Merchant Ships in Port

° Vessels & Rigging ° Clippers ° Steamships ° Lines ° Builders ° Shipwrecks

Please note: Merchant ship arrivals are included to give an idea of the volume and type of goods into early San Francisco. If you had the money, you could have anything your heart desired. Listings are by no means complete; names of passengers on these vessels are often unavailable.

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1856, San Francisco


  • January 4: Clipper ship Morning Star, Foster, 135 days from New York. Merchandise to W.T. Coleman and Co. Memoranda: Had heavy weather off the Horn, was 35 days from east end of Staten Land to 50 in the Pacific; crossed the Equator Dec 14th, long 113, thence had light winds from WE; for the last 3 days have had light winds from N.W.
  • January 4: Clipper ship Winged Arrow, Bearse, 125 days from Boston. Merchandise to Flint, Peabody & Co. Memoranda: Was off Cape Horn 25 days in very heavy gales; had three gales of wind, in which the ship lay to 32 hours at a time; split sales, broke chain plates, and sustained other damage; crossed the equator Dec 16th, lon 119 30; has been off the coast, within 100 miles, for the last five days; anchored on the bar on Thursday night.
  • January 9: Clipper ship Black Warrior, Murphy, 121 days from New York. Merchandise to D.I. Ross & Co. Memoranda: From New York to Cape Horn had light winds, crossed the Equator on the Atlantic Oct 6, lon 31, was off the Horn 35 days, with strong westerly gales lost foretopsail yard, split sails, and crossed the Equator on the Pacific Dec 15, long 112; from thence had light N.E. winds and calms; have been ten days within 280 miles of this port with continual calms and head winds. Dec 18th to 22d, was in company with a large clipper ship with full figure head, supposed her to be the Defender, from Boston for this port. Died at sea Nov. 16th, David Atkins Stuart.
  • January 10: Clipper ship Samuel Appleton, Deshon, 149 days from Boston. Merchandise to Flint, Peabody & Co. Memoranda: Was off Cape Horn 35 days with strong westerly gales; stove bulwarks, split sails, stove quarter boat, and done other damage; crossed the Equator Dec 16th, lon 113; from thence had fine weather; have been off the coast the last 7 days, in light winds and calms.
  • January 10: Bq. Emily Miner, Metzger, 50 days from Valparaiso. Merchandise to Crosby & Dibbles. Memoranda: Left in port ship Simoda, Knight, uncertain; ship A.M. Lawrence, do; ship Louisa Erskine do; ship Magelan, King, to load on the coast for Boston; ship John Cummings, Adams, to sail on the 23d for Hampton Roads; ship Elizabeth Ellen, Brightman, in distress, repairing; barque Milford, Corry, to load for Australia; brig Boston, Hutchins, to sail for Iquiqua to load for this port, had fine winds from S.E. and south up to 7 north, crossed the line Dec 6., lon 95, in 15 days 21 hours from Valparaiso, had the Doldrums on one day and then took light breezes from the W. and E. from 8 to 20 north, had light baffling winds from 20 to 34 N, had moderate breezes from E. and N.E., was becalmed one day in 35 N. and took light breezes from the S; since then have experienced short severe gales from S.E. Dec 31 passed in sight of Socorro Island, this Island is laid down in the old chart (that is 1849) a degree east of its true position, but on the chart dated 1852 it is correct; navigators sailing on this route would do well to notice the two dates.
  • San Francisco History.January 10: Ships Golden West and Wild Rover have anchored in the steam; brig Wyandot, for Valparaiso, have anchored off Meiggs' wharf.
San Francisco 1800s.

April, 1856

  • April 30: Clipper ship Osborne, Howes, Kelly, 123 days from New York. Merchandise to Annan, Embery & Co.

May, 1856

  • May 4: Barque Live Yankee, Reed, 46 days from Hong Kong. Mdse to S. Merritt
  • May 4: Mexican brig Carmelita, Randall, 30 days from Guaymas. Mdse to Bolton, Barrn & Co.

November, 1856

  • November 20: Daily Alta California. There are a number of first-class clippers in port at present; among them the Norseman, Black Prince, Flying Cloud, B. F. Hoxie and Romance of the Sea. A villainous but, fortunately unsuccessful attempt was made to sink the steamship Orizaba on the night of the the 9th. The scoundrels entered the ship at low tide, opened the stops in the engine room, and allowed the water to run until she grounded. In the morning there was two or three feet of water in the hold, but by hard pumping the vessel was speedily free. No clue to the perpetrators of this fiendish act.
December 31, 1856, Sacramento Daily Union
Sacramento, CaliforniaSutter and Gold Rush Sacramento. Author John A. Sutter, Jr.

In looking about our wharves the other day, I was forcibly impressed with the change that has taken place in regard to the character of our commerce within two or three years. There are now comparatively few large vessels in our harbor, either from foreign or Eastern domestic ports. In place of these, numerous small ranging from five to fifty tons are to be seen, which are mostly engaged in island commerce. As the productions of the State ore developed, means have to be provided for their transportation, so that the producer may realise from his labor by the exchange of his commodities for others which bis requirements may demand, or for cash.

In order to facilitate this, hundreds of small vessels have found employment. They are generally of light draught, and many of them can penetrate any river, stream or inlet where water can be found to the depth of a foot. They come here loaded with the productions of the farmers with grain, hay, vegetables, wood, charcoal, etc. These, together with some larger vessels that are employed in bringing lumber from the northern part of the State nnd from Oregon, and some others engaged in trading up and down the coast, make up the bulk of our commerce at this time.

Sacramento's Gold Rush Saloons:
El Dorado in a Shot Glass
Sacramento's Gold Rush Saloons. Special Collections.

Out on the Deep Blue: True Stories of Daring, Persistence, and Survival from the Nation's Most Dangerous ProfessionThe Nation's Most Dangerous Profession.
Leslie Leyland Fields, Editor.
The first collection of dramatic, first-person accounts of commercial fishing written by the men and women who work in the nation's most dangerous occupation. Nineteen diverse fisher-writers, from the famous to the unknown, take the reader swordfish harpooning on the Georges Banks, winter crabbing in the Bering Sea, sea-urchin diving off Maine, herring fishing in Alaska, shark-harpooning off Scotland and points between. Fine writing on commercial fishing, blending the voices of such well-known writers as Peter Mathiessen, Gavin Maxwell, Linda Greenlaw, Spike Walker, and John Cole, together with experienced and emerging writers, many of whom have spent much of their lives on the water.

The Mammoth Book of Life Before the Mast:
Sailors' Eyewitness Stories from the Age of Fighting Ships

Jon E. Lewis, Editor
Firsthand accounts of the real-life naval adventures behind the popular historical sagas of Patrick O'Brian and C. F. Forester. Twenty true-life adventures capture the glory and gore of the great age of naval warfare from the late eighteenth to the early nineteenth century -- the age of the French Revolutionary War, the Napoleonic Wars, and the War of 1812 -- when combat at sea was won by sheer human wit, courage, and endurance. Culled from memoirs, diaries, and letters of celebrated officers as well as sailors, the collection includes accounts of such decisive naval engagements as Admiral Horatio Nelson's on the Battle of the Nile in 1798 or Midshipman Roberts' on the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and also offers glimpses into daily hardships aboard a man-of-war: scurvy, whippings, storms, piracy, press gangs, drudgery, boredom, and cannibalism.

Sweatshops at Sea.
Sweatshops at Sea: Merchant Seamen in the World's First Globalized Industry, from 1812 to the PresentSweatshops at Sea. Merchant Seamen.
Leon Fink
As the main artery of international commerce, merchant shipping was the world's first globalized industry, often serving as a vanguard for issues touching on labor recruiting, the employment relationship, and regulatory enforcement that crossed national borders. Historian Leon Fink examines the evolution of laws and labor relations governing ordinary seamen over the past two centuries. The merchant marine offers an ideal setting for examining the changing regulatory regimes applied to workers by the United States, Great Britain, and, ultimately, an organized world community. Fink explores both how political and economic ends are reflected in maritime labor regulations and how agents of reform--including governments, trade unions, and global standard-setting authorities--grappled with the problems of applying land-based, national principles and regulations of labor discipline and management to the sea-going labor force. With the rise of powerful nation-states in a global marketplace in the nineteenth century, recruitment and regulation of a mercantile labor force emerged as a high priority and as a vexing problem for Western powers. The history of exploitation, reform, and the evolving international governance of sea labor offers a compelling precedent in an age of more universal globalization of production and services.

Life of a Sailor (Seafarers' Voices) Ships, Shipping, Migration, World Seaports.Life At Sea.Life Before the Mast.
Frederick Chamier
Chamier went to sea in 1809 as an officer in the Royal Navy. Like his contemporary, Captain Frederick Marryat, he enjoyed a successful literary career and is remembered for his naval novels. This book, his first, is usually catalogued as fiction, although it is an exact account of his naval experiences, with every individual, ship, and event he described corroborated by his service records. Told with humor and insight, it is considered an authentic account of a young officer's service. From anti-slavery patrols off Africa to punitive raids on the American coast during the War of 1812, Chamier provides details of many lesser-known campaigns. His descriptions of British naval operations in America, which reflected his objection to bringing the war to the civilian population, were highly criticized by his seniors.

The Nagle Journal: A Diary of the Life of Jacob Nagle, Sailor, from the Year 1775 to 1841Diary of the Life of Jacob Nagle, Sailor..
John C. Dann

Great Stories of the Sea & Ships Sea Stories and the history of America.
N. C. Wyeth
Sea Stories and the history of America.More than 50,000 copies of this collection of high-seas adventures are in print. It showcases the fiction of such classic writers as Daniel Defoe, Jules Verne, and Jack London, and the entries also feature historic first-person narratives including Christopher Columbus’s own account of his voyage in 1492. Vivid tales of heroic naval battles and dangerous journeys of exploration to the stories of castaways and smugglers. The variety of works includes “The Raft of Odysseus,” by Homer; Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Mermaid”; “The Specksioneer,” by Elizabeth Gaskell; Washington Irving’s “The Phantom Island”; and “Rounding Cape Horn,” by Herman Melville. Eighteen extraordinary black and white illustrations by Peter Hurd add to the volume's beauty.

The Rebel Raiders
The Astonishing History of the Confederacy's Secret NavyRebel Raiders. James T. deKay.

James T. deKay
During its construction in Liverpool, the ship was known as “Number 290.” It was unleashed as the CSS Alabama, the Confederate gunship that triggered the last great military campaign of the Civil War; yet another infamous example of British political treachery, and the largest retribution settlement ever negotiated by an international tribunal: $15,500,000 in gold paid by Britain to the United States.

This true story of the Anglo-Confederate alliance that led to the creation of a Southern navy illuminates the dramatic and crucial global impact of the American Civil War. Like most things in the War between the States, it started over cotton: Lincoln’s naval blockade prevented the South from exporting their prize commodity to England. In response, the Confederacy came up with a plan to divert the North’s vessels and open the waterways–a plan that would mean covertly building a navy in Britain, a strategy that involved a cast of clandestine characters.

The Project

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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