advice. This same lot was sold a short time afterwards, to an Englishman, named Peabody, from Cooks Ritchen Comwell, for three thousand dollars; now it is one of the most valuable lots in the city. Another thing which kept old Californians from holding on to property, were certain conditions, made under the Mexican law: No single individual was allowed to take out more than one fifty vara lot in his own name; but any officer, or person doing service for the Mexican Government, would be paid for their services in city property, as there was never any money in the Treasury for such purposes. William A. Leidsoff was the owner (at the time of his death), of more city property than any other person; but his administrators were swindled out of it. Many persons who left the state would give Leidsoff permission to petition for lots in their own name, and they would then sign them over to their friends, without taking any compensation, thinking that the property never would be worth over fifty or one hundred dollars. After the death of the parties who actually owned the property, those who gave them the use of their names to obtain the same, have returned to the city after the property became valuable, sued for, and recovered it. Their was another point in law, under the Mexican grant. All city lots, granted to any person within one year from the date, either had to have a house on it or be fenced in. In case of failure to do this, the lot was forfeited. The most valuable lots now in the city were once sold for fifty dollars.

I have written before of Parker's generosity of heart, in helping others. He would very often get into trouble by so doing in regard to money matters; but, notwithstanding this fact, he might have got safely out, if it had not been that he had to pay such high interest on money; I helped him all I possibly could. He was then in debt to me over eighty thousand dollars, and other debts I took the responsibility of paying, namely: a mortgage on his half of the property, for thirty thousand dollars; another on Alexander G. Able; one on T. M. Leavensworth, and two others, for which Parker gave me a lease on his half of the Parker House and the Dennison House, where now stands the Union Hotel. The above facts can be seen on the records of the city. All the money I made in the City Hotel I put in the Parker House, and it was very little I got out of it. In September. '49, I made a bargain with Parker for his half of the Parker House. James Frann was employed to settle up the accounts; but Parker's half was mortgaged to such an extent, that I could do nothing with it. I gave Wright and Haight a lease of the whole concern. They were to pay ten thousand dollars per month and one-half the profits of the hotel. The business was so mixed that I got out the best way I could, George McDougal and Hart bought out my interest.

In the latter part of December, '49, the Dennison House got on fire, also the Parker House and Aldarado, and everything was destroyed. At this time mud was in the streets a foot thick, and it was a good thing. Had it not been for this fact, a good deal more property would have been burned or destroyed. On the east side of Washington street, ''The Verdandah'' and the Miners' Bank building, Smiley's hardwar store and several other buildings would also have been consumed by the fire, had it not been for the untiring exertions of Dave Broderick and Fred. Kohler, who were determined to stop the fire if possible. After a hard fight with water and mud, thrown by scoops and shovels against the buildings the fire was stopped, although they were in a blaze several times. The front part of the houses presented a very dilapidated condition, but all on the inside was perfectly safe. All I could ever learn in regard to the Parker House fire, was through the watchman, Robert Driscoll and Samuel Dennison, who built the house adjoining, which was used as a saloon and for gambling purposes. The name of the house was Dennison's Exchange. A short time prior to the fire, Dennison sold out his lease to a person by the name of Tom Bartell. A few days after he took possession of the house, a colored man, who did small jobbing around town, came to the bar and asked for a glass of whiskey. Instead of giving it to him without pay, and telling him not to call too often, as the rule was, Tom Bartell thought the best way to keep him away from his house was by abuse, and he got a club and beat the man most shamefully so that he was confined to his room for many days, and he always said he would have revenge on Tom Bartell if it cost him his life. About ten days prior to the fire, the watchman saw the colored man laying around the Dennison Exchange; also many times after. On the night of the fire he was in the Parker House, and no more notice was taken of him than any other person; but after the fire the man could not be found, and has never been seen or heard from since by any person that knew him. The general supposition was that this man was the cause of the fire, although there were no proofs. This fire was at great loss to the city at that time, as the Parker House was the only hotel of any note. There were two others in course of erection, which were soon after finished. The first one that was opened for accommodation, was the Graham House. It was a large sized, three-story building, and did for a short time, a very extensive business. This house was all ready for raising when it arrived from the Eastern States in 1849. There were some five share-owners with Mr. Graham at the head. They took the precaution to bring with them a cook, by the name of Andrew Trust, who now resides in Santa Cruz. This house was afterwards sold to the city for a City Hall and for other purposes. The other house was the Old Hudson Bay Building, corner Clay and Montgomery streets; the property of William D. M. Howard. This house was named the United States Hotel. The next house opened for the public, was on Clay street, between Kearny and Dupont. This was started by a man named Ward, who got in trouble and the house was then leased to Colonel Bryant, who in 1850 ran against Jack Hays for sheriff. Colonel Bryant had a great run at his bar as everything was free during the election; and as he was defeated, it broke him completely up. The next Hotel was the St. Francis, on Clay and Dupont streets; at the opening, this was the best house in the city for over a year. Several hotels were on the way: the first one completed was the Union Hotel. This house was built by Messrs. Middleton, Sullivan and Joyce.

Parties residing in the city in 1848, who were thought to be persons of good judgment, whose opinion was often taken in regard to the value of city property, and who bought and sold all city lots, were: Colonel I. D. Stevenson, Samuel Haight, Purser Price, George McDougal, Purser Whatmore, Dr. Jones, Benjamin Lippencott, Robert A. Parker, Robert T. Ridley. Those that kept their property and obtained all they could were: Captain Folsom, Mr. Lick and Captain Leidsoff.

I have already made mention of two white women, who were residents of the city in the latter part of 1845. I will here give list of all the women who were residents in the city in January, 1846, they were as follows: Mrs. Davis and two daughters, Mrs. Voight and one daughter, Mrs. Fuller and daughter, Mrs. Sherback, Mrs. Hepner, Mrs. Hinkley, Mrs. Ray, Mrs. Forbes, Mrs. Howard, Mrs. Spear, Madame Barona and daughter. On the arrival of the ship Brooklyn, in July, 1846, many women came to the city, whose names I will now mention: Mrs. Cade, two married ladies, by the name of Serine, Mrs. Naramore, Mrs. Jones, Mrs. John Kittleman, Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Brannan and mother, Mrs. Henry Harris and sister, Mrs. Pell and two daughters, Mrs. King, Mrs. Griffin, Mrs. Meader and daughter, Mrs. Hager and two daughters, Mrs. Morey, Mrs. Evans, Mrs. Reed and two daughters, Mrs. Winner and two daughters, Mrs. Tom Kittleman and Miss Nutting; there were other married women, whose names I have forgotten. Most of these whose names are here mentioned, soon after their arrival, purchased fifty vara lots, and built for themselves small, but comfortable homes. Many that were too poor to buy a piece of land, were assisted by George McDougal, who would often collect from persons around the hotel twenty-five cents each, and, would then get up a race between three very old men, of the following names: John Kittleman, Captain Kade and Mr. Noles; it would often amount to over three dollars for best men, one-half was given to the first man, and the other half divided between the other two. When the stakes were low, McDaugal would often add a dollar or two, out of his own pocket; the money McDougal would lay by for the purchase for each man of a fifty vara lot.

In the 1847 and '48, there were several other women, who arrived in the city, some by water and some overland. I will first mention those who arrived by water: Mrs. Poet and two daughters, Mrs. Dring and daughter, Mrs. Gillespie, Mrs. Harris, Mrs. Merrill and two daughters, Mrs. Russ and two daughters, Mrs. Brown and daughter, Mrs. Tittle and daughter Mrs. King, Mrs. Ellis and Mrs. Hall; most of these arrived in Stevenson's Regiment. The others who came overland, were: Mrs. Greyson, Mrs. Green, Mrs. Dougherty, Mrs Smith, her two daughters and Mrs. Lehigh and two daughters. After '48 most of the vessels arriving from the East, brought as passengers, many women, as did vessels arriving from foreign ports, particularly from Mazatlan. I write of this to show my readers that the reports which have been circulated relating to the scarcity of the female sex in early days, is entirely unfounded. Aside from the names already mentioned, I know of twenty more women, who were in the city in the years mentioned; but, whose names have entirely slipped my memory, as they were mostly from Chili and Mazatlan.

The following will show the form of passport required at this time. The bills annexed give one a good idea of what it cost to live, and the note, a fair sample of the way business was done. In each case I have maintained the original copies.

San Francisco, January 20th, 1846.
BRITISH CONSULATE:--The undersigned, Consul of Her Majesty, (Britanica) for the State of California. I grant free passport to the British subject, Mr. John H. Brown, that he may remain in this place; and in its virtue may secure its naturalization papers.

I beg the authorities, to grant him every courtesy and facilities in his avocations.


D. A. FORBES, Consul.

Yerba Buena, 1846.
Received of John H. Brown, for a keg of butter, one hundred and three pounds, the sum of one hundred and thirty-five dollars.

$135.00.   B. SIMMONS.

San Francisco, April 30th,1849.

Borrowed and received of J. H. Brown, twenty-eight hundred and fifty-nine dollars and twenty cents, which I promise to pay on demand.

$2859.20.   ROBERT A. PARKER,

January 6th.   1 Quarter Beef,   $8.00
   20 lb Pork,   5.00
   1 Robe Onions,   6.00
January 7th.   1 Quarter Beef,   8.00
Received payment,   G. W. EGLESON & Co.,
   By W. F. BRITTON.

   San Francisco, March 17th, 1849.
   Bought of Wright & Owen
   55 lb lard,   @   40 cts.,   $22.00
Received payment,   T. B. CLEMENTS,
   for WRIGHT & OWEN.

Source: Brown, John H. Reminiscences and Incidents of "The Early Days" of San Francisco. 1886: San Francisco, CA. Reprinted, 1933: San Francisco.  Library of Congress, "California as I Saw It:" First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900.


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