Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Pueblo of Yerba Buena -- August 30, 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. 

 The Mission of San Francisco, as mentioned in the first part of this work, was founded in the year 1776. It was situated about two and a half miles to the south-west of the Cove of Yerba Buena. Besides the mission buildings, there were erected, at the same time, a presidio and fort, along the margin of the Golden Gate, the former being distant from the mission about four miles, and from the cove nearly the same space . The latter was situated about a mile nearer the ocean than the presidio, close upon the sea-beach, and on a rocky height at the narrowest point of the strait. 

 Before 1835, the village of Yerba Buena had neither name nor existence. The Mexican Government had some time before resolved to found a town upon the cove of that name, which was reputed the best site on the shores of the Bay of San Francisco for establishing a port. Much discussion and litigation, involving immense pecuniary interests, have occurred as to the date and precise character of the foundation of Yerba Buena. It has long been matter of keen dispute whether the place was what is called a Spanish or Mexican "pueblo ;" and although, after previous contrary decisions, it was assumed (not being exactly decided upon evidence) by the Supreme Court to be a "pueblo," the subject seems to be still open to challenge. It is unnecessary in this work to do more than merely allude to the question. In the year last above mentioned, General Figueroa, then governor of the Californias, passed an ordinance, forbidding the commandant of the presidio of San Francisco to make any grants of land around the Yerba Buena Cove nearer than two hundred varas (about one hundred and eighty-five yards) from the beach, without a special order from the governor, the excluded portion being intended to be reserved for government uses. Before any steps could be taken for the survey and laying out of the proposed town, General Figueroa died ; and the place was neglected for some years, and left to proceed as chance and individuals would have it. There had been previous applications for grants of the whole land around the cove for professedly farming purposes, which circumstance led to the governor's passing the temporary ordinance, lest, some time or another, the portion of ground intended to be reserved should, through accident or neglect, be granted away. 

Captain W. A. Richardson was appointed the first harbormaster, in the year 1835, and, the same year, he erected the first house, or description of dwelling, in the place. It was simply a large tent, supported on four red-wood posts, and covered with a ship's foresail. The captain's occupation in those days seems to have been the management of two schooners, one belonging to the Mission of San Francisco, and the other to the Mission of Santa Clara. These schooners were employed in bringing produce from the various missions and farms around the bay to the sea-going vessels which lay in Yerba Buena Cove. The amount of freight which the captain received was twelve cents a hide, and one dollar for each bag of tallow. The tallow was melted down and run into hide-bags, which averaged five hundred pounds each. For grain, the freight was twenty-five cents a fanega (two and a half English bushels). 

Some years before this period, Yerba Buena Cove had been occasionally approached by various ships of war and other vessels. For many years, the Russians had continued to pay it annual visits for supplies of meat and small quantities of grain. One of their vessels took away annually about one hundred and eighty or two hundred tons of such provisions. In 1816, the English sloop of war "Racoon" entered the port ; also, in 1827, the "Blossom," of the same nation, on a surveying cruise. In the last named year, the French frigate "Artemesia," of sixty guns, arrived. In 1839, there appeared the English surveying ships, the "Sulphur" and the "Starling." In 1841, the first American war vessel, the "San Luis," sloop, arrived ; and, later in the same year, the "Vincennes," also American, on a surveying expedition. In 1842, came the "Yorktown," the "Cyane," and the "Dale," all of the American navy; and in the same year, the "Brillante," a French sloop-of-war. From this last named year downwards both ships of war and merchantmen of all nations occasionally entered the port. Whale ships first began to make their appearance for supplies in the fall of the year 1822, increasing in number, year by year, since that period. However, some impolitic port restrictions by the authorities had the effect latterly of sending off a considerable number of this class of ships to the Sandwich Islands, a place much less convenient for obtaining supplies than San Francisco Bay. Since likewise the discovery of gold in the country, and the consequent temptation of seamen to desert, as well as the enhanced price of most supplies, whale ships have not found it their interest to visit San Francisco, but prefer victualling and refitting at the Sandwich Islands. 

 Previous to 1822, a small traffic was carried on between the coast of Mexico and the California ports ; the latter exporting principally tallow and a little soap. Some small vessels from the Sandwich Islands also visited occasionally San Francisco and the other harbors in California. It was in the last year named that the trade began between California and the United States and England. The country then sent its tallow chiefly to Callao and Peru, and its hides to the States and to England. The price of a hide in 1822, was fifty cents, and of tallow, six dollars per hundred weight. These prices had the effect of soon decreasing the number of cattle ; and, in the following year, hides rose to one and a half dollars apiece, payable in cash, or two dollars, if the amount was taken in merchandise. The trade value of hides continued at nearly this rate until the war between the United States and Mexico. 

Some few natural occurrences during these early years of the place are worth recording. In December 1824 and in the spring of the following year, very heavy rains fell over all this part of the country. The Sacramento and tributaries rose to a great height, and their valleys were flooded in many places to a depth of fourteen feet. It was partly owing to the great volumes of fresh water brought down through the bay, in 1825, that a portion of the land at the southern side of the entrance, was washed away as stated in a previous chapter. In September, 1829, several very severe shocks of an earthquake were experienced in San Francisco, which forced open lock-fast doors and windows. In 1839, an equally severe earthquake took place. In 1812, however, a much more serious convulsion had been felt over all California, which shook down houses and some churches in several parts of the country, and killed a considerable number of human beings. The Church of San Juan Capistrano was completely destroyed, and forty-one persons, chiefly Indians, were killed by its fall. We have already said that an Indian tradition attributes the formation of the present entrance to the Bay of San Francisco to an earthquake, which forced open a great passage through the coast range of hills for the interior waters. It may be mentioned, when on this subject, that since these dates, no serious occurrences of this nature have happened at San Francisca though almost every year slight shocks, and occasionally smarter ones have been felt. God help the city if any great catastrophe of this nature should ever take place! Her huge granite and brick palaces, of four, five and six stories in height, would indeed make a prodigious crash, more ruinous both to life and property than even the dreadful fires of 1849, 1850 and 1851. This is the greatest, if not the only possible obstacle of consequence to the growing prosperity of the city, though even such a lamentable event as the total destruction of half the place, like another Quito or Caraccas, would speedily be remedied by the indomitable energy and persevering industry of the American character. Such a terrible calamity, however, as the one imagined, may never take place. So "sufficient for the day is the evil thereof." This maxim abundantly satisfies the excitement-craving, money-seeking, luxurious-living, reckless, heaven-earth-and-hell-daring: citizens of San Francisco. 

We have elsewhere explained the nature of the climate in respect that the winter and summer months are simply the rainy and dry seasons of the year. We have seen above, the effects of excessive rains; and we may also mark the result of unusual drought. In the personal recollections of Captain Richardson, who is our authority on this subject, there have been several such seasons in the country around the Bay of San Francisco since 1822, when that gentleman came to California. The grass on such occasions was completely dried up, and cattle perished in consequence. The missionaries were under the necessity of sending out all their Indian servants to cut down branches of oak trees for the herds to subsist upon. In these dryer seasons, too, the crops suffered greatly from grasshoppers ; which insects, about the month of July, when the corn was still green, would sweep all before them. It may be remarked generally, that while the year is divided into two seasons -- wet and dry -- there is great irregularity, in the case of the former, as to the average quantity of rain falling annually. During some winters heavy rains pour down, without intermission, for months together; while, on other and often alternate winters, the sky is clear for weeks -- then for only a few days slight showers will descend -- and again there occurs a long period of the most delightful and dry weather imaginable. Slight frosts are occasionally felt during the winter months; and ice, from the thickness of a cent to that of an inch is seen for a day or two, nearly every season. Generally, however, the winter climate is mild and open, and the winter months are the most pleasant of the year. 

The excessively and injuriously wet and dry seasons are exceptional cases, and do not impugn the accuracy of the statements, made elsewhere, of the general mildness of the climate, productiveness of the soil, and safety of the harvest. A fertile field or a fruitful tree will not lose its character, because occasionally there happens to be a short crop. The Pacific is still reputed a serene ocean, though sometimes a gale or tempest sweeps over it. Even in the case of possible earthquakes, nobody would hold France, or Spain, or even Italy -- the bella Italia of the old world, as California is of the new one -- to be dangerous countries to live in, although historical records show that much damage has been done in them, at long intervals, by volcanic eruptions and subterranean movements.

No comments: