Sea Captains: San Francisco 1800s

John Slater

John Slater (1849 1908) was born on one of the Shetland Islands in Scotland. At the age of 15 he left school to join the crew of a fishing sloop. Four years later, he went to sea as a sailor before the mast, working his way up to an officer's position.

San Francisco Bay. 1899.

Topographic Map. San Francisco Bay. 1899.

In 1871, he came to California as a mate on the cargo ship Seminole of Boston. Impressed with the outlook on the Pacific coast, he decided to stay. After plying the coast trade for several years, he was lured into gold mining on the Stikine River in northwestern British Columbia but did not find it profitable.

The Sam Blair Line

Going back to the sea, Slater became master of several ships belonging to the Sam Blair line: first the Oreola, then in succession the Yosemite, Two Brothers, and the Oriental.

According to the History of California and Biographical Record of Oakland and Environs, [a]t the time Captain Slater was master of the Oriental it was the largest vessel entering the bay of San Francisco.

In 1889, he joined the shipping firm of William E. Mighell and Charles C. Boudrow. For seven years Slater was master of the bark Wilner. After this ship was burned at the docks in Tacoma, WA, he took charge of the clipper ship Charmer, which he commanded on the San Francisco-Honolulu route until his retirement in 1907.

Editor's Note: Additional information on Captain Slater's life can be found on the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA) site, which details an area of Berkeley settled by several noted sea captains plying San Francisco Bay waters during the 1800s. It is well worth a visit.

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The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.






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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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