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News & Tall Tales. 1800s.

Bridge to the Castle.

The President's Message

Thursday, March 8, 1849, Alta California, San Francisco

The President's Message

President James K. Polk.
President James K. Polk

The pressure on our columns render it impossible to publish the whole of the President James K. Polk's Message to the Congress of the United States in December last. We therefore only give our readers the most important portion relative to California.

Upper California, irrespective of the vast mineral wealth recently developed there, holds at this day, in point of value and importance to the rest of the Union, the same relation that Louisiana did, when that fine territory was acquired from France 45 years ago. Extending nearly ten degrees of latitude along the Pacific, and embracing the only safe and commodious harbors on that coast for many hundred miles, with a temperate climate, and an extensive interior of fertile lands, it is scarcely possible to estimate its wealth until it shall be brought under the government of our laws, and its resources fully developed.

From its position, it must command the rich commerce of China, of Asia, of the islands of the Pacific, of Western Mexico, of Central America, the South American States, and of the Russian possessions bordering on that ocean. A great emporium will doubtless speedily arise on the California coast, which may be destined to rival in importance New Orleans itself. The depot of the vast commerce which must exist on the Pacific, will probably be at some point on the bay of San Francisco, and will occupy the same relation to the whole western coast of that ocean, as New Orleans does to the valley of the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. To this depot our numerous whale ships will resort with their cargoes, to trade refit, and obtain supplies. This of itself will largely contribute to build up a city which would soon become the centre of a great and rapidly increasing commerce. Situated on a safe harbor, sufficiently capacious for all the navies as well as the marine of the world and convenient to excellent timber for ship building, owned by the United States, it must become our great western naval depot.

Murderer's Bar. 1850.

Murderer's Bar. 1850.

It was known that mines of the precious metal existed to no considerable extent in California at the time of its acquisition. Recent discoveries render it probable that these mines are more extensive and valuable than was anticipated. The accounts of the abundance of gold in that territory are of such extraordinary character as would scarcely command belief were they not corroborated by the authentic reports of officers in the public service, who have visited the mineral district, and derived, the facts which they detail from personal observation.

Reluctant to credit the reports in general circulation as to the quantity of gold, the officer commanding our forces in California visited the mineral district in July last, for the purpose of obtaining accurate information of the subject. His report to the War Department of the result of his examination and the facts obtained on the spot, is herewith laid before Congress. When he visited the country there were about 4000 persons engaged in collecting gold. There is every reason to believe that the number of persons employed has since been augmented. The explorations already made warrant the belief that the supply is very large, and that gold is found at various places in an extensive district of country.

Information received from officers of the navy and other sources, though not so full and minute, confirm the accounts of the commander of our military force in California. It appears, also, from these reports, that mines of quicksilver are found in the vicinity of the gold region. One of them is now being worked and is believed to be amongst the most productive in the world.

The effects produced by the discovery of these rich mineral deposits, and the success which has attended the labors of those who have resorted to them, have produced a surprising change in the state of affairs in California. Labor commands a most exorbitant price, and all other pursuits but that of searching for the precious metals are abandoned.

Gold Mines of California

Nearly the whole of the male population of the country have gone to the gold district. Ships arriving on the coast are deserted by their crews, and their voyage suspended for want of sailors. Our commanding officer there entertains apprehensions that soldiers cannot be kept in the public service without a large increase of pay. Desertions in his command have become frequent, and he recommends that those who shall withstand the strong temptation, and remain faithful, shall be rewarded.

This abundance of gold, and the all-engrossing pursuit of it, have already caused in California, an unprecedented rise in the prize of the necessaries of life.

That we may the more speedily and fully avail ourselves of the undeveloped wealth of these mines, it is deemed of vast importance that a branch of the mint of the United States be authorized to be established at your present location in California. Among other signal advantages which would result from such an establishment, would be that of raising the gold to its par value in that Territory. A branch mint of the United States at the great commercial depot on the west coast, would convert into our own coin not only the gold derived from our own rich mines, but also the bullion and specie which our commerce may bring from the whole west coast of Central and South America. The west coast of American and the adjacent interior embrace the richest and best mines of Mexico, New Grenada, Central America, Chili and Peru . . .

James K. Polk. A Country of Vast Designs. Robert W. Merry.

The powers in Europe, far removed from the west coast of America by the Atlantic Ocean which intervenes, and by a tedious and dangerous navigation around the southern cape of the continent of America, can never successfully compete with the United States in the rich and extensive commerce which is opened to us at so much less cost by the acquisition of California.

The vast importance and commercial advantages of California have heretofore remained undeveloped by the Government of the country of which it constituted a part. Now that this fine province is a part of our country, all the States of the Union, some more immediately and directly than others, are deeply interested in the speedy development of its wealth and resources. No section of our country is more interested, or will be more benefited then the commercial, navigating, and m manufacturing interests of the Eastern States. Our planting and farming interests in every part of the Union will be greatly benefited by it. As our commerce and navigation are enlarged and extended, our exports of agricultural products and of manufactures will be increased; and in the new markets thus opened, they cannot fail to command remunerating and profitable prices.

The acquisition of California and New Mexico, the settlement of the Oregon boundary, and the annexation of Texas, extending to the Rio Grande, are results, which combined, are of greater consequence, and will add more to the strength and wealth of the nation, than any which have preceded them since the adoption of the constitution. But to effect these great results, not only California, but New Mexico, must be brought under the control of regularly organized governments. The existing condition of California and of that part of New Mexico lying west of the Rio Grande, and without the limits of Texas, imperiously demand that Congress should, as its present session, organize territorial governments over them.

Choice Building lots for Residences.Upon the exchange of the ratifications of the treaty of peace with Mexico on the 13th of May last, the temporary-governments which had been established over New Mexico and California by our military and naval commanders, by virtue of the rights of war, ceased to derive any obligatory force from that source of authority; and having been ceded to the United States, all government and control over them under the authority of Mexico had ceased to exist.

Impressed with the necessity of establishing territorial governments over them, I recommended the subject to the favorable consideration of Congress in my message communicating the ratified treaty of peace on the 6th of July last and invoked their action at that session. Congress adjourned without making any provision for their government. The inhabitants, by the transfer of their country, had become entitled to the benefits of our laws and constitution, and yet were left without any regularly organized government.


Birds Eye of the Village of San Francisco. 1800s.

M & N Hanhart Chromo Lithograph Co.
Established in Mulhouse in 1830 by Michael Hanhart who initially worked with Godefroy Engelmann in London. The firm, established at Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square, was named after his two sons Michael and Nicholas. Artists like Joseph Wolf, Joseph Smit, J. G. Keulemans and others worked for him to produce natural history illustrations that were used in the Ibis (1859-1874), Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1848-1900) and a range of books.

1827. New California. Vandermaelen, Artist.

Map: New California. Vandermaelen, 1827. Sites and townships specific to this map include San Francisco and Monterey. Featured: a narrative, in French, of California's development, at the time. A table on the opposite side shows development of the populations of cities in North America.

Alta California: "From January 1, 1849 to April 11, 1849, there were a great many arrivals by sea, including at least 3,000 seamen who abandoned their ships upon reaching San Francisco.

Americans 62,000
Californians 13,000
Foreigners 18,500
TOTAL 94,000

Gold Dust and Gunsmoke
Tales of Gold Rush Outlaws, Gunfighters, Lawmen, and Vigilantes
Gold rush Outlaws.
John Boessenecker

The Gold Rush Diary of Ramon Gil NavarroNavarro.

Ramon Gil Navarro. Edited and translated by Maria del Carmen Ferreyra and David S. Reher

Prospectors.Ramon Gil Navarro Gold Rush Diary. Gold! Gold! Gold! This seductive mantra, shouted throughout the Americas in 1848-49, convinced thousands of people that California's gold could be had simply by picking it up off the ground.

Ramon Gil Navarro, an Argentinean political exile living in Chile, heard these rumors of a new El Dorado, but he was not so naive as to believe that the gold merely had to be gathered. He understood that mining required extensive capital investment and labor, and along with three other investors he arranged to have 120 workers and a shipload of supplies sent to California.

Trials of Laura Fair.
The Trials of Laura Fair: Sex, Murder, and Insanity in the Victorian West
Carole Haber
On November 3, 1870, on a San Francisco ferry, Laura Fair shot a bullet into the heart of her married lover, A. P. Crittenden. Throughout her two murder trials, Fair's lawyers, supported by expert testimony from physicians, claimed that the shooting was the result of temporary insanity caused by a severely painful menstrual cycle. The first jury disregarded such testimony, choosing instead to focus on Fair's disreput able character. In the second trial, however, an effective defense built on contemporary medical beliefs and gendered stereotypes led to a verdict that shocked Americans across the country. Carole Haber probes changing ideas about morality and immorality, masculinity and femininity, love and marriage, health and disease, and mental illness to show that all these concepts were reinvented in the Victorian West.


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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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