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Passengers at the Port of San Francisco: 1800s

Arrived in San Francisco on the SS Oregon, April 1, 1849

Last Alcalde and First Mayor of San Francisco

John W. Geary was born in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.

He received the attention of the U.S. Government through his military skill in the war with the Mexican States. As a result, President Polk, on January 22, 1849, appointed Colonel Geary postmaster of San Francisco, with powers to create postoffices, appoint postmasters, establish mail routes, and make contracts for carrying the mails throughout California.

The story of their journey across Panama was well-detailed in the The Annals of San FranciscoShips, Shipping, Migration, World Seaports., 1966, compiled by Dorothy H. Huggins (works first published in 1855 and 1939).

Panama City c. 1800s
Panama City: Viewed across the Water

On February 1, 1849, with his wife and child, he left New York for Chagres in the steamer Falcon on her second trip. Their grueling crossing of the Isthmus took several days. At Panama, they waited more than two weeks for Pacific Mail Line?s Oregon, which was rounding the horn, having left New York on December 2, 1848. The Oregon put into Panama on February 23, 1849, where more than 1200 passengers, all bound for California gold mines, were waiting to board her. She left Panama March 13, 1849 with 250 additional passengers, and reached San Francisco on April 1, 1849.

The Colonel secured a room at Montgomery and Washington for post office purposes. And began to distribute the 5,000 letters that had already arrived. He performed most of the work himself as laborers were getting about $16 a day.

Because of the primitive, unsafe nature of San Francisco during its early years, he sent his family home, including his newly born son. He opened an auction and commission business: Geary, Van Vorhees and Sutton. Against his protestations, popular vote elected him First Alcalde on August 1, 1849. He immediately established a police force, established order in the theretofore unrestrained city, and even established a chain-gang whose were used to improve public streets. The first City Charter was adopted May 1, 1850, and Colonel Geary was elected mayor by a large vote.

Daily Alta California, July 13, 1855

LAW REPORT.

U.S. CIRCUIT COURT--

Before Judge McAllister.

Pardon G. Seabury el. el. vs. L. IV. Patchin et al.

This was an action of ejectment to recover Water Lot No. 458, in the block bounded by Clay and Washington, Front and Davis streets. The trial was commenced on Tuesday and is just concluded by a verdict for plaintiffs.

On the trial the plaintiffs gave in evidence a deed to Thomas Sprague from John M. Geary, Alcalde, dated January 3d, 1850, made at the town sale of that date, pursuant to the terms of the Kearny gran : followed by deed of conveyance from Sprague to plaintiffs. After showing that the lot was included within the limits of the Kearny grant, and within the limits of the lands described in the first section of the Water Lot Act, plaintiffs rested.

The defendants gave in evidence a petition of W. C. Parker to T. M. Leavenworth, Alcade, for the block above described, and a grant in pursuance thereof, from Alcalde Leavenworth to Parker, dated the 25th of September, 1343, for the consideration of $25; and a deed from Parker back to Leavenworth, dated September 26th, 1848; and a deed from Parker to Wright, dated December Ist. 1849, for the consideration of $5000; and a deed from Wright to Field, under which the defendants hold by lease.

The defendants also gave in evidence a book of the Alcalde's records, wherein appears a certificate signed by T. M. Leavenworth, Alcalde, showing that the grant was made at its date; also a book of Alcalde Geary's records, in which their petition and grant are recorded at length, except that by this record the grant appears to bear date September 25th, 1849. The defendants also read incidence, that two resolutions of the Town Council, bearing dates respectively October 11th, 1848, and April 1st, 1849, confirming all grants made by Alcalde Leavenworth.

In rebuttal, the plaintiffs read in evidence a resolution of the Council, dated October, 1847, declaring that in future all sales of town lots, both on land and in the water, should only he made at public auction; also a resolution of the Council dated Oct. 3d, 1849, declaring all grants made of water lots by the Alcalde without three months' notice, as required by the Kearny grant, to be illegal, and that the town would still claim the same.

The plaintiffs claimed that the defendants' grant was not so recorded as to bring it within the terms of the 2nd section of the act of the Legislature of the 26th March, 1831, and that the confirmatory resolutions of the Counoil did not in their terms or spirit include water lots.

The Court charged the Jury that neither the deed from Geary under the Kearny grant nor the grant from Alcalde Leavenworth gave either grantee the least shadow of a title; but that when California was admitted as a State, she became the owner of the land in question; that the passage of the water lot act gave the only title which either party might have; that, the plaintiffs' title coming within the terms of the act, they were entitled to recover, unless the defendant had shown that their grant had been confirmed by the Council, and also recorded prior to April 3, 1850.

Whether the defendants' grant had been so confirmed and recorded were questions for the Jury. If decided in the affirmative, then the defendants' title was of equal validity with that of plaintiffs', and, the defendants being in possession, the plaintiffs could not recover without showing a better legal title.

 

The Annals of San FranciscoThe Annals of San Francico 1855.
Frank Soule, John H. Gihon, Jim Nisbet. 1855
Written by three journalists who were witnesses to and participants in the extraordinary events they describe. The Annals of San Francisco is both an essential record for historians and a fascinating narrative for general readers. Over 100 historical engravings are included. Partial Contents: Expeditions of Viscaino; Conduct of the Fathers towards the natives; Pious Fund of California; Colonel John C. Fremont; Insurrection of the Californians; Description of the Golden Gate; The Presidio of San Francisco; Removal of the Hudson's Bay Company; Resolutions concerning gambling; General Effects of the Gold Discoveries; Third Great Fire; Immigration diminished; The Chinese in California; Clipper Ships; Increase of population; and Commercial depression.

San Francisco, You're History!
Politicians, Proselytizers, Paramours, and Performers Who Helped Create California's Wildest City
Politicians, Proselytizers, Paramours, Performers.
California Performers.
J. Kingston Pierce
Seattle-based freelance writer Pierce presents a fascinating view of a variety of colorful people and events that have molded the unique environment of San Francisco. He chronicles historical highlights along with a focus on current issues. Pierce touches on the gold rush, earthquakes, and fires and introduces the lives of politicians, millionaires, criminals, and eccentrics. Pierce sparks the imagination in relating the stories of yesterday to today.

When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of SailWhen America First Met China.
Eric Jay Dolin
Ancient China collides with America in this epic tale of opium smugglers, sea pirates, and dueling clipper ships. Brilliantly illuminating one of the least-understood areas of American history, best-selling author Eric Jay Dolin traces our relationship with China back to its roots: the nineteenth-century seas that separated a brash, rising naval power from a ancient empire. It is a fable for our time, one that surprisingly continues to shed light on our modern relationship with China. The furious trade in furs, opium, and bêche-de-mer -- a rare sea cucumber delicacy -- might have catalyzed America's emerging economy, but it also sparked an ecological and human rights catastrophe. Peopled with fascinating characters--from Robert Morris: Financier of the American RevolutionRobert Morris, Financier of the American Revolution. to the The Glorious Reign of Emperor Qianlong: Splendors of China's Forbidden City, who considered foreigners inferior beings -- this saga of pirates and politicians, coolies and concubines becomes a must-read for any fan of Nathaniel Philbrick's MayflowerMayflower. or Mark Kurlansky's Cod.Cod, the fish that changd the world. Two maps, 16 pages of color, 83 black-and-white illustrations.

Latin America, World Journeys, Discovery.The Age of Sail.Commodore Levy:
A Novel of Early America in the Age of Sail

(Modern Jewish History)

Irving Litvag
By all accounts, Uriah Phillips Levy, the first Jewish commodore in the U.S. Navy, was both a principled and pugnacious man. On his way to becoming a flag officer, he was subjected to six courts-martial and engaged in a duel, all in response to antisemitic taunts and harassment from his fellow officers. Yet he never lost his love of country or desire to serve in its navy. When the navy tried to boot him out, he took his case to the highest court and won. This richly detailed historical novel closely follows the actual events of Levy’s life: running away from his Philadelphia home to serve as a cabin boy at age ten; his service during the War of 1812 aboard the Argus and internment at the notorious British prison at Dartmoor;  his campaign for the abolition of flogging in the Navy; and his purchase and restoration of Monticello as a tribute to his personal hero, Thomas Jefferson. Set against a broad panorama of U.S. history, Commodore Levy describes the American Jewish community from 1790 to 1860, the beginnings of the U.S. Navy, and the great nautical traditions of the Age of Sail before its surrender to the age of steam.

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; Maritime Library, San Francisco, California, various Maritime Museums around the world.

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