SEGREGATED SCHOOL, 1870. 
A segregated school for African Americans in New York City. Engraving, 1870.

JOHN RICHARDS (Hidden Lives I)

With all the interest in correcting the historical record by pulling down monuments to racists and traitors, let’s talk about honoring someone, too: He was Sonoma County’s first civil rights activist and a lonely patriot in Santa Rosa’s swamp of Confederate sympathizers. His name was John Richards and he had a radical notion: African-American children were entitled to receive a basic education.

Nothing apparently was more important to Richards than the “colored school” but under 1860 California law, “Negroes, Mongolians and Indians shall not be allowed into public schools” so parents like John and Philena Richards had to pay for a private school or send their children away to board with someone where a school was available. Petaluma was among six communities in Northern California that bucked the law and created a public school for black children in 1864, and nothing stopped Santa Rosa from doing likewise, if it had the will.1

Since Richards was a man of means, he hired teachers to educate the town’s black children, including his two adopted kids, Ella and Frank – even though he was also paying $70 a year in county taxes to underwrite public schools for whites.2

(This is the first profile in the series, THE HIDDEN LIVES OF BLACK SANTA ROSA.” It will be helpful to read the introduction for background.)

By trade Richards was a barber, which was one of the better occupations open to African-Americans in 19th century white America. Santa Rosa’s weekly newspaper, the Sonoma Democrat, typically flung racist epithets at blacks as a race, white abolitionists and Lincoln Republicans, but Richards was never demeaned in editor Thomas Thompson’s Democrat, likely because his business was a regular advertiser and he was a wealthy man. But just because the Democrat didn’t target Richards does not mean Thompson treated him with respect. In an 1869 screed against the Democratic Party not sufficiently defending a “White Man’s Government,” a contributor sneered he “would rather marry John Richard’s wife, if a widow, than the widow of a democrat.” Thompson added helpfully, “[This is a negro family in Santa Rosa.]”

Instead of openly insulting Richards himself, Thompson ghosted him by ignoring his remarkable deeds. The only time Richards’ school was mentioned in the newspaper was a grudging nod via reprinting a tribute from one of San Francisco’s African-American weekly newspapers. It was written by Judge William Churchman, a local abolitionist – which Thompson exploited by adding a preface claiming it showed the town wasn’t as hateful as everyone said: “It may seem a little remarkable to some intensely loyal people, but the fact is nevertheless true, that Santa Rosa which has long enjoyed the reputation with loyalty of being a perfect hot bed of traitors and negro-haters should afford one of the best schools for the education of negro children to be found in the State.” The Democrat did not even acknowledge, however, that Richards was sponsoring the school.

And, of course, Thompson didn’t reprint another part of the same article that revealed some white Santa Rosans were apparently attending the graduation ceremony looking to pick fault with the children’s learning, yet came up short themselves:


There was quite a number of white friends present, as also a number of ladies and gentlemen of the Copperhead order. One lady that I know is a personal negro-hater, as the writing-book and drawing of the scholars was passing around for inspection, she handed it to a gentleman that sat beside me, and pointing to a map of North America, drawn by the scholars, asked him what kind of a flower that was. I never did believe that our race was more ignorant than any other, nor were beyond redemption; and I now verily believe that there are those whose comprehensive facilities are inferior to ours, and they need education as much as we do. No, we are not alone in ignorance, and never will be.

You may have heard of John Richards before; he was rediscovered in the late 20th century, although most of the nice things written about him weren’t very accurate and continued to skip over his school and other deeds which were truly noteworthy. The most familiar part of the story told today about John Richards is that he was a barber who took in former slaves.

richardsadsRIGHT: John Richards ads from 1857, 1861 and 1873 (top to bottom)

As shown in the fifteen-year series of Democrat ads, his business was mainly a bath house – a far more important service at the time than cutting hair – and also note that the ads quickly turn to mention that the barbering was done by “experienced workmen.” In his later years he also opened branches at Ukiah and Lakeport; the Ukiah operation appears to be only a bath house (although there are too few newspaper resources available from that period to be sure). So calling him simply a barber is like saying an entrepreneur who owns a chain of restaurants is just a cook.

As for hosting ex-slaves, the 1860 census shows two people living in his house from slave states and in 1870 there was one. Eda Sanders, a 19 year-old male from Kentucky was one of the 1860 residents along with a California-born 3 year-old girl and a baby boy, all named Sanders. It was these children who the Richards’ would adopt.

In 1873 Richards also owned 134 acres next to the modern fairgrounds which would later become the South Park subdivision. It’s been claimed in recent years he turned that into some sort of refuge for destitute ex-slaves, but I find no record – and surely the Democrat would have howled in outrage if it were so. An article transcribed below has him describing the crops he grew there and it was legally recorded as farmland at the time of his death. He additionally had a chunk of undeveloped land in Petaluma at East Washington and Baylis streets.

His main property in Santa Rosa was his home and business, which occupied half the corner block facing Main Street between First and Second (where the Bank of Marin building is now). This was prime real estate during the 1860s as it was next door to Santa Rosa House, the saloon/hotel which was the town’s stagecoach stop. Yet all was not smooth for Richards in Santa Rosa; for reasons unknown, in 1862 he spent months trying to sell the business and lease the building through ads in a San Francisco newspaper. He also apparently lived in Lakeport during the mid-1870s, although he remained listed as proprietor of the business here.

1862 drawing by Grafton Tyler Brown showing the east side of Main Street between First and Second, with John Richards' home and bath house on the left. The drawing, presumably commissioned by Colgan as part of a series on notable Santa Rosa businesses, exaggerates the size and position of the hotel, as maps show Richards' corner property occupied three parcels while Colgan had two
1862 drawing by Grafton Tyler Brown showing the east side of Main Street between First and Second, with John Richards’ home and bath house on the left. The drawing, presumably commissioned by Colgan as part of a series on notable Santa Rosa businesses, exaggerates the size and position of the hotel, as maps show Richards’ corner property occupied three parcels while Colgan had two

Richards was born a slave in 1824 Kentucky. According to a sympathetic obituary in another Santa Rosa newspaper, he escaped and went to Massachusetts, where he met his wife Philena. In the early 1850s he bought land in Springfield, Mass. which he still owned at the time he died. He and Philena also lived in Ontario and Michigan (where he had something to do with steamboats on the Great Lakes) before coming to Santa Rosa in 1856.

Richards made a considerable amount of money by heavily investing in U.S. government bonds during the Civil War – a move which had to be motivated by patriotism as much as financial gain, as the government had trouble selling them.3 From the Santa Rosa Times:


…During the war of the rebellion his faith in the triumph of the Union was so strong that he invested nearly everything he owned in the bonds of the United States, at rates of from 35 to 50 cents on the dollar, and held them undismayed through the dark days of the struggle. His fidelity was rewarded in the end by the large gains on his investment…

During the war there was another passive-aggressive swipe at Richards in the Democrat paper, this time concerning the 1864 charity appeal for slaves freed by the Union army sweeping through Virginia and Georgia. Donations were needed to help feed and shelter the “contrabands” and $19 was raised in Santa Rosa (Richards contributed $5, which is about the equivalent to $150 today). The Democrat mocked that abolitionists should be more generous because they “brought those sad calamities upon the unfortunate negroes.” Yet without a fleck of irony, in the same issue and even on the same page, Thompson reprinted a lengthy plea to “collect funds for the relief of the sick and suffering rebel prisoners.”

Between 1865 and 1873, civil rights activism took up much of John Richards’ time, as he traveled around the Bay Area and to Sacramento – but you didn’t hear a peep about those doings in the Democrat or find mention in any of the modern profiles of his life.

He was the Sonoma county representative at many conventions or meetings to advance the cause of equality; he was elected vice president of the Phoenixonian Institute in San Jose, which was the only secondary school in the state for African-Americans (open to male and female students). He was involved with the 1865 state convention of the “Colored Citizens of California” and an 1872 appeal to the state supreme court for public funding of schools for all races.

Probably his greatest achievement was his role at a 1873 convention at Sacramento for the purpose of electing delegates to the historic National Equal Rights Convention to be held at Washington that December. He was the co-representative from the county along with Jacob Overton (see the intro article) and elected to the finance and education committees. Richards was among those nominated to be a national delegate.

Richards monument in Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery
Richards monument in Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

John Richards died in 1879. “A number of colored friends of the deceased came up from San Francisco to serve as pall bearers,” the Democrat reported, demonstrating again his prominence in the larger African-American community of the Bay Area. Philena died the following year.

The monument by their graves was so distinctive it became a topic of its own in the Democrat – garnering more column inches than the paper ever spent on Richards. The stonework company even signed its name at the base of the steps, something I’ve not seen elsewhere at the cemetery. From the description transcribed below it has been considerably vandalized; there were urns with doves perched on the rim, all in white Italian marble, with a statue of a “faithful dog” at its base. It surely must have been something to see.

Time is long overdue for Santa Rosa to give John Richards a measure of the respect he deserves for being our own civil rights trailblazer during some of America’s darkest years. It’s probably too much to ask for a street to be renamed, for the city to commission some work of public art or even order an interpretive plaque, but it certainly would be nice if Parks & Rec could find a few dollars to clean his monument at the cemetery. Properly done, it will call out to us like a beacon of hope and courage.

 

NEXT: THE SISTER OF THE WHITEWASH MAN
 

 


1 The 1870 state school law loosened requirements slightly: “every school…shall be open for the admission of all white children, between five and 21 years of age…” but for blacks and Indians a separate school if at least 10 students.” In 1876 the Democrat reported, “There is one colored scholar attending the public school here. He is taught separately, during hours of recess, and does not occupy a seat in the building during school hours. His teacher receives additional pay for instructing him. He is reported to be a very smart boy.”

2 Tax payment per John Grider’s Century: African Americans in Solano, Napa, and Sonoma Counties from 1845 to 1925 by Sharon McGriff-Payne, 2009

3 Richards most likely held “seven-thirty” bonds, which paid 7.30% interest compounded annually. (More about the different types of Union Civil War bonds and the difficulties of financing the war.)

 

sources

FIRE.

On Tuesday morning last, about 10 o’clock, our citizens were suddenly called into the streets by the fearful cry of “fire.” We dropped our “stick,” seized a bucket and hurried to the place of alarm, where we found, as might naturally be supposed, the wildest excitement; for although our citizens will not heed the old adage, “In time of peace prepare for war,” when the enemy is upon us they try to meet him to the best of their ability. The fire, on Tuesday, proceeded from a frame building on the corner of Main and Second streets, owned by a colored man, named John Richards, part of which is occupied as a barber shop. The room adjoining the shop is a bed-room, and a little girl, three years old, the child of one of the occupants of the house, was alone in the room at the time the fire broke out. A box of matches had been left on a table, close to the bed where the child was, and it is supposed that the little one in attempting to light a match, set fire to some articles of clothing, which were on the table, and it was soon communicated to the canvas ceiling. The child ran out of the room, screaming, which alarmed the inmates of the house — and on entering the room to see what was the matter, Richards found almost the entire ceiling in flames. He immediately commenced tearing down the canvas, and that, together with the force-pump and hose, of Mr. Colgan, of the Santa Rosa House, soon extinguished the flames. We could call the attention of those who have ridiculed the idea of having a Fire Engine in this place to the service rendered by the hose of Mr. Colgan, on Tuesday. No particular damage was done to the house, but Richards had his hands badly burned in tearing the canvas from the ceiling.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 20 1860

 

Mr. John Richards, of Santa Rosa, is in town. Parties wishing to bargain with him for the lease of his Barber-Shop and Bathing Rooms, can see him at our office.

– Pacific Appeal, May 3 1862

 

FREEDMEN’S RELIEF. Last week one of the Burlingame tribe, who at one time resided in this county, and was an abolition candidate for representative — but didn’t get elected, visited Healdsburg and Santa Rosa, soliciting contributions for the relief of starving contrabands. At the former place he delivered a lecture, but his old friends couldn’t see the point, and the pitiful sum of four or five dollars was all that the miscegenationists of Healdsburg contributed. He came to Santa Rosa next, and although he had been announced to address the public in behalf of his cause, from some reason best known to himself he did not do so, but suddenly took his departure, thereby disappointing a large number of our citizens who would really have been pleased to hear what he had to say. As we are informed by a highly respectable Pub, but not a miscegen, only four gentlemen contributed anything here, as follows: W. A. Eliason, $10; John Richards, $5; Jeff Cocke, $3; and Green, his son, $1; the latter three of African descent. We think Capt. Eliason’s position in the matter is the correct one. It is but just that those who brought those sad calamities upon the unfortunate negroes, should alleviate their terrible sufferings. The Captain is at least consistent. Burlingame and Dr. Haynes lectured at Petaluma on Monday evening and realized from that loyal city only $123.50. Petaluma probably contains fifteen or eighteen hundred persons who have prayed and payed and begged for the abolition of slavery, and yet they only contribute $123 to save half million of their wards from starvation. How unpatriotic! [Ed. note: The same issue contains a lengthy appeal on efforts to “collect funds for the relief of the sick and suffering rebel prisoners”]

– Sonoma Democrat, June 11 1864

 

School Examination in Santa Rosa.

We have received the following communications, describing the examination of the colored school in Santa Rosa. This school is now in charge of Miss A. E. Vincent, whom all acknowledge is a very capable and efficient teacher. We publish the communications with pleasure, and only wish there were more of the same sort.

Santa Rosa, Feb. 11, 1866.
Mr. Editor:—Permit me through your columns to express the gratification I experienced at an examination of the colored school in Santa Rosa, on Tuesday, February 6th, taught by Miss A. E. Vincent. This is the second examination of the colored school in this place I have attended within the past year, the first being taught by Mr. Amos Johnson, and if pleased with the first (which I was), I was no less delighted with the second; and whilst Mr. Johnson laid the foundation, the superstructure has rapidly advanced under the able and evidently indefatigable zeal of Miss Vincent, to whom too much praise cannot be awarded for her untiring devotion in raising the young minds under her charge to the proper standard, and implanting and cultivating those germs of future usefulness and honor, of which the colored portion of our wide spread population have heretofore been unjustly deprived.

The scholars in Miss Vincent’s school have rapidly advanced, and show a precocity of intellect and an analetic [sic] understanding that is truly praiseworthy, and deserves the highest commendation, as to both teacher and pupils. The examination in orthography was good; in reading, arithmetic, and grammar, better; and in geography and history, best of all; while in penmanship, drawing, composition and declamation, and singing, it was excellent. Miss Vincent certainly has the faculty of imparting knowledge and governing a school to such an extent as to recommend her as a teacher to the colored population of our State, and elsewhere.
W. Churchman

Santa Rosa, Feb. 12.
Mr. Editor :—The protracted quietude of this little town was agreeably interrupted on Tuesday last, February 6th, by an examination of a school under the superintendence of Miss A. E. Vincent, which I had the pleasure of attending. Exercises commenced at 10 o’clock a. m., as follows: Vocal music, orthography, practical and mental arithmetic, and grammar, geography, history, and reading. The scholars answered with rapidity and accuracy the many questions that were put to them. It was interesting to see the different classes take their place at the black-board. The first class worked with a great deal of care and thought, which reminded one much of the old adage, “Slow, but sure” while the second and third classes were not only interesting, but amusing. They were very expert in figures, worked to excel each other, and made but one mistake. After the course of examination was finished most of the scholars lead their compositions. The first subject, “The Scholar’s Hope,” by P. G. Cox, was a well written essay, and read accordingly. The last composition, read by Miss W. J. Cox, subject, “Valedictory.” This young lady portrayed in her composition the love and pride for her instructress and school-mates, exhibited her regret at bidding her teacher and school-mates a long farewell. Her composition was indeed quite interesting, and was based upon facts — knowing the many changes which we creatures of a moment are liable to. The scholars received the most rapturous applause for their compositions. After the reading of the last composition, the scholars sung “Love of School,” and then the declamation of each scholar, which was interspersed with many favorite songs — such as ‘Northern Star,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “Glory, Hallelujah,” etc. “The American Union,” by Master F. Richards, the smallest boy in the school, and as heroic I as you would wish to see a boy. If he continues he bids fair to be a man of high intellectual endowment, and useful in society. The children all spoke very well, and received much credit and encouragement. The examination was surprising to both parents and spectators to realize the progress which they have made under their noble teacher, in the different branches of studies, since August last, — Miss Vincent has not only taught her scholars the above, but, after school hours, she has given them many useful lessons in industrial habits, and has made herself generally useful, during her stay with us, in our Sabbath School; so that it is evident that this young lady has not spared her moments.

After the examination was closed, there were some remarks made by Hon. Judge Churchman, Rev. P. Killingworth, John Richards, and your humble servant. Judge Churchman remarked that he was at the examination prior to this, and he supposed might be called a judge in the matter, and that if he should say that the children had not improved he would speak falsely; and that they had improved, and he was surprised and truly gratified to find such an advancement in the children, especially in grammar, arithmetic, geography and history. Too much praise cannot be awarded the young lady for the faithful discharge of her duty as teacher; also, her kind and gentle manner to the children under her charge, by which she has gained the love and affection of her scholars. Judge Churchman was quite lengthy in his remarks, and elicited much encouragement for the education of the rising generation, and how very essential it is that all parents and guardians should endeavor to have their children educated. There was quite a number of white friends present, as also a number of ladies and gentlemen of the Copperhead order. One lady that I know is a personal negro-hater, as the writing-book and drawing of the scholars was passing around for inspection, she handed it to a gentleman that sat beside me, and pointing to a map of North America, drawn by the scholars, asked him what kind of a flower that was. I never did believe that our race was more ignorant than any other, nor were beyond redemption; and I now verily believe that there are those whose comprehensive facilities are inferior to ours, and they need education as much as we do. No, we are not alone in ignorance, and never will be.

On Wednesday evening 7th inst., Mrs. Richards and Mrs. Cox, gave the children a farewell tea-party, which was superintended by Miss Vincent. As some of them were preparing for their respective homes, Mr. Johnson and myself, were invited to participate in the festivities of the evening. Mr. Johnson favored us with good music which was an quite an addition to our little group, and the hours whiled away like minutes. We then marched around the table which was so sumptuously spread, and the children were as merry as birds singing Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” We had a merry time indeed. Miss A. E. V., also looked very sweet and charming.
T. B. Pinn.

– Elevator, February 16 1866

 

Mr. John Richards has recently refitted his bath-house and barber shop and fixed everything up in first-class style, so that persons wishing baths can be accommodated with as much comfort and style as in San Francisco. College students and others will do well to observe the very liberal terms offered to clubs of six. For further particulars see now advertisement In to-days paper.

– Sonoma Democrat, February 22 1873

 

A State Convention of the colored citizens of California was held in Sacramento Tuesday and Wednesday, November 25th and 26th. Sonoma county was represented by John Richards and Jacob Overton.

– Russian River Flag, December 4 1873

 

Lakeport.
John Richards of Santa Rosa seems to be doing a good business, his shop occupies a prominent position on the main street of the town.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 18 1874

 

John Richards now visiting Santa Rosa, informs as that the storm was very severe In Lake county.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 31 1874

 

John Richards who is down from Lakeport informs us that Jerry Ridgway Jr has purchased the Taylor Hotel in Upper Lake…

– Sonoma Democrat, February 13 1875

 

Rich Men.
We continue the publication of the assessment roll of Sonoma county, by townships, giving the names of all persons who pay taxes on assessments amounting to $10,000 and over;
John Richards (colored) $10,447… [Ed. note: His highest assessment was in 1887 for $12,685]

– Sonoma Democrat, August 7 1875

 

There is one colored scholar attending the public school here. He is taught separately, during hours of recess, and does not occupy a seat in the building during school hours. His teacher receives additional pay for instructing him. He is reported to be a very smart boy.

– Sonoma Democrat, January 29 1876

 

On his way home [Captain T. Bundy] dropped in to see us this week with John Richards and we enjoyed a brief chat with him on the subject of Clear Lake and its picturesque piscatorial and other attractions.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 8 1877

 

Harvest Notes.— John Richards threshed the grain cut from fifteen acres of wheat and eight acres of barley, and has 138 sacks of wheat, 100 sacks of cheat and 113 sacks of barley. On our inquiring what use the cheat was he informed us that he seeded the low damp land with it for hay, and intimated that it was a common practice among the farmers here.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 27 1878

 

DEATH OF JOHN RICHARDS

The deceased came to Santa Rosa about the year 1856, and has resided here ever since. For a few years his health has been failing, and he thought there were premonitory symptoms of paralysis, heart disease, or other troubles beyond the reach of medicine. Not more than a week ago he was on the street, but quite feeble. His death was unlooked for by all but himself. The doctor had been called in and administered a potion, but soon after he sat up on the side of his bed and exclaimed “I am going,” calling upon those present to chafe his limbs. Immediately after he bade all good bye and expired. His death occurred on Sunday, the 20th inst., and his funeral took place on Tuesday following from the Baptist Church, of which he was a member.

John Richards was a notable man in his generation. He was born a slave, in Kentucky, about fifty-six years ago. Escaping from his master, he made his way to Massachusetts, where he soon after married. It is said his estate owns property there yet. He was a man of good common sense and judgement. His manner was inoffensive and quiet and he was much esteemed by all who knew him. During the war of the rebellion his faith in the triumph of the Union was so strong that he invested nearly everything he owned in the bonds of the United States, at rates of from 35 to 50 cents on the dollar, and held them undismayed through the dark days of the struggle. His fidelity was rewarded in the end by the large gains on his investment that made him an estate valued at from thirty to sixty thousand dollars. His wife survives but there are no children. He thought of leaving a fund in some shape for a charity or otherwise, to keep his memory green, but we understand there is no will. His death makes a void in the ranks of good citizens here. But we believe when the recording angel makes up all our accounts that of John Richards, African though he was, will be as free from blots as most others.

– Santa Rosa Times, April 24 1879

 

Death of John Richards. —The subject of this sketch, John Richards, (colored) the pioneer barber of Santa Rosa, is an illustration of what energy combined with perserverance and integrity will enable even a colored man to make of himself. He was borne in Hopkinsville, Christian Co. Kentucky, April 10th, 1824, in the condition of bondage in which at that time a majority of his race were held in the South. Securing his freedom, he emigrated to Canada, and after remaining there awhile he went to Boston, Massachusetts, where he was married in 1852, and then settled in Springfield, in the same State, where be acquired, and at the time of his demise still owned some of the most valuable property in that city. Leaving them, he went to St. Louis, Missouri, remaining for a short time, and then settled in Windsor, on the northern bank of Lake Ontario, in the province of Ontario. After residing there a year be went to Michigan, and was connected with steamboat running on the great lakes. In 1854 he came to California, settling at Shasta, and in 1856 settled in Santa Rosa — opening a barbershop on the corner of Main and Second streets — and has been identified with our city ever since. The field here not being large enough for his energetic spirit, he opened branch establishments at Ukiah and at Lakeport, running both in connection with his establishment here until he retired from business, a short time since. During a residence of twenty-two years continuously in this city, in which time he accumulated considerable wealth, the deceased commanded the friendship and respect of all our citizens. For some time before his decease, he had been afflicted with dyspepsia, but was not considered dangerously ill until just before his death on Sunday morning, which was sudden and unexpected. He leaves a wife, two adopted children and a brother in Santa Rosa, and a sister in St. Louis, Missouri. The funeral from the Baptist Church on Wednesday, the Rev. S. A. Taft officiating, was largely attended. A number of colored friends of the deceased came up from San Francisco to serve as pall bearers, and the remains, enclosed in an elegant metallic casket, were escorted to their last resting place by many of our best citizens from the surrounding country and from the city.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 26 1879

 

A Handsome Monument, the marble work placed above the remains of the late John Richards in the Santa Rosa Cemetery deserves more than a passing notice. The lot is enclosed with a wall of Folsom granite, two feet in height and handsomely finished. The base of the monument is of Folsom granite two feet in height, surmounted by a moulded marble base eighteen inches high, then comes the die cap, two and a half foot in height, and surmounted by a cap ten inches in height, and above this is an urn two feet two inches in height, the whole forming a most handsome piece of monumental work, and all except the base is of Italian marble. From the base of the monument to the entrance of the lot is something we have not seen in another cemetery in this county, a marble walk forty-two inches wide and thirteen feet in length. It adds greatly to the appearance of the grounds. There are two urns about three feet in height, tastefully disposed about the lot representing a laver. on the rim of each is perched a dove, all of beautiful white Italian marble. At the foot of the grave is a foot stone with the initials “J. R.” tastefully worked, and at the head is one of the urns above mentioned, and a statue representing a faithful dog deposing at the base of it. The whole grounds are most tastefully arranged, the marble and granite work, costing not less than $2,000, and are well worth a visit. The workmanship is that of A. C Thompson. Petaluma, who took the first premium at the recent exhibition of the Sonoma and Marin Agricultural Society.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 25 1879

 

Sudden Death.—On Saturday evening Mrs. Philena H. Richards, relict of the late John Richards, died at her residence in this city. She had been unwell for some years, and her demise, though sudden, was not unexpected. Judge Brown summoned a Jury to inquire into the cause of her death, and on Sunday last they rendered the following verdict: We, the undersigned, jury summoned by J. Brown, J. P., acting Coroner in and for Sonoma county, State of California, to inquire into the cause ol the death of Philena H. Richards, deceased, do find that she was a native of Connecticut, aged from 63 to 68 years (and that her maiden name was Philena H. Richards); that she died in the city of Santa Rosa, county and State aforesaid, on the 15th day of May, 1880, and that her cause of death was apoplexy…

– Sonoma Democrat, May 22 1880

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vigilancebellFB

CRACKING THE VIGILANTE BELL STORY

Ask any history buff about Sonoma County during the Civil War and you’ll probably hear two stories. “The Battle of Washoe House” claims a mob of Petaluma men, angered over Santa Rosa’s support for the Confederacy, started marching north but got no further than the famous roadhouse, where they drowned their fury in suds. But there’s no proof that story is even partially true; nothing can be found written about it during that time (MORE) so it gets four pinocchios, at least for now. The other favorite is the stealing of the “vigilante bell,” and that tale’s true – although nearly all versions of that story deserve at least two pinocchios.

The background of the story is consistently told and truthful. Manville Doyle, a prominent Petaluma livery stable operator was tasked to buy a nice, big bell for the town’s Baptist church. In San Francisco he found the one used by the infamous Vigilance Committee of 1856. It was rung to summon members to their warehouse HQ known as “Fort Gunnybags” and sounded the death knell of four men who were lynched by the group.

Once the bell was installed in the Petaluma church belfry, it was agreed that it had an unusually beautiful tone and powerful enough to be heard for miles. Then years later, Doyle made off with the bell. After it was returned to the church it became damaged, losing its lovely voice. Here’s a composite version of the many retellings of those events, with the falsehoods struck out:

In 1864 or in 1865 following Lincoln’s assassination, Matt Doyle, a Confederate sympathizer, was angry because the bell was being rung to celebrate the North’s military victories. One dark night he and others who were pro-South removed the bell and took it to a warehouse where it was hidden under a pile of potatoes. Several of Doyle’s accomplices were brought before Judge Cavanagh, who postponed action indefinitely after their lawyer dragged the hearing out past suppertime. Days, weeks or months later, citizens retrieved the bell and returned it to the church belfry where it was cracked and irreparably damaged either by vigorous pro-Union ringing after the assassination or by pro-Rebel vandalism immediately after its return, probably done by Doyle using a sledgehammer.

Ain’t much meat left on them poor ol’ bones.

Some misinformation crept in over the following few years (mainly the sledgehammer theory and fuzziness over when the bell was damaged), but the bulk of the misinformation traces back to Tom Gregory’s 1911 county history, where he milks the story for a whole chapter – and easily 90 percent of it is hyperbole or bullshit that he probably made up or heard in a saloon. While telling the story he detours to muse about Edgar Allen Poe, mentions someone in Petaluma was supposedly hiding a Mexican cannon on a boat, and notes there weren’t many religious differences between Baptists and Campbellites (don’t ask). Best read when very drunk, very stoned or very both. From his pile of reeking compost has sprung a garden of weeds – a century of misinformation found in magazine articles, newspaper columns, and books on county history.

Overall it’s a textbook example of how easily the historical narrative can become  corrupted when writers just repeat twice-told tales. And as it turns out, the actual story was quite different and more interesting – the incident with the bell was just a sideshow to what was really upsetting everyone in Petaluma. Since the relevant newspapers from that time survive along with a later interview Doyle gave about the events (all transcribed below) it serves as a lesson why it’s always critical to use primary sources. End of lecture.

So what actually happened?

In the space of just a few months straddling 1857-1859, Petaluma grew up. The town was incorporated, its first volunteer fire department was organized, and the big “Brick School” was built on Keller street. Self-government, fire protection and public education are all good things – and as a bonus, two of the three also came with bells.

(RIGHT: The First Baptist Church, c. 1890. It was across from Hill Plaza Park on Kentucky street, currently the location of the Park Plaza building. Postcard courtesy Sonoma County Library)

Besides the new downtown fire bell and the one in the school’s belfry, three Petaluma churches added bells to their steeples. The Vigilance Bell that Doyle found was the biggest and loudest of them, and that was the reason he bought it; the Baptist church trustees had instructed him to seek a bell that weighed between 1,000-1,200 pounds. They were that specific because they apparently wanted to poke the Congregationalists, who had purchased a 600 lb. bell just a couple of weeks earlier. Too bad the bible says nothing about pride being sinful.

As another sign of progress Petaluma decided it needed a town bell, and the Baptist Church’s new monster fit the bill. The town hired someone to ring it three times a day, marking morning, noon and night. Take a moment to sensitize yourself to how important that was in the mid-19th century; every mantle clock and watch was set by that bell, along with schedules for the boat and stage – being the town’s bellringer was a position of great responsibility.

But it was still the bell for the church, so it also rang for church services as well as births, deaths, weddings, funerals, plus any other reason the preacher saw fit rejoice or mourn or call parishioners. All of the churches did this, and it was driving some Petalumans nuts. In 1858 “Belle” complained in a letter to the Sonoma County Journal, “To hear them banging (I can not say ringing), whatever may be the occasion, one would imagine himself in an old Spanish town on a gala day, when, as is well known, the only object of the ringers is, to make the most infernal noise possible.”

During the Civil War, the church trustees later stated supporters for both the North and the South were allowed to ring the bell to celebrate military victories, but ringing it for the Union didn’t stir Doyle’s ire. What really pissed off Matt Doyle and his friends was being kicked out of their church.

The 1864 elections were only months away and as explained in the previous article on Sonoma county’s voting history during the Civil War, Lincoln would win 61 percent of the vote in Petaluma, an even stronger show of support than when he was first elected. Much of the background leading to stealing the bell was explained in Santa Rosa’s pro-Confederate paper, the Sonoma Democrat; despite the writer’s strong rebel slant and gossipy tone, the relevant details can be verified elsewhere.

The First Baptist Church’s new preacher was a Rev. A. Gould, who took up that pulpit in the autumn of 1863 (nothing further can be found about him). Over the next few months he lobbied the nine-member business committee to pass a set of resolutions which would fundamentally change the church.

The very first resolution declared only male church members could vote to admit or discipline other members. Men also controlled all financial affairs.

The second resolution stated any member who didn’t attend church for a month without a good excuse could be disciplined or kicked out.

Resolution three excommunicated “those whose sympathies are with this rebellion and slavery.”

These new bylaws were published in the Argus, on April 21, 1864, along with a notice that the new pastor of the church was one Rev. James A. Davidson, a 40 year-old travelling “temperance talker” who apparently had no role in any of this.

A week later Matt Doyle stole the bell.

“It was not stolen from the steeple, but was taken down in the middle of the day by myself and a number of sailors I had hired from the sloops in the creek,” Doyle defended himself in an 1893 interview. “When the bell was removed many persons stood around, among them being members of the city government.” So much for the “dead of night” version of the story.

Nor was it hidden under a sack o’ spuds; the next issue of the Argus reported “[Doyle] with a posse of men, on Friday last, and by means of a block and tackle, hoisted the bell from the belfry, placed it on a dray and stored it in Baylis & Co’s. Warehouse.”

Doyle was not coy about why he took the bell – the Argus quoted him as saying it should not ring for a “[damned] Abolition congregation.” He was more specific in 1893, explaining he justified it “Because that fanatical Republican, Davidson, the pastor, who came to Petaluma from the East, had turned all the Democrats out of the church. I said at the time that no bell in which I had a cent’s interest should hang over a church where such a sentiment was allowed to prevail. Others felt the same as I did on the subject.”

At the time and again in the interview almost thirty years later, Doyle insisted it was “his” bell because he contributed around $100 of its $550 cost. “After it was carted to Baylis’ warehouse I offered to give twice as much as any man in town to build a belfry on the plaza or put it over the engine house, but I was bound it should not hang over that church.”

His claim of ownership brought out the dry wit of Argus editor Samuel Cassiday:


The excitement consequent upon this defiant disregard of the feelings and rights of this community, was for a time intense, but it subsided, when it became manifest that Doyle with his bell, occupied as unenviable a position as did the man who drew the elephant in the lottery. Mr. Doyle, we are informed proposes give the Bell to our city; but while we fully appreciate the munificence of the proposed donation, we would suggest to our City Fathers that it would be well for them to be certain that he can give a bona fide title to his bell; otherwise, after they have incurred the expense of raising a pole to hang it on, it might be spirited away by any one owning a fractional interest therein. The only interest our citizens now feel in the matter is such as naturally attaches to the precedent established; and as there are institutions of public interest and utility, the origin of which is in joint contributions, it is important to know whether they are jumpable, if so we have our eye on the belfry of the Congregational church, and a friend of ours has visions of a crop of beans, where our stockmen most to congregate to try the mettle of their fiery steeds.

That segment also shows there was initial upset in the community when the bell first disappeared, but people adjusted – and presumably the town bellringer moved over to the Congregational Church. “It is highly probable that the matter would have rested there,” Cassiday wrote, “had not the ears of Union men been daily offended with the declaration that they ‘dared not attempt to replace it;’ that if they did, vengeance dire would be visited upon them, etc.”

Then twelve days later, Doyle and his fellow Copperheads escalated their war. Now they claimed to own not just the bell, but the actual church building. “Tuesday morning the windows of the Baptist Church were nailed down and the doors closed, after which the officers of the church were notified that they could no longer occupy the building,” the Argus reported.

The Argus: “This was the last straw that broke the camels back; forbearance was no longer a virtue, and the loyal citizens of Petaluma at once determined that, regardless of cost or consequences, the church should not only be opened, but the Bell should be restored to its place in the Belfry, before night.”

So in mid-afternoon a group went down to Tom Baylis’s warehouse on B street and placed the bell on a dray. “As it passed up Main street, Merchants, Professional men, and artisans, as if by common consent joined the throng and proceeded to the church,” wrote the Argus.


With a block and tackle the Bell, which weighs over 1000 lbs., was hoisted to its place, and as its “familiar voice” reverberated over hill and dale, the elfin was made to ring with the huzzas of the bystanders. A patriotic song was sung in front of the church, in the chorus to which all joined with a vim. The Stars and Stripes were unfurled from the cupalo, and received three lusty cheers after which the crowd quietly dispersed.

But the trouble would carry over for months. The next Sunday someone tried to throw a large rock through the church window during evening services, hitting the clapboard instead. The next month, Rev. Davidson’s home was the scene of a bedtime attack, with a brick thrown though his bedroom window and two more through the parlor window. And then in August, Rev. Gould – the man who stirred all this up – was stoned in Healdsburg as he and others left a night church service.

And now we come to the crack.

No, Matt Doyle didn’t creep into the belfry and give it a mighty whack! with a sledgehammer – although that’s such a good story our loveable but awful historian Tom Gregory undoubtedly would have claimed it happened, had not Doyle still been alive when his history book was written. When the bell was returned to the church, Doyle sold his “interest” in it to a trustee, who told Doyle a consoling white lie that it was actually being bought on behalf of the town.

Nor did the damage occur during the Civil War. An item in the first 1866 issue of the Argus noted “it has either received a fracture or chafes against something which deadens its sound.” The next issue confirmed the bell was cracked, and in his private journal Cassiday noted the cause was “purely accidental.” So perhaps it split that New Year’s Eve or the following day.

The town’s best blacksmith tried to fix it, but such things can’t be mended. Even though its ding-dong was now more of a clunk-thunk, the bell continued to be used until 1911, when the building was torn down to be replaced by a new church (designed by Brainerd Jones). The bell was stored in the basement of Schluckebier’s Hardware Store and they wrestled it upstairs on Egg Days to show it off in the store window.

Petaluma July 4 parade, 1976. (Photo: Sonoma county library)

 

In 1916 there were feelers out that suggested it should be in a San Francisco museum. The Baptist church trustees published an open letter that was surprisingly emotional, insisting it was theirs alone: “…It called the people of this community to public worship, and tolled in announcement of the death of scores of the early residents of this city and surrounding territory for years prior to the Civil War…we believe it to be our duty to retain possession of the old bell as the property of the Petaluma Baptist church and as soon as possible to arrange for its being kept where the public can view it from time to time. ”

The subject came up again in 1925 when San Francisco asked to borrow it, and this time the trustees agreed the historic relic deserved better than Schluckebier’s storeroom. They donated the bell to San Francisco and the following year about a dozen citizens there “gifted” the Baptist church $891 to retire its mortgage for their new building.

During the 1976 Bicentennial, San Francisco returned the favor and loaned it back to Petaluma for a couple of months. During the Fourth of July parade it was driven around in the back of a pickup, oddly shaded as if it might be sunburnt. Today it can be seen at the Society of California Pioneers in the San Francisco Presidio at 101 Montgomery.

Soon after the fight over the bell, Manville Doyle sold his interest in the livery stable and moved to Nicaragua, returning to Petaluma around the time the Civil War ended. In 1890 he and son Frank founded the Exchange Bank in Santa Rosa. Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley recalled he was a “square shooter” who always stood by his friends, but remained a “bitter partisan.” When he died in 1916 he left a big pile of “friendship notes” – bank loans he did not expect to be repaid. One has to wonder how many of them were gifts to his old rebel cronies.

The surprise epilogue belongs to Rev. James A. Davidson, the poor devil who was named the Baptist pastor just the week before Matt Doyle declared war on the church. Davidson wasn’t even a career preacher; he was a leader in the “Independent Order of Good Templars,” a Freemason offshoot focused on temperance. After leaving Sonoma county he was their top speaker in Pennsylvania, then retiring as editor/publisher of the Geauga [County] Leader in Burton, Ohio.

Someone from Petaluma ran into him in the East and wrote to the Argus, “He occasionally laughs loud and long in talking over some of his experiences there. He says his experience at Petaluma partook of both comedy and tragedy, and when he publishes his life he calculates the chapter headed ‘A Year in Petaluma,’ will increase the value of the copyright many thousand dollars.”

Photo: Wikipedia

 

ANOTHER BELL.-A paper is now in circulation among our people for the purpose of raising funds to purchase a bell, to weigh from one thousand to twelve hundred pounds, and to be placed upon the Baptist church in this city. We are told that the principal portion of the required sum has already been subscribed. This will make the third church bell that has been purchased by subscription on this place within the past few months.–Verily, our people are bound to hear their loose change jingle out of pocket, if not in pocket.

– Sonoma County Journal, October 1 1858

First Baptist Church, Petaluma.

The following Resolutions recently adopted by the First Baptist Church in this city, if faithfully carried out, and firmly adhered to, are well calculated to remove the odium that has been attached to this denomination here in consequence of the irregular manner in which its business has in times past been conducted, and the notoriously disloyal tendency and character of some who have arrogated to themselves an important influence in the business matters of the denomination; an influence that has manifested itself to such an extent that many respectable parties in this city and vicinity have kept themselves aloof from the church. Although Baptists in principle, and christians in heart and life, they desired to have no fellowship with rebels or the sympathizers with Rebels. These Resolutions will have the effect of ridding the church of the drones, Copperheads, and rebels, and we heartily wish the Baptists much success in their effort to maintain in their purity messages of the Body and the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ:

[Resolved that male church members can vote to admit or dismiss other members, and also control financial affairs; that any member who doesn’t attend church for a month without an excuse can be disciplined or dismissed]

Whereas, We believe that the existing rebellion in the Southern States of our Union was conceived in wickedness and oppression, and that it is the natural result of the system of American slavery, and that both are contrary to every divine and moral law, and to the best interests of our country therefore,

Resolved, That as Christians we cannot have fellowship with those whose sympathies are with this rebellion and slavery.

At a regular meeting of the Church, held on Monday evening, Rev. James A. Davidson, of San Francisco, received the unanimous vote of the meeting to act as Pastor for the church here, and has accepted the position. We certainly wish the Baptist Church much success in their efforts to maintain the preaching of the Gospel, and to keep themselves unspotted and unpolluted by the abominable leprosy of disloyalty to God and their country.

– Petaluma Journal and Argus – April 21, 1864

Rev. J. A. Davidson, well known as a temperance lecturer, and lately travelling agent of the Evangel, has accepted a call to a Baptist pastorate at Petaluma.

– Daily Alta California, April 29 1864

An Historic Bell.

On Friday last an incident transpired in our city, which, though trivial in itself, aroused antagonistic passions and prejudices which like a slumbering mine, required but a spark to cause an explosion; but thanks to that genuine courage most praiseworthy when manifest in forbearance, the counsels of cool heads prevailed and we were spared an outburst which might have led to results most disastrous. The circumstances were in brief as follows: Several years since our citizens were afflicted with a bell mania. The inhabitants of the lower portion of the city having, by contribution purchased a bell for the Song Church; the inhabitants of the upper portion of the city at once determined to purchase a bell that would “weigh more” and “sound louder” than the one destined to call the inhabitants of Lower Petaluma to their devotions. The result of this determination was the contributing, by divers and sundry persons, of a sum amounting to six or seven hundred dollars, which was entrusted to Mr. M. Doyle, who with it purchased the old Vigilance Committee Bell, the solemn cadence of which warned Casey and Cora that the time had come for them to shuffle off this mortal coil. By common consent this Bell was hung in the belfry of the First Baptist Church, in this city, with the conditions that it was to be used not only a s a church bell, but by the city, and on all occasions when bells are usually in requisition; and in accordance with this arrangement, the city has kept a man employed to ring the bell at morning, noon and night. In consequence, however, of the revolution which is shaking our country from centre to circumference, a revolution, on a small scale, was inaugurated in the Baptist congregation, and the result was the enacting of a set of loyal Resolutions, very unpalatable to the secession element in our community. “Revenge is sweet,” so sayeth the poet, or some “other man,” and the parties, considering themselves grieved, foremost among which was Mr. M. Doyle, determined that the bell should not give forth its brazen notes over a “d—d Abolition Congregation;” and as he (Doyle) had invested the sum of $105, in lawful U. S. coin in the aforesaid bell, he proceeded with a posse of men, on Friday last, and by means of a block and tackle, hoisted the bell from the belfry, placed it on a dray and stored it in Baylis & Co’s. Warehouse, much to the inconvenience and detriment of sleepy citizens who were wont to be released from the embrace of the drowsy god by its familiar peals. The excitement consequent upon this defiant disregard of the feelings and rights of this community, was for a time intense, but it subsided, when it became manifest that Doyle with his bell, occupied as unenviable a position as did the man who drew the elephant in the lottery. Mr. Doyle, we are informed proposes give the Bell to our city; but while we fully appreciate the munificence of the proposed donation, we would suggest to our City Fathers that it would be well for them to be certain that he can give a bona fide title to his bell; otherwise, after they have incurred the expense of raising a pole to hang it on, it might be spirited away by any one owning a fractional interest therein. The only interest our citizens now feel in the matter is such as naturally attaches to the precedent established; and as there are institutions of public interest and utility, the origin of which is in joint contributions, it is important to know whether they are jumpable, if so we have our eye on the belfry of the Congregational church, and a friend of ours has visions of a crop of beans, where our stockmen most to congregate to try the mettle of their fiery steeds.

– Petaluma Journal and Argus,  May 5, 1864

The Bell Again.

In our last issue we gave an account of the removal of the Bell from the Belfry of the Baptist Church. It is highly probable that the matter would have rested there had not the ears of Union men been daily offended with the declaration that they “dared not attempt to replace it;” that if they did, vengeance dire would be visited upon them, etc. Aside from those who lacked the discretion to profit by the forbearance shown their premeditated insult to this loyal community, there was yet another class, true to their Copperhead instincts, who hypocritically professed to deprecate the action of those who removed the bell, but who could see in any attempt to restore it to its former place just cause for riot and blood-shed. After the deed had been consummated they were immediately transformed into blatant lambs of peace and were tremulous lest the loyal people of this city should dare to resent insult and injury, and thus “fire” the hearts of those who had thrust a fire brand into this community. But all their tears were of no avail. Tuesday morning the windows of the Baptist Church were nailed down and the doors closed, after which the officers of the church were notified that they could no longer occupy the building. This was the last straw that broke the camels back; forbearance was no longer a virtue, and the loyal citizens of Petaluma at once determined that, regardless of cost or consequences, the church should not only be opened, but the Bell should be restored to its place in the Belfry, before night. At 3 o’clock P. M. the Bell was taken from Baylis’ Warehouse, where it had been stored, was placed on a dray, and as it passed up Main street, Merchants, Professional men, and artisans, as if by common consent joined the throng and proceeded to the church. With a block and tackle the Bell, which weighs over 1000 lbs., was hoisted to its place, and as its “familiar voice” reverberated over hill and dale, the elfin was made to ring with the huzzas of the bystanders. A patriotic song was sung in front of the church, in the chorus to which all joined with a vim. The Stars and Stripes were unfurled from the cupalo, and received three lusty cheers after which the crowd quietly dispersed. Things now stand just as they were prior to the removal of the bell; and if there are any aggrieved we should say to such, you have thus far been protected in your rights, both of person and property; however odious your sentiments to loyal men, in your capacity as citizens you have received every courtesy and consideration at their hands; and as it has been so it will continue to be, unless you wantonly provoke a collision. If the Bell in question, belongs to joint contributors, let those interested meet and honorably determine what disposition shall be made of the same. This is but just and proper, and could not fail to give satisfaction to all. If the Church Edifice is the private property of a few individuals, by a proper showing of the facts in any court of justice they will be protected in their rights. Let this course be pursued and there will be no need of any apprehensions of further trouble; pursue a different course and time will determine whether or no you have acted wisely in your choice.

– Petaluma Journal and Argus,  May 12, 1864

A COPPERHEAD ARGUMENT.—During Divine service in the Baptist Church on Sabbath evening, quite a number of noted Copperheads were observed prowling around the building, taking care, as is their style, to keep under cover of darkness. While the Pastor was in the midst of his sermon, a large stone was hurled against the house, evidently intended for the church window, but which fortunately struck a few inches lower on the clapboard. There was a large congregation present, larger than usual in the evening, and some excitement. Such barbarous conduct deserves the most condign punishment. We are informed the authorities have a clue to the perpetrator of the outrage, and we can only hope he may be arrested and meet his deserts. The rowdies of Petaluma must be taught respect for law and order, and they certainly will be taught, if an indignant public is much further provoked by them.

– Petaluma Journal and Argus,  May 12, 1864

LETTER FROM PETALUMA.
(From an Occasional Correspondent)

Petaluma, May 10, 1864. Editors Alta: On the 29th of April last the bell, for several years used in the First Baptist Church, was taken down by a party of citizens of very questionable loyalty, and placed in a storehouse. The Church being about to try some of its members for disloyalty, it is generally surmised the parties who took away the bell were actuated by motives anything but lovely and loyal, and wished to intimidate the Church, and prevent action in reference to the parties on trial.

The Church, in due time, excluded the disorderly ones, to the number of a dozen or so, and the public generally considered that the action of the Church was just and proper. Every effort failed to reclaim them.

One of the excluded members, having more zeal than knowledge, attempted to trespass on the Church property yesterday morning, rendering himself liable to a heavy penalty, and this circumstance awakened a very indignant feeling in the minds of the better class of our citizens, and they, yesterday afternoon, went in a large body, and took the abstracted bell out of the hands of the Copperheads, and replaced it on the church belfry, with cheers and loyal songs, and finished their work by ringing out a loyal peal, and hoisting a large Flag of our Union on the church steeple.

By this vigorous movement Petaluma has wiped out a stain on its fair fame, and lawless men have been taught a salutary lesson. The Baptists of Petaluma are a peaceable, loyal, mind-their-own-business set of people, and they have a splendid church edifice erected by friends of that denomination, and recently called a loyal Pastor, and are endeavoring to live peaceably with all. But a gang of graceless young and old rowdies have for some time been very impudent to this church. Stones have been thrown and mischief attempted, but our citizens are determined to make a marked example of the first one of these rowdies caught transgressing. Because a church sees fit to adopt loyal resolutions, and has the honesty and courage to enforce them, the candidates for San Quentin here seem to think they have full privilege to annoy. But woful will be the doom of the first one caught attempting violence after this time.
Citizen.

– Daily Alta California, May 13 1864

Spiritual Communication with a Bell. —Some fellow at San Francisco has been holding spiritual communication with that historic church bell of Petaluma. The bell is intensely loyal and accuses its owner of establishing the reign of Dixiedom in Petaluma, because he saw fit to remove it from its elevated position. An appeal to the Spirit of Revolutionary Fathers is made, and just at that juncture a severe shock of an earthquake arrived and brought him to his senses. See Argus.

– Sonoma Democrat, May 14 1864

Baptist Church Difficulty at Petaluma.

Editor of Sonoma County Democrat : The undersigned an humble and quiet spectator in Israel, familiar with and cognizant of all the facts and circumstances out of which the difficulties of the First Baptist Church, of this place, arose, and about which so much has been said and published, has witnessed with deep regret, not to say mortification, the actions and conduct of many of the principal movers in the affair, and which in the judgment of the writer, savors much of injustice, oppression and persecution towards a portion of the members of that Church.

For the sake of the truth and the cause of Christianity, the writer, with your kind permission, will candidly state all the facts to the public through the columns of the Democrat, and ask all charitable and liberal members of the community to withhold a judgment of condemnation against those members of the First Baptist Church of this place, against whom so much has been said, until they know the sequel.

Should you conceive it consonant to your duty as a public journalist to give publicity to the facts, they must run thus:

In September or October, 1863, Rev. Mr. Gould, professing to be a minister of the Baptist persuasion, arrived in Petaluma, and took shelter, meat and drink, at sister F—‘s, (now expelled from the Church), where he and his wife remained for several weeks gratis, preached several sermons, was received by the society and regularly paid and supported tor several months, and until many of the members became satisfied, not only that he was a bad man, but that he was a hypocrite; many things contributed to produce this conclusion, and finally induced several of the members to withhold their support; chief and foremost among which, was his marked discourtesy toward other ministers of the Gospel present in the Church, during divine service, observed not only by the ministers, but by the audience; suffering himself to become angry at trifling and frivolous things, and leaving the Church abruptly, declaring that he never would either preach or pray in it again; refusing to pray for his wife in her last illness, when requested by her, in the presence of members of his Church, his wife being a devout Christian and most estimable lady; gross neglect, and unchristian-like conduct towards his wife during her last illness; peremtory refusal to allow the sisters of the Church to dress the body of his deceased wife in a dress which she had prepared with her own hands, in view of her approaching and anticipated dissolution, and expressly directed and requested that she might be buried in, (true it was more valuable than the one she was buried in); but these are only some of the facts and circumstances that induced the belief that he was unworthy of the support of the members subsequently expelled.

The Rev. Gould being fully aware of all these objections and the consequences, too ignorant to please and too lazy to work, with the duplicity and cunning of a fifth-rate politician, devised a plan by which he fancied he could be continued in the service of the society, and compel it to support him. The scheme opened by calling a business meeting and receiving by previous arrangement, into the Church, nine recusant members, upon their professions, promises, etc.

Rev. Gould and one or two of his devoted friends, being the principal movers in this plan, knowing the objection of a majority of the society to political sermons, made free use of political arguments to carry out the scheme.

The next step was the passage of the following resolution, also by prearrangement among the friends of loyalty and the Rev. Pastor, to wit:

“Resolved, That all the business of the Church, pertaining to financial affairs and discipline, be transacted by the male members of the Church, the female members having the right to vote upon the admission and dismissal, of members.”

This resolution was earnestly protested against by the female members, as well as one or two of the male members, as a gross violation of Baptist usage and Church government.

The adoption of the resolution having given rise to considerable dissatisfaction, as it deprived the female members of a voice in the selection of a pastor, a right which they had always enjoyed as Baptists, was further considered at a business meeting of nine male members, held at the house of the newly admitted members. At this second meeting it was thought, notwithstanding but two male members voted against the resolution, that it was the secesh element in the Church that objected to the Pastorage of the Rev. Mr. Gould, and the adoption of the resolution, although Mr. Gould had, at least generally, very properly abstained from preaching politics.

But, sir, this was the pretext and furnished the means by which seven out of the nine male members at this second meeting, subsequently carried out a portion of the scheme proposed by the Rev. Gould; these seven Christian brethren proposed and adopted the scries of resolutions to which exceptions were subsequently taken.

The very liberal and charitable seven (or a Committee appointed by them, with the aid of Rev. Gould,) first procured the publication of the series in the Evangel of the 17th of March, 1864, and afterwards reported the same to the Church for adoption and approval. The Church refused to adopt them by a decided majority; the moderator failing to declare the vote or result, one of the members requested an announcement, whereupon one of the loyal righteous seven arose in his pew, and with much gravity and in great humility, stated that the vote was only an informal one, and the result of course immaterial.

It will be observed that the first resolution of the series, as subsequently framed by the loyal seven, and published by their direction in the Journal and Argus, deprives the female members of any voice whatever in matters of finance and discipline.

As many of the female members, yea, all of them were bound by their covenant to support their pastor, some of them felt that it was unjust to deny them a voice in the selection of the one they were called upon to support; especially as the whole scheme was gotten up by and intended for the benefit of the devout Rev. Gould, and to continue him as pastor, but the disaffection toward the Rev. Gould was too general, and a committee was appointed to engage another. The committee first obtained the services of the Rev. Mr. Medbury with whom the society were generally pleased, but the very loyal seven and the disappointed Gould, thought they would serve the Lord a little further, and employ one who, in their own language, “would drive the secesh element out of the Church,” they succeeded in obtaining the services of the Rev. Mr. Davidson, who seems to know none greater than himself, and therefore swears by himself and the series of resolutions, prays day and night for the slaughter of all Rebeldom, the punishment and expatration of all Copperheads and sympathizers with slavery or the rebellion, and denounces all objectors to the resolutions as traitors, rebels and heretics.

Under the teaching and advice of this abolition Nomad, all those who refuse to indorse and approve the series ot resolutions, were excommunicated, except four or five who were necessarily absent, nine females and one male member of the society for refusing to approve the resolutions, were expelled, and now, out of these facts has been manufactured all the loyal editorials of the newspapers on the subject, and singular as it may seem, the only voter expelled was at the time and for years had been a Republican voter.

But for fear of writing too much in a single letter, let me add in conclusion that the members expelled, and the remaining few who objected to the resolutions and wore not expelled because of their absence at the meeting, were the founders and builders of the edifice from which they have been or are to be forced by the radical proscriptive spirit of these two Ministerial Nomads and their loyal followers; their labor, money and means, bought the land, built the house, even the American Flag that floats in the breeze, from the belfry, is the handi-work of, and was contributed by those who protest against the resolutions.

The few who built this church house did it when their members were so limited that it cost some of them almost all of their earthly valuables, yet, generously gave it, and like Roger Williams, the founder of the Baptist Church in the United States, sought it as a place at which they conid worship unmolested, unawed and untrammelled by political schismatics or intolerance; but they are now turned out of it for refusal to declare by resolution that the Sisters of the society are unworthy or incompetent to declare who would be a suitable minister for this Church, and for refusing to declare further by resolution that the Government of the United States, the Government of their Fathers is contrary to every divine and moral law.

To the hasty brethren who first gave publicity to those resolutions, we must say, you would have done better to have remembered the 9th and 10th verses of 25th Proverbs.

“Debate thy cause with thy neighbor himself; and discover not a secret “to another; lest he that heareth it, put “thee to shame and thine infamy turn “not away.”

Much has been said about the bell on this Church, which is an entirely separate matter, about which, with your approbation, I will write another epistle, until then believe me a prisoner, yet in the bands of peace.
SCOTUS. Petaluma, May 25th, 1864.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 4 1864

Letter from Scotus.

Editor of Sonoma County Democrat: In my last I promised to write you again, since which time I have visited the western part of the county, was much surprised on my return to this place to-day, to find that the few facts given in my letter about the Baptist Church troubles had been made the subject of three lengthy articles in the Journal and Argus. Have you read those articles? if not read them, the facts seem to trouble the loyal, the “late Pastor of the first Baptist Church,” A. Gould favors us with one of those articles; docs he take issue with “Scotus” on any of the statements of facts? does he deny that his wife was buried in an old alpacca, or that it was only fourteen years old? instead of a decent gown prepared by her own hands, and requested she might be buried in; does he directly deny a single statement made by “Scotus?” Not he, sir; when he does the “Scotus tribe” stands pledged to produce the proof; this, however, we venture to predict the Reverend and devoted gentleman will never call for.

Let the worthy gentleman understand and know that the “unknown assassin” may be found with but little effort. There is a single additional statement in the worthy Pastors letter deserving notice; he says, “the parties who have cooked up the slanderous letter,” etc., never come near my house either to enquire as to our wants (during his wife’s illness) or to proffer the sympathy and assistance so much needed. Now to this charge, “Scotus” pleads guilty, as he had no acquaintance with the lady or her husband, and was wholly ignorant of her illness; but if the pastor means to say that the sisters, then in this Church and since expelled, did not frequently call, sit up with, and as good neighbors and Christians, minister to his lamented wife, then, indeed, has he stated a falsehood, and hero is a tangible issue, on which if he desires, he can find “Scotus.”

Another article in the Journal and Argus, fathered by “Argus” says “it is true that Rev. Gould made the pews with his own hands and gave the thankless beggars then in the Church, $200 in cash and work.” Here is another falsehood the first we shall notice by “Argus,” and this makes up an issue with him on which he can find “Scotus” if he desires. The truth is that Rev. Gould agreed and undertook to put in the pews for a stipulated amount, worked a few days, and then sold his contract to Jas. Hosmer, and received his pay, and Mr. Hosmer performed the labor and received of the Trustees every dollar of the contract price; nor did Rev. Gould ever give two hundred cents to the Church.

Now, sir, these matters were first referred to, and here noticed simply in reference to Rev. Gould to justify the belief which the expelled members of this Church had, that he was not the right man in the right place.

But says “Argus,” “the present loyal members have paid off all the old debts of the Church,” etc. How much did they pay, “Argus?” We know that the Church did not owe to exceed $30. How did they pay it, by appealing in this trying time to those outside loyalists, who, like yourself have studied niggerology until they have strained the mind? We think yes.

As wo owe no potatoe, meat, bread, or clothes bills or grocery bills and pay our pew rent, and see no application of the other portion of “Argus’s” squib to the “Scotus tribe” we dismiss him with the suggestion that we think from his apt use of, and familiarity with small he would make a better “beach comer” than clerk of a church; he would make a full hand in gathering deselect waifs and treasure store.

There was also * * [sic] appeared in the Journal and Argus of the same date, but the “wise men of the cast” will never in all probability see the sign.

The author is evidently a loyal man, he mentions it in his prayers, all of his dreams are exceedingly loyal, he is too loyal to respect a Copperhead or the vile conductor of the Democrat, but stoops from his high loyal degree to notice “Scotus.” But we are writing too much in our letter, will notice them again with your permission. Truth is mighty and will prevail. June 16th, ’64.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 25 1864

Guerillas at Work.– The residence of the Rev. Mr. Davidson, Pastor of First Baptist Church, of, this city, was stoned last Sunday night, at half past 11 o’clock. One half of a brick was thrown through his bedroom window, striking the wall just above the head of his bed, and making a hole through the plastering. Two large stones were hurled through his parlor window one with such force as to go through the curtain, leaving a hole that looked as though it had been cut with a knife. Tho upper sash in the bedroom window was almost entirely destroyed. Mrs. Davidson, who is in delicate health, was frightened terribly. There were three of these murderous assassins, engaged in this outrage, who threw their rocks and then fled like cowardly hounds. We can imagine no reason for this, unless it is of a political nature. Mr, Davidson preaches loyalty and prays for the success of the Union Army! He is an active worker in the cause of temperance and for all worthy objects of charity. He attends strictlv to bis own business, is in offensive and quiet, and is much admired and respected by the loyal portion of this community for his many christian virtues. It is useless to add that this outrage has produced great indignation among our law abiding citizens. We earnestly hope, for the credit of our city, that the officers of the law will at least make an effort to ferret out the guilty ones. –Petaluma Journal.

Mr. Davidson is well known in Santa Cruz as a firm advocate of the cause of temperance, and a loyal man. We hope that all diligence will be taken to arrest and punish these offenders.

– Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel, July 30 1864

FURTHER OUTRAGES. — The Petaluma Journal of August 11th gives another instance of Copperhead outrages in Sonoma county: The day appointed by the President for prayer was observed at Healdsburg, and religious services were held, in the Baptist Church in the morning, and Methodist Church in the evening. Rev. A. Gould preached a loyal sermon in the forenoon, arousing the Coyote and Hit-ite party. After service, in the evening, as Gould, in company with the pastor of the Methodist Church and several ladies, were on their way from church, they were assailed with stones, by concealed scoundrels. On the following evening, while Gould was alone in his study, the house was assailed with great violence, and a shower of blessings in the form of bricks and bowlders came against the house, smashing things considerably. Gould went to the door and heard the rowdies running as for dear life. We truly live in delightful times, when loyal Christian people are endangered in life and properly because they are true to God and the nation. Our Baptist friends seem special favorites of the rebels and their rowdy allies. We heartily sympathize with them in their persecutions, and only hope the Union people may be able, ere long, to “tie to” some of their assailants. Rev. A. Gould is as good and loyal a man as we have in California.

– Sacramento Daily Union, August 15 1864

We have noticed recently, and have heard others remark it, that the bell in the Baptist Church, wich is rung morning, noon and night, has lost much of its clear sweet tone. It has either received a fracture or chafes against something which deadens its sound.

– Petaluma Journal and Argus, January 4 1866

Cracked-The bell on the Baptist Church has received a crack which renders it useless for the present. This is unfortunate, as it was not only remarkable for the clearness and compass of its tone, but had an historic association – being the Vigilance Committee bell, during troublesome times in San Francisco, and sounded the death knell of Casey, Corey, Hethrington, and Brace, and struck terror to the hearts of other desperadoes of that city.

If the facture cannot be healed by brazing, the bell will have to be recast. For the present the bell on the Congregational Church will be rung morning, noon and night.

– Petaluma Journal and Argus, January 11 1866

Scranton, Penn.–…Your old friend Davidson is here. When I was in Petaluma you remember he was Pastor to the Baptists. Everytime we meet he has something to say of Petaluma, and always gives your town a fair name. He occasionally laughs loud and long in talking over some of his experiences there. He says his experience at Petaluma partook of both comedy and tragedy, and when he publishes his life he calculates the chapter headed “A Year in Petaluma,” will increase the value of the copyright many thousand dollars…

– Petaluma Argus, April 16 1868

THE OLD BELL
An Interesting Talk With M. Doyle About Its History.

Knowing that M. Doyle wan directly interested in the famous old bell of the Baptist Church in Petaluma, about which so much has been written, a Democrat reporter called on him Monday afternoon for a short talk on the subject.

“Yes,” said Mr. Doyle, “I know all about the old bell, and I want to say right here that it was never stolen, as the Imprint has it. I was the man who bought the old bell from Conroy & O’Connor for $550, and of that sum I had subscribed $110. It was not stolen from the steeple, but was taken down in the middle of the day by myself and a number of sailors I had hired from the sloops in the creek.”

“Why was it taken down?”

“Because that fanatical Republican, Davidson, the pastor, who came to Petaluma from the East, had turned all the Democrats out of the church. I said at the time that no bell in which I had a cent’s interest should hang over a church where such a sentiment was allowed to prevail. Others felt the same as I did on the subject. When the bell was removed many persons stood around, among them being members of the city government. After it was carted to Baylis’ warehouse I offered to give twice as much as any man in town to build a belfry on the plaza or put it over the engine house, but I was bound it should not hang over that church. Instead of being put back in the steeple on the next morning, it stayed in the Baylis warehouse for three months [ED: It was twelve days – je, July, 2018]. It is an historic old relic anyway, and when in its prime was one of the finest bells I ever heard. On a clear day it could be heard in Bloomfield and Sonoma. In fact, when it was rung in San Francisco at the time Casey and Corey were hung, it has been said, the wind being favorable, that it was heard in San Jose. But what I have said about the removal of the bell in the daytime many of the older citizens of Petaluma will bear me out. In order to keep my word about not letting the bell hang over the church I agreed, after it was put back, to sell my interest to the city, and John Shrofe, the chairman of the trustees, bought it on behalf of the city.”

– Sonoma Democrat, December 23 1893

A Famous Bell.

A proposition has been made to exhibit the bell in the Baptist Church in Petaluma with the Sonoma County display at the Midwinter Fair. The bell has a remarkable history; a history which will within a century make it almost as famous in California as the old Liberty bell of Philadelphia. It is a pure metal bell manufactured by Ho er & Co., of Boston, and weighs about 1,150 pounds [ED: It was cast by Henry N. Hooper & Co. in Boston, 1855 – je/July, 2018]. It is the identical bell owned and used by the famous Vigilance Committee in the historic days of 1860. It was then rang by the committee when William T. Coleman was its president. Those were days that tried the souls of San Francisco’s worst men. During the war it was stolen from the church steeple, and on being replaced was cracked one dark midnight, by a sledge-hammer.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 23 1893

OLD BELL TO STAY IN PETALUMA
Relic of Vigilantes’ Day Wanted for San Francisco Museum, Will Remain in Sonoma County Town

There has been a little agitation in Petaluma for a few days since the city of San Francisco sent a request that the old bell that hung so long in the belfry of the Petaluma Baptist church, be sent there for installation in a museum, or something of the kind. It is not likely, however, that the bell will be shipped away from Petaluma, for on Monday night the trustees of the Baptist church voted to keep the bell in the following resolution;

Whereas, It has come to our attention through a communication published in a local paper that certain parties desire that our old bell be presented to a San Francisco museum, we deem it wise at this time to state our position in the matter.

The bell was purchased with funds raised by subscription among the members and friends among the and became the sole property of the Petaluma Baptist church. [sic]

It called the people of this community to public worship, and tolled in announcement of the death of scores of the early residents of this city and surrounding territory for years prior to the Civil War.

During the early stages of the war it announced the receipt of news of victories of the contending armies. Friends of the Northern forces rang it to proclaim the news of Union victories and adherents of the South rang it on receipt of news of victories of the Confederate armies. It was on account, of such announcements that the bell was finally broken by a zealous adherent of one of the contending forces.

The bell was for a time used by the Vigilante Committee of San Francisco, but it has been the property of this church for more than half a century and has become more closely connected with the history of Petaluma than it was with that of San Francisco: therefore, be it

Resolved, That we announce through the press of Petaluma that we believe it to be our duty to retain possession Of the old bell as the property of the Petaluma Baptist church and as soon as possible to arrange for its being kept where the public can view it from time to time.

Trustees of Petaluma Baptist Church.

– Press Democrat, April 5 1916

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A FAR AWAY OUTPOST OF DIXIE

True: Sonoma county was on the Confederacy’s side during the Civil War (mostly). That fact never fails to draw a reaction when it’s mentioned here in an article and someone in the audience always gasps when it comes up in a presentation.

But the situation was also not so simple. Being pro-Confederate in California did not necessarily mean someone was for slavery in the South, and voting against Lincoln did not even reveal the voter was against the Union; there were many issues at play.

To (hopefully) clarify these issues and correct some misinformation that’s been floating around for decades, what follows is an overview of the Sonoma county homefront during the Civil War, using fresh statistical analysis and pointing out some relevant articles that have appeared here earlier.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Lincoln had support in Petaluma and some small hamlets, but never came close to winning the overall Sonoma county vote. In Santa Rosa, Sebastopol and Sonoma, Lincoln was always strongly opposed – but there is no clear explanation why those communities were so anti-Union before and during the Civil War. Five men from Sonoma county went East and enlisted as soldiers, most of them for the Confederacy. Further details on all these points are discussed below.

 

Although it’s been mistakenly claimed (including in this journal) that Sonoma was the only county in California that never voted for Lincoln, at least eight others cast most of their votes against him in both 1860 and 1864.1

What gave the voting records of Sonoma county significance was that Sonoma had the most people on the coast after San Francisco (Sacramento and counties in the Sierra gold country had the largest populations). Also among the never-Lincoln counties was Los Angeles – but in the early 1860s, Sonoma had more voters than them.

It was joked that Sonoma county tilted so far to the South it was called, “the state of Missouri,” due to so many early residents coming from there and other pro-secession states. But an analysis of the 1860 census for the Santa Rosa Township shows only two out of five were born in a state that opposed the Union. Although the census didn’t record where they lived before coming here, it’s probably fair to generalize and say the majority did NOT come from rebel (or rebel-friendly) places.2

Opposing Lincoln’s Republican party were Democrats taking a wide range of positions. Some hardliners hoped the South would defeat the North militarily or that Washington would give in and recognize the Confederate States of America as a sovereign nation. Moderate Democrats wanted to rejoin the Union with some sort of compromise over slavery. In Sonoma county, there were two big reasons why the Democratic message was unusually appealing – slavery and the idea that federal laws and treaties could possibly be overturned by the state.

Although California was a “free state,” slavery was widely practiced here in the years around the Civil War. One of the very first laws passed by the state legislature had made it legal to arrest Native people “on the complaint of any resident citizen” and auction them off to the top bidder for four months, while their children could be “apprenticed” to whites until they reached adulthood. North of Sonoma county, Indian villages were attacked by white raiders who kidnapped the children in order to sell them. (“The baby hunters sneak up to a rancheria, kill the bucks [men], pick out the best looking squaws, ravish them, and make off with their young ones” – Sacramento Union, 1862.) If that wasn’t bad enough, in 1860 Democrats wrote amendments to the law that kept the children in servitude until they turned 25 years old while any Native adults arrested for simple vagrancy could be sentenced to serve as an “apprentice” for up to ten years. These laws would only be partially repealed in 1863, with the status of those already enslaved not addressed until ratification of the 13th and 14th Amendments after the end of the Civil War. (More background.) And unlike the South where African-American slaves cost about $800 in 1860, underage Native American slaves in California were less than $100 and affordable to many households. The Democratic-leaning communities around here appear to have embraced the slavery laws – the 1860 census lists 17 underage “Indian servants” in the Sebastopol area including six year-old “Charley.”

Local farmers may also have been inclined to support the Democratic party because the political hot potato was anger over the government taking years to resolve land claims made by those squatting on properties which were legally still Mexican ranchos. As discussed here, Democrats here promoted their notion of “popular sovereignty,” which was the concept that every state and territory had a right to set its own laws and rules, even on slavery. In Sonoma county they piggybacked onto the politically powerful settler’s movement, which had its own definition of sovereignty – namely, it wanted California to proclaim the Mexican and Spanish land grants were “fraudulent.”

Besides election results, another way to take the pulse of a community was to look at its newspaper(s), which in Civil War-era Santa Rosa was the Sonoma Democrat, the direct ancestor of the Press Democrat. Judging by what appeared there, it would appear the town was gung-ho behind the Confederacy, even justifying African-American slavery without hesitation.

Sonoma Democrat editor Thomas L. Thompson’s paper was astonishingly racist and continued being so long after the war. There were hundreds of uses of the “n-word” during his thirty-odd year tenure, and to squeeze that many hateful slurs into a four-page weekly suggests that Thompson was not only an awful person but probably mentally ill. There’s no question he was certifiably nuts when he committed suicide in 1898 – the coroner’s jury ruled he was “mentally deranged” after ranting that the Odd Fellows’ Lodge was out to get him.

There were over a couple of dozen “Copperhead” newspapers in California during the Civil War endorsing pro-Confederacy views, as detailed below. Some (particularly the Napa Echo and Marysville Express) were quoted in the Alta and Sacramento papers as representing the views of the state’s rebel faction – but as far as can be determined by searching historic newspaper pages online, the Sonoma Democrat’s Civil War opinion pieces were almost totally ignored outside of this county, further suggesting what appeared in the Thompson paper concerning the war was not taken seriously.

As the war slogged on, Thompson only became increasingly rabid in his support of Dixie, and by the end was even reprinting propaganda from Southern papers – see “A SHORT TRUCE IN THE (UN)CIVIL WAR.” A choice line appeared in 1864, when he wrote, “the abolition party who now rule the country have become completely demonized by the infernal spirit of fanaticism with which they are possessed.” That’s a remarkably large gob of spittle to pack into just two dozen words.


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Archive .zip file of Sonoma County census and election reports discussed in this article



But judging from election returns, the people living in Santa Rosa and the other local Copperhead towns were headed in the opposite direction and became more moderate over the duration of the war. Votes are a problematic measure of public opinion (especially back then, when only white males could vote) but it’s the best measure we have.

Before the 1860 election, Thompson told readers that Lincoln was a bumbling fool who would soon cause the collapse of the Union (see “THAT TERRIBLE MAN RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT“) and the county seemed to agree with him; overall, two out of three voted against Lincoln.3 In Santa Rosa he only got about half that many votes (18 percent).

That year was an odd four-way election with both Northern and Southern Democrats in the running. Besides Lincoln, the official Democratic Party candidate was Stephen A. Douglas, who thought he could somehow forge a grand compromise to keep the United States patched together; Southern Democrat Breckinridge, who wanted to uphold slavery as an absolute Constitutional right; and third-party candidate Bell, who wanted to appease the South by ignoring the slavery issue altogether.

PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION RETURNS

1860

Lincoln

Breckinridge

Douglas

Bell

For Lincoln

Census Pop.

Santa Rosa

91

205

113

94

18%

1623

Analy

217

273

88

27

36%

1604

Sonoma

84

213

29

18

24%

597

Petaluma

375

223

126

151

43%

1505

As shown in the table above, the hardliner Breckinridge won in every town except Petaluma. Votes in the Analy district seem mixed because it encompassed Bloomfield, which was nearly as large as Sebastopol at the time (!) and where they enthusiastically supported the Union. Note also that Lincoln won in Petaluma, but the combined anti-Union candidates still got the most votes there.

A clearer picture emerges from the 1861 elections, which voted for all top state offices. Now Bloomfield was separated as its own precinct so we can see that Sebastopol, Santa Rosa and Sonoma marched pretty much in lockstep. (Anecdotes about Sebastopol’s Confederate sympathies can be read here.)

The race for governor was a mirror of the previous year’s presidential election. The party-of-Lincoln Republican was Leland Stanford who was opposed by moderate and hardline Democrats: John Conness, the squishy “Union Democrat” who wanted a ceasefire followed by some sort of peace talks, and John McConnell, the (I kid you not) “Dixie Disunion Democrat” who wanted to drink the blood of Lincoln supporters, or something. The radical McConnell won in the pro-rebel towns, but Stanford did far better in those places than Lincoln had.

CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR

1861

Stanford

McConnell

Conness

Pro Democrat

Santa Rosa

164

264

77

68%

Analy

79

117

45

67%

Sonoma

127

218

10

64%

Petaluma

427

173

106

40%

Bloomfield

144

25

29

27%

1862 was a minor election year not discussed here, as there were only candidates for the state legislature – races where personal links may trump political party loyalty. Thompson complained the results were a setback for Democrats.

The 1863 election was another one for top state offices and had an interesting twist: Voters could choose a party slate for all those positions – presumably there were checkboxes for “All State Democrats/Republicans,” or similar. And so they did; county votes for all Democratic candidates hover around 1,715 and around 1,690 for all Republicans.

As shown below, this provides an opportunity to guesstimate party loyalty in the five main communities. Compared to 1860, Confederate support was weakening – even while the Republican majority in Petaluma grew stronger. Twice as many voted Democrat in the Copperhead towns while in Petaluma-Bloomfield, for every two who voted Democrat, five voted Republican.

FULL STATE TICKET

1863

Democrat

Republican

Santa Rosa

272

140

Sebastopol

142

71

Sonoma

162

84

Petaluma

148

363

Bloomfield

44

110

Also in 1863 the remaining wheels on Thompson’s bus began flying off. In his newspaper there was no longer even a (R) designation next to a candidate’s name – now he used (A) for the “abolition” party. His pro-rebel propaganda took on a new urgency; in his paper that year, Gettysburg was reported as a strategic withdrawal and not a Southern defeat.

That was also the peak year of reported activity by the “Knights of the Golden Circle,” a seditious underground rebel group mainly operating in the Midwest. It’s now believed there really was no organization behind it, being instead uncoordinated attacks and other acts of violence by anti-Yankee deplorables – that the KGC was mostly a bogeyman ginned up by Northern papers wanting to write sensationalist propaganda about domestic terrorism. Nevertheless, the fear was real and also in 1863 a “Union League” was formed in California to counter the supposed threat. Meanwhile, the Sonoma Democrat reprinted items about the KGC to bolster its “fake news” claim of grassroots opposition to the Union within Northern states. More on this topic will appear in a later item.

And that brings us to 1864, the year of Lincoln’s re-election. This time he had just one opponent – George McClellan, former general-in-chief of all the Union armies until Lincoln removed him from command after his epic military failures of 1862 including Antietam, where a quarter of the entire Union army was killed or critically injured in a single day. McClellan campaigned as the anti-Lincoln, telling voters he personally knew the president was an oafish clod who would let the the war drag on forever. Lincoln won the election in a landslide.

In Sonoma county, Lincoln fared better than he had in 1860, when two out of three voted against him (66%). This time he still lost in the county overall, with most voters (57%) picking McClellan.4 True to form in printing only good news about the South, the Sonoma Democrat never published Lincoln’s total local vote.

PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION RETURNS

1864

Lincoln

McClellan

For Lincoln

Santa Rosa

208

437

32%

Sebastopol

114

191

37%

Sonoma

112

229

33%

Petaluma

559

353

61%

Bloomfield

170

67

72%

When the war began five men from Sonoma county felt strongly enough to enlist. (I am not counting Joseph Hooker, as “Fighting Joe” had not lived here since 1858.) All served as officers and two died from combat wounds. They are:

*

ARCHIBALD CAMPBELL GODWIN was an American settler in the Geyserville area during the early 1850s where he opened the first store. For a time he was the owner of The Geysers as well as the resort hotel built nearby, but it was still years away from becoming a profitable tourist attraction. He returned to his native state of Virginia in the summer of 1861 and rose quickly in the Confederate army ranks, briefly posted as commander of a prisoner of war camp where he was accused of cruelty (see Wikipedia). He saw combat at Fredericksburg and Gettysburg and was an acting brigadier general when he was killed during the 1864 Battle of Opequon (Third Battle of Winchester). Much false information on Godwin has been repeated as gospel in books, articles and on the internet, including the claim he was supposedly an Indian fighter and so adept at dodging arrows that a tribe agreed to sign a treaty with him. Ray Owen, who quite probably is half bloodhound, traced the misinformation back to a single 1920s magazine article about Confederate war heroes, confirming one of his favorite sayings: “Once a mistake gets into print, it takes on a life of its own.”

*

RODERICK MATHESON went East to attend Lincoln’s inauguration and when the war began he was still in New York City, where he was instrumental in organizing the California Regiment (technically, the 32nd Regiment of New York). Colonel Matheson died of injuries from the 1862 Battle of South Mountain and was the second Californian to die in the war. His body was shipped around the Horn back to Healdsburg (“the body has been embalmed, and the features have a very life-like look” – Daily Alta) and buried in Oak Mound Cemetery. His funeral cortege on November 9 from Petaluma to the graveyard was the only occasion during the Civil War when a truce was declared between the armchair warriors of Petaluma and Santa Rosa, the procession stopping in the City of the Roses for lunch and eulogy from “General” Otho Hinton.

*

ROBERT FLOURNOY resigned as Sonoma county District Attorney in July, 1861 to fight for the Confederacy. He was Captain of Company E, Arkansas 13th Infantry Regiment, and the next year the Petaluma Argus printed that his head was shot off by a cannonball (it was more than a year later before that paper reported that his head was indeed still mounted). As the rebel forces fell into disarray and dwindled, his company was consolidated with others from Kentucky and Tennessee. After the war he became an attorney in Louisville, later moving to Los Angeles where he spent the rest of his life.

*

REGINALD THOMPSON stuck close to Flournoy through the Civil War and after. They went East together, enlisted with the same Confederate regiment, and Captain Thompson took command of Company E when Flournoy was reassigned. Years later a story about Thompson was told by his commander: Their brigade was making its way on foot through a heavily-wooded area when a Union soldier stepped out from behind a tree and took dead aim at him. He stopped, stood up straight and told the soldier, “shoot, and be quick about it.” Cowed by Thompson’s bravery, the soldier lowered his rifle and allowed the “little captain” to pass. Following the war he became a Louisville lawyer like his friend Flournoy, remaining there for the rest of his life and where he became a much respected municipal judge. He was a notary public in Santa Rosa before the war but once he left, was never mentioned again in the Sonoma Democrat although he was the brother of editor Thomas Thompson. Biographical materials about Thomas refer just to his two other brothers; only Thomas’s obituary in the Press Democrat names Reginald as “another brother” far down the article in a paragraph listing their sisters. No notice of his death in 1899 can be found in any Sonoma county newspaper.

*

JUDSON HAYCOCK was an attorney in the town of Sonoma but he barely qualifies as a county resident – he lived there for only a year, and apparently came to the area in the summer of 1860 at the behest of Agoston Haraszthy to form the “Sonoma Tule Land Company,” which drained 8,000 acres of marshland on San Pablo Bay (near Sears Point, perhaps?) for farming. Haycock was commissioned as a Union army officer in 1861 thanks to a personal request to Lincoln made by his brother-in-law, California Senator Latham. He mainly served as a recruiter for the 1st United States Cavalry, but a Civil War researcher who wrote a short biography of Haycock found he was frequently AWOL, disappearing for months at a time. He was finally arrested in 1864 and dismissed from the service for “cowardice, drunkenness on duty, and absence without leave.” He returned to California and resumed his legal practice in San Francisco and Vallejo. A newspaper later described him as “a young attorney whose career, though promising at the time, never came to anything above the most severe mediocrity – if that.”
1 Voting against Lincoln in 1860: Calaveras, Colusa, Del Norte, El Dorado, Fresno, Humboldt, Klamath, Los Angeles, Mariposa, Mendocino, Merced, Napa, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Joaquin, Santa Barbara, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity, Tulare, Tuolumne, Yolo, Yuba (3 counties were incomplete). Voting against Lincoln in 1864: Colusa, Fresno, Lake, Los Angeles, Mariposa, Mendocino, Merced, Sonoma, Tulare (6 counties were incomplete)
2 Of the 1,637 people tabulated in the 1860 census of the Santa Rosa Township, about 654 were born in secessionist states. Missouri and Indiana were also counted because of their weak support for the Union. A more accurate count is possible but would require considerable time because of the poor handwriting and unusual ad hoc abbreviations used by the enumerator, along with misspellings such as “Mare Land” and “Eutaw Territory.”
3 In the 1860 election there were 3,764 total votes in Sonoma county, with 1,236 voting for Lincoln. For the towns shown in the 1860 table above there were 2,327 total votes, with 767 voting for Lincoln.
4 In the 1864 election there were 4,686 total votes in Sonoma county, with 2,026 voting for Lincoln and 2,386 for McClellan.

Cᴏᴘᴘᴇʀʜᴇᴀᴅ Nᴇᴡsᴘᴀᴘᴇʀs Iɴ Cᴀʟɪғᴏʀɴɪᴀ. In answer to a correspondent, the San Francisco Flag gives the following as the list of Copperhead papers in California: Yreka Union, Colusa Sun, Marysville Express, Sierra Standard, Auburn Herald, Snelling Banner, Placerville Democrat, Dutch Flat Enquirer, Sonora Democrat, Amador Dispatch, Mariposa Free Press, Los Angeles Star, Napa Echo, Napa Reporter, Santa Rosa Democrat, Stockton Beacon, and Beriah’s Press, the Monitor, the Gleaner, the Hebrew, Irish News, Echo du Pacifique, L’Union Franco Americane, of San Francisco. There are several of the above-named sheets whose disloyalty is of a very mild form, and some of the balance are so utterly flat, obscure and devoid of any life or influence, that they hardly deserve enumeration as having any political complexion at all.

[Additional Copperhead newspapers not mentioned here were the Mountain Democrat, Merced Banner, San Jose Tribune, Placer Herald and San Joaquin Republican – je/June 2018]

– Marysville Daily Appeal, June 8 1864

Gone East. — R. C. Flournoy, Esq., has resigned the office of District Attorney of Sonoma county, and is on his way to his native State—Arkansas. A. C. Godwin, Esq., of Petaluma, has taken his departure for his native State—Virginia. Reg. H. Thompson, Esq., resigned the office of Notary Public, and has also gone East. The latter is a brother of the editor of this paper and was recently one of its editors. We are sorry to part with so valuable a portion of the community, and trust that they will return at no distant day. But theirs is a sacred mission. They have kindred there—brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers—who will need probably their presence. May they have a safe return.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 18 1861

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