The Not-So Sleepy Pueblo Yerba Buena

October 21, 2015 | By | Reply More
Yerba Buena, California

Yerba Buena, California

In less than fifteen years, Captain Richardson’s settlement on the shores of the cove of Yerba Buena was destined to be catapulted into worldwide greatness by the discovery of gold by James W. Marshall at Sutter’s Mill situated at Coloma about 140 miles northeast of San Francisco.

The name Yerba Buena, “Good Herb,” is first mentioned in a letter of Hermengildo Sal, Comandante of the Presidio of San Francisco, to Governor Jose de Arillaga at Monterey; Sal reported that Captain George Vancouver from England had anchored “about a league” (ca. three miles) below the Presidio in a place they called Yerba Buena on November 14, 1792.

This anchorage was in general vicinity of what is now known as North Beach. (Perhaps Sal’s “league” was an approximation.)

Specifically, Yerba Buena refers to a variety of wild mint that grew profusely and widely in the area.

Yerba Buena, 1847

Yerba Buena, 1847

The name, Yerba Buena, is still in the official name of the island commonly called Goat Island, because of the wild goats once roaming it.

Before gazing out the Gate in those stirring “days of gold, of ‘49” to welcome the ships who made it white with approaching sails, let’s briefly recreate what transpired in the relatively quiet days of a sleepy pueblo.

Although Spanish policy had always been wary of allowing foreign visitors to its ports in New Spain or elsewhere, this same policy was sometimes honored more in the breach than in the observance.

For example, from 1776 to 1848, a number of interesting and observant foreign visitors entered the Golden Gate: on November 14, 1792, Captain George Vancouver arrived from England in H.M.S. Discovery in the first recorded visit of a foreign vessel to San Francisco Bay.

About a decade later, the first American vessel the Eliza, commanded by Captain James Rowan, entered the harbor.

On April 8, 1806, Count Nikolai Petrovitch Rezanov arrived in the Russian vessel Juno.

Rezanov’s name will always be associated with his celebrated romance with Maria de la Concepcion Arguello (1791 – 1851) daughter of Don Jose Arguello who, at the time of the Russian’s visit in 1806, was the comandante of the Presidio.

The Russians returned on October 2, 1816, when Otto von Kotzbue, commanding the Rurik, entered the San Francisco Bay.

Early printed chart of San Francisco after Beechey

Early printed chart of San Francisco after Beechey

Between this Russian visit and the next, California became a province of Mexico (April 11, 1822); this expected event caused the oath of allegiance to Mexico to be administered at the Presidio only two days later.

On November 6, 1826, the English Captain Frederick William Beechey, commanding the H.M.S. Blossom, entered the harbor and successfully sought permission to make a survey of what he saw.

He drew a map which is still of interest, exchanged courtesy visits, and sailed after a seven-week stay during which he visited most of the San Francisco Bay region.

His ungenerous conclusion was that the sleepy little settlement was both “tedious and insipid.”

However, Beechey wrote in colorful detail about mission life as he saw it, noting that the Presidio garrison was composed “of a ragged lot.”

The next year, 1827, France entered into the picture with the arrival of a trading ship, Le Héros, commanded by Captain Augste Huhaut-Cilly.

So, it will be seen that the sleepy pueblo was not entirely unknown during its quiet years.

What a change was soon to come.

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Category: Fog City - City of Fog, History

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