San Francisco Ship Captains
Charles J. Brenham
Born November 6, 1817, Frankfort, Kentucky
As a teenager, he was master of one of a steamboat out of Natchez. When he arrived in New Orleans, the underwriters initially refused insurance because of his age. Even during his early years, he proved a competent commander. He left New Orleans on June 17th, 1849 for California and arrived in San Francisco on August 18, 1849.
Shortly after his arrival, he took command of the steamer McKim, running between San Francisco and Sacramento.
In 1850, he was nominated by the Whig party as a mayoral candidate even though he had not indicated interest. The nomination was unsolicited and as he was prosperous at the time, he never left his business, nor did he go on shore for the purpose of electioneering. In any case, his first nomination was defeated by Col. Geary.
In conjunction with others, Brenham purchased the steamer Gold Hunter and took command of that vessle. He remained in her until she was placed in the Mazatlan trade.
He later again was nominated for office, took interest in the position, and on May 5, 1851, at age 33, Brenham took office . . . the day after one of San Francisco's great fires. The city was burned down and broken in credit. There were no funds to purchase even stationery for the officers of the municipal government.
During his term, a riot occurred because of Captain James "Bully" Waterman. Captain Waterman had rounded the Horn in the Challenge in a gale with a mutinous crew. He and his First Mate beat them into submission and upon arrival in San Francisco those who took part in the mutiny were handed over to authorities. Others of the crew roamed the streets and waterfront bars telling stories of their harsh treatment aboard the Challenge. The newspapers picked up the story, fueled the flames, and about a thousand people assembled outside Alsop & Co., where Waterman and his First Mate were rumored to be holed up. They insisted that Captain Waterman be handed over to them.
Brenham called for order from the Alsop Building steps, but the mob paid no attention to his pleas. Soon, a rope appeared and one of the mob started to fashion a noose. Suddenly, two loud clangs rang out and members of the Committee of Vigilance began arriving on the run, all of them armed with guns. Mayor Brenham told the mob to leave. When no one moved to leave, Brenham pulled out his gold watch and shouted, "I shall now give you just ten minutes to disperse, and if you fail to comply, I shall order every last one of you to be incarcerated in the city Bastille. In other words, I will put every damned one of you in jail."
It was written of Brenham that "no one ever has performed, or ever will perform the duties of an office with more purity of purpose, and with a greater regard for the true interests of the city, than did Mr. Brenham. He retired from his office without the slightest taint or suspicion."
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