Home ° 2017


NORTHERN CALIFORNIA: ° Alameda: ° Berkeley ° Oakland
Contra Costa County: ° Crockett, ° Martinez ° Port Costa
Marin County: ° Point Reyes, ° San Rafael (China Camp), ° Sausalito, ° Tiburon
° Mendocino ° Sacramento
San Francisco (City and County)
Solano: ° Benicia (St. Paul's Church), ° VallejoMare Island
Sonoma: ° Petaluma ° Fort Ross
CENTRAL & SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: ° Long Beach ° Los Angeles ° Monterey County ° San Diego County ° Santa Barbara ° Santa Monica ° The Channel Islands

California's Coast

Before the invasion from European maritime nations (Portugal, Spain, Great Britain, California had been inhabited and visited by many different people for more than ten thousand years. Most scientists believe that the first significant groups of people came from Asia, through today's Bering Strait area, then through what is now Alaska, and from there spread throughout North America and to South America.

Native Americans. California.Each new group brought their own system of values, all of which contributed to the changing environment and future of California.

San Francisco Bay had provided sheltered waters to Native Americans in reed canoes, and whalers, fur traders and explorers for centuries before the rush of gold seekers began arriving on ships from around the world.


Beginning with the mid-1800s, wharves along San Francisco's waterfront provided the richest source of income in California due to the discovery of gold in Northern California. From 1849 on, San Francisco's water commerce increased year after year, into the early 1900s.

Merchants were the money-makers in the early days, far exceeding the fortune (or misfortunes) experienced by gold miners.

Entrance to San Francisco Bay. 1859.
U.S. Coast Survey.

Entrance to San Francisco Bay. 1859.

The characters and their schemes were well known and well publicized. Land-grabbing was the fashion and many a man laid claim to waterfront land. San Francisco's muddy shoreline, which originally went for $50 a lot shortly reached $1 million.

Each street ended in a wharf, and the owner of said wharf exacted huge tolls from San Francisco Wharfs.

Wharfage alone cost medium-sized ships $100 a day and larger ships $200. By the Fall of 1850, about six thousand feet of pier space, extending into the bay like the fingers of two large hands and costing about one million dollars, had been constructed.

The wharves were crowded from morning through night with drays, wagons, horses, sailors, miners, and merchants. Some wharves were developed to such an extent that by 1851-52, they were small cities of stores, shops, and storeships lining the waterfront.

San Francisco. 1800s.

San Francisco also had its share of unsavory characters, so much so that in 1851 the first Vigilance Committee was established. It was not well-organized and by 1856, another Committee was established in the style of a military organization. In addition to a police force, it had a "navy" under the command of Captain Edgar Wakeman, a character in his own right. His watchful eye, and willingness to act, earned him the title "Emperor of the Port."

The National Maritime Historical Park in San Francisco has brought this wonderful era to life on Hyde Street Pier and at their annual Festival of the Sea, held in fall of each year.

Limantour and The Battle of the "Bulkhead"

San Francisco Call, October 4, 1894


Grave Charges Against Steamboat Men.
A Big Price Paid for the Drug at Honolulu-
A Remnant of the Emerald Gang at Work.

When the trial of the Emerald smugglers closed a few months ago the local representatives of the Government, the District Attorney, the Special Agent of the Treasury and the Collector of the port rejoiced and were exceedingly glad, for they believed that they had broken up one of the strongest rings that ever existed on this coast.

But the heavy burden of punishment laid upon the unhappy trio now in San Quentin did not daunt their confederates in crime. While the prisoners were before the bar battling for liberty, their associates were at work in this city, in Victoria and in Honolulu buying, smuggling and selling the drug.

Vessels as fleet as the Emerald were passing through the Golden Gate at night bearing a forbidden cargo to be sold in Chinatown or shipped to the Hawaiian Islands.

The Collector of the Port was not long in ignorance of the fact that the remnant of the ring was working as hard as ever. The manufacture and exportation of opium at Victoria did not cease. The revenue officers still found the drug in Chinatown and news came from Honolulu that it was being sold there to the victims of the pipe and syringes.

The Hawaiian laws absolutely prohibit the importation and sale of opium, yet it is a well known fact it can be procured with little difficulty by all who want it. The opium cooked in California and known here as domestic opium costs in this city about $4 a pound. It sells in the Hawaiian republic at $18 a pound.

The opium made in Victoria is sold in Honolulu for $24 a pound and the Simon pure article from, Hong Kong sells for $28 a pound. Therefore it pays to smuggle opium into the islands, always provided that the smuggler is not caught.

Opium in Hawaii.
Chinese Merchant Weighing Opium, 1880s

passengers, drays, wagons and all vessels, from the ships to the lighters who help unload the cargo. The cargo was also taxed. A toll was put on anything that could be weighed or measured.

The drug that is taken from Victoria to Honolulu first comes to this city and here placed on a vessel bound to Honolulu, where it falls into the hands of the ring, who find away to sell it to the natives.

Collector Wise believes, and has in his possession facts that warrant his belief, that the opium is taken from this city to the Islands on one of the steamers, and believes that trusted employes of the steamship company are members of of or are in the employ of the ring.

The Collector, convinced that the employes of the company are smuggling, but being unable to procure the proper kind of evidence against them, wrote to the agent of the company on Monday stating the facts in his possession, and urging the removal of suspects. He stated last night that he had received no reply to the letter, and that he did not care to discuss the matter.

September 11, 1897, Mountain Democrat, Placerville, California, USA


San Francisco 1882. Bank of California, Baldwin Hotel, Stock Exchange, Lotta Fountain.

The Forum Club, a literary organization of this city, of which all the members are of the fair sex, have installed themselves right in the heart of clubdom. In other words, it is in the vicinity of the Bohemian Club and the Press Club. The rooms, three in number, are elegantly furnished. The reception room is in green and oak with easy chairs, couches, innumerable fancy pillows, soft and inviting as down can make them; and there are dainty writing desks, furnished with the necessary articles, and tables covered with current literature. It is well-lighted, and is a most delightful place to dream in and weave endless beautiful thoughts into word-paintings. Of course, being a woman's club, there are any amount of palms and beautiful plants to add to the attractiveness of their lovely quarters. The tea-room is in blue, even to the rare old china, but it does not necessarily follow that the members belong to that old school known as "blue-stockings. " Here a woman is in charge and stands ever ready to furnish the members with a cup of refreshing tea and light refreshments. The dressing-room is provided with a couch and a dressing table supplied with all the necessary toilet articles. A large hall opens out of the reception-room, which is to be used for lectures and entertainments. The members of the Forum have gained their heart's desire and now have ideal club quarters, just what they have been longing for for some time past.

May 27, 1899, Sausalito News, Sausalito, California, U.S.A.


Oriental Merchants at Work on the Scheme.

Vancouver, B. C. Some of the most influential Oriental merchants are now working on a scheme which is simply gigantic in its scope and one which undoubtedly will attract attention in all parts of the American continent. It is to form companies in every city of consequence in the United States, Canada and Australia, which will attempt to oontrol Chinese capital in order to promote and control Oriental industries.

When Kang, the Chinese reformer, was in Vancouver, he outlined the scheme to a number of prominent Chinese and his ideas were quickly acted upon. Interpreter Cum Yow, who is in the scheme, said in regard to it:

"We have no doubts about its success. Our plan is to give the Chinese a chance to invest their money in this country and to further all Chinese industries. There are at present 5,000,000 Chinese in Canada, Australia and the United States, and they will all, we think, go into the scheme. As soon as our company is formed there we will send out our agents and form companies in every city of any size in Canada, the United States and Australia. We expect to issue altogether about $60,000,000 worth of stock. With the formation of the companies accomplished and the stock issued they will be brought under one management with headquarters possibly in Vancouver. Then a Banking institution will be formed and investments in Chinese Industries will be made on an immense scale. Shares of the immense trust will sell at $1 each, and already several thousand dollars' worth have been bought here by men who are making only $1 a day."

The promoters, who are nearly all Wealthy men, are: Yip Sang, Hip Tuck Lung, Charlie Yip Yen, Sum Kee, Dr. Lui, Lee Yuen and W. A. Cum Yow.

Finding gold in a California stream.
finding gold in a stream 
California Gold Rush

Kang, the Chinese reformer and refugee, who originated the scheme, is said to have invented a quarter of a million in it.

Chinatown is much excited over the project and every Celestial in the city is said to be eager to purchase stock. The whole concern is simply an immense trust, although the promoters are loth to acknowledge it.

Operations of tlm trust will not be confined to Chinese Industries, as it proposed to build steamers to run to China and possibly construct a railway line in Mexico.

The Golden Crucible:
An Introduction to the History of American California: 1850-1905

Blake Ross

First Prize Essay James D. Phelan Historical Essay Contest held under the auspices of the San Francisco Branch, League of American Pen Women. From the Introduction: The Golden Crucible is well named, because, first of all, in the minds of the people, California is regarded as the Golden State. It was not the actual discovery by Cabrillo that awakened wonder, but the discovery of gold by Marshall.

Elegant dining room at the Sheraton Palace HotelDining at the Palace Hotel, San Francisco.

The Palace Hotel, built in 1875, envisioned by William Chapman Ralston and William Sharon, was reputedly the largest, most luxurious and costly hotel in the world. The San Francisco Palace Hotel was designed as the American counterpart to the grand hotels of Europe. On October 2, 1875, the Palace Hotel officially opened.

Originally built by architect John P. Gaynor, the majestic San Francisco historic building hailed 7,000 windows, 14-foot high ceilings and an unprecedented opulence. Today's Garden Court was conceived of as the hotel's carriage entrance - a gateway to the splendors and remarkable innovations within. The hydraulic elevators - an engineering marvel for the time - were dubbed "rising rooms." In each of the lavish guest rooms, an electronic call button allowed guests to "ring" for anything they desired and air conditioning was a standard feature.

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

The Project

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



Merchant Shipping

Merchant Shipping.Merchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.  
History of Merchant Shipping and Ancient CommerceMerchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.
W. S. Lindsay

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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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