VIPS in California during the 1800s

Jose Yves Limantour

October 5, 2003: EDITOR'S NOTE
Philippe Argouarch, a French author researching Joseph Yves Limantour, pointed out that there are two noted Limantours:

1) The Breton Captain and trader Joseph Yves Limantour (1812-1885), born in Pleomeur near Lorient in France), that the Mexicans called Jose;

2) His son, Jose Yves Limantour (1854-1935), born in Mexico. The younger Limantour was a financial minister, but has nothing to do with the land claim in San Francisco.

Argouarch reports that "Joseph Yves Limantour did wreck his boat on Limantour Beach in 1841 and later claimed land in San Francisco, but his son Jose never came to California."

In 1841, Jose Yves Lemantour (also spelled Limentour and Lemantour in the Daily Alta California) visited San Francisco, met and became a close friend of the noted French author, Duflot de Mofras, who advised M. Limantour to invest in land. For the next six years, the charming Limantour made casual visits to San Francisco, engaged in supplying arms to the Californios, whom he encouraged to resist immigration of the Americanos. In 1847, the United States sloop-of-war Warren, under Commodore Biddle, overhauled Limantour s vessel at San Pedro, but the Frenchman had dumped his cargo of munitions overboard, and he fled back to Mexico, where he remained quiet and peaceful for five years.

In November 1852, Limantour arrived back in San Francisco, his pockets bulging with parchments upon which were the signatures of Governor Micheltorena. In 1851, Congress passed "An Act to Settle Land Claims in California . . . ." Claimants were to present themselves ". . . on the second day of January 1852 before the United State Land Commission in San Francisco assembled, and forthwith and thereupon pray for judgment."

Limantour said he possessed eight claims. They included: "The Laguna de Tache" eleven square leagues; eight square leagues at Cape Mendocino; the vineyard of San Francisco Solano and Cienega de Gabilan of eleven square leagues which includes the city of Stockton. Although he was called an imposter and a fraud, his claims did stick. The Land Commission granted the two most valuable claims: that covering the site of the City of St. Francis of Assisi, also called Yerba Buena, and also known as San Francisco, plus another claiming all the islands in the bay and for 35 miles out to sea. As late as 1900, it was estimated that Limantour s claim was worth more than the combined railroad fortunes of the world.

Like most land swindles in those early days of San Francisco, M. Limantour s case was leaky. One Senor Augustus Jouan, who had been treated poorly by M. Limantour, said that M. Limantour confessed privately that his grants were fabrication. Limantour said he had altered dates and figures, and that another Frenchman, employed as a clerk, knew a third party (Francois Jancomet) who had forged the grants nine years after they were supposed to have been made by the Mexican governor to California. Although Limantour was arrested and indicted for forgery and perjury, his lawyer remained beside him, and it was later proved that all the signatures of the Mexican statesmen were genuine. However, the seals proved to be false, M. Limantour jumped bail, and escaped.

July 14, 1853, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California

Interesting Statement Regarding the Lemantour Claim and Others.

We presume the following historical sketch of the origin of the famous Lemantour claim to be an impartial statement, as it comes from a source entitled to the fullest credit. The writer has long resided in the State and his personal, and therefore positive knowledge of most of the incidents stated.

During the excitement now existing in reference to the supposed claim of Mr. Jose y Lementour, allow me to make a few statements. This gentleman came to California, from San Blas or Mazatlan, in 1842 or 1843, as captain and owner of a small vessel, with a cargo of French goods. These he sold in Monterey, to Gen. Micheltorena, for drafts on the Mexican Custom House at Mazatlan. He was strongly advised by some of the residents at Monterey not to take such drafts, as they would not be paid; but being under the idea that the Mexicans at that time were willing to conciliate the French nation, whose forces had taken Vera Cruz, he took them; These goods were deposited in a store by Micheltorena, and delivered to his officers and creditors under his several orders.

Lementour has been in San Francisco several times, and as late as 1847 or 1848. At this late period, 1853, he produces a pretended title to all San Francisco south, of Pine Street and west of high water mark on the Bay. Also for part of the city north of a line running west from or near North Beach, for the Farallon Islands, for Point Tiburon, within this bay, and for several large tracts of land within the State, containing about one hundred leagues.

Limantour Marsh. Laura Culver

Limantour Beach.

He has now in his possession a pretended grant from Micheltorena signed in February 1843, in the Pueblo de los Angeles, with a plan or plot of his claim, for the southern part of San Francisco, which looks very similar to a part of the present map of the city. Within two months, a young Mexican who was acquainted with Lementour in this country for several years presented himself to Lementour, and informed him that he knew where his original memorial to Micheltorena, with the grant to San Francisco, could be found, in the archives of a certain town, full information of which he was willing to give for a consideration. The interested parties, with their lawyer, departed for Monterey.

In the archives of Monterey, they found in a bundle of old papers the desired document, a State paper, which is probably the first title given by a Governor, and deposited in the archives of a town. This memorial is on stamped paper, (there may be more blanks in existence) and in it Mr. Lemantour represents himself as a captain in the French Marine service , and asks for about ten leagues of land on the southern side of the town of Yerba Buena, in consideration of $40,000 due him by the Mexican government. Also about the same quantity on the northern side of the town; but with great consideration leaves for the government the Old Fort, or Castle; for the Padre the Mission of Dolores, and for the inhabitants of Yerba Buena ten or twenty streets.

The memorial is dated January 1843, granted in February following at the Pueblo de los Angeles. This document might appear full and complete to persons not acquainted with the parties, and the former style of making public documents, and doing business in this country. The conclusion drawn by persons living in Monterey many years, and intimate with Micheltoresa, and his official acts would be, that he rarely or never wrote out with his own hand a grant of land, but had them written by others, and signed his name to them. The title in question is written in his own hand. The Governor never placed State papers in the archives of the Town of Monterey, and had nothing to do with its archives. His office and the Alcade s were in different places. The secretaries or clerks and the duties of each were separate and distinct from each other. The bundle of papers in which the grant is said to have been found has been handled and examined by acres perhaps hundreds of persons who have looked over the town archives of Monterey within the last ten years. The employees of the office (including the person who found the lost documents), both Californians and Americans, may have a hundred times examined that bundle of documents, but have seen nothing of Lemantour s grant very recently when lo! and behold! Just in the nick of time, the very necessary document "turned up" in that bundle of papers. The matter seems well arranged, but will not bear investigation, and should not cause any trouble to parties interested.

The claim for two hundred varas square, below Montgomery, and between Washington and Sacramento streets, brought forward by Jose Antonio Chaves, who was since 1884 a clerk under Alcades and Collectors of the Custom House in California, is said to be of an older date than Mr. Lemantour s claim. Chaves, from his revolutionary propensities, was of late years often a political prisoner, which prevented his attending to his private affairs. Lemantour was a trader and speculator between Mazatlan and San Francisco and noticed from year to year the improvements of this city. One person who was interested in Chaves' claim purchased from him one-fourth of the whole for himself and others for $5,000 (under the idea that it would cost more money to disprove the pretended title). The purchaser is to pay a larger sum when Chaves makes valid his claim, to the exclusion of all others, and gives full covenants. This of course places the seller and purchaser hereafter in an antagonistic position. Neither the political propensities of the Mexican, nor the trading propensities of the Frenchman of California, will find any special act in the treaty to favor their absence or claim at this late date. Unless such are at once put down, the present age will never see this last one. We understand that some of the possessors of lots under titles from the authorities of San Francisco intend to take immediate and efficient measures to investigate the gigantic and pretended titles now brought to their notice.

Limantour s claim was among many attempts to steal land. Squatters by the thousands, supported by the press, the state legislatures and shrewd lawyers, grabbed valuable tracts. Grantees under Mexican rule were methodically robbed of their rights. Limantour helped set the stage for the "Parsons Bulkhead Monopoly," which was led by a group of prominent San Francisco wharf owners who proposed to build a sea wall, a "bulkhead," in exchange for exclusive rights to build and operate all wharves on the waterfront " . . . the entire and exclusive right . . . in the city limits . . . forever." Parsons and associates "Dock and Wharf Company", for an investment of $4 million, would receive an annual income of $450,000, and pay the City $35,500, but escape city and county taxes of 2 percent ($80,000 per year at that time). They would operate warehouses, drays, tugboats, dredging machines, and all manner of vehicles and conveyances, the freedom from license fees, taxation, and other charges. This bulkhead scheme was the grandest monopoly that had ever been dreamed up.


Levi Parsons and associates said the City could not and the State should and would not develop San Francisco s waterfront. He said the only way this could be accomplished was for private interests to take over and waged a four-year-long battle. San Franciscans felt the scheme was a gigantic swindle, however the bill passed the Senate on April 4, 1860, went through the Assembly, and was only stopped because Governor Downey studied the bill:

"After giving this bill the most careful consideration in all its details, I am led to the irresistible conclusion that its provisions are not only in conflict with the Constitution and the principles of natural justice, but that the measure, as a whole, is calculated to work irreparable injury to our commerce, internal and external, of which San Francisco is, and must ever remain, the metropolis . . . no greater injury could be inflicted upon the State than to expose her commerce to the domination of such an establishment" as the San Francisco Dock and Wharf Company, Parsons, Felton, et al.

Parsons and cronies made a desperate attempt to get the Senate to override the veto, but this failed.

The second Limantour was born in 1854 in Mexico City and died 1935 in Paris and it seems that he is the son of the above-mentioned gentlemen. He is described as "the son of a French migr and a renowned scholar and jurist."

Under the financial leadership of Limantour, Mexico changed from a silver to the gold standard and structured tariffs and duties to help the country prosper. Limantour is also credited with eliminating lower levels of government bureaucracy and graft. finance minister in the second government of Porfirio D az, economist and lawyer. Educated at the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria and the Escuela Nacional de Jurisprudencia, from which he received his law degree in 1875. Professor of political economics at the Escuela Superior de Comercio (1876) and of international law at the Escuela Nacional de Jurisprudencia (1876-1878). Active in economic development and public works. Elected president of the Congreso de la Union on April 1, 1892.

On May 27, 1892, named Oficial Mayor, or Subsecretario, of Hacienda under Mat as Romero. Upon the resignation of Romero in February 1893, Limantour became acting head of the ministry. He was confirmed as Ministro de Hacienda on May 9, 1893. Among his achievements were refinancing of the foreign debt, stabilization of the peso, and monetary reform. On May 25, 1911, Limantour resigned his office and left for Paris, where he lived until his death in 1935.


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