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.




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.)




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


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



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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There were worst places to live in California than Santa Rosa in the 19th century – there’s always gotta be someplace worse – but if you were an African-American, this town was a really hard place to call home.

There are 23 African-Americans buried at Santa Rosa’s old graveyard, the Rural Cemetery (listed below). We don’t know much about most of them aside from vitals: Birth/death, coroner’s reason why they died, maybe their job. At least four had been slaves, possibly up to seven. Very few had an obituary in any newspaper; what little trace that remains will appear in the revised cemetery book coming out later this year with thumbnail profiles for almost every person there, which will instantly make it the most important work on local history ever published. About half of the African-Americans buried there are lost, meaning the locations of their graves are unknown. Any wooden or temporary markers are long gone.

But four of them have remarkable histories which are explored in the following three articles: John Richards, Edmund Potter and his sister Elizabeth, and Henry Davidson deserve to be remembered and honored.

Their stories are intertwined with Santa Rosa as it existed in their day – which is to say, a shockingly racist small town. While it’s always been generally well known that this village was a cheerleader for the Confederacy around the Civil War, little has been detailed about the way black members of the community were treated here in the decades after, often facing routine cruelty and sometimes violence. Yes, Santa Rosa discriminated against the Chinese and like many communities in the West formed an Anti-Chinese League in 1886, but that hostility simmered down. Not so the feelings toward African-Americans.

Other towns in California were sympathetic to the antebellum South, but try and find another place where anger at its defeat burned for decades like a fire which would never extinguish. Read the old Democrat newspaper and enter a world with upside-down racial grievances; everything would be okay if only African-Americans just went away (somewhere); there was sometimes inchoate rage that slaves had (somehow) instigated the Civil War. The Democrat liberally sprinkled its pages with the “n word” and other racial slurs before, during and after the war, often reprinting the most racist filth scraped from Southern newspapers. The hatefulness in that paper was unrelenting and often savage.

The publisher of the Democrat was Thomas Larkin Thompson, and he bears full responsibility for the shameful things that appeared (or did not appear) in his pages. In my opinion he was the most loathsome man in Santa Rosa’s history, and that’s really saying something.

Thomas L. Thompson does not bear the blame alone; he didn’t edit the newspaper after 1882, when he was elected California Secretary of State and moved to Sacramento. After that he was a one-term congressman and after that a diplomat. His name remained on the masthead (and was often the only name mentioned) as “manager,” although the editing and hands-on work was done by his brother Robert, veteran journalist John F. Linthicum and probably others. While there was a sharp drop in the frequency of actual racial slurs after Thomas L. surrendered the editor’s chair, the Democrat never lost an opportunity to applaud Jim Crow or mourn the Lost Cause; there was an 1889 item headlined, “Slavery’s Sunny Side” describing life on a Georgia plantation as “a colored people’s paradise…only kind treatment from Master and Mistress.”


1860   33 of 1,637 total (2%)
1870   9 of 2,919 (0.3%)
1880   22 of 3,467 (0.6%)
1890   26 of 5,120 (0.7%)

All data from census field collections except 1890, which is only available in summary. The larger 1860 count included seven black members of the Sampson Wright family, 5 of whom were Wright’s ex-slaves brought from Missouri (see “THE GRAVE OF THE COLORED BOY“) and Elizabeth Potter/Hudson was mistakenly counted twice.

Why any African-Americans chose to live in 19th century Santa Rosa is a complete mystery – and as the summary to the right shows, few did. And having wallowed in the mud pit of the 19th century Democrat by reading it over many years, I still can’t say whether Thompson and the other editors were molding racist attitudes or were only reflecting the hatefulness already ingrained in this particular community. Our hometown race-haters were anything but passive; as shown in the profiles that follow, the cruelty and animus was dished out by the white citizens of Santa Rosa – women, men and children, the city government and city police.

The drawing of Santa Rosa at the top of this page and below was made in the mid 1870s, when Santa Rosa was about the whitest place in the whitest county in the whitest state. Santa Rosa would not exceed three dozen African-American residents for more than a half century after that. It was drawn, by the way, by Grafton Tyler Brown, the owner of a lithography printing house in San Francisco. Besides being a successful businessman and a gifted artist, he was black – which the Democrat never mentioned, even while praising his talent.

That was typical of what the Democrat newspaper did – it erased everything about African-Americans that did not fit racist stereotypes. And it wasn’t just outsiders who were given that treatment; black members of this community were rarely mentioned except when there were opportunities to make fun of them.

The historical record has suffered because of this racial censorship. To profile the three men in this series it was necessary to squeeze out details from papers elsewhere, particularly the weekly African-American newspapers published in San Francisco at that time: The Elevator and The Pacific Appeal.

Those weeklies revealed 19th century black Santa Rosa was far less provincial than one might have expected. African-Americans in Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties were plugged into a network of Bay Area civil rights activists which included storied men such as Underground Railroad conductors J. Madison Bell and William H. Yates. Also out here were the sons of prominent East Coast black abolitionists David Ruggles and James G. Barbadoes. (A h/t for explaining these connections to Lloyd Belton, who is researching black abolitionists for his PhD at University of Leeds.)

Bordered by Santa Rosa on the north and Stockton on the south, this extended 19th century African-American community organized clubs, societies and committees working on equality issues; we can trace activist travels in the black weeklies and resources such as the 1919 book, Negro Trail Blazers of California. As far as I can tell, there is no historical research into this important chapter of the American civil rights movement; should any historian be looking for an original dissertation topic, this is very fertile territory.

Civil rights organizers from Santa Rosa included John Richards and a man named Johnson, who was considered a particularly good orator.* As discussed in his following profile, Richards’ activism took him to San Francisco, San Jose and Sacramento. Much of that happened before the train arrived here, making this no easy undertaking for any of them, nor cheap; they started doing this back when stagecoach trips from San Jose to Sonoma county took at least a couple of days each way.

Coming up here regularly from the Bay Area was Jacob Overton, whose visits to Santa Rosa can be traced over 35 years. He spent much of his time, energy and money as a civil rights activist with his wife, Sarah, who became an important black speaker during the 1911 suffrage campaign. They traveled around the state and Nevada lobbying for African-American schools and joining seemingly every group backing state and national equality causes, forging bonds within black micro-communities such as Santa Rosa. Overton was also a minister and a highly popular restauranteur and caterer around San Jose. He is prominent in two of the profiles that follow.

All three men profiled here had obituaries in the Democrat, and each contained details which revealed the paper knew a good deal about the deceased and his interesting past. Yet none of the obits mention a word about any connections to the civil rights movement, either locally or prior to coming here – even in death that was a forbidden topic in Santa Rosa.

Read through the following profiles and discover the Democrat was guilty of far uglier things than printing rehashed articles tarnished with “n words.” It disappeared African-American townsfolk by not writing obituaries for most of them and avoided mention of any of their doings, not just those which would cast them in a favorable light. Weddings, deaths, births, arrivals and departures were largely ignored. By hiding the lives of our small town’s black neighbors, the paper scrubbed away their identity until all that was left for the rest of the community to see was color.

After 150 years (more or less) time is long overdue to remember who they were, what they did and say their names.


* “Mr. Johnson, a young colored man from Santa Rosa” was identified as an eloquent speaker in The Elevator, July 21 1865. It was probably Amos Johnson, the schoolteacher for the Santa Rosa “colored school” 1864-1865 who was a correspondent to The Elevator and mentioned lecturing at the Phoenixonian Institute in 1867. After 1866 he lived in Stockton, then Sacramento. In 1868 a Henry Johnson was mentioned in Santa Rosa, likely the Henry C. Johnson who was president of the “United Sons of Friendship” at the end of that year in Sacramento (Amos Johnson was the group’s secretary). Amos was mentioned only once in the Democrat, and that in a 1866 reprint of a letter to The Elevator written by Judge Churchman about the “negro school.”



William H. Carter (1877-1913) location unknown
Henry W. Davison (1819-1899) Main Circle 237
Jane Davison (1822-1890) same
Maude G. Johnson (1877-1878) location unknown
Elliott Jones (1892-1960) location unknown
Henry Jones (1840-1879) location unknown
Martha Jones (1845-1879) location unknown
Morgan Kinkead (1872-1941) location unknown
Joe Lee (1886-1934) location unknown
Dolphus Milligan (1874-1944) location unknown
Ruben Milligan (1924-1924) location unknown
William Milligan (1879-1938) location unknown
Edmund Potter (1817-1908)) Main Circle 1
Elizabeth Potter (1826-1876) same
Louisa Potter (1843-1895) same
Martha Potter (1811-1880) same
John Richards (1824-1879) Western Half Circle 60
Philena Richards (1812-1880) same
Loretha Robertson (1962-1962) location unknown
James R. Safford (1872-1915) Western Half Circle 240
George Washington (1816-1886) location unknown
John Williams (1880-1911) location unknown
Davis Wright (1853-1865) ) Main Circle 118


Detail of Santa Rosa panorama c. 1874 by Grafton T. Brown (Bancroft Library). The view is approximately from the modern intersection of Morgan and Ninth streets; the tall building with cupola is the Christian College built 1872 at B and Tenth street
Detail of Santa Rosa panorama c. 1874 by Grafton T. Brown (Bancroft Library). The view is approximately from the modern intersection of Morgan and Ninth streets; the tall building with cupola is the Christian College built 1872 at B and Tenth street

Mr. C. C. Kuchel, the well known lithographer of San Francisco, has just completed a lithographic view of the town of Santa Rosa, a copy of which we have received. The sketches were taken by Grafton T. Brown, Mr. Kuchel’s traveling artist, and the scenes are very correct. Mr. Brown, we understand, will visit Petaluma soon, for the purpose of taking some views in that vicinity. His presence in that city will afford an excellent opportunity to her citizens to get a correct view of Petaluma, as they could not procure the services of any one more competent to perform the work.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 31 1862

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Had LinkedIn existed a century ago, his profile would have been the thinnest. POSITION: Assistant undertaker, Santa Rosa CA. EXPERIENCE: 33 years. It would seem like the profile of an inconsequential (and probably boring) fellow, yet he was close friends with some of the best artists in America. Curators from top museums were regularly visiting his modest homes, first on Chinn street in Santa Rosa and then on Vine street in Sebastopol. His name was John Pearson Stanley and he was one of the most interesting people living here around the turn of the century.

Today he’s mentioned only by local cemetery buffs because a teardrop-shaped corner of the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery bears his name. Back then he was known as the kindly middle-aged – and then elderly – man who arranged the funeral and burial of hundreds and hundreds of local people between 1883 and 1918. He was also popular because he had a knack for growing chrysanthemums and in the 1890s our ancestors were chrysanthemum crazy, with a chrysanthemum festival every year or so. It’s a wonder Santa Rosa wasn’t renamed Santa Crisantemo.

But the reason he had a measure of nationwide fame was because he was such a connoisseur of fine art. His homes were galleries of paintings by William Keith, Lorenzo Latimer, Grace Hudson and others, some whom he encouraged and befriended before their careers took off. Mostly, however, he was renowned as having a remarkable collection of Indian baskets.

Over the years he had hundreds of baskets and appears to have bought them directly from local Pomo weavers. From the 1898 PD:

On Thursday when a Press Democrat reporter passed the undertaking parlors of M. S. Davis on Fourth street, Mr. Stanley was sitting amidst a group of the dark gentlemen examining some of their handiwork in the shape of baskets. One of the little baskets which the Indians had, upon which probably work had been put on and off for three months or so, could have been bought for about ten dollars.

Art collectors and museums were just starting to recognize the incredible artistry of these baskets and word spread about Stanley’s collection. He sold everything he had to the de Young Museum, rebuilt his holdings, and then the Hearst Museum again bought everything he had. He started anew and buyers kept queuing up at his door – two visited on the same day once, and a purchasing agent for “several of the large eastern museums” came to him on a buying trip.

How could an assistant undertaker afford to build collections such as these? The PD reported Mrs. Hearst’s curator “made him a good offer for it” so his occasional forays as a basket art dealer were likely quite profitable. His obituary suggests some of the paintings were gifts, and some may have been bartered; it’s known he gave Grace Hudson and her husband valuable antiques, including a bronze Roman candlestick, a Russian samovar from Fort Ross, a fine Turkish rug and a 49er gold miner’s pan.1 Plus aside from his undertaking salary, Stanley also had an income stream from his side business – selling graves.

Current map of Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery with Stanley section highlighted (see PDF of full color map)

(RIGHT: The full Stanley Addition of 1884)

From the same family that originally owned the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery land, Stanley bought 5.3 adjacent acres at $250 per. This was the property between the cemetery and Poppy Creek; he also acquired the use of water lines across the entire place.2 He added roads to his addition to the cemetery, made other improvements and began selling lots, starting with a low, low sale price of $10 a grave (see advertisement below). That may not seem like much today, but in 1884 most workers were lucky to earn that much in a week.

Even back then, everything involved with caring for the dead was obscenely expensive. In 1883 the Daily Democrat ran a summary of a New York World muckraking article titled, “Undertakers’ Enormous Profits,” which revealed there was a markup of 100 percent or more on coffins and related funeral goods. Stanley knew this before he came to Santa Rosa because he had just spent a decade in Salinas running a combo furniture and undertaking business, a frequent mix in the Old West – Pedersen’s in Santa Rosa sold “undertaking supplies” up to 1906, although they didn’t do embalming and such.

When he arrived in Santa Rosa in 1883, Stanley opened a store here but it didn’t last long; by that September he was advertising a going-out-of-business furniture sale. The ad stated he had decided “to change his business,” and presumably that meant shifting to just the undertaking trade.

From a county history we learn he was an assistant to Milo S. Davis, Santa Rosa’s established mortician: “…Mr. J. P. Stanley, who has active charge of much of his business, possesses rare qualifications, both by nature and training, for performing the last sad rites for the dead and comforting the bereaved hearts of the living.”3

(RIGHT: Ad from the June 20, 1885 Sonoma Democrat)

We also know about his early years in Santa Rosa because he made and collected beautiful things. Before he veered into the furniture and undertaking game he had worked as a jeweler in the Gold Country for a while and became quite a rock hound; the very first mentions of him in the local papers were about his remarkable collection of minerals, some of which he had highly polished. He sent about a ton of them to an exhibit in San Francisco, and the main Santa Rosa drugstore had a display case with over two thousand specimens.

He also created an exhibit of dried flowers that was compared to an oil painting, and which became part of the Sonoma County exhibit sent to the 1887 Great Mechanics’ Fair in Boston (sort of a mini world’s fair). Aside from that we didn’t read much about him in the papers in the years after he opened his cemetery; presumably he quietly went about his unusual double life.

But from 1896 on, he was mentioned in the papers almost every year. Personal items appeared: His son, James, became the sole owner of the art store a few doors down on Fourth street from the funeral parlor where he worked; it was the go-to place for picture frames, lamp shade, and whatnot. And in a Believe-it-or-Not! coincidence, that year his wife here and his mother in Massachusetts died at nearly the same time.

(Years later, James would follow his dad and become a casket maker, which really isn’t surprising – dealing with the dead is one of those trades that often gets passed down through families. When Milo Davis eventually retired he transferred the funeral parlor to Herbert Moke, who was Mrs. Davis’ nephew and grew up in the Davis household. Stanley stayed on and worked for Moke, and still continued after Moke quit and sold the business to Frank Welti.)

Mostly, though, the years around the turn of the century were busy with his chrysanthemums and that parade of visits from artists and art collectors and curators – even the governor came by to see his collection. He opened his home for an art exhibit to benefit his church in 1898; the nattering nabobs over at the Press Democrat seemed gobsmacked to discover there was a major art collection in town and it wasn’t owned by the McDonald’s, Overtons, or other of the town’s wheeler-dealers – but by a lowly assistant to an undertaker.

Stanley built and sold two substantial collections of Indian baskets as already noted, but he apparently never parted with any of his beloved paintings – which made the 1906 earthquake all the more tragic for him. From his eulogy, transcribed below:

When the earthquake destroyed the business portion of our little city, he walked out of his rooms over a shattered pile of bricks and timbers, leaving behind him $20,000 worth of canvases to be consumed by the fury of the flames that swept the district. He loved his pictures, and the loss was a sad blow to him. But he soon accumulated – not so large or valuable – but a rare collection indeed.

Today that $20,000 would be worth over a half million, but the fame of some of those artists would put the modern value of what was destroyed at many times that figure.

He moved to Sebastopol and continued working even as he passed seventy, commuting to Santa Rosa every day via the electric train. In 1907 he sold all interests in his cemetery to his boss, Moke. He died at age 83 in 1918.

There’s a final Believe-it-or-Not! epilogue often mentioned by Rural Cemetery tour guides: John Stanley is not in fact buried in the Stanley cemetery – he’s in Colma’s Mt. Olivet Cemetery. His wife Emily is supposedly next to him, but she had been buried in her husband’s cemetery when she died in 1896, and a couple of years later he erected some sort of elaborate monument for her. Why John would later have her disinterred and them both buried in San Francisco is another mystery of that old graveyard.

1 Days of Grace: California Artist Grace Hudson in Hawaii; Karen Holmes and Sherrie Smith-Ferri, 2014; pg 105

2 Santa Rosa Rural cemetery 1853-1997: a listing of burials in Fulkerson, Moke, Rural and Stanley cemeteries, now known collectively as Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery; Sonoma County Genealogical Society, 1997; appendix pg vi


RIP John Preston Stanley, June 16, 1834 – January 11, 1918

J. P. Stanley has boxed up 2,000 specimens of minerals, his own collection, and will ship them to the Mining Bureau 212, Sutter street San Francisco, for exhibition during the conclave. The five cases weigh about a ton, and forms one of the finest private collections in the State.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 28 1883

J. P. Stanley of this city is an enthusiastic geologist and mineralogist, and on Saturday morning showed us a number of beautiful specimens of agate and cornelians that he has gathered in this county. A number of them have been polished to some extent,and are really beautiful and beautifully veined. This is one feature of old Sonoma that has hitherto been neglected.

– Sonoma Democrat, August 4 1883

Cheap Furniture.

J. P. Stanley has concluded to change his business, and is selling off his entire stock of furniture at cost. Parties desirous of good bargains will do well to call on him during the next ten days.

– Daily Democrat, September 20 1883

Jacob Harris to J. P. Stanley, 5-33.100 acres near Santa Rosa; $1,332.50.

– Sonoma Democrat, August 2 1884

A Rare Cabinet.

J. P. Stanley has had an elegant case put in J. W. Warboys’ drug store, in which are tastely arranged over a thousand specimens of minerals, from all parts of the world. Mr. Stanley is an enthusiastic mineralogist, and has over two thousand specimens, collected daring the past sixteen years, from all parts of the earth. A portion of this collection has been on exhibition at the rooms of the State Mineralogist, and Mr. Stanley has a letter from him referring to them in the highest terms. Among the samples on exhibition are numerous rare and beautiful stones from this county, among which are actinolite, chalcedony, jasper, agates and silenite. Some of these are highly polished and present a beautiful appearance. Many are not aware of the fact, that, as beautiful samples of these classes of stones can be found here as in any other part of the world.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 4 1884

C. De Lange to J. P. Stanley, lot 6, block 1, J. Davis’ addition to Santa Rosa; $1,700 [editor’s note: This property sold by Conradus DeLange is a typical residential lot on College avenue.]

– Sonoma Democrat, November 15 1884

J. P. Stanley has purchased five and one half acres adjoining the Rural Cemetery on the east, which he proposes to improve and subdivide into burial lots. The ground selected is very suitable for the purpose, and he proposes to afford all an opportunity to obtain plots at low prices. The intervening fence will be removed shortly, roads graded, etc.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 27 1884

John P. Stanley to Patrick Gleason, a portion of Stanley’s addition to Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery ; $l.

– Sonoma Democrat, February 21 1885

We would call the attention of our readers to the advertisment of J. P. Stanley in relation to his addition to Rural Cemetery. All the fences have been removed, and lanes and drives laid out so as to make this a part of the original cemetery. For a few days lots can be obtained at reduced rates, and persons will do well to call and make their selections early.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 20 1885

A Work of Art.

J. P. Stanley has displayed not a little ingenuity and exquisite taste in the arrangement of a boquet of pressed flowers, composed of varieties commonly in bloom in Santa Rosa gardens during the winter months. The boquet is of pyramidal form, on a dark ground work, and surrounded bv a handsome and costly gilt frame. So perfect and vividly lifelike are the flowers, that at first glance they would be taken for a painting in oil, but upon closer examination the true and delicate tint, so often exaggerated by the brush but seldom imitated, discovers the deception which has been practiced on art. The tastely piece of workmanship is to be sent to Boston with the Sonoma County exhibit, and will be invaluable as an illustration of the mild and balmy climate of the land of the setting sun.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 24 1887

J. P. Stanley is making a number of improvements in the grounds of his addition to the Rural Cemetery.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 22 1887

J. P. Stanley is making a number of improvements in his addition to the Rural Cemetery.

– Daily Democrat, December 12 1889

Death of Mrs. M. A. Stanley.

J. P. Stanley has received a message announcing the death of his mother, Mrs. Mary A. Stanley, at North Attleborough, Mass.

An Estimable Lady Passes Away Monday Night.

After a short illness Mrs. Emily C. wife of Mr. J. P. Stanley died at the family residence on Fifth and Chinn streets, Monday evening at 9 o’clock. Deceased was 60 years of age and was born in Rhode Island. She was the daughter of J. P. and the late Lydia W. Goodwin and sister of Mrs. M. R. Britton and Mrs. E. L. May of San Francisco. She leaves one son, James F. Stanley. She was an estimable lady who had many friends. The funeral of Mrs. J. P. Stanley took place Thursday afternoon. Services were held at the home and at the grave by Rev. R. L. Rathbone and Rev. E. H. Hayden. The pall-bearers were Judge R. F. Crawford, A. B. Ware, W. E. McConnell, E. F. Woodward, E. Brooks and R. M. Swain. A number of friends of the deceased were present from Penngrove, San Francisco and other places.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 24 1896

Dealer In Fine Artist’s Materials, Picture Frames, Wall Paper, Window Shades, Cornice Poles, Moulding, Etc,-434 Fourth St., Opp. Occidental Hotel.

Prominent among the beat stores of of the city is the one belonging to the above gentleman; it has been established for ten years, and was purchased by him three years and a half ago.

One of the largest stocks in this part of the state is carried by this house, and it is seldom that a patron asks for anything that is not forthcoming. The most of the stock ia shipped to this store direct from the east, thereby getting the lowest prices hy saving the middleman’s profit, and getting the newest and freshest goods. For this reason patrons are able to get at this store the finest goods at the prices that are charged at much larger cities.

Those wishing anything in the various lines carried could do no better than to call at this store.

– Sonoma Democrat, November 21 1896

A Beautiful Bloom

Thursday morning J. P. Stanley placed on exhibition in the window at the M. S. Davis undertaking parlors a beautiful variety of the chrysanthemum, an imported species from Japan. The bloom was greatly admired by a large number of people. The variety is known by the name, “Tbe Emerald,” or the green chrysanthemum of Japan.

– Daily Democrat, December 4 1897

Erected a Sarcophagus

On Wednesday Fisher and Kinslow of this city erected an elegant sarcophagus of Scotch granite in Stanley’s cemetery over the grave of the late Mrs. J. P. Stanley. A fitting tribute to the memory of that good woman.

– Press Democrat, February 26 1898

Collection of Indian Baskets

J. P. Stanley of this city has one of the best collections of Indian baskets in the state. For years he has been collecting the baskets and has them in many artistic designs. Al one time Mr. Stanley had over two hundred Indian baskets, which were very much admired. On Thursday when a Press Democrat reporter passed the undertaking parlors of M. S. Davis on Fourth street, Mr. Stanley was silting amidst a group of the dark gentlemen examining some of their handiwork in the shape of baskets. One of the little baskets which the Indians had, upon which probably work had been put on and off for three months or so, could have been bought for about ten dollars.

– Press Democrat, March 26 1898

At the Stanley Residence

At the residence of Mrs. J. P. Stanley about the last of this month, tbe ladies of ths Congregational church will hold an art exhibition, that is Mr. Stanley has consented to let them show off the many wonderful curios in the art line to he found at his home. Mr. Stanley has probably one of ths finest collections of Indian baskets on the Pacific coast, worth hundreds of dollars. Of tnese beautiful baskets he has over one hundred specimens. Then he has a number of paintings by the “Turner of America,” Keith; and also by Latimer and other artists. The art exhibition at Mr. Stanley’s should and will be a fine event.

– Press Democrat, May 7 1898

Art Exhibit at Mr. Stanley’s

On Friday afternoon and evening of this week the ladies of the Congregational church have an art exhibition at the residence of Mr. J. P. Stanley. This exhibit should prove a great attraction and should be well patronized, for everything choice in the art line will be on view. Mr. Stanley’s splendid collection of Indian baskets, the famous paintings which adorn the walls of his home, and other curios of endless variety and worth, will all be fonnd worthy of inspection, and the opportunity given should be embraced.

– Press Democrat, May 25 1898

Beautiful Display at the Home of J. P. Stanley
The Exhibition Will Remain Open this Afternoon and Evening—A Grand Success

Art in perfection was shown at the exhibition held under the auspices of the ladies of the Congregational church, at the pretty home of Mr. J. P. Stanley on Friday afternoon and evening. Rather, it should be said, Mr. Stanley kindly allowed the ladies the freedom of his “museum,” for such every room in the house could well be named, to exhibit to the public the many rare specimens in art collected by him, and in that way, by charging a small admittance fee, benefit their church.

Owing to the unpropitious weather the attendance on Friday was small. Realising that many who otherwise would have attended were prevented from doing so by the rain, the ladies have decided to keep the exhibit open Saturday afternoon and evening, when all who can should attend.

The exhibit is very nicely arranged in three rooms, not forgetting the elegant display in the hall.

Adorning the walls of the rooms are masterpieces of such renowned artists as Latimer, Keith, Deacon, Holdridge, Edmondson and Prof. Davenport, and some excellent work by Miss Edith Olson of this city.

Then there is to be seen one of the finest displays of Indian basket work in ths west, composed of scores of baskets of endless variety, made by Indians of many tribes; a display of minerological specimens from every quarter of the globe, a rare collection of antique china, and other delights of the antiquarian. Too much praise cannot be bestowed on the whole exhibit.

– Press Democrat, May 28 1898

A Unique Present

On Wednesday J.P. Stanley received a unique specimen to add to his famous museum of Indian relics. His friend, Dr. Hudson of Ukiah, sent him a “cowtee,“ or Indian dress made of bark. Mr. Stanley prizes this addition to his treasures very highly.

– Press Democrat, October 22 1898

Inspected Mr. Stanley’s Collection

Curator Wycomb, director of the Park museum, at San Francisco, spent Wednesday in Santa Rosa, the guest of J. P. Stanley. Mr. Wycomb came up to inspect Mr. Stanley’s fine collection of curios, and on Wednesday afternoon went up to Ukiah to see Dr. Hudson’s famous collection of Indian baskets.

– Press Democrat, January 28 1899

 Dr. Hudson of Ukiah, the well known expert on Indian baskets and relics, was the guest of J. P. Stanley.

– Press Democrat, September 13 1899

Amadee Joullin Visits Santa Rosa

Amedee Joullin [sic: Amédée Joullin], the famous painter of Indian life was in town on Thursday to Inspect J. P. Stanley’s splendid collection of Indian baskets and other curios. He was very much pleased. In conversation with a reporter Mr. Joullin said that Mr. Stanley’s collection of Indian baskets was certainly the most marvelous he had ever seen. He said he doubted very much if there was a more complete collection anywhere. In some of the baskets he said he found exquisite color blending. The other curios in the collection are very good. Such a collection, the visitor said, was worthy of a prominent place in one of the national museums. While in this city Mr. Joullin was the guest of C. H. E. Hardin at the Hardin residence on Fifth street. He returned to San Francisco on the afternoon train to be present at the reception given Bernard, the distinguished French architect, whose plans were accepted for the new buildings at the State University.

– Press Democrat, December 16 1899

Mr. Stanley’s Indian Baskets

J. P. Stanley was in Petaluma Wednesday in connection with Miss Connolly’s funeral. While there the Argus says that be sold his second collection of Indian baskets and relics to a representative of Mrs. Hearst. Some time ago Mr. Stanley sold his fine collection of baskets and curios for the art museum in Golden Gate park. He at once commenced work on a second collection and had gathered together a large quantity of baskets when Mrs. Hearst’s agent came along in quest of baskets. The agent was greatly taken by Mr Stanley’s collection and made him a good offer for it. In about a week the deal was closed and now Mr. Stanley is free to again commence a collection.

– Press Democrat, July 25 1901

Indian Baskets Bought by Mrs. Hearst

PETALUMA, July 27.– J. P. Stanley, a well-known collector of Indian baskets and curios, has sold his splendid collection of baskets and curios, has sold his splendid collection of baskets to Mrs. Phebe Hearst. Mrs. Hearst will donate the collection to the State University Museum. Dr. Philips Mills Jones secured the collection for Mrs. Hearst.

– San Francisco Chronicle, July 28, 1901

Mrs. Smith of San Francisco, a well known collector of Indian baskets was in town on Saturday.

Professor Wilcomb, curator of the Park Museum, San Francisco, was in town on Saturday, the guest of J. P. Stanley.

– Press Democrat, September 29 1901

Dr. J. W. Hudson of Ukiah. an authority on Indian relics and baskets, was the guest of J. P. Stanley on Wednesday.

– Press Democrat, May 22 1902

Curious Specimen of the Ancients Unearthed while Man Was Plowing

While engaged in plowing on his place on the Guerneville road, three miles from this city, a few days ago, H. T. Noel unearthed what is considered to have been an idol of the nomadic tribes of Indians who formerly roamed about this country at will. It is a well preserved head and face presumably of an Indian god, carved in stone, with well defined features. Mr. J. P. Stanley, who is an authority on Indian habits as well as their skilful work along the lines of art, and others are of the opinion that the article discovered, which is now on exhibition at the Press Democrat office, is a valuable specimen.

– Press Democrat, January 28 1904


It is rumored on the best of authority that Herbert Henry Moke of the undertaking establishment of M. S. Davis will shortly assume control of the business by the retirement of its old and esteemed head, Mr. Davis. Mr. Davis has been in business here for thirty years and no man is better known or more generally respected than he is. He feels, however, that he would like to take a rest from business cares. Mr. Moke has been with Mr. Davis since boyhood and thoroughly understands the business in all its details. Mr. John P. Stanley, who has been connected with the establishment for many years will remain with Mr. Moke after he has taken over the business. It is rumored that the deal will be consummated in a day or two.

– Press Democrat, January 4 1905

The presence of Governor and Mrs. Pardee has added interest to several of the parties of last week, notably the dinner at the Woodward residence, and Mr. Spencer’s euchre party on Tuesday evening. Mrs. Pardee is especially interested in Indian baskets, and during her visit here, she visited Mr. John P. Stanley’s rooms with Mrs. Henry Hahmann, and enjoyed Mr. Stanley’s, collection of Indian curios and fine paintings.

– Press Democrat, December 17 1905

J P Stanley to H H Moke, July 27 07 —all int, rights and privileges in Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery.

– Press Democrat, July 31 1907


Dr. Hudson of Ukiah, accompanied by his wife, Grace Hudson, a noted Indian painter, were visitors in Santa Rosa yesterday, and were guests of John P. Stanley, an old-time friend of theirs. They witnessed the coronation of Queen Nancy, and will participate In the festivities today.

– Press Democrat, May 16 1908

J. P. Stanley Disposes of a Number of Fine Specimens of Indian Work

Miss Grace Nicholson and A. Hartman of Pasadena, were in this city on Monday and while here bought from J. P. Stanley a number of Indian baskets and curios. The Pasadenans are traveling through this section. and in Mendocino and Lake counties buying baskets, etc. Miss Nicholsen buys for the collection in several of the large eastern museums. On Sunday she and Mr. Hartman, her brother-in-law, were in Healdsburg.

– Press Democrat, August 14 1908


…Mr. Stanley, up to the present time, has led a very active life, despite his age, and it is hoped that this factor in a measure will help his recovery. Up to the fore part of the present year he has made regular trips to and from his business in Santa Rosa, hardly missing a day, and his genial face has been sadly missed by those who make the daily ride…

– Sebastopol Times, May 25, 1917

James P. Stanley Crosses Great Divide Thursday Evening After Day of Unconsciousness at His Hill Home in Sebastopol.

AS GOOD and kindly a soul as ever breathed passed from earth into the presence of its Maker when John P. Stanley died on Thursday night.

 Nearly eighty-four years of age when the end came, his had been an active life almost up to the last. Of course, as legions of his friends will remember, the past few years he had manifested bodily weakness, but still his mind was bright and clear and he look pleasure in the things of life.

 Hundreds of friends today will pause as they read the death notice of the grand old man and will remember many of his kindnesses. For years his business had brought him In touch with hundreds of sorrow stricken hearts and on such occasions he was ever to the fore with the word that brought solace.

During the latter months of his life Mr. Stanley had suffered several severe illnesses and had more than once been in the shadowland, returning to diminished health and strength with the same, kindly smile and the same spirit of thankfulness that friends were so kind and attentive.

Wednesday night Mr. Stanley relapsed into unconsciousness and remained in this state until the end came on Thursday night in his attractive little bungalow on the hillside in Sebastopol, just across from his old and true friend. Arthur B. Swain, the latter and his good wife always most attentive to see that he had the little things that made life happier for him.

The deceased was a great lover of art. He was a warm friend of Artist William Keith, Mrs. Grace Hudson and Artist L P. Latimer and on numerous occasions they presented him with some of their choice paintings. Other artists had a firm friend in Mr. Stanley. As late as Christmas he received as a gift two of Keith’s pictures and a Hudson painting. He was an art connoisseur and many valuable works of art adorned his rooms. He was a great lover of pictures and antiques, old furniture and the like. He was also a profound lover of Nature and particularly her flower gifts. For years the Stanley garden here raised rare and magnificent chrysanthemums and other blossoms and they were his delight.

He was a friend to all alike. He loved children and young people and was never so pleased as when he was in their company. He used to tell the writer years ago that he liked to be in the company of young people. To this association he attributed his wonderful vigor when three score and ten had passed.

Years ago the deceased’s wife passed away here and her death was a great sorrow for the pioneer. He is survived by a son, James P. [sic] Stanley, and a grandson. Other relatives survive and are in the east.

In the death of Mr. Stanley Santa Rosa and Sebastopol and the community generally has lost an honored and upright citizen and all hope that there was an abundant entrance for his soul into the realms that are brighter than day as a toward for his uprightness of life and his smoothing of the pathway of sadness for so many while here below.


John Preston Stanley was a native of Massachusetts and was born June 16 1834. His early years were spent on a farm but he later became a jeweler and came to California in 1858, settling In Amador county, at a place called “Olita,” an Indian word meaning “home.”

He remained there in business until 1867 when he went to Sutter creek and was in business there until 1873 when he went to Salinas and embarked in the furniture and undertaking business.

Mr. Stanley came to Santa Rosa in 1883 and engaged in the hardware business with two well-known residents of that day, under the firm name of Stanley, Neblett & Julliard, being located at Second and Main streets, the center of business activities of the city. His old partner, C. V. Julliard, passed away only a few weeks ago. [sic: The man involved was W. B. Stanley, not John, and that business failed in 1880]

He was for many years with the late M. S. Davis in the undertaking business and remained with the Welti Bros., when the latter purchased the business after the fire of 1906 up to within a few months ago when he was compelled to give up active life.

He became well known through his interest in art, his fine collection of paintings by California masters and his collection of Indian basketry and Indian relics.

The fire of 1906 had destroyed his then fine collection. among which were several fine Keiths, a loss that can never be replaced. Mr. Stanley at once began another collection and through his wide acquaintance was able to get a notable gallery together at his home in Sebastopol.

He was married in 1871 to Emily Goodwin of San Francisco, who died in 1896. One son survives, James F. Stanley. Deceased was a member of the Odd Fellows fraternity for more than 53 years and was a past grand of Salinas (California) lodge.

– Press Democrat, January 11 1918

Remains Taken to Mt. Olivet Cemetery Monday Following Funeral Services in Odd Fellow Hall Sunday.

The remains of the late John P. Stanley were taken to San Francisco and laid to their final rest in Mt. Olivet cemetery, as requested by the deceased before his death.

The funeral in Odd Fellows’ hall Sunday afternoon was very largely attended by members of the Congregational church and Santa Rosa Lodge of Odd Fellows, the two organizations under whose auspices the services were held and the many friends of the deceased…

– Press Democrat January 15 1918


Attorney Rolfe L. Thompson, an old and valued friend of decedent, delivered the eulogy which is remarkable for the temperateness with which the many and varied virtues of Mr. Stanley were exploited. He said in part:


His little bungalow on the hill overlooking Sebastopol, surrounded with a luxury of plants and flowers; embellished within by an unusual selection of antique furniture; an assortment of Indian baskets and curios, and rare paintings from the brushes of Keith, Latimer, Welch, Hudson and a number of other famous artists, was a veritable dream of comfort and pleasure, where his many friends were always welcome, and where they frequently enjoyed the hospitality of this grand and kindly man…

…Those who were fortunate enough to have visited his apartments in this city before the earthquake will recall with astonishment the rare and valuable canvasses from the brushes of noted artist which he then possessed; and the collection of Indian baskets probably never elsewhere equaled, and which was sold to Mrs. Heart for thousands of dollars.

These strange and silent children of nature – the basket-makers – were one and all his friends. They trusted and loved him. These great and famous artists were his personal friends, and highly prized his friendship. When the earthquake destroyed the business portion of our little city, he walked out of his rooms over a shattered pile of bricks and timbers, leaving behind him $20,000 worth of canvases to be consumed by the fury of the flames that swept the district. He loved his pictures, and the loss was a sad blow to him. But he soon accumulated – not so large or valuable – but a rare collection indeed. These, and memory, are all that is now left to us…

…Officiating as he has for many years in the burial of thousands of the dead, none could surpass him in the grace, the precision and the nice little details with which he ingratiated himself into the hearts of the bereaved families. With deft hands he arranged the tributes of flowers; with silent tread, well modulated voice and genuine sympathy he moved about and performed his task. It seemed marvelous that one who had experienced the trials attendant upon that now picturesque journey across the plains by means of the historic old prairie schooner and ox team; the rough life of the mining camps in the days of ’49, and the harrowing ordeal of caring for the dead, that it is possible to preserve so happy a disposition; such a love for art and literature and flowers and antiques, and such a genuine sympathy and pleasure in the company of his fellow men, as he possessed…

– Sebastopol Times, January 18, 1918

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