Thursday, June 16, 2011


I have probably mentioned this before, but I haven't said much about it. It's a book entitled Seventy-five Years in California by William Heath Davis and published in 1929 by John Howell. The subtitle says "A History of Events and Life in California: Personal, Political, and Military; Under the Mexican Regime; During the Quasi-Military Government of the Territory by the United States, and after admission of the State to the Union."

The reason I bring this up is, I finished reading another book Sea of Courage about the Naval Exploring Expedition of 1838 to 1842. As this expedition was winding down after discovering and surveying part of Antarctica and the South Sea islands the ships were busy surveying the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon Territory. Commodore Wilkes (actually a Lieutenant), the commander of the expedition, sent a detachment of sailors overland from the river to see what they could see and meet the ships in the Bay of San Francisco. And, lo and behold, upon removing ......California from the shelf, I see that Commodore Wilkes is in the Bay area from Chapter XXI - "Commodore Wilkes Visits Yerba Buena." Naturally, I had to read that chapter to discover the results of the small group traveling overland, but there is no mention of it. San Francisco at that time was known as Yerba Buena.

While at San Francisco, they surveyed parts of the Sacramento River, the harbor and the coast line, which Mr. Davis commented on and he mentioned the surveillance of the British ships and Wilkes thinking that maybe the Brits wanted to take over this part of the country. The ships' supplier while in port was Nathan Spear who settled in the area in 1822. The Mexican Governor Alvarado became a good friend of Spear and offered him eleven leagues of land if he would become a Mexican citizen, a not uncommon practice and according to Mr. Davis, several Americans had done this.

Mr. Davis had the same feelings about Commodore Wilkes that many, if not all, of the expedition sailors did - the Commodore was a tough disciplinarian with a no-nonsense sense of duty, unsociable, and very knowledgeable in his scientific endeavors, but in my estimation from the other book and this, lacking in common sense or it was overshadowed by his obligation to duty. Mr. Davis had nothing but complementary things to say about the other officers, though, finding them to be intelligent and fun-loving. Prior to their leaving a big party was thrown at Davis' friend, Guerrero's, that lasted through the night.

Mr. Davis also wrote about the Fiji captive that Wilkes was taking back to Washington, but died before he reached there. This Fijian was very large in stature and weighed as much as 250 lbs, and had what we today call an "afro" hair-do that would make the normal "afro" look like a mini alongside this fellow.

Commodore Wilkes was stubborn and when he set his mind on doing something, nothing stopped him. Like, when he upped anchor to depart San Francisco Bay, his pilot, a Britisher named Richardson, who was very familiar with the area, told him not to leave because of the terrible waves at the mouth of the bay caused by the wind from the southwest. Wilkes left, but he did stop just inside the bay after he saw what Captain Richardson was talking about and waited until the next day. His next stop was Monterey.



  1. I used to read quite a bit of history, but these days almost all my nonfic reading is science related. Just not enough time to read all the great stuff I'd like to read.

  2. Just not enough time in the day, Charles. Me, too.