San Francisco Memoirs


List of illustrations
Voices from a foreign time (Preface)
What's in a name?
A city is born (Introduction)

Yerba Buena 1835–1847
Three weeks before the mast
    Richard Henry Dana, Jr.
Bears, wolves, and coyotes
    Steve Richardson
Revolt, occupation, and foreign intrigue
    John Henry Brown
Raising the flag
    Joseph T. Downey
The Mormons, and Sam Brannan
    Joseph T. Downey
The night they cried "To arms!"
    Joseph T. Downey
When the governor came to town
    Joseph T. Downey
The governor's brawl
    Joseph T. Downey
Mormons at the Mission Dolores
    Mary Holland Sparks
Through the eyes of a child
    James Horace Skinner
A different class of people
    John Henry Brown

Miners & gamblers 1848–1849
"Now is the time for making money"
    Ann Eliza Brannan
Food and faro
    John Henry Brown
Gold at $6 an ounce
    John Henry Brown
Noise and confusion
    Vicente Pérez Rosales
A Yankee trick
    John Henry Brown
One way to win
Vicente Pérez Rosales
The Polka Saloon
    William Perkins
The metamorphosis of a miner
    William F. White
"Pretty dames, fresh from New York"
    Vicente Pérez Rosales

Daily life 1849–1850
Sentence reversed
    Vicente Pérez Rosales
A dandy transformed
    William Perkins
"Creeping things abounded"
    William Shaw
The trouble with iron houses
    Frank Marryat
    Bayard Taylor
A September day in '49
    Bayard Taylor
A heterogeneous population
    James J. Ayers
That wretched place, San Francisco!
   Eliza W. Farnham
Life and death at City Hospital
    William Taylor
Mail call!
    Bayard Taylor
"This land of gold and wonders"
    Mary Jane Megquier
The candy man
    T. A. Barry and B. A. Patten
The little girl across the road
    T. A. Barry and B. A. Patten
A lady at the Montgomery House
    Sarah Royce
"Home again!"
    Sarah Royce

A city transformed 1850–1851
A changed town
    Frank Marryat
Toothpicks and broken watches
    Albert Benard de Russailh
A Frenchman's views
    Albert Benard de Russailh
"Why don't you kiss me, Bessy?"
    Mrs. D. B. Bates

Fire! 1849–1851
Christmas inferno
    Theophile de Rutte
A spark in the fog
    Bayard Taylor
He who hesitates . . .
    T. A. Barry and B. A. Patten
A city in ruins
    Albert Benard de Russailh
Life after the big fire
    Mrs. D. B. Bates

Resource notes



Bar room in California, by Frank Marryat. Cover
San Francisco from the bay, 1847.* Title page
Map: San Francisco in 1849-1850.**
Map: San Francisco/Monterey region.***
The yerba buena plant, or Micromeria Douglasii.
San Francisco in 1848 and 1849
William Antonio Richardson.
Samuel Brannan's house in 1847.*
The Euphemia as a jail, and the Apollo as a saloon.*
The burnt district after the fire of May 3–4, 1851.**
Celebrating the admission of California as a state.
The city's first seal, adopted November 4, 1852.*
San Francisco circa 1846–1847.
Richard Henry Dana.
White Cliff Point.
Steve Richardson.
The first Fourth of July celebration.*
Captain Montgomery and his men raise the flag.
The Mormon ship, Brooklyn.
Commodore Robert F. Stockton.*
Schedule for the governor's visit.
Ann Eliza Brannan.
Samuel Brannan and his family.
The Parker House when it first opened.*
The City Hotel.*
Vicente Pérez Rosales.
A familiar scene in the gambling saloons.
The Port of San Francisco, June 1849.
“Restless sleepers, or unpleasant dreamers . . .*
A portable iron house.
Bayard Taylor.
James J. Ayers.
The Rev. William Taylor.
A familiar sight at the post office.
Mary Jane Megquier.
T. A. Barry & B. A. Patten.
Sarah Royce.
Chinese costumes of the mid-19th century.*
A view of the city from Clay Street, 1850.
The Jenny Lind Theater, Portsmouth Plaza.*
Exporting women to California.
Happy Valley, in 1849.
Dennison's Exchange before the first fire.*
Theophile de Rutte.
Fire approaches the wharves, May 1851.
The sixth major fire, June 22, 1851.*

* These illustrations are from San Francisco Annals, a book that was published in 1855.
In order to retain the fine detail, they have been scanned into a computer and printed as drop-out halftones. ** These maps are from H. H. Bancroft's History of California, volume 6. ***The map on page 24 was created by John Boring / Envisagements, of Livermore, California, specifically for this volume.


Voices from a foreign time

Understanding the foreigner who is attempting to speak one's language is not always easy. Unfamiliar syntax and misplaced accents impede the pace of conversation, and every now and then the dialogue comes to a halt as, together, speaker and listener struggle to translate a word. Patience is imperative.

The same can be said of reading something written in a “foreign” time. Here one is confronted with words that are familiar, but encased in unfamiliar punctuation and with an added hazard: Some of the words have changed in meaning over the years, or have fallen from common usage.

Reprinting writings from an earlier era often raises the temptation to modernize the punctuation and to replace obsolete or rarely used words with today's counterparts in an effort to make them easier to read. Yet by doing so, are we not robbing the pieces of their uniqueness? Is it not like denying the foreign tourist the use of his or her distinctive accent?

In this book, therefore, apart from dividing unbroken blocks of type into more manageable paragraphs, the only editing I have done is in a very few instances where the text might be unclear, or where there were obvious typographical errors. I wanted these people to tell us their stories in their own individual styles, regardless of whether they now sound archaic or alien. Their accounts, strung together in generally chronological order as they are here, tell the story of the birth of San Francisco, revealing a myriad fascinating personal details that add a human dimension to the city's history.

My principal criterion in selecting these pieces was that each one should be an eyewitness account of a particular aspect of life in San Francisco during those early pioneer days. I wanted tales of human frailties to which we can relate, and that give us an emotional bridge to the past. In particular, I wanted "average" people rather than civic leaders and decision-makers.

Surely the story of the birth and growth of San Francisco is one of the most dynamic of any city on earth. To spring from a village of approximately 150 people to a multinational metropolis of 30,000 in the space of 3.5 years, without the technology and tools we take for granted, is phenomenal. What was it like living in such tumultuous times, experiencing first-hand the city's growing pains?

It is apparent from their letters, diaries, and books that those pioneers were fully aware of the significance of their time and place. Often in recording their thoughts and actions they speculated about the future greatness of the town. Finding a market for their writings at that time was not difficult. People all over the United States—indeed, all over the world—hungered for stories about this new El Dorado. Publishers and editors eagerly set into print every account they could get, often without checking for accuracy. The French novelist Alexandre Dumas, of The Three Musketeers fame, was only one of several writers to set novels in California without ever visiting the state.

Few of the writers included in this book were historians. The majority were like most people who visit new and unfamiliar places and then set down their opinions without being fully aware of all the relevant facts. They were tourists, essentially.

Early in the project I realized that, if this collection were to be of lasting value, I would have to verify many details within the pieces—task that had me going from one resource to another, peering at microfilm, reading through dozens of seemingly unrelated books, and talking with a number of scholars and historians. Instead of “correcting” the originals, however, I have added brief comments before and/or after each piece. And, rather than encumber the pages with footnotes, I have listed my resources by page number in “Resource notes” at the back of the book. In a few instances I have used brackets ([]) to interject immediate clarification in a text. All parenthetical notations in the pieces were made by the original writers.

New headings have been added throughout, except in the case of “Eldorado”—the only book title that seemed appropriate for the excerpt as reprinted here. Ellipsis points (...) within the text indicate that several words or sentences have been deleted from the original.

As already suggested, one of the hazards is that certain words have changed in meaning, or were specific to that particular period and today are unknown. To us, it may seem strange that Sarah Royce would be so eager to move into a tenement, now that that word for an apartment building has negative connotations. Also strange is to read the same woman referring to the other tenants in her building as fellow-inmates. What are we to think when William Perkins writes, “having arranged our traps, I strolled up towards the hills?” Or of the sailors on Richard Henry Dana's ship clearing away the kids after dinner before settling down to make themselves new clothes? And speaking of clothes, what were the frocks worn by sailors on the Portsmouth?

We might well wonder what Perkins expected to snare in his traps, and why there were children on a ship that had no women—or perhaps Dana was referring to goats? Were the frocks anything like frock coats?

Of these words, probably traps (for personal belongings, or luggage) is the most easily recognized. Less well known are kids for the mess-tubs used by sailors, and frocks for the woolen sweaters those men wore.

These are only a few of the words that seemed to me to require “translating” as the 20th century reader goes through this book. Such words are defined with a footnote. Where appropriate, a more complete definition is given in the Glossary.

Another example of changing times/changing words is locos, as when Mary Jane Megquier says of an election, “the locos take the lead.” In her time, locos was a popular nickname for Democrats, stemming from the brand name of matches used by a faction of Democrats to light candles when the gaslights were extinguished during a boisterous debate at New York's Tammany Hall in 1835. Loco was an abbreviation of loco-foco.

To a word lover, these are like gems found in a long buried treasure chest, and I have enjoyed dusting them off to share with my readers.

Bringing together writings from diverse sources and cultures presents another dilemma for the publisher: whether or not to standardize the spelling. Kearny Street, for instance, sometimes appears as Kearney Street. El Dorado often appears as Eldorado, even when not refering specifically to the gambling saloon of that name. And the word theater appears occasionally with the English spelling, theatre. Again, my choice has been to retain the original form.

Most of these pieces are excerpted from books that were first published more than 100 years ago. Some of the books have been reprinted, several appearing in the late 1940s as California approached its centennial. Fewer than half a dozen remain in print. However, some titles still can be found on the shelves of public libraries, while a search through used book shops—especially those listed in the Yellow Pages as antiquarian book sellers—often will reward the persistent seeker with an original copy.

My hope is that these excerpts will whet appetites. The books quoted are listed in the Bibliography at the back of this volume. For now, though, relax and enjoy a visit with these men and women as they recount their impressions of early San Francisco.

Malcolm E. Barker
San Rafael, California
July, 1994




Able, Captain
    See also hotels
    See also boarding houses
Adelphi Theat
Adobe House
    See also Customs House
Adventures of a Young Swiss in California, The
Aguila de Oro
Alameda Quicksilver Mines
Alert (ship)
American River
American Theater
Anamakin (ship)
Angel Island
animals, wild
Annals of San Francisco, The
Anselin, Monsieur
Apollo (ship)
Apron Full of Gold
Austin, Mr.
Ayala, Juan Manuel de
Ayers, James J.


Badlam, Mary Ann
Bailey, Paul
    See also dances, public
Bancroft, A. L. and Company
Bancroft, H. H
Bank Exchange, The
Barry and Patten
Barry, T. A.
    See Barry and Patten
Bartlett, Washington A.
Bates, Mrs. D. B.
Beale, Lieutenant
Bear Flag revolt
bear-bull fights
Beechey, Frederick
Beilharz, Edwin A.
Bella Union
Benard de Russailh, Albert
Benjamin, J. M.
billiard rooms
boarding houses
Booth, Edwin
Booth, John Wilkes
Booth, Junius Brutus Jr.
Booth, Junius Brutus Sr.
Brannan, Adelaide
Brannan, Ann Eliza
Brannan, Don Francisco
Brannan, Fanny
Brannan, John
Brannan, Lisa
Brannan, Mary
Brannan, Samuel
    arrives Yerba Buena
    prints program
    opposes name change
    announces gold find
Brannan, Samuel Jr.
Brooklyn (ship)
Brown, John Henry
bull fights
Bulletin, The
Burgess, George H.
Bush Street


Café des Artistes
California (restaurant)
California (ship)
California Bill, The
California Exchange, The
California Life Illustrated
California Star, The
California statehood
    applied for
California, In-doors and Out
California: A Study of American Character
Carquinez Strait
Casa Grande
Castillo de San Joaquin
Castro, General José
cat o' nine tails
Cermeño, Sebastían
Children of the Abby, The
Chinese restaurants
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
    See Mormons
City Hospital
City Hotel
    John Brown in charge
    the Skinners in charge
    gambling at
    gold dust on floor
    Bayard Taylor stays
Clark's Point
Clark, Holly
Clark, Maria
Clark, Sophia
Congress (ship)
Contra Costa
convention at Monterey
Costansó, Miguel
Cowper, William
Crane, Clarkson
Crespí, Father Juan
crime & violence
Cruise of the Portsmouth, The
Cunningham Wharf
Customs House
customs inspection


Daily Morning Call, The
Daily True Standard, The
Dana, Elizabeth Ellery
Dana, Richard Henry Jr.
dances, public
Days of the Dons, The
de Haro, Francisco
de Massey, Ernest
de Russailh, Albert Benard
    See Benard de Russailh, Albert
de Rutté, Théophile
de Solá, Pablo Vicente
Declaration of Independence
Dennison's Exchange
Diario de un Viaje a California
diarrhea and dysentery
Dickens, Charles
Discovery (ship)
Downey, Joseph
    Clerk of Court
    greets governor,
Drake's Bay
Drake, Sir Francis
Dramatic Museum, The


Eldorado (book)
Eldorado (saloon)
election of officials
Elliot, Midshipman
Empire, The
English invasion, fear of
ethnic hostility
Ethiopian serenaders
Euphemia (ship)
Evrard, James,


Farallon Islands
Farnham, Eliza W.
Farnham, Thomas Jefferson
Feliz (ship)
ferry boat
Figueroa, José
    See Downey, Joseph
Filings From an Old Saw
Finch, John
    December 24, 1849
    May 4, 1850
    June 14, 1850
    September 17, 1850
    May 3 - 4, 1851
    June 22, 1851
flag raising in San Francisco
Flood, James Clair
Fonda Peruana
Forbes, Alexander
Fore and Aft
"Fore Peak"
    See Downey, Joseph
Fort Montgomery
Fort Point
Fort Ross
Fremont Family Hotel
Frémont, John C.
French consul's house
French in San Francisco, the
Frenchman in the Gold Rush, A
French Troupe
Frontier Lady, A,
Fuller, John


    beginning of
    saloons, descriptions,
    shooting in saloon
        See also separate listings:
        Aguila de Oro
        Bella Union
        Dennison's Exchange
        Parker House
        Polka Saloon
        St. Charles
Gay Saint, The
Geographical Memoir Upon Upper California
Gillespie, Archibald H.
Goat Island
Gold and Sunshine
    discovery of
    in the streets,
Golden Dreams and Waking Realities
Golden Era, The
Golden Gate,
    naming of
Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Hind (ship),
Golden Horn
Goodwin, Mr.
Grabhorn Press
Greeley, Horace
"Grey, William,"
Guadalupe Hidalgo, Treaty of
Guy, Miss E. A.


Hamilton, Mary
Hammond, Captain
Happy Valley
Harly, Robert
Hassar, Mr.
    See Sandwich Islands
Hayes & Lyndall's
Hayes Valley
Hays, Jack
Henry E. Huntington Library
Hepner, Mrs. Andrew
Herz, Henri
hills, leveling of
Hinckley, William
History of California (Bancroft)
Honolulu (ship)
Hotel de l'Alliance
    See separate listings:
    City Hotel
    Fremont Family Hotel
    Hotel de l'Alliance
    Montgomery House
    Niantic Hotel
    Parker House
    Portsmouth House
    St. Francis Hotel
    Union Hotel
    United States Hotel
    Vioget's House
hotels, iron
Hudspath, Benjamin ("Edge Path")
Huntington Library Press,
Hyde, George


Ide, William B. ("Mr. Hyde")
Incidents on Land and Water
    See Native Americans
iron houses


Jackson, President Andrew
Jenkins, John
Jenny Lind Theater
Johanna and Oluffa (ship)
Jones, Thomas ap Catesby
José Castro (ship)
Joseph (ship)
Judges and Criminals
July 4th celebration
"Juris Consult,"


Kemble, Edward


La Calle de la Fundación
Lamar, Howard R.
land grants
Last Adventure, The
Leavenworth Street
Leese, Jacob P.
Leidesdorff, William A.
Long Wharf
López, Carlos V.
Los Angeles
Lyons, Colonel


Manifest Destiny,
map, the first
Margaret (ship)
Marryat, Frank
Martínez, Ignacio
Martínez, Maria Antonia
    See Richardson, Maria Antonia
Massachusetts (ship)
Matthews, Charles
Mazatlán ("Massack Land")
McDougal, George
McGowan, Philip
    See also price of meals
Megquier, Angeline Louise
Megquier, Mary Jane
Megquier, Thomas Lewis
Mellus, Henry
Mellus, Howard & Co.
Men and Memories of San Francisco
    war for independence
    offers land grants
    See also war, U.S.-Mexico
Mill Valley
Miller, Sergeant
Miner's Bank
Mission Dolores
    founding of
    seen by Vancouver
    seen by Dana
    Hinkley buried at
    Mormons at
Mission-presidio settlements
Missions, secularization of
Missroon, John S. ("Mushroom")
Mokelumne River
Monterey Bay
Montgomery House
Montgomery, John
    raises flag
    and Bear Flag revolt
    reads Declaration of Independance
    and Mormons
    and elections
Moore, Jacob B.
Morgan, John
Mormon Battalion
Mount Diablo
Mountains and Molehills
Murphy, Timothy


Native Americans
Nelson, Dr.
New Hope
New Mexico
New Spain
Newell, Captain
Niantic (ship)
    salvage attempt
Niantic Hotel; & Block
Norris, Second Officer
North Beach
Noyes, Captain
Nuestra Señora de los Dolores (lake)


occupation of California
Odds and Ends
Ohio (ship)
ordinance, street vending
Oregon (ship)
Orion (ship)
Osborne, Henry
Owens, John


Pacific Squadron
Panama (ship)
Paquette, Mary Grace
Parker House
    gold in street
    burns in fire
Parker, Robert A.
Patey, John
Patten, B. A.
    See Barry and Patten
Pérez Rosales, Vicente
Perkins, William
Phelps, William D.
Picture of Pioneer Times in California, A
Pocket Guide to California (1849)
Point Reyes
Point San Pedro
Polka Saloon
Portolá, Gaspar de
Portsmouth (ship)
    arrives Yerba Buena
    and flag raising
    and Mormons
Portsmouth House
Portsmouth Plaza
    naming of
    f lag raising
    governor's visit
    bull chase
    indignation meeting
Portsmouth Square
    See Portsmouth Plaza
post office
postage rates
prediction for future
Price, Manuel
price of clothes
price of food
price of meals
    See also meals
Pritchard, First Officer
public dances
    See dances, public
Punta del Cantil Blanco
purchase California, attempts




Reminiscences and Incidents
Republican, The St. Louis
Resolutie (ship)
    See also separate listings:
    Café des Artistes
    Fonda Peruana
    United States
"Richard the Third"
Richardson, A. W.
Richardson, Francisco
Richardson, Maria Antonia
Richardson, Mariana
Richardson, Steve (Esteban)
Richardson, William
Richardson Bay
Richardson Ranch
Ridley, Mrs. Robert T.
Ridley, Robert T.
Rincon Hill
Rincon Point
Robinson, Dr.
Rogers, Fred Blackburn
Rosales, Vicente Pérez
    See Pérez Rosales, Vicente
Ross, Richard
Royce, Josiah
Royce, Sarah
Russian Hill
Russian River


Sacramento Book Collectors Club
Sacramento River
    See also gambling
Salt Lake
Salt Lake City
San Bruno Mountains
    San Carlos (ship)
San Diego
San Francisco (ship)
San Francisco Bay
San Francisco de Asís (mission)
    See Mission Dolores
San Francisco Directory, The
San Francisco presidio
San Francisco Solano
San Francisco's seal
San Francisco, description of in 1849
    in 1850
San Francisco, New
San Francisco, official naming of
San Francisco, pueblo
San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge
San Gabriel Mission
San Joaquin Valley
San José
San José (ship)
Sandwich Islands
Santa Clara
Santa Cruz
Savannah (ship)
"See the Conquering Hero Comes"
Semple, Robert
Shaw, William
Sierra Nevada
Skinner, James Horace
Skinner, Mr. & Mrs.
Sloat, John
Smith, Dr. Peter
Smith, Joseph
Smith, Tom
Smith, William
South American women
Southern Mines, the,
Sparks, Mary Holland
Sparks, Quartus Strong
Spear, Nathan
St. Charles
St. Francis Hotel
St. Francis of Assisi
St. Francis Solano
Stanislaus River
Star, The
See California Star, The
state capital
    See California statehood
steam paddies
Sterling (ship)
Stockton, Robert F.
street vendors
streets, lighting of
streets, planked
Sutter's Fort
Sutter, John
Swiss consul
Switchers boys, the


table manners
Taylor, Bayard
Taylor, Rev. William,
Telegraph Hill
    See also separate listings:
    Dramatic Museum, The
    Jenny Lind
Thompson, John
Thompson, Joseph
Three Years in California
Transamerica Corporation
Tribune, New York
Tuolumne County
Two Years Before the Mast


Unicorn (ship)
Union Hotel
United States (restaurant)
United States Hotel
University of California Press
University of New Mexico Press


Vallejo, Francisca Benicia
Vallejo, Mariano Guadalupe
Vancouver, George
Vincent, Captain
Vioget, Jean Jacques
Vioget's House
Vizcaíno, Sebastían
Voight, Mrs.
von Landorf, Georg Heinrick
Voyage of Discovery , The
Voyages and Travels . . . .


war, U.S.-Mexico
Ward and Smith
Ward Ritchie Press
Ward, Frank
Watson, Henry B.
We Were 49ers
Westgate Press
White Cliff Point
White, William F.
women, auctioning of
women, shortage of
Wood Island
    See Angel Island
Wright & Co.


Yale University
Yale University Press
Yerba Buena (cove)
yerba buena (herb)
Yerba Buena (town)
Yerba Buena Island
Young, Brigham
Young, Captain John

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