Sea Captains: San Francisco 1800s

Timothy Herbert Dame

Residents of coastal villages, including early settlers along the Atlantic Coast and then the Pacific Coast, used small sailing vessels and steamships to ferry goods from town to town in the same manner the 20th Century trucking industry uses big rigs to transport goods across country.

Captain Timothy Henry Dame.

Timothy Herbert Dame was one of the hundreds of coastal captains that plied coastal waters during the 19th Century, bringing cargo such as sheep, lime, and lumber to and from Pacific ports. Another such captain was James H. Blethen, Jr., great grandfather of this site's Founder.

Dame was born in 1823 (or as late as 1827 according to some sources) in New Hampshire. His birthplace and date vary according to source, one mentioned town is Pittsfield.

Dame enlisted in the United States Navy to serve during the Mexican War. He mustered on the U.S.S. Ohio in Boston in late 1846. He was discharged in 1849.

(A summary of the whereabouts of the Ohio during this time period is at

Dame reportedly arrived in California in November 1848 in search of gold. Shortly, he returned to the sea, captaining the schooners Mount Vernon and Queen of the West along the Central Coast, mainly between Santa Cruz and San Francisco. In 1857, Dame ushered in a new era in Santa Cruz as captain of the new steamer Santa Cruz, for lime magnates Davis and Jordan. This ship reduced travel time between Santa Cruz and San Francisco from what could be thirty or more hours to seven or eight.

According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, "Not a more careful commander, or one better acquainted with the coast than Captain Dame can scarcely be found on the Pacific." Regular trips were made between San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Monterey carrying a bounty of raw materials to export, including produce, lumber, leather, and of course lime, as well as passengers. Dame went on to captain Davis and Jordan's schooner, the Alfred Adams, brother-in-law John Chace's brig, theWolcott, and the schooners, Anna Anderson and Equity. On one departure date from Santa Cruz in March 1858, Dame noticed that lime in the Alfred Adams' hold had set fire to some cargo. Faced with a certain major conflagration if an attempt was made to unload the ship, exposing the smoldering cargo to air, Dame decided to head for his San Francisco destination. After two days at sea, keeping the hatches air tight, and one unsuccessful unloading attempt at the San Francisco docks, the cargo was able to be discharged with minimal damage. The Alta California reported that "a remarkable instance of intrepidity and decision of character" as well as skill was displayed by the Captain in bring this incident to a favorable end.

On June 1, 1856 Dame married fourteen-year old Mary Isabella Liddell. (The marriage certificate claimed that she was sixteen.) Mary was one of the children of George and Elizabeth Liddell, born in Stafford, England. Mary and Timothy lived in what official deeds termed a "cabin" on their property on the northwest corner of what is now called Second and Main Streets in Santa Cruz. The Dames had two sons; Charles Elliot, born on April 1, 1859, and Alfred Herbert, born on March 30, 1861, but the marriage was not a happy one.

On June 18, 1863, Mary sued for divorce, claiming that her husband had committed adultery in February of that year. Furthermore, she alleged that he contracted a loathsome venereal disease, and so she stopped cohabiting with him. She requested an annulment, custody of the children, the homestead, and furniture. Dame denied the charges and also claimed that the complaint was defective and ambiguous because it did not say with whom he committed adultery or when. Mrs. Dame did not file an amended complaint as Judge McKee required, and the case was dismissed on October 17,1863.

Meanwhile, on July 29,1863, John Arcan won a case against Dame in Judge W. Pope's court. The Sheriff was authorized to seize Dame's land to pay off the judgment. A lot Dame owned adjacent to his cabin was auctioned on August 24, 1863 to Hugo F. Hihn for $164, the highest bid. Dame did not reclaim his land within the six months the judge gave him to do so.

Despite the divorce not being granted, Dame abandoned Mary and at least one son. As a sea captain, Dame alternately bedded down on board ship, in San Francisco, and in Santa Cruz. Where he lived in Santa Cruz immediately after early 1863 is unknown, but it was not at the family residence. This information is contained in Mrs. Dame's second filing for divorce on May 2, 1865. She alleged, supported by her mother's testimony, that Dame deserted her on March 12, 1863, and she had supported herself and the boys since then with the help of other family and friends. It may be that by the time of this second complaint the Dames had settled their affairs, since all she requested was a divorce and custody of the younger Alfred. A day earlier, the Dames, appearing together, had sold their property to Charles Williams, Mary's brother-in-law, for $50. The case was referred to the Court Commissioner to take testimony and report back. Although Judge McKee denied the divorce request once again, it appears that the marriage remained in name only. Mary's subsequent whereabouts and how long more their cabin stood are undiscovered, but shortly afterward she had a daughter Lucy with another sea captain, George Fake.

Dame retired from the sea in the mid-1860s. On June 2, 1866, he alone purchased back the lot sold to Williams, again for $50. Two years later he purchased back the adjoining lot on Main Street. There he built the one-story, 625 square foot cottage that still stands at # 315 as part of the Carmelita Cottages hostel. Newspapers found during renovation pasted to the inside of the single rough redwood walls have early 1872 dates.

The former captain was employed loading and unloading cargo at the Powder Mill wharf at the foot of Main Street. Also, for a period in early 1875, Dame lived at A o Nuevo working as a "wharfinger" (wharf manager) at New Year Wharf north of Waddell Creek . He also worked in the 1870s and 1880s at the IXL Lime Quarry in Felton, where Fall Creek State Park now is. During part of this time he resided in Felton as well.

Dame made a memorable appearance at Lehmkuhl's bath house on the Santa Cruz beach on June 25, 1875. Sixty or so people feasted on 150 pounds of fish chowder listening to tales of four grizzled sea captains. Dame recounted skippering the first vessel to dock at Cowell's wharf and stories of shipwrecks on the beach twenty years earlier. In 1877, Dame was once again faced with the possibility of losing his property. On April 27,1875, he had borrowed $150 plus interest from the local chapter (Madrona Grove #21) of the United Ancient Order of Druids. This loan was due in one year and secured by his lot. When he failed to repay, the Madrona Grove trustees filed suit. However, he then paid and the case was dismissed.

On July 25,1881, Dame remarried. His new wife was Ellen (Hutchinson) Thomson, a widow and the sister of his next door neighbor, Mrs. Thomas Johnson. On their wedding day, Ellen Dame purchased from her new husband his Main Street property for $1,000. The marriage lasted until Captain Dame passed away on May 19, 1886 of apoplexy at the IXL Lime Works. The funeral proceeded from their Beach Hill cottage to the burial plot in the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Santa Cruz.

Ship Mt. Vernon Queen of the West Santa Cruz
Type Schooner Schooner Steamer
Tonnage 74 34/95 86 68/95 303.8210526
Crew 5 5 8
7/1857 for sale burned in China 1862
Davis & Jordan Davis & Jordan
Depart 04/12/1854 01/09/1855 07/22/1857
Depart Santa Cruz San Francisco San Francisco
Cargo 150 Bbls lime lime lime
Arrive San Francisco Santa Cruz Santa Cruz
Continued Until Only trip; then 10-12/1854 through mid 1857; then 12/1857 through 11/1857
weekly roundtrip 14 monthly trips
to Monterey
Ship Alfred Adams Wolcott Anna Anderson Equity
Type Schooner Brig Schooner Schooner
Tonnage 99 98+ 67 45 89+
Crew 5 6 5 5

sunk 1866
Owner Davis & Jordan John Chace

Depart Jan
May 20
June 29
Depart Santa Cruz San Francisco San Francisco San 
Cargo lime

Arrive San Francisco Santa Cruz Santa Cruz Santa Cruz
Continued Until through 1858
through 6/1861 through 7/1862
Frequency weekly roundtrip

weekly roundtrip
Variations to Soquel

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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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