San Francisco History

Telegraph Hill Cemetery
(aka Sansome Graveyard, Sailor's Burial Ground)

Dates of Existence: 1825 to 1857
Location: between Sansome and Battery, Broadway and Vallejo streets
Number interred: 80 to 100
Moved to: Yerba Buena Cemetery

"PUBLIC BURIAL GROUND.--We would call the earliest attention of the town authorities, to the necessity of selecting a suitable public burial ground. The spot now used for that purpose, lies upon one of the public streets, 'Sansome,' bordering upon that (will be) beautiful public highway, called Broadway. It is in the vicinity of property now being improved, and must to the annoyance of the property holders thereabouts. Indeed a place of this kind, at least on account of the feelings of the surviving friends, should be entitled to some little respect and attention.

"We hope therefore that our Alcalde will give the subject his earliest consideration, and select a more suitable place, for the burial of the dead."

Source: Californian, San Francisco, 24 July 1847.

"The Old Graveyard on Telegraph Hill. During the late storm a miniature avalanche of rock and dirt occurred at a quarry on Telegraph Hill, in Sansome street, north of Vallejo. The fall exposed several coffins which were buried high up on the hill, and on examination it was found that a great number of graves were scattered about. A headboard in one place bore the following inscription: "Here lies the remains of James Anderson, seaman on board of the U.S.F. Congress, a native a Canterbury, England, died July, 16, 1847, aged 41 years." The coffins were in a remarkable state of preservation.

The old residents will doubtless recollect the time when these bodies were deposited in the earth, before the gold placers were discovered and while Yerba Buena was a mere collection of adobe huts. The march of improvements is now destroying the old graveyard and cutting down the hill on which it lies, and it will soon be necessary to remove all the mould and dust of the old dead, and remove thm farther from the hum and din of the busy city. The Coroner this morning took charge of the coffins and bones exposed by the late slide, and will remove them to a more appropriate place of repose."

Source: San Francisco Bulletin, 2 Jan 1857.

"DISCOVERY OF REMAINS ON TELEGRAPH HILL. -- We learn from the ‘Alta’ that while workmen were engaged in taking stone from Telegraph Hill for ballast, the remains of some 15 or 20 bodies were exhumed. It is said that they were buried there in 1846 and 1847, and are the remains of seamen who died on board of the ships-of-war, Congress and Savannah. It is said also that as the stone is taken away, pieces of the coffins, as they are dug out, and the remains they contain, are taken with the stone and carried on board the ships to be ballasted. This is scarcely Christian decency. The graves of these early pioneers, who came to California before the magic charm of gold allured us hither, who came here in the service of their country, and who died while serving it, ought not to be desecrated in this manner, and some little degree of respect is due them."

Source: Stockton Daily Argus, Stockton, San Joaquin Co., CA, 8 Jan 1857.

"THE OLD BURIAL GROUND AND ITS ASSOCIATIONS. -- In the square formed by Sansome, Battery, Broadway and Vallejo streets, there was formerly, as early certainly as 1825, a burial ground used by whalers and hide droghers as a place of internment for seamen. No name is known to have been assigned it other than the "Yerba Buena," and the "Sailor's Burial Ground," and was probably never visited except on occasions such as these. In 1835, two sailors were interred there from a whaling vessel putting into this harbor to refit, and in 1848, Eliab Grimes, uncle of Hiram Grimes, was laid there. A few months later, the body was exhumed, and taken to Honolulu, where the deceased had formerly been a wealthy merchant, and there found its last resting place. Mr. Grimes, first mentioned, was a resident of the Sandwich Islands as early as 1819. It is not know when he first visited California, but the bulk of the great property subsequently owned by his nephew was acquired through him. But to the old Cemetery. Yesterday, while some workmen were digging there and shovelling ballast, as the bank caved down, it brought with it a human skeleton, which came rattling with the stones and earth. The laborers, who were ignorant of the use to which the place had formerly been put, stood aghast, and one or two made a stamped from the locality. This, however, is no new occurrence. Several years ago, when exavations were being made there, skulls and other portions of the human frame were brought to light, and gave rise to considerable comment in the newspapers of that day. The matter came before the city authorities, but nothing was done towards having them taken up and elsewhere interred. The place is within a few yeards of the old line of beach, as it existed in 1848-'9. Interments were made as late as the summer of '49, and the stakes of one or two graves may yet be seen. Altogether, 80 bodies are believed to have been placed there. Twenty-five years ago is but a short space of time in the history of a nation, and yet what changes have taken place in that period. When the earliest burials were made in this old cemetery, Mexico, so far from apprehending any danger from her northern neighbor, had but lately torn herself from the mother country, and had as much as she could handle in tranquilizing her own discordant element, a task she has not yet, and probably never will acomplish. Then, when the little boat put off from the solitary ship at anchor in this great harbor, and bore the dead to his burial home, as the crew gazed around upon the purpling mountains, and distant peaks of the inland ranges, only trodden by wild beasts -- who of them as they mused over the brief and solemn ceremony could have conjured up what the next quarter of a century would accomplish? Who of them ventured to picture these hills the seat of a populous city -- the then silent and deserted country around and across the bay to be dotted with cottages, and waving with grain fields, and the great waste of inland water, then unbroken, saved by the splash of a piddle or the gleam of a sportive fish, to be beaten by the paddles of steamboats, and bearing on its bosom the argosies of all nations? Will the changes in the next twenty-five years be as great and important and if so, is what will they have tended? But these reflections might lead to a column or two of speculations, and, after all, have little or nothing to do with the burial ground. Take a walk up there to-day, and look at it."

Source: Daily Alta California, 4 Apr 1858. 

"The Cemeteries of San Francisco. . . THE SANSOME GRAVE-YARD. Protestants, Greeks and Jews, could not be interred at the Mission, and so when foreign ships began to visit the harbor frequently, another grave-yard was necessary. It was used by Protestants of various nations, and was located on the eastern slope of Telegraph Hill, at the corner of Sansome and Vallejo streets. About a hundred persons were buried there, altogether."

Source: Daily Alta California, 22 July 1862.


Return to San Francisco Genealogy
Public Commons License