View of San Francisco c. 1860.
Image: Library of Congress
DURING the early years of the existence of Yerba Buena, little occurs worthy of notice. The place continued merely a village; and its history for some years subsequent to 1841, would be simply a record of the private business transactions of the Hudson Bay Company, whose agents and people formed nearly the entire settlement. Even so lately as l844, Yerba Buena contained only about a dozen houses, and its permanent population did not exceed fifty persons. In 1846 the Hudson Bay Company disposed of their property, and removed from the place. After that period it began gradually to increase in importance and population. The progress of political events during which the country passed into American hands, was, as might have been anticipated, the chief cause of the rapid strides onward which the place now began to take.
By mid-summer of 1846, the population numbered upwards of two hundred, and the buildings of all kinds had increased to nearly fifty. From this date the place advanced with wonderful rapidity. On the first April of the following year, it contained seventy-nine buildings: twenty-two shanties, thirty-one frame-houses, and twenty-six adobe buildings. In the course of the subsequent five months, seventy-eight new tenements were erected: forty-seven of frame, eleven of adobe, and twenty shanties. About this time the permanent population had increased to nearly five hundred. By the end of April, 1848, about the time when the "rush" to the "diggings" commenced, the town contained nearly two hundred buildings: one hundred and thirty-five finished dwelling-houses, ten unfinished houses of the same class, twelve stores and warehouses, and thirty-five shanties. At this last date the population numbered about a thousand individuals, composed almost entirely of people from the United States or from European countries. Every day was bringing new immigrants, and every week additional houses were erected.
Three kinds of buildings generally appear early in the progress of American settlements: the church, tavern and printing-office. The last was established so early as January, 1847, when the population was little more than three hundred; and, on the 7th of that month the first number of the "California Star" appeared. This paper was published by Mr. Samuel Brannan, and edited by Dr. E. P. Jones. It was a small sheet of four pages, about fifteen inches by twelve of type, and appeared every Saturday. It was, a neat production-type, matter and arrangement being of excellent quality.
"The Californian," also a weekly newspaper, of still smaller dimensions, and of much inferior typographical pretension, had previously appeared at Monterey, where its first number was issued on the 15th August, 1846, by Messrs. Colton & Semple, by whom also it was edited. Commodore R. F. Stockton, however, was the originator of this publication. This was the first newspaper in English, or indeed, in any language, which was published in California. This therefore was the second newspaper established in our city, at a time when the permanent population did not exceed four hundred.
From the columns of these early papers we extract much curious information regarding the number and elements of the population of San Francisco in the latter part of June, 1847... Upwards of four-fifths of the whole population were under forty years of age; while more than one-half were between twenty and forty--the prime of life. Under twenty, the sexes were nearly equal in number; but above that age, the vast majority were males. These circumstances must be borne in mind when the reader considers the restless enterprise, energy and capability exhibited by the comparatively small population of the town. We have already alluded to the mixture of foreigners who settled in San Francisco. We now give the birthplaces of the white population (Shaping San Francisco comment: whites totaled 375, Indians numbered 34, Sandwich Islanders 40 and blacks 10 for a grand total of 459 in June of 1847): Born in the United States 228 ; in California, 38; other Mexican departments, 2; Canada, 5; Chile, 2; England, 22; France 3; Germany, 27; Ireland, 14; Scotland, 14; Switzerland, 6; at sea, 4; Denmark, Malta, New Holland, New Zealand Peru, Poland, Russia, Sandwich Islands, Sweden and West Indies, one each.
As of the number stated to have been born in California, eight were children of immigrant parents, it will be seen that the total population of Spanish or Mexican descent was only thirty-two. Three-fifths of the total inhabitants were of direct American origin; and perhaps one-fifth more war composed of people who had previously settled or lived in the United States. The Americans however, as may be supposed, were from every State in the Union, and were often as different from each other in personal characteristics, as if they had been so many foreigners of separate countries.
The number who could read and write was two hundred and seventy-three; those who could read, but not write were thirteen; while those who could neither read nor write, were eighty-nine.
From these statements it appears that the number who could neither read nor write bore a near relation to the number of inhabitants under ten years of age. At that period, it may be mentioned, there was only one school in the place, and no proper facilities were as yet given for bestowing a suitable education upon the young.
The occupations or professions of the white males were as follows: 1 minister; 3 doctors; 3 lawyers; 2 surveyors; 1 school-teacher; 11 agriculturalists; 7 bakers; 6 blacksmiths; 1 brewer; 6 brick-makers; 7 butchers; 2 cabinet-makers; 26 carpenters; 1 cigar-maker; 13 clerks; 3 coopers; 1 gardener; 5 grocers; 2 gunsmiths; 3 hotel-keepers; 20 laborers; 4 masons; 11 merchants; 1 miner; 1 morocco-case maker; 6 inland navigators; 1 ocean navigator; 1 painter; 6 printers; 1 saddler; 4 shoemakers; 1 silversmith; 4 tailors; 2 tanners; 1 watchmaker; 1 weaver.
The places in which the inhabitants conducted their business, were as follows: shops, 1 apothecary, 2 blacksmith, 3 butcher, 1 cabinet-maker, 2 carpenter, 1 cigar-maker, 2 cooper, 1 gunsmith, 1 shoemaker, 2 tailor, and 1 watchmaker; 8 stores; 7 groceries; 2 hotels; 1 wind-mill; 1 horse-mill; 2 printing- offices; and 3 bakeries.
The Indians, Sandwich Islanders, and negroes, who formed nearly one-fifth of the population, were mostly employed as servants and porters. Many of the Sandwich Islanders were engaged in navigating the bay, and were very expert boatmen.
--Annals of San Francisco, 1855