History Pages: 6 - The Sailors

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"Vue du port hanarourou" [Honolulu] by Louis Choris

One of the fun things about studying pre-statehood California history is that, because there were so few people living here at that time, connections between individuals always pop up. Finding those connections is, for me, an antidote to the “feel like a number” aspects of modern like in America.

Updating an old post about one of the “frontiersmen”, Joseph Majors, led me to read about Jedediah Smith, first of the American frontiersmen to reach California. Smith’s daily journal of his expedition introduced me to another early American-born Californian – Joseph Chapman. Chapman was already well-settled in the little pueblo of Los Angeles when Smith arrived early in 1827. Chapman was one of “the sailors”, which provides a handy lead-in to this update.

Chapman’s story contains an especially unusual element: he first came to California as a pirate (or, more delicately - a privateer). Some specific details are unclear, but it seems beyond dispute that Joseph Chapman was a crew-member serving under the French-Argentinian privateer Hippolyte Bouchard. Argentina had just successfully broken away from the Spanish empire, and was still in a state of war. Bouchard’s little fleet (two ships) came from Hawaii to the California coast in 1818, aiming to cause harm to Spanish interests there. The provincial capital, Monterey, became the first target. A raiding party landed and sacked the Presidio – burning buildings and destroying the fort’s artillery.

After leaving Monterey, Bouchard sailed south and mounted attacks on Santa Barbara and San Juan Capistrano before leaving California waters forever. Somehow left behind (or perhaps deserting) was Joseph Chapman. By making himself useful at the missions, he escaped the gallows and stayed on to become a valued member of Spanish-Mexican California.

Fulling mill at Mission Santa Ines, built by Joseph Chapman

How does this all relate to Santa Cruz? Neither Bouchard nor Chapman ever came here but, because there had been prior warning of the impending attack, the coastal Spanish Missions had time to move their people and valuables to inland locations. Governor Sola ordered the Mission Santa Cruz folk to retreat to Santa Clara, placing defense of the Mission in the hands of the invalidos (retired soldiers) of Branciforte [and Comisionado Joaquin Buelna]. Upon the padres’ return, the Branciforteans were accused by the padres of theft of Mission valuables, including two casks of aguardiente (a liquor distilled at the Missions). Relations between the pueblo and the Mission, which had never been good, declined even further after this incident.

According to historian H. H. Bancroft, Joseph Chapman was one of the first documented English-speaking permanent residents in California. The name of the very first will be familiar to locals as the namesake of a nearby town. John Gilroy was a Scot who, like Chapman, was a sailor who (probably) jumped ship in Monterey, married a Californio girl of the Ortega family, and settled down. Through his wife, Gilroy obtained a land grant in the area where the city named after him is today. Gilroy and Chapman also became distant cousins by marriage and, although there’s no record that they ever met, might have shared a glass of aguardiente and some words of English at one of the many Ortega family weddings.

From Bancroft, History of California: 1801-1824, p 444-5

“Of the foreign residents, John Gilroy was married about easter [1821] to Maria Clara de la Asuncion Ortega, and went with Captain Arguello on a trip to the far north in the autumn. John Rose was zealously perfecting his religious education at Purisima and San Buenaventura, while Jose Chapman, at work on a mill near Santa Ines, received from the governor in December a document certifying that he was included in the king's amnesty to all Anglo-American prisoners. John Michael Johnson, a Scotchman, was baptized at San Buenaventura on May 26th, but nothing more is known of him. According to statements in later lists and petitions there were at least three additions in 1821 to the foreign colony, Jeremiah Jones, a Protestant calker of Surrey, England, John Bones, an Irish carpenter twenty-three years of age, and Phillip Pellom, or Felon, a Danish hatter of twenty years.* These were probably deserters from different vessels, about the date of whose arrival there may be an error of a year or two, but who lived long in the country.

Late in the summer rumors were current that a party of English or Americans had established themselves somewhere within forty or fifty leagues of San Francisco, and Sola determined to send out an exploring expedition to ascertain the truth, and if necessary drive out the intruders. Thirty-five soldados de Cuera and twenty infantes, part of the force coming up from Monterey, were assembled at San Francisco. Horses and much of the supplies were sent from Santa Clara and San Jose up to the strait of the Carquines. The officers selected were Captain Luis Arguello, Alferez Francisco de Haro, Alferez Jose Antonio Sanchez, and Cadet Joaquin Estudillo, with Padre Bias Ordaz as chaplain and chronicler, and John Gilroy, called the ‘English interpreter Juan Antonio.’

There are several others who are said to have come in 1821, but are at the same time accredited to vessels known to have arrived in 1822; and still others, as Buckle and Mcintosh, whose arrival is referred in different documents to 1821, 1822, and 1823 respectively, and whom I have included in 1823.”

From Bancroft: History of California: 1825-1840, p 757

“Gilroy (John), 1814, Scotch sailor, and the 1st foreigner to settle permanently in Cal., being left sick at Mont, by the Isaac Todd. ii. 204, 248, 272, 382, 393. His real name was John Cameron, but having run away from home as a minor, he changed it to avoid being arrested and sent back. His parents moved to England when John was very young; and indeed, he often claimed to be a native of Sunderland, Engl. In Sept. '14 he was baptized at S. Carlos by P. Sarria as Juan Antonio Maria Gilroy. In '18 Capt. Guerra, at Sta. B., sent to the viceroy his petition as an 'Amer. cooper ' for permission to remain and marry in Cal., which was granted in '19; and in '21 he was married at S. Juan B. to Maria Clara de la Asuncion, daughter of Ignacio Ortega. The same year he accompanied Capt. Arguello in his famous expedition ' to the Columbia ' as guide, or rather, interpreter, for Amer. intruders were to be met and talked to. ii. 444-5. The next we hear of him was in '33, when he obtained naturalization, producing certificates that he was a soap-maker and millwright of good character, with wife and 4 children, having also some live stock on the S. Isidro rancho. This rancho was granted the same year to the Ortegas; G. owned a league of it, on which he built an adobe house and spent the rest of his life. His name appears on Larkin's books from '34, when his age was given as 45. In '35 he was aux. alcalde at ' Los Ortegas.' iii. 674; by the padron of '36, age 40, wife age 28, child. Nicodemus b. "26, Miguel '28. iv. 117; age 46 in '40; not arrested in the Graham affair; often named in records of most years; said to have been sent to Fremont's Gavilan camp in '46. v. 18. In '51 for the 1st time Gilroy wrote to his family in England, and I have the original reply — presented by Valentin Alviso — of his brother Alex. Cameron, tanner, at Newton Heath, near Manchester, dated June 29, '52. Alex is glad to learn that he has a brother living, for father, mother, and the other brothers are all dead.

John Gilroy was an honest, good-natured old sailor-ranchero, well liked by everybody, much too fond of his grog and cards, careless and improvident, and as powerless in the hands of land-lawyers as were the natives themselves. He lost all his lands and cattle, but he lived to see his old rancho the site of a flourishing town, which bears his adopted name, Gilroy; and he died, as poor as when he landed in Cal. more than half a century before, in '69, at the age of about '75. I have no definite record of his sons since '48. 'Juanita' (McPherson) has given many items on G.'s early life, obtained from himself, in the Sta Clara Argus and other papers. Gilt (Henry), 1840, at Brancif.; prob. 'Hill.' ”

The following article was originally published on Santa Cruz Patch as...

Names on the Signs: The Sailors

The period from 1821 to 1846 was a turbulent time in California, but our northern end of Vizcaíno’s bay avoided most of the commotion. The big events usually happened in Monterey, then their effects gradually diffused north. Geographical features of the land (mountains) and sea (lack of a natural harbor) dictated that most early arrivals here would come by way of Monterey, following the trail blazed by the lost Spaniard, Portolà. Ships put in at Monterey’s harbor; merchants arranged their trading business at the customs house; soldiers came and went from the Presidio; ranchers brought their hides and tallow from north and south along El Camino Real to Monterey's wharves; diplomats presented their credentials at the capital of Spanish and Mexican California. The main king’s road didn’t pass through Santa Cruz, and neither did very many travelers. Those who did were mostly, like the boll weevil in the old song, ‘just lookin’ for a home’.

A few adventurous non-Spanish Europeans did find their way north from Monterey, especially to Branciforte. The pueblo’s special civic status and independence from the Mission made it a good place to make a fresh start. Thanks to the work of local historical researchers, we know something about a few of those adventurers (see ‘Further reading’ below). This group had several characteristics in common. They were:

  1. sailors who came to California by sea,
  2. ambitious and industrious,
  3. resident in the Branciforte area prior to 1830,
  4. married into the Castro family,
  5. later Rancho grantees (with their wives).
The Bolcoff adobe at Wilder Ranch S.P.

One of the first arrivals came across the Pacific from Russia. Josef Bolcoff’s early history is sketchy, but best guesses are that he came to California as a sailor on a Russian trading ship between 1810 and 1820. He arrived in Branciforte around 1822 and became a Mexican citizen. Known locally simply as “the Russian”, Bolcoff married Candida Castro late the same year, at Mission Santa Cruz, and the couple were granted Rancho San Agustin (Scotts Valley) in 1833. Despite an earlier (1824) arrest for smuggling, Bolcoff was appointed alcalde of Branciforte in 1834 and later served as administrator of Mission Santa Cruz. In 1839, the family moved to the Rancho Refugio (granted jointly to Candida and two of her sisters). A portion of the adobe casa they built survives at Wilder Ranch State Park. A small beach cove in the park was once known as Russian Landing, and the Water Street grade from Ocean Street up to Branciforte Avenue was once called Bolcoff Hill. None of those names survive on today’s signs.

Another member of this group was an Irishman named Michael Lodge, most likely a sailor on an American merchantman that stopped to trade in Monterey. Lodge stayed behind when the ship set sail for the long and hazardous return voyage around Cape Horn. He came to sleepy Branciforte around 1827 and became a carpenter and ranchero. Lodge became a Mexican citizen and married Martina Castro, probably in 1831. In 1833, Martina petitioned for and was granted the Rancho Soquel, which extended from Soquel Creek to Borregas Creek (now the eastern boundary of Cabrillo College). According to Clark, Capitola Beach (or maybe New Brighton Beach?) was once known as ‘Lodges Beach’. Today, however, the name Lodge cannot be found on a sign anywhere.

A third former sailor was an Englishman named William Buckle. William and his brother Samuel settled at Branciforte in 1823. William married another Castro sister, Maria Antonia. Like Bolcoff and Lodge before him, Buckle was co-grantee of a rancho, Rancho Carbonera (1838). Carbonera was one of the later and smaller ranchos, and included today’s Pasatiempo and Carbonera Estates neighborhoods.

A word is in order here about women’s property rights laws in Mexican California (carried forward from Spanish law). When women like the Castro sisters married, they retained the right to own property separately. That was not the case at the time in the United States, where the husband held all the property rights of a married couple (as in British law of that era). Thus, a married woman like Martina Castro Lodge could still petition for and receive a land grant under her maiden name.

Beginning in the late 1820s, a different group of adventurers began to arrive in California. They were American fur trappers, hunters and mountain men who blazed trails across the wide prairies, forbidding mountains and scorching deserts separating California from the western edges of the United States. By the early 1830s, a few of them began to arrive in the Santa Cruz area. We’ll talk about them next time.

Further Reading

  • Pokriots, Marion D. Don Jose Antonio Bolcoff: Branciforte’s Russian Alcalde, in Santa Cruz County History Journal, Issue Number Three. (1997). Art and History Museum of Santa Cruz.
  • Reynolds, Willa Dean. Michael Lodge: The Overlooked Pioneer, in Santa Cruz County History Journal Number Six. (2009). Art and History Museum of Santa Cruz. [Also see the article on William Trevethan, another English sailor who settled early in Santa Cruz County, in the same issue #6]

Next: History Pages: 7 - The Frontiersmen