History of California
and Mission Days in Alta California," by Guadalupe Vallejo
in California Before the Gold Discovery,"
Buena Before the Gold Rush
- Gen. Fremont and the Bear Flag Revolt
Montgomery Ends Indian Slavery
Bartlett Changes Name of
Yerba Buena to San
Municipal Elections Held in San Francisco
THEN HAD NINETY-SIX VOTERS
Years Ago There Were
fifty Dwellings on Site of Metropolis.
ROBERT E. COWAN.
year 1846 for San Francisco was both memorable and eventful. On July 8th
of that year the squalid little village then known as Yerba Buena passed
forever from Mexican to American rules. At the time of the raising of the
American flag at Portsmouth square, or the Plaza, as it was called by its
early inhabitants, the population of the town was about 200, and the number
of dwellings barely fifty. Following close upon the raising of the flag
another historical event took place. It was of nearly equal importance,
for by it the American system of town and future local government was imposed
upon the people of the newly acquired Mexican territory. This was the first
election held under American rule.
the raising of the flag in Yerba Buena, the new government, under Commodore
John D. Sloat, moved forward without friction. In order to provide temporary
officers until the people of the little hamlet should proceed regularly
to an election, on August 14, 1846, Lieutenant Washington A. Bartlett was
appointed Alcalde. He belonged to a prominent family in New York city,
one of whom was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Lieutenant
Bartlett had been appointed to the Navy by President Jackson, had seen
considerable service, was well read in legal as well as naval matters,
and above all, spoke the Spanish language fluently. So far as any official
or other record shows, he appointed Erasmus A. Burnham to serve as Sheriff
and chief constable of the jurisdiction of San Francisco in Yerba Buena.
first municipal election held in this city took place on Tuesday, September
15, 1846. The polls were opened at the Plaza at 11 A.M. and were closed
at 2 P.M. The Custom-house, known as the "Old Adobe," was used for the
election booth. The following account appeared in volume 1, No. 7 of the
Californian, published at Monterey, Saturday, September 26, 1846, there
being no paper published in Yerba Buena:
Francisco district--Held at Yerba Buena, September 15, 1846, for municipal
officers. All the voters of the district assembled at Yerba Buena, agreeable
to proclamation. W.A. Bartlett, Esq., as Alcalde under John B. Montgomery,
Commander Northern district of Upper California, presided at the election.
Previous to the opening of the polls the people were requested to nominate
and select four gentlemen as inspectors of election. Don Francisco de Haro,
Don Francisco Guerrero, W.H. Davis and Frank Ward, Esqs., were elected
viva voce, and duly sworn in by the presiding officer. Total number of
votes polled were ninety-six."
that little community every man's mental caliber, social position and business
capacity was known absolutely, and not only in the village, but down the
coast as far as San Diego. It was a genuine go-as-you-please affair, and
the result was accepted with universal satisfaction by the whole community.
The question of salaries did not enter into any of the calculations, for
in those flush days a foreign merchant or a native stock raiser could make
more money on a single venture than the united salaries of every officer
in the municipality would amount to in five years. The question of nationality
did not yet appear to cut much of a figure, either. For the leading office,
two Americans and one Englishman were the only candidates. These were Washington
A. Bartlett, Robert T. Ridley and John Henry Brown. For the next position
the contest lay chiefly between the prominent native families of De Haro
and Noe. Among the unsuccessful candidates for this latter office was John
Sullivan, later one of the well known men of San Francisco. For Treasurer,
a Scotchman and a German had the only struggle, in which the former won.
For Sindico or Collector of Taxes, a Dane easily captured the price from
an English competitor. In fact, he received the largest number of votes
cast for any single candidate on that day.
the poll was announced, says the Californian, the inspectors in making
their returns to the commander of the district, addressed a letter to him
that Mr. Bartlett had received the popular votes of the district to be
continued in office, at least for the present, and in case there was any
difficulty in his remaining in the performance of his duties the office
of civil magistrate for the district was still intact, and they requested
that it be provided for by the said commander of the district. This precaution
was taken in case any question should arise as to the qualification of
Mr. Bartlett, owing to his being also an office of the United States Navy.
It was never disputed, however, during the whole term of his office.
idea of the peculiar fitness of Alcalde Bartlett may have gained from two
or three events which arose during his brief term of office. Once in the
winter months of 1846 a combination of speculators was formed to corner
bread stuffs and thus compel the needy poor to pay famine prices. The Alcalde
immediately secured control quantity of flour and bound his agent, the
importer, to deliver it only in single barrels, and at a fixed low price so any
comer until each family should be supplied.
second occasion for his prompt action arose when he first received the
terrible news of the disaster to the Donner
party. The people were called together; Bartlett collected as much
provisions and clothing as possible, raised money rapidly and lost not
a moment in sending forward supplies to relieve the wretched survivors.
his appointment for some years one of the most powerful mercantile houses
on this Coast was the Hudson Bay Company, which kept a branch in Yerba
Buena. So long as the country was under Mexican rule no public or private
interest was able to stand against this powerful corporation, backed as
it was by the whole power of the home Government. After Alcalde Bartlett
had given this little community some evidence of his capacity for leadership
a civil suit was brought against the Hudson Bay company. The plaintiff
for many years had tried to obtain some relief in Mexican courts, but no
Judge was found who dared to oppose the British influence. At last he obtained
a hearing in court under the new American rule. A jury was promptly summoned,
evidence was secured, the verdict went for the plaintiff, was approved
by Bartlett, and the defendant corporation paid the money to prevent the
issuance of execution papers.
portrait of Bartlett shows him to be a gallant-looking man of his period.
He must not be confused with the Washington Bartlett of a later date, sometime
Mayor of San Francisco and subsequently Governor of California, during
which term of office his death occurred. After leaving the Coast about
1850 the life of Washington Allen Bartlett was full of trouble for the
gallant officer. It cannot be recorded here, but the end came in complete
vindication. Of his later family life nothing occurred that gave the country
more genuine surprise than the marriage of his daughter to Senor Oviedo,
a Cuban multi-millionaire, about 1857. It was a rare prize to land in those
early days. Diamonds of princely value were lavished on the fair bride,
the newspapers had a sensation, while a clever skit by Edmund C. Stedmen,
"The Diamond Ball," made the hit of the season.
Jose Jesus de Noe, the successful candidate for the second municipal office,
was a native of Mexico. He came to California in 1835, married here and
lived the life of a prosperous ranchero until the discovery of gold. Although
he obtained two valuable grants of land, his last years were full of trouble.
he was too easy-going to meet the demands of the flush times, and long
before his death in 1855 the old official was quite poor. A land litigation
carried on in recent years by some of his descendants has had but scant
Rose, the first Town Treasurer, came from Scotland to San Blas [in Mexico]
in 1839. He was a carpenter, and after wandering up and down the Mexican
coast for some years settled permanently in California in 1843. From this
time he led a busy life, but unlike his thrifty race, he failed to profit
greatly by his unequaled opportunities.
T. Sherreback, the last of the above list of municipal officers, was, by
birth, a Dane. He came to this place in 1840 and at once engaged in business
as a trader. He soon was naturalized under Mexican law and held various
minor positions until the first election, when his personal popularity
won him his victory. His wife was the sister of John Sullivan, who was
one of the candidates, but who got one vote only, which doubtless was cast
by one of his competitors. Sherreback was claimant for a large slice of
San Francisco realty, embracing the area now bounded by the bay, Bush,
Fourth and Folsom streets. Not much prominence was given to this claim
until early in the [eighteen] sixties. The late Judge Ogden Hoffman of
the United States District Court left for the East by steamer. Before going
to the Mail dock he opened court quietly, handed the clerk an opinion,
said good-by, and in two hours was outside the Golden Gate, free from reporters,
lawyers or claimants. When the decision was read it was found that the
claim of Sherreback was confirmed. today the property is worth millions,
but little ever found lodging place in the claimant's pocket or bank.
Heath Davis came to California in 1831. He returned in 1839, and during
the next decade was one of the most prominent merchant traders in Yerba
Buena. He was the last of the very early pioneers of California, and his
death took place in April, 1909. Francisco Guerrero was murdered at his home near the Mission in 1851. Another Francisco de Haro was a prominent citizen, and held many offices
under Mexican rule. He and his compatriot have given their names to streets
in San Francisco. The last, Frank Ward, came to California in 1846. He
made and lost fortunes, attempted to commit suicide in 1853, failed, left the State, returned about 1870, married a wealthy widow once more started East and on this trip completed his adventurous and strangely varied life by jumping overboard and drowning.
November 3, 1912
to the top of the page.
Author Robert Ernest Cowan, 1862-1942, was a great collector
of Californiana. His collection was so important that it was
purchased in 1897 by railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington and given to
the University of California. What is now known as the Robert Ernest Cowan
collection is housed at the Bancroft Library.
addition to his passion for original documents related to the history of
early California, Cowan published "The Spanish Press in California" in
1902; "Bibliography of the Chinese Question in the United States," 1909;
"A bibliography of the History of California and the Pacific West, 1510-1906"
in 1914; "A Bibliography of the Spanish Press in California" in 1919; "Forgotten
Characters of old San Francisco," 1938, and "Booksellers of Early San Francisco,"
posthumously in 1953.
was a frequent contributor to historical publications, including quarterlies
of the California Historical Society and Society of California Pioneers.
He was inducted into the Society of California Pioneers as an honorary
member in 1928.