Sea Captains: San Francisco 1800s


J. B. G. Isham

November 16, 1853, North Beach

Captain J. B. G. Isham. The following note from our Marine Reporter tells its own story. It is only another exhibition of the readiness and warm-hearted conduct for which Capt. Isham has become so deservedly known and esteemed.

Mr. Editor: -- You will do but an act of justice to Capt. J. B. G. Isham, Commander of the noble steamer Golden Gate, in returning him and his officers of that vessel, my warmest thanks for their kindness, yesterday, to myself and my men, when my boat was nearly swamped.

Yours respectfully,

H. L. Martin, Reporter.

October 7, 1854, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

THE GOLDEN AGE. -- We learn that the steamship Golden Age is not intended for the Panama and San Francisco trade, and that if she is not sold to the Australian Company, she will be sent home to put her on the New York and Havre line. We understand that Capt. Isham is to be placed in command.

May 30, 1857, Daily Alta California

OUR MEXICAN CORRESPONDENCE.

City of Mexico, May 14, 1857.

The affairs of Sonora have occupied the public mind a great deal. The report that the people in California had, in consequence of the destruction of Crabb's party, taken a bloody revenge on the inoffensive Mexicans who may be disseminated in the mines, is generally disbelieved as unworthy of Americans.

Though a Mexican war schooner was sent from Mazatlan to the Island of Guadalupe, to drive the French guano company off, it now appears that Capt. Isham has no real title to the guano island he claims, because it is situated somewhat north of the line granted to the Mexican guano company. . .

November 10, 1857, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California. U.S.A.

Vastly Better Than Fillibustering 

A correspondent of the New York Times, who writes from the city of Mexico, after giving full particulars of the Tehuantepec grant, winds up his letter of September 19th, with the following paragraphs:

Among the healthy speculations now on foot here, and which have already reached completion, is one put on foot here by Capt. J. H. G. Isham last year, for the survey and sale of the public lands of the northern States of Mexico. Through the agency of wealthy houses of this city, Capt. Isham succeeded in procuring a contract for these surveys, which left to him and his associates one third of the public lands, especial and very advantageous privileges for discovering mines, and also a fixed (yet very low) up-set price for the purchase from the government of the other two-thirds. These advantages have been conceded in consideration of the thorough survey of the States. The States already under contract are Sonora, Chihuahua, Durango and Sivalva, and also the territory of Lower California. The contract for Sonora was made some time since, and is now in the hands of clever Americans, who no doubt ere this have perfected their arrangements to go to work on the surveys.

These grants or contracts confer such advantages, that a tide of immigration must follow in the footsteps of these surveys, and will give to the operations of foreigners on Mexican soil a more favorable turn, and will forever put an end to filibuster movements in the States thus disposed of.

Mexican Filibusters on the march.
Mexican filibusters on the march.

This enterprise of Capt. Isham promises favorable and important results. It opens a healthy channel for Americans in search of land, vastly preferable to the attempts to procure it by fillibuster invasions. It offers advantages for purchasing and colonizing Northern Mexico, which have never before been presented, and, unless the contracts for surveying the different States are broken up by filibuster invasions, two-thirds of the land in those States may soon belong to American citizens. One-third is to be granted as a compensation for the survey; the other third or two-thirds may be easily purchased and occupied by Americans. These operations would be perfectly legitimate, regular and lawful. If, in the process of time, the Americans should become more numerous than the Mexicans in these States, annexation would follow, of course. It is, too, the only plan which can be adopted to prevent those States from becoming the hunting ground of the Apache Indians. They have already rendered large tracts of the country desolate by their inroads.

Most heartily do we wish success to attend this surveying undertaking, for it promises to appropriate, settle, and finally annex territory according to the rules of justice and the genius of our government.

February 19, 1871, Daily Alta California

Another Account of Lower California.

The following private letter was handed to the Alta for publication by Col Chenery, who vouches for the veracity and good character of the writer;

Magdalena January 20th, 1871.

I wrote to Mr. Fenn about a month ago, and would have written you also, but as I was just on the eve of starting on a tour of observation, judged it better to defer the pleasure until my return. I can now give you a full description of the country and my immediate prospects of ultimate success.

Captain Isham accompanied me and several others on our trip through the country, and showed as al! the most favorable legalities for settlement. I and my friend have located on the Solidad, two and a half miles from the Bay, and I think we have about one of the very beet locations in the country. There are a great many other places equally as good, and so the men said who were with us, but I like my choice best, and hope to do something with it. I would have remained on the place and commenced putting up a shanty, etc., but had not sufficient means to do so, and besides that, was, and am yet, expecting letters from home and elsewhere and as my location is a long way from the Post Office, I returned with the party.

l am very much pleased with the surrounding country, and as I flatter myself upon knowing something about land, can safely say I never saw a more favored one, and it only needs common industry to make the land yield in great abundance. The climate is most delightful; I never saw any other like it . . .

I cannot close this without giving you a description of a scene that happened after our return from the trip . . . some of the people who accompanied us, after saying they were perfectly satisfied with the general appearance of the country, and, in fact, made arrangements to have their families brought down. As soon as they arrived at the station, they turned round and damned the whole concern. At the time they did so, their reasons were not known, nor would they explain, but since that we all have heard that the two principal characters amongst them . . . came down here to speculate and fully expected to receive a large grant of land, some thirty leagues, gratis from the Company, in consideration, I suppose, of their superior abilities etc. I may say that they were sent down by a party in San Francisco for that purpose, and when they found they could not succeed, why they just turned round and abused everything, and insulted Captain Isham.

I have seen a good many hard cases, but the display the other day beat all, and all to attain an end they could not accomplish, and that was to intimidate Captain Isham, and which they could not do. The Captain behaved in a most gentlemanly manner and, what was very surprising to me, was apparently as cool and collected as if he was talking to a lot of gentlemen, instead of a rabble. Of course there were a few of us who would have stood by him in any case, but it was better as it was, only I felt sorry to have him so grossly insulted, and all for nothing.

Captain Isham's representations of the country are quite true in every respect, and not only I, but a good many others with more experience, are more than satisfied with this beautiful country, and those who detract from the worth of the country I consider are doing us a positive injury, and they are not to be accepted as reliable sources of information . . . The natural resources of this country are great . . . And now I think this letter has been strung out too long for your patience, so I will close, trusting to hear from you soon. RICHARD H. CLARK

Map San Francisco Bay 1850..

Relief Map of San Francisco Bay Area showing the entrance through the Golden Gate.


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The sea chart was one of the key tools by which ships of trade, transport and conquest navigated their course across the oceans. John Blake looks at the history and development of the chart and the related nautical map, in both scientific and aesthetic terms, as a means of safe and accurate seaborne navigation. This handsome work contains 150 color illustrations including the earliest charts of the Mediterranean made by thirteenth-century Italian merchant adventurers, as well as eighteenth-century charts that became strategic naval and commercial requirements and led to Cook's voyages in the Pacific, the search for the Northwest Passage, and races to the Arctic and Antarctic.


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Note: Other countries have different regulations, i.e. the RYA (Royal Yachting Association), conducts certification for Britain and Ireland. As of 2011, they did not recognize the USCG certification; certification through their courses was required.

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The Sea Chart
The Illustrated History of Nautical Maps and Navigational ChartsThe Sea Chart.
The Sea Chart.The Sea Chart.
John Blake
The sea chart was one of the key tools by which ships of trade, transport and conquest navigated their course across the oceans. Herein is a history and development of the chart and the related nautical map, in both scientific and aesthetic terms, as a means of safe and accurate seaborne navigation. 150 color illustrations including the earliest charts of the Mediterranean made by 13th-century Italian merchant adventurers, as well as 18th-century charts that became strategic naval and commercial requirements and led to Cook's voyages in the Pacific, the search for the Northwest Passage, and races to the Arctic and Antarctic.

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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