Sea Captains: San Francisco 1800s


Captain William C. Law

The years 1862-3 found Captain William C. Law, with two fingers missing from one hand, living in San Francisco.

Year Command Vessel Voyage
1850s Officer Pacific Mail Lines Steamship Oregon Coastal run between San Francisco and Panama
1862-63 Captain SchoonerChapman Thwarted Trip/Story Below

At one point in his sailing career, Captain Law was in command of the schooner Storm Cloud, and was so erratic in his conduct that the owners, believing that he intended to run off with her, sent an agent to Valparaiso and relieved Law of his charge of the vessel. At that time, he was 39 years old, and had sailed both the Atlantic and the Pacific. He has resided in Charleston, South Carolina, for two years and was engaged in running slaves from Richmond to New Orleans.

September 2, 1863, Sacramento Daily Union, San Francisco

By Telegraph to the Union
Indictments for Reason

San Francisco, September 1st

The following named parties have been indicted by the Grand Jury of the United States for treason in levymg war against the United States:

Ridgely Greathouse, banker; Asbury Harpending, trader; Alfred Rubery, laborer; Wm. C. Law, mariner; Lorenzo L. Libbey, mariner; James Smith, plasterer; John McFadden, attorney at law; Wm. D. Ward, laborer; John E. Kent, laborer; John Fletcher, plasterer; Thomas W. Brunde, clerk; Wm. W. Mason, surveyor; George W. Davis, street contractro; Albion T. Crowe, clerk; Madison A. Marshall, lborer; Thomas Poole, laborer; Alfred Armand, mariner; Henry C. Boyd, machinist; Richard H. Duval, clerk; Gideon C. Jones, trader.

Jones was arrested last evening on a bench warrant issued by Judge Field, and is now in jail. The others were all in Alcatraz, having been taken on board the schooner Chapman. Jones is also implicated in the Chapman affair, but it is impossible to ascertain the specifications of the charge agaiiist him. He has been a merchant of this city for ninny years.

Rebel Civil War sympathizer, Asbury Harpending, born in Kentucky at at 23 the possessor of a fortune accumulated in the mines of California and Mexico, hired him to Captain the schoonerChapman. On February 17 (of 1862 or '63?), The Chapman was in the news for making the trip from New York to San Francisco in 138 days, and 38 days from Valparaiso, carrying Captain Cousins, his wife and three children, and a cargo of beans for Hellman Bros.

When Harpending saw Captain Law's "sinister, villainous mug" and considered him capable of any crime, and all in all "the most repulsive reptile in appearance I ever set eyes on," he dismissed him. He recalled him when he found no other candidates for his plan, which was to "sail the Chapman to some islands off the coast of Mexico, transform her into a fighting craft, proceed to Manzanillo, exhibit our letters of marque and my captain's commission in the Confederate Navy, and then lie in wait for the first Pacific Mail liner that entered the harbor, capture her -- peacefully if possible, forcibly if we must."

Harpending then planned to equip the captured liner as a privateer and intercept two more eastbound Pacific Mail steamers. His plan was to stop the flow of millions of dollars in gold from California to Union Troops, and thus cripple the North in the Civil War.

The Authority to Sail.The Authority to Sail: The History of U.S. Maritime Licenses and Seamen's PapersThe Authority to Sail.
Robert Stanley Bates, George Marsh (Editor), John F. Whiteley (Forward) (Batek Marine Publishing, 2011; Nominated in 2012 for a Pulitzer Prize)
This book depicts important aspects of our maritime history as a result of original research done by the author, Commodore Bates, the holder of an unlimited master's license who has enjoyed a distinguished fifty-year career in both the Coast Guard and the American Merchant Marine.

The U.S. Coast Guard issues all Captain Licenses for U.S. Ports.
Note: Other countries have different regulations, i.e. the RYA (Royal Yachting Association), conducts certification for Britain and Ireland. As of 2011, they did not recognize the USCG certification; certification through their courses was required.

Master Unlimited is a licensed mariner in ultimate command of a vessel any gross tons. The captain is responsible for its safe and efficient operation, including cargo operations, navigation, crew management and ensuring that the vessel complies with local and international laws. All persons on board, including officers and crew, other shipboard staff members, passengers, guests and pilots, are under the captain's authority and are his or her ultimate responsibility. The STCW defines the Master as Person having command of the ship.

The Sea Chart
The Illustrated History of Nautical Maps and Navigational ChartsThe Sea Chart.
The Sea Chart.The Sea Chart.
John Blake
The sea chart was one of the key tools by which ships of trade, transport and conquest navigated their course across the oceans. Herein is a history and development of the chart and the related nautical map, in both scientific and aesthetic terms, as a means of safe and accurate seaborne navigation. 150 color illustrations including the earliest charts of the Mediterranean made by 13th-century Italian merchant adventurers, as well as 18th-century charts that became strategic naval and commercial requirements and led to Cook's voyages in the Pacific, the search for the Northwest Passage, and races to the Arctic and Antarctic.

Get Your Captain's License. Fifth Edition Get Your Captain's License. Fifth Edition. Charlie  Wing.
Charlie Wing
Considered the quickest, easiest, and least expensive way to prepare for the U.S. Coast Guard captain's ratings exams required for anyone who takes paying passengers on a boat, and useful for serious boaters who want to save money on insurance. 350 pages of seamanship and navigation tutorials. More than 1,500 questions and answers from the Coast Guard exams. Includes an interactive CD-ROM with all 14,000 questions and answers in the USCG database, so you can take an unlimited number of practice exams

The Project

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



Kindly Kindly support our work.


DALevy @

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.

Please inform us if you link from your site. Please do NOT link from your site unless your site specifically relates to immigration in the 1800s, family history, maritime history, international seaports, and/or California history.