Monday, July 27, 2020

Celebration of the Fourth of July at Leese's House -- July 27, 2020

The Annals of San Francisco by Frank Soulé, John H. Gihon, James Nisbet. 1855.
The Annals of San Francisco by Frank Soulé, John H. Gihon and James Nisbet, published in 1855, was one of the first histories of San Francisco. William Richardson was a British sailor who jumped ship in San Francisco Bay and founded the village of Yerba Buena in 1834. American merchant Jacob P Leese arrived in 1835. General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo was an important person in Alta California. Colonel Mariano Chico was governor of Alta California for about four months in 1836. A California vara was about 33 inches. San Francisco is mostly divided into 50-vara lots. 

In May, 1836, Mr. Jacob Primer Leese arrived in the Cove of Yerba Buena, with the intention of establishing a mercantile business at San Francisco , in partnership with Mr. Nathan Spear and Mr. W. S. Hinckley, who were to remain at Monterey, and manage the business of the firm there. Mr. Leese brought letters from the then governor of California, Don Mariano Chico, to the alcalde and commandante of San Francisco, desiring them to render him all assistance in their power in arranging a location and otherwise. Mr. Leese at once fixed on the beach of Yerba Buena Cove for his establishment, but as the ordinance of General Figueroa, concerning the government reserve, was still in force, he could not procure an allotment nearer the beach than at the distance of two hundred varas. The alcalde and commandante were much pleased that Mr. Leese should come to settle among their people, and at once offered him a choice of two locations, one being at the mouth of Mission Creek, and the other at the entrance to the bay near the presidio. Mr. Leese, however, had made up his mind on the subject ; and, partly for his own business convenience, and probably, in part, foreseeing the increased future value of sites around Yerba Buena Cove, would accept no grant but one in that quarter. In this the local authorities could not legally aid him ; so Mr. Leese returned forthwith to Monterey with his story and complaint to Governor Chico. On explanations there, the governor informed Mr. Leese that he would instruct the alcalde of San Francisco to grant an allotment within the limits of the government reserve, and in the mean time authorized Mr. Leese to select for himself the most convenient place he could find elsewhere.

Back to Yerba Buena Cove hastened Mr. Leese, and on the first of July presented to the alcalde his new letters. On the following day he landed boards and other materials for building, and immediately took possession of a one-hundred vara lot, adjoining on the south side that on which Captain Richardson's tent was already erected. Mr. Leese's lot was situated about two hundred or two hundred and fifty yards from the beach, and is the spot where the St. Francis Hotel was subsequently erected, at the corner of Clay and Dupont streets. Mr. Leese was indefatigable in hastening the erection of his dwelling, which was finished by ten o'clock on the morning of the 4th of July -- the first glorious fourth -- when the independence of America was commemorated in style in California. These two houses, belonging to Capt. Richardson and Mr. Leese , were the earliest, houses erected in Yerba Buena, and formed the beginning of the City of San Francisco. It is but eighteen years since their erection, and now there is a population of over fifty thousand around the spot !

While Mr. Leese was erecting his mansion, which seems to have been rather a grand structure, being made of frame, sixty feet long and twenty - five feet broad , Captain Richardson was kindly proceeding across the bay to Sonoma, where he invited all the principal folks of the quarter to a banquet in the new building. Two events -- each great in their way -- were to be celebrated : first, Independence Day, and next, the arrival of Mr. Leese in the country, his welcome and house-warming. The two worthy souls, cordially fraternizing, were determined to make a great affair of it ; and so indeed it happened. As it was the first grand scene in the future San Francisco, where there have since been so many, we are tempted to dwell a little on the eventful occasion . Future generations will pleasantly reflect on this auspicious commencement to the pride of the Pacific, then like a new-born infant cradled by its tender parents, Capt. Richardson and Mr. Leese, and tricked out in all the magnificence of an heir's baby clothes.

At this time there was lying in the cove the American barque "Don Quixote," commanded by Mr. Leese's partner, Capt. Hinckley, and on board of which were their goods. There were also at anchor in the port another American ship and a Mexican brig. These vessels supplied every bit of colored bunting they could furnish, with which was decorated Mr. Leese's hall. A splendid display was the result. Outside of the building floated amicably the Mexican and American flags -- the first time the latter was displayed on the shore of Yerba Buena. Captain Hinckley seems to have been somewhat extravagant in his passion for sweet sounds, since he always travelled with a band of music in his train . Through this cause the most stylish orchestra, perhaps, ever before heard in California , was provided by him. This consisted of a clarionet, flute, violin, drum, fife and bugle ; besides two small six pounders to form the bass, and to add their emphatic roar to the swelling din , when a toast of more than usual importance should be given. These last, however, were borrowed from the presidio.

The feast was prepared ; the minstrels were met ; and the guests began to assemble about three o'clock on the afternoon of the Fourth. They were about sixty in number, and included General M. G. Vallejo and all the principal families from the neighborhood of Sonoma, such as the Castro, Martinez, etc., as well as the chief inhabitants of San Francisco. Besides the banqueting hall, Mr. Leese had erected a number of small tents in which to receive his numerous guests and provide for them comfortably. At five o'clock dinner was served, and immediately afterwards followed the toasts. First of all was given the union of the Mexican and American flags. (How little did the convivial parties then dream of the near advent of the sole and absolute sway of the Americans in the country !) General Vallejo next paid the honors to Washington. Then followed appropriate national and individual toasts in their order ; but which it is needless to particularize. The guests were as happy as mortals could well be ; and, in short, " all went merry as a marriage bell." The abundance and variety of liquors at table seemed to tickle the Californians amazingly. One worthy gentleman took a prodigious fancy to lemon syrup, a tumbler full of which he would quaff to every toast. This soon made him sick, and sent him off with a colic ; which was all matter of mirth to his " jolly companions, every one." At ten o'clock our " city fathers " got the table cleared for further action, and dancing and other amusements then commenced. The ball was kept hot and rolling incessantly, all that night, and it appears, too, the following day ; for, as Mr. Leese naively observes, in his interesting and amusing diary, " our fourth ended on the evening of the fifth. " Many of the simple-minded Indians and such lower class white people as were not invited, had gathered around while the festivities and sports were going on among the people of quality, and could not contain themselves for joy , but continually exclaimed , " Que buenos son los Americanos! " -- What capital fellows these Americans are ! And doubtless the white gentry thought, and often said the same.

But let a Yankee alone for knowing his own interest in spending money lavishly ! In a few days afterwards, Mr. Leese had concluded the landing of his twelve thousand dollars worth of goods, when he opened his store for business. The grateful guests, and all the people around, at once flocked to purchase ; and trade, he says, became quite brisk, at most satisfactory prices.

Shortly after this event, Mr. Leese, upon a hasty courtship or rather, for he seems to have had no time to wait, and California was beginning to shake off her lethargy and be a go-ahead country ; in fact, none beyond " popping the question," in smart business fashion, on the 1st of April, 1837 (ominous day for such a deed !) - - was married to a sister of General Vallejo. On the 7th of the same month they were tied together, for life, by the " holy bands of matrimony ; " and from this union, on the 15th of April, 1838, sprung their eldest child - ROSALIE LEESE - being the first born in Yerba Buena.

In this year, Mr. Leese erected a large frame building on the beach, with consent of the alcalde, the latter observing that the governor had informed him he was going to lay out a few town lots. He therefore permitted Mr. Leese, in order to forward his plans, to take a one-hundred vara lot provisionally where he wished. The present banking-house of Mr. James King of William , at the corner of Commercial and Montgomery streets, and which is situated in what may be called the centre of San Francisco, occupies the site of Mr. Leese's frame building on the beach of Yerba Buena Cove. In this year also , Captain Richardson erected an adobe building on the same lot he had always occupied, and which has been already noticed. This adobe building, one-and a half stories high, was the old " Casa Grande" which stood on the west side of Dupont-street, between Washington and Clay streets, and was taken down in 1852. About this time, some native Californians and a few visitors of foreign extraction, chiefly American, began to settle in the rising town. The arrivals of ships likewise were gradually increasing.

The Annals of San Francisco by Frank Soulé, John H. Gihon, James Nisbet. 1855.

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