News & Tall Tales. 1800s.

San Francisco Gold Rush 1849.

The Irish Americans

Immigration. Rincon Point from Rincon Hill.

From the 1850s, large, well-appointed houses were built on the slopes of San Francisco's hills, including Rincon Hill, a highpoint overloking the Gold Rush settlement. Views were over the bay, but also over the industries of Tar Flat and the unruly settlement spreading south of Market Street, which included predominantly Irish immigrants. Only a back fence might separate the wealthy and the working class.

October 15, 1853, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California

The Irish Patriot, John Mitchel.

The San Francisco Herald of Thursday contains interesting particulars of the biography of the Irish patriot and refugee, John Mitchell. This gallant son of the Emerald Isle is now a dweller on soil uncontaminated by the oppression; servitude and worse than Egyptian bondage under which he, with millions of his countrymen, have been suffering all their lives long. It is with pleasure that we now enumerate him among those who are in reality enjoying the blessings of civil and religious freedom.

John Mitchel, the Irish Exile, whose escape from Van Diemen's Land, is noticed elsewhere, arrived yesterday afternoon in this port, accompanied by his wife and children, and is now lodging at Jones' Hotel. No words of ours can express the delight with which we welcome this gallant and sterling patriot to the shores of California. Since Robert Emmet offered up his pure life on the scaffold, in vindication of his country's rights, no such man as John Mitchell has ever flung himself into the breach, in defence of Irish Independence.

The Irish Exiles of 1848 have never, as is well known, admitted the validity of their pretended trials and convictions before juries packed by the English Government. They hold themselves captives in the hands of pirates, and have no scruple in escaping out of the power of their enemies, whenever they can do so, without violating their parole of honor, an obligation which must be observed even with pirates. The last prisoner who has escaped their clutches, and fled for refuge under the American flag, is John Mitchel, who arrived last evening, as we have stated, accompanied by his wife and children, they having, about two years ago, followed him to his place of bondage. The circumstances of his escape are briefly these:

Mr. P. J. Smyth, of New York, (himself a rebel of 1848) went to Van Dieman's Land, with the express mission to rescue some one or more of the Irish State Prisoners. Nothing could have been easier than to escape, if they could have thought of doing so clandestinely, and without regard to their promise; but in order to discharge thonselves of that obligation, they felt it necessary to formally withdraw their parole before the proper authority, and present themselves to be taken into custody. The parole is to the effect that they would not escape from the colony so long as they held a "ticket of leave," which gave them a species of liberty, within a certain designated police district; but this "ticket of leave" is a thing which may at any time be taken away by the convict authorities, or resigned by the prisoners.

Now, while Mr. Smyth was in Van Dieman's Land, and before any movement whatever was made by any of the prisoners, the local government, by means of some of their eaves-dropping detectives, had learned his real views, and Mr. Smyth was actually arrested, held in custody for three days, and most ignoniiniously abused, under a warrant directed against John Mitchel. Mr. Smyth, in short, was taken for Mr. Mitchel, under the false and insolent assumption that Mr. Mitchel was " absconding," whilst he was all the time living quietly at his cottage in Bothwell, and was under parole of honor not to abscond. This was a gross outrage on Mr. Smyth, and an outrage hardly less gross on Mr. Mitchel. He now at length resolved to avail himself of Mr Smyth's offers of assistance, and leave the Island, not clandestinely, but openly. Accordingly, be wrote and despatched the following note to the Lieut. Governor, Sir Wm. Denison.

Bothwell, 8th June, 1833 
"Sir: I hereby resign the 'comparative liberty' called 'ticket of leave, and revoke my parole of honor. I shall forthwith present myself before the police magistrate, of Bothwell, at his police office, show him this letter, and. offer myself to be taken into custody. I am, sir, your obedient servant, John Mitchel."

The next day, the 9th of June, Mr. Mitchel and Mr. Smyth rode in together to the township of Bothwell, went to the police office door, dismounted und walked in. They found the magistrate in bis room. The police clerk was with him; a constable was in the adjoining room, and another constable was, as usual, on guard at the door. The police barrack and watch house stand opposite. Arrived in the magistrate's room, Mr. Mitchel handed him an open ccpy of the above note, and requested him to read it. The magistrate cast his eye over it a moment, and then looked up to Mr. Mitchel, who deliberately desired him to observe the purport of that note, and took the trouble of twice explaining to him that the parole was at an end, and that he had come to be taken into custody. As the official seemed still either bewildered or frightened, the two gentlemen put on their hats; Mr. Mitchel wished the magistrate a good morning, and they left the office. Immediately, when they turned their backs, the magistrate made a loud uproar, and he and .some of the constables rushed out, calling on them to stop, and commanding every one to stop them. The constable on guard, however, had his hands occupied in holding two hordes; other inhabitants of the town looked on laughing, and well pleased; and, in short, the two fugitives mounted their horses and rode off.

They found no necessity to use, or even to exhibit arms, though both were well armed. After they left Bothwell, however, the true difficulty commenced. Mr. Smyth changed horses and coats with Mr. Mitchel, and then they parted and rode different ways through the forest. Bothwell is the central police district of the Island, and between it and the sea extend several lines of police stations, to all of which intelligence was instantly conveyed by mounted express constables. Mr. Mitchel remained six weeks, after that day, in the Island, without being able to get on board a ship, though one was immediately placed at his service by a patriotic ship owner of Sydney. After many hundred miles riding, and in several disguises, he at length got off under an assumed name, in a British vessel, which, at Tahiti, was fortunately overtaken by the American bark Julia Ann, bearing his wife and family, under Smyth's escort, to San Francisco. At Tahiti Mr. Mitchel was transhipped, and now stands free on American soil.

July 15, 1860, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

Catholic Hospital on Rincon Point.

The Sisters of Mercy advertise for proposals for the mason's and carpenter's work required for the erection of a Hospital at the corner of First and Bryant streets, Rincon Point. The necessary grading is nearly completed, and an extensive kiln has been constructed on the lot, which will furnish eight hundred thousand brick. For pure and salubrious air, the location cannot be surpassed. It commands an excellent view of the bay, and will be within a block or two of its waters. In connection with the institution it is intended to erect a Magdalen Asylum, where the outcast femalecan find a refuge and means of reformation. The building when completed will be quite extensive. Monitor.

August 28, 1861, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California



Bridget Dokay, a prepossessing lrish girl, about sixteen years old, was brought before Justice Osborn yesterday morning, on charge of dressing in man's attire. The prisoner, it appears, was arrested by one of the Fourth precinct police, while engaged in a row in a drinking saloon in Water street. She was dressed in sailor's clothes, and was in company with a number of "Jack tars" when the officer took her into custody. When brought to the station house she related her history to the police in such a clear, straightforward manner that the sympathies of all present were soon enlisted in her behalf. Bridget claimed to be a native of the county Clare, Ireland, and stated that she had been following the sea for the last three years. At the age of thirteen years she became enamored of a lad named Kelly, and the pair resolved to get married. The parents of the children, hearing how matters stood, resolved to separate the youthful lovers, and it was arranged that young Kelly should be sent to sea. Accordingly, with $190 as an outfit, he started for Liverpool, and in a few days afterwards he was on his way to New York in a first class packet. But

"Love Laughs at Locksmiths"

Bridget, after pining a week or bo in sorrow, determined to follow her sweetheart and seek him in the New World. Escaping from her father's roof one night, she set out on her rugged and uncertain journey. At Dublin she procured a suit of sailor's garments from a second hand clothes dealer, and without more ado crossed over to Liverpool and engaged herself as a cabin boy on board a ship bound for New York. So well did she conceal her sex that no one on board suspected her real character.

On her arrival in this city she assumed the name of Edward Johnson, and, in common with the other sailors, put up at a well known boarding house in Cherry street. After roaming about New York for several weeks in search of her lover, she determined to go back to Liverpool and see if she could hear anything of him there. Still she was unsuccessful in her efforts, and at last she was reluctantly compelled to give up the search. Having acquired a taste for the sea, she made several voyages to France and Holland, and finally started for New York again in the ship Resolute. All this time she was completely successful in disguising her sex, and was quite a favorite with the officers and sailors. Her quiet, modest demeanor won for her the respect of the Captain, at whose request she made no less than three voyages. On the last trip from Liverpool she was promoted to tbe position of an ordinary seaman, and it was remarked that she performed her arduous duties with unusual alacrity and promptitude. The Captain said she was a promising young man, and kindly hinted that she might expect an officer's berth. But "man proposes and God disposes."

Bridget had kept her secret inviolate for three long years, and was to all appearance a rising young man in her profession, and without doubt would have received a mate's appointment before she had accomplished many more voyages. In an evil hour, however, she made an unfortunate sally into Water street, where she was invited to treat the crowd. Sailor-like, she complied with the request, and the bottle passed merrily around. Soon one of her companions became boisterous, and insisted that they should have another round of drinks. But Bridget was averse to drinking any more, and rose as if to leave the company, when the drunken sailor caught her around the waist and swore she should not depart. In the struggle which followed the girl unveiled her sex, and the discovery attracted a large crowd, in front of the door. One of the Fourth precinct police came along, and ascertaining what was the matter, arrested poor Bridget.

Before Justice Osborn, the prisoner repeated the story of her life at sea, and with a downcast, modest air, related her adventures substantially as we have already narrated them. The magistrate and spectators heard her story with evident sympathy, and it was resolved to be as lenient with her as possible. The attention of Miss Foster, the matron of the city prison, was called to the case of the romantic Bridget, and in a brief space of time the fair prisoner was arrayed in a suit of woman's clothes, and sent to prison for safe keeping. She seemed quite pleased at the change in her position, and says she will be contented to remain under Miss Foster's care until some suitable employment can be procured for her. The prisoner is a robust hearty looking girl, converses quite intelligently upon all ordinary subjects, and is quite au fait in relation to maritime matters. New York Herald, August 10th.

January 12, 1887, Daily Alta California, San Francisco


Sketch of the Society-Probable Causes for Disincorporation.

Shame and Triumph of the Irish in the English-Speaking World.

The Irish-American Benevolent Society was organized in May, 1860, and two years afterward in August 1862 filed articles of incorporation, with T. Mulcahy, J. H. Dillon, E. Kelly, Charles O'Neill, T. Campion, M. O'Connell, M. Corcoran, J. M. Ahern and J. L. Hayden as a Board of Trustees and Directors.

As its name implies, the Irish-American Benevolent Society had for its objects the proper care of its sick and the interment of deceased members. The qualification necessary to an applicant for membership was that he should be of Irish descent on either his father's or mother's side. In the case of a life member, however, the qualification was limited to Irish descent, going no further back than the parents.

With the capital at their command the society bought the present Irish-American Hall, which cost $45,000, in which they have been accustomed to hold their regular meetings, while deriving a nice sum from the other halls, which are let to labor organizations and other societies.

At one time, it is said, the membership of the society was 400. Since then, however, the membership has gradually dwindled away, until at present it only stands at 109.

Sometime ago, owing, it is said, to bad management, a mortgage on the hall for $4,000 was incurred. This caused much disaffection among the the members, which reached a climax a short time back, when a meeting was called and the proposition made that the society should disincorporate and divide equally the proceeds of the sale of the property.

On the first night an endeavor to get a two-thirds vote deemed necessary by the movers of this scheme was a failure. A second meeting was held the next night and 75 votes were Given in favor of the proposition. The matter was then put into an attorney's hands, papers filed in the Superior Court and the case set for hearing on January 14, 1887.

Immigration.Irish Immigration.
An Irish farmer
contemplating a new life in America

In the meantime, however, the opposers of disincorporation have formed a semi-organization, and deciding to contest the matter in Court have employed a lawyer for that purpose. They say that the society was incorporated for an indefinite period and cannot legally be disincorporated by a two-thirds vote. They say that the mortgage of $4,000 was not a sign of the failure of the society to pay expenses but of bad management, for during the past year $1,100 of that debt has been paid off. As to the charge made by the other section, that the number of sick was a great drain on the treasury, they insist that this was the primary object for which the society was organized. Another reason why they do not wish the break-up of the society is that each member, independent of the length of time he has been a member, will receive an equal share of the proceeds.

There seems to be a feeling that each member should receive a portion of the proceeds of the sale of the property in proportion to his term of membership. If this was conceded it is possible that there would be but little opposition to the scheme.

Last night an informal meeting of the opposition was held at Irish-American Hall, when the matter was fully discussed, and it was settled that the fight should be made in Court. It is thought that $30,000 could be realized by the sale of the society's property, which will give each member about $250.

January 4, 1888, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California


The Society Wants to Sell the Property and Divide the Proceeds.

Immigration.Irish Emigrants.
Irish Emigrants on board a 
steamship taking them to a new life in America.

The Irish-American Benevolent Society has made application to the Superior Court asking permission to sell its real estate on the northwesterly corner of Howard street and Howard court, and known as lrish-American Hall. The application alleges that there is a mortgage of $2000 on the property; -that the Society formerly had 550 members, and now has about 124; that the charge from the property, monthly dues from members and money derived from all sources is not sufficient to pay the obligations of the Society, which is becoming more and more in debt. It is therefore the desire and unanimous wish of the Association that the property be sold as soon as possible, the debts of the corporation paid and the balance divided among the members thereof. This arrangement will give the present members something over $2000 apiece.

January 31, 1890, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California

A Society Disincorporates.

Action has been taken by the members of the Irish-American Benevolent Association to disincorporate, and to divide all the funds belonging to the organization, amounting to upward of $32,000, among the members. At a meeting held on Wednesday evening it was also resolved that the association, although disincorporated, continue its existence as a benevolent society.

Irish California, Patrick J. Dowling.Irish Californians: Historic, Benevolent, RomanticIrish California
Patrick J. Dowling
a collection of brief biographies of Irish immigrants that he found admirable. Published when Patrick was 94, this book contains Irish heroes, entrepreneurs, and colorful characters from Timothy Murphy, who came to California before the American conquest, to Thomas Sweeny, who tried to invade Canada, to Eleanor Martin, a doyenne of San Francisco high society.

The Birth of the Fenian Movement: American Diary, Brooklyn 1859
Fenian Movement.
Birth of the Fenian Movment.Birth of the Fenian Movement.(Classics of Irish History)
James Stephens
American Diary uncovers the difficulties facing the movement's founders, and offers insight into mid nineteenth-century American life and the Irish-American community. It is also one of Stephens's scarce full-length pieces and one of the best written, although it has not previously been published in its entirety. James Stephens (1825-1901), born in Kilkenny, founded the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Irish branch of the Fenian movement, in 1858.

Irish Families on the California TrailIrish Families on the California Trail.
Irish Families on the California Trail.Irish on the California Trail.Michael C. O'Laughlin
An amazing story that includes the Mexican Regime; the Gold rush days; and statehood. The Irish and Irish-Americans came from New York, Boston, Canada, Missouri, and the south. Many rode the California and Oregon Trail by land. Some sailed 14,000 miles around Cape Horn, thousands came via Panama. They had reached the end of the rainbow. The first Irishman is found in the 1700's under the Mexican regime. Governors; rogues; 49rs; pioneers; Mormons and millionaires. The untold story of the Irish in the Donner Party; the two early Murphy Families; Lola Montez; and Brannan the Irish Morman who began the first newspaper in San Francisco before the gold rush..

Ridgeway.Fenian Movement.
Ridgeway: The American Fenian Invasion and the 1866 Battle that Made Canada
Padraig O Concubhair
A study of the Fenian Rising, its background, and the foundation of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. It examines the 1867 Rising in detail, providing descriptions of the battles, the British response, and the civilian casualties that resulted. Padraig O Concubhair is a member of the Clogher Historical Society, former President, and current Vice-President of the Kerry Historical and Archaeological Society. Vividly illustrated, the research is careful and thorough. -Irish American News.

The Naval Order of the United States has a history dating from 1890. Membership includes a wide range of individuals, many with highly distinguished career paths.

The San Francisco Commandery meets the first Monday of each month at the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club in San Francisco, California and holds two formal dinners each year.

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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