The Maritime Heritage Project

World Harbors from The Maritime Heritage Project in San Francisco.

Seaports of the World

United States: San Francisco, California (San Francisco County)

° Alameda County: ° Berkeley ° Oakland
° Contra Costa County: ° Crockett, ° Martinez ° Port Costa
° Los Angeles County: ° Long Beach ° Santa Monica
° Marin County: ° Point Reyes, ° San Rafael (China Camp), ° Sausalito, ° Tiburon
° Mendocino County ° Monterey County
° Sacramento County ° San Diego County ° San Francisco (City and County)
° Santa Barbara County ° Solano County: Benicia, Vallejo, Mare Island, (General Vallejo)
° Sonoma County: Petaluma

The main focus of this site are passengers sailing into San Francisco during the early days of the Gold Rush. Therefore, this particular page will not be lengthy as stories are throughout the site on passenger lists and in various other sections.

Entrance to San Francisco Bay in the 1800s.
Entrance to San Francisco Bay, California c. 1859

San Francisco Bay had provided sheltered waters to Native Americans in reed canoes, whalers, fur traders and explorers for centuries before the rush of gold seekers began arriving on ships from around the world.

From 1849 on, San Francisco's water commerce increased year after year, into the early 1900s.

Merchants were the money-makers in the early days, far exceeding the fortune (or misfortunes) experienced by gold miners.

The characters and their schemes were well known and well publicized. Land-grabbing was the fashion and many a man laid claim to waterfront land. San Francisco's muddy shoreline, which originally went for $50 a lot shortly reached $1 million.

Each street ended in a wharf, and the owner of said wharf exacted huge tolls from passengers, drays, wagons and all vessels, from the ships to the lighters who help unload the cargo. The cargo was also taxed. A toll was put on anything that could be weighed or measured.

Reprints of San Francisco Bay are available by clicking on the image.
Early View of San Francisco Bay

Wharfage alone cost medium-sized ships $100 a day and larger ships $200. By the Fall of 1850, about six thousand feet of pier space, extending into the bay like the fingers of two large hands and costing about one million dollars, had been constructed.

The wharves were crowded from morning through night with drays, wagons, horses, sailors, miners, and merchants. Some wharves were developed to such an extent that by 1851-52, they were small cities of stores, shops, and storeships lining the waterfront.

Lining up for mail during California Gold Rush.
Newcomers Line Up for their Mail
San Francisco Post Office during the Gold Rush

San Francisco also had its share of savory characters, so much so that in 1851 the first Vigilance Committee was established. It was not well-organized and by 1856, another Committee was established in the style of a military organization. In addition to a police force, it had a "navy" under the command of Captain Edgar Wakeman, a character in his own right. His watchful eye, and willingness to act, earned him the title "Emperor of the Port."

Richard Henry Dana discussing San Francisco in a post-script for the 1859 edition of Two Years Before the Mast:

I might perhaps say quite-every American in California had read it; for when California "broke out," as the phrase is, in 1848, and so large a portion of the Anglo-Saxon race flocked to it, there was no book upon California but mine. Many who were on the coast at the time the book refers to, and afterward read it, and remembered the Pilgrim and Alert, thought they also remembered me. But perhaps more did remember me than I was inclined at first to believe, for the novelty of a collegian coming out before the mast had drawn more attention to me than I was aware of at the time.

Late in the afternoon, as there were vespers at the Roman Catholic churches, I went to that of Notre Dame des Victoires. The congregation was French, and a sermon in French was preached by an abbe; the music was excellent, all things airy and tasteful and making one feel as if in one of the chapels in Paris. The Cathedral of St. Mary, which I afterward visited, where the Irish attend, was a contrast indeed, and more like one of our stifling Irish Catholic churches in Boston or New York, with intelligence in so small a proportion to the number of faces.

During the three Sundays I was in San Francisco, I visited three of the Episcopal churches, and the Congregational, a Chinese Mission Chapel, and on the Sabbath (Saturday) a Jewish synagogue. The Jews are a wealthy and powerful class here. The Chinese, too, are numerous, and do a great part of the manual labor and small shop-keeping, and have some wealthy mercantile houses.

Limantour and The Battle of the "Bulkhead". . .
Seal Point near the entrance to San Francisco Bay.
Seal Point, Bay of San Francisco, 1888

San Francisco Call, October 4, 1894


Grave Charges Against Steamboat Men.
A Big Price Paid for the Drug at Honolulu-
A Remnant of the Emerald Gang at Work.

When the trial of the Emerald smugglers closed a few months ago the local representatives of the Government, the District Attorney, the Special Agent of the Treasury and the Collector of the port rejoiced and were exceedingly glad, for they believed that they had broken up one of the strongest rings that ever existed on this coast.

But the heavy burden of punishment laid upon the unhappy trio now in San Quentin did not daunt their confederates in crime. While the prisoners were before the bar battling for liberty, their associates were at work in this city, in Victoria and in Honolulu buying, smuggling and selling the drug.

Vessels as fleet as the Emerald were passing through the Golden Gate at night bearing a forbidden cargo to be sold in Chinatown or shipped to the Hawaiian Islands.

The Collector of the Port was not long in ignorance of the fact that the remnant of the ring was working as hard as ever. The manufacture and exportation of opium at Victoria did not cease. The revenue officers still found the drug in Chinatown and news came from Honolulu that it was being sold there to the victims of the pipe and syringes.

The Hawaiian laws absolutely prohibit the importation and sale of opium, yet it is a well known fact it can be procured with little difficulty by all who want it. The opium cooked in California and known here as domestic opium costs in this city about $4 a pound. It sells in the Hawaiian republic at $18 a pound.

The opium made in Victoria is sold in Honolulu for $24 a pound and the Simon pure article from, Hong Kong sells for $28 a pound. Therefore it pays

Opium in Hawaii.
Chinese Merchant Weighing Opium, 1880s

The drug that is taken from Victoria to Honolulu first comes to this city and here placed on a vessel bound to Honolulu, where it falls into the hands of the ring, who find away to sell it to the natives.

Collector Wise believes, and has in his possession facts that warrant his belief, that the opium is taken from this city to the Islands on one of the steamers, and believes that trusted employes of the steamship company are members of of or are in the employ of the ring.

The Collector, convinced that the employes of the company are smuggling, but being unable to procure the proper kind of evidence against them, wrote to the agent of the company on Monday stating the facts in his possession, and urging the removal of suspects. He stated last night that he had received no reply to the letter, and that he did not care to discuss the matter.

September 11, 1897
Mountain Democrat
Placerville, California, USA


The Forum Club, a literary organization of this city, of which all the members are of the fair sex, have installed themselves right in the heart of clubdom. In other words, it is in the vicinity of the Bohemian Club and the Press Club. The rooms, three in number, are elegantly furnished. The reception room is in green and oak with easy chairs, couches, innumerable fancy pillows, soft and inviting as down can make them; and there are dainty writing desks, furnished with the necessary articles, and tables covered with current literature. It is well-lighted, and is a most delightful place to dream in and weave endless beautiful thoughts into word-paintings. Of course, being a woman's club, there are any amount of palms and beautiful plants to add to the attractiveness of their lovely quarters. The tea-room is in blue, even to the rare old china, but it does not necessarily follow that the members belong to that old school known as "blue-stockings. " Here a woman is in charge and stands ever ready to furnish the members with a cup of refreshing tea and light refreshments. The dressing-room is provided with a couch and a dressing table supplied with all the necessary toilet articles. A large hall opens out of the reception-room, which is to be used for lectures and entertainments. The members of the Forum have gained their heart's desire and now have ideal club quarters, just what they have been longing for for some time past.

The first shipload of gold.
First Shipload of Gold
View of San Francisco 1860.
View of San Francisco

San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf
(Images of America)
San Francisco.

Buy at
Abandoned Vessels in San Francisco Bay

Lighthouses of the Bay Area (Images of America)San Francisco.

Italians of the Bay Area: The Photographs of Gino Sbrana (Images of America)San Francisco.

Buy at
Prospectors finding gold in a stream during the
California Gold Rush
Giclee art prints available by clicking the image.

The Golden Crucible:
An Introduction to the History of American California 1850 to 1905
San Francisco.
Blake Ross

First Prize Essay James D. Phelan Historical Essay Contest held under the auspices of the San Francisco Branch, League of American Pen Women. From the Introduction: The Golden Crucible is well named, because, first of all, in the minds of the people, California is regarded as the Golden State. It was not the actual discovery by Cabrillo that awakened wonder, but the discovery of gold by Marshall.

Looking north along Market Street to the Ferry Building in San Francisco c. 1870s.
San Francisco Street Scene

The Palace Hotel, built in 1875, envisioned by William Chapman Ralston and William Sharon, was reputedly the largest, most luxurious and costly hotel in the world. The San Francisco Palace Hotel was designed as the American counterpart to the grand hotels of Europe. On October 2, 1875, the Palace Hotel officially opened.

Originally built by architect John P. Gaynor, the majestic San Francisco historic building hailed 7,000 windows, 14-foot high ceilings and an unprecedented opulence. Today's Garden Court was conceived of as the hotel's carriage entrance - a gateway to the splendors and remarkable innovations within. The hydraulic elevators - an engineering marvel for the time - were dubbed "rising rooms." In each of the lavish guest rooms, an electronic call button allowed guests to "ring" for anything they desired and air conditioning was a standard feature.

San Francisco Bay Area, Golden Memories
(Voices of America), Steven Friedman

San Francisco.San Francisco, the flamboyant and cosmopolitan city by the bay and its neighboring municipalities, was born to tell stories. Ranging in ages from 68 to 91, the narrators reflect the ethnic and religious diversity of a metropolis that has been a pioneer of several social, political, and cultural movements. They also stretch across both ends of the economic spectrum. A Japanese-American woman describes the harsh humiliation of internment during World War II, while an Irish Catholic man fondly remembers being a paperboy in the same neighborhood for ten years. Another woman recalls kissing under the Golden Gate Bridge with the man who eventually became her husband. More than 80 photographs from the narrators and collections of local libraries, museums, and historical societies.

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Recommended Reading

Note: If you are unable to find the books suggested at your local bookstore, consider links provided to or AbeBooks, both of which have proven to be reliable
on service and delivery

America and the Sea.
America and the Sea:
A Maritime History

Benjamin W. Labaree, William M. Fowler, Jr., Edward W. Sloan, Jhon B. Hattendorf, Jeffrey J. Safford, Andrew W. German
Spanning the centuries from Native American and Viking maritime activities before Columbus through today's maritime enterprise. A new history of the U.S. from the fundamental perspective of the sea that surrounds it and the rivers and lakes that link its vast interior to the seacoast. America and the Sea has been gracefully written by six prominent maritime-history scholars whose individual areas of research and teaching range from labor to technology, from the fisheries to the U.S. Navy.

Merchant Ships.
Sail's Last Century: The Merchant Sailing Ship, 1830-1930
(Conway's History of the Ship)
Merchant Sailing Ship.
Robert Gardiner

A Historical Survey of the Boiler Makers' and Iron and Steel Ship Builders' Society. August 1834, to August 1904
David Charles Cummings
(OCR Reprint: Typos, etc.)

American Merchant Ships
Frederick C. Matthews

American Merchant Ships and SailorsCalifornia.
Willis J. Abbott

Ship Construction.California.
Ship Construction, Sixth EditionCalifornia.
David J. Eyres
Ship Construction is a comprehensive text for students of naval architecture, ship building and construction, and for professional Naval Architects and Marine Engineers as a refresher on the latest developments in ship types, safety and shipyard practices. Beginning with an introduction to ship building and concluding with the finished product, the book enables the reader to follow the construction of a ship from start to finish. Eyres explores in depth, chapter by chapter, the development of ship types, materials and strengths of ships, welding and cutting, shipyard practice, ship structure and outfitting. The new edition includes a new chapter on computer-aided design and manufacture, and all the latest international regulations and technological developments.

The Old Merchant Marine
A Chronicle of
American Ships and Sailors
Ralph Delahaye Paine

Entrance To San Francisco Bay

West Coast Shipping
(History in camera)
Michael K. Stammers

West Coast Shipbuilding.California.
Knee-Deep in Shavings: Memories of Early Yachting and Boatbuilding on the West CoastCalifornia.
Norman Blanchard

The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World.
The Sea and Civilization:
A Maritime History of the World
The Sea and Civilization.

Lincoln Paine

David Barrie Sextant.
A Young Man's Daring Sea Voyage and the Men Who Mapped the World's Oceans
David Barrie

First Migrants, Peter Bellwood.
First Migrants:
Ancient Migration in Global Perspective
First Migrants.
Peter Bellwood

The Maritime Heritage Project provides free information on world migration and exploration during the 1800s. Please consider supporting The Project by purchasing from our sponsors and advertisers or