Sea Captains: 1800s

Stephen Smith

Captain Stephen Smith of the bark George Henry is credited with first bringing pianos to California, and he established an early sawmill and the first steam-sawmill in the Bodega Bay area north of San Francisco.

Logging Team on a Fallen Redwood.

Team on a Fallen Redwood.

In 1841, he sailed north from San Francisco Bay and saw the tall redwoods through coastal mists. He realized a business opportunity in that people had been shipping lumber from as far away as the Sandwich Islands where here prime lumber grew less than 100 nautical miles north of San Francisco.

He returned in 1843 with a sawmill from Boston, hired white laborers from San Franicsco to help him build the mill, and began his operation. He was the first American to settle in this area.

Captain Stephen Smith married a 15-year-old Peruvian, Manuela Torres, and became a Mexican citizen in order to receive a land grant.

Southwest Coastal Sonoma. 1877. Thompson, Mapmaker.

He petitioned the government to establish a ranch and In August of 1844, Captain Stephen Smith was granted the 35,487 acre Bodega Rancho, bordered by the Russian River to the north and Estero Americano to the south, a large portion of the Bodega Bay Area.

Prior to the 1400s, when ships from around the world sailed in, California's land had been settled peaceably for thousands of years by The Pomo, the Coast Miwok, the Patwin and the Wappo Indian tribes and other documented inhabitants. Coast Miwok Indians from more than 600 villages were forced into slave labor by early Spanish colonists. After European settlers arrived particularly the Spaniards, such land grants became commonplace at the expense of the tribes.

Stephen Smith built the first steam-powered saw mill in California with parts he also brought in by ship. Bodega suited him well with its abundant source of wood and nearby bay for shipping and he helped establish the commercial and fishing shipping industries out of Bodega Bay.

By the mid-1880s, more than 400 mills operated in California's Humboldt forest region alone.

Taking the Sea

Perilous Waters, Sunken Ships, and the True Story of the Legendary Wrecker CaptainsTaking the Sea.

Publications.Publications.In the late 19th century, an intrepid, reckless group of men ruled the ocean. Known as wreckers, they earned their living by rescuing and raising sunken ships, even in the face of monstrous waves and fierce weather. To some, they were heroes, helping to rescue both passengers and ships with courage and skill. To others they were ruthless pirates, who exploited these ship wrecks purely for their treasure.

In Taking the Sea, Dennis M. Powers uncovers a fascinating, yet largely unknown, period in our history. Here he traces the journey of these legendary men through the story of Captain Thomas P. H. Whitelaw, the most important ship salvager of his day.

From their early beginnings when greedy villagers would lure ships to the rocky coasts of Europe to their heyday during the era of the fast but vulnerable American clipper ships and their founding of the city of Key West, Powers offers a compelling portrait of the wrecker captains and the dangerous lives they and their men led. From the East Coast to the Pacific, travel along with these men as they faced savage seas to save ships and plunder untold wealth.

Beautifully written and vividly told, this is a magnificent look at the untold history of the fearless and often mercenary men who made their living from the sea.

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.