The Maritime Heritage Project

World Harbors from The Maritime Heritage Project in San Francisco.

Sea Captains at the Port of San Francisco 1800s



Haley Salisbury

When California became a state in 1850, the newly-establishd City of Santa Barbara interited Pueblo lands and hired Captain Salisbury Haley to survey the town, allotting parcels of land and laying out streets being the purpose of the project.

Map of Early Santa Barbara.
Old Map of Santa Barbara, California

He hammered an iron stake at the intersection of State and Carrillo streets which officially designated the city's midtown area. One report considers the survey one of the worst - streets were crooked and land lots were of uneven size. Speculation includes that Haley used a surveying chain that had been mended with hide strips. The hide’s expansion and contraction in different weather conditions could have contributed to the survey’s inaccuracy.

Abstract Chumash Pictograph.
An Abstract Chumash Pictograph

Originally, the area around Malibu Beach was a Chumash Indian settlement, part of a 17,000 acre Spanish land grant given to Jose Tapia (1776-1802) for 400 pesos, then sold to Mathew Keller for 10 cents an acre and finally to the Rindge family for $10 an acre in 1882. Rindge "didn't want anybody coming here . . . it was fenced, and armed guards were on each end to keep people off because they would poach."

Rich Reid

Another theory proposes that Captain Haley conspired with the local Chumash to point at least one city street at a Chumash shrine in the hills. The city attempted to prevent him from doing this by passing an ordinance which set forth some ground rules for the final layout of Santa Barbara; Haley then broke the law, disregarding this ordinance and making some streets crooked in order to create the desired lines.

In October 1854, the 2500 ton SS Yankee Blade went down off the coast of Southern California. As Captain Henry Randall approached the rocks near Point Arguello, the steamship was loaded with $1,500,000 worth of gold bullion, 800 passengers and a band of pirates. The ship ran aground in the fog, the pirates took over, loaded two small boats with liquor and loot and abandoned ship. They never reached shore. Not far from the destitute ship, Captain Haley moved slowly through the churning waves as he heard faint cries for help. The rescue operation began. The Goliah sent out a small life-boat to the Yankee Blade. Calling for women and children first, Capt. Haley awaited the first boatload of survivors. To his astonishment, they were not women and children but a group of wild-eyed ruffians who immediately tried to take over the Goliah. With a few sharp blows and swift action, the pirates were soon hustled below deck under lock and key.

Terry Breverton's Pirate Dictionary.

All day the rescue operations continued. Finally, when the small Goliah was loaded to capacity and all the survivors were safe, a mighty crashing echoed through the Fog. The Yankee Blade broke in two, and the ship sank with her gold still in her vault. The news leaked out of the treasure under the sea and many attempts were made to recover the gold. But the currents are treacherous around Point Arguello and the rocks are hazardous. (To this day, there is no official record of its recovery. Presumably it lies there still, $1,500,000 worth of gold beneath the sea.)

In the beginning of 1857, San Francisco had a more serious earthquake than any in recent years. At half-past eight on the morning of January 9th, a tremor shook the earth from North to South; the first shocks being light, the quake grew in power until houses were deserted, men, women and children sought refuge in the streets, and horses and cattle broke loose in wild alarm. For perhaps two, or two and a half minutes, the temblor continued and much damage was done.

At Fort Tejon, great rents were opened in the earth and then closed again, piling up a heap or dune of finely-powdered stone and dirt. Large trees were uprooted and hurled down the hillsides; and tumbling after them went the cattle. Until the cracked adobes could be repaired, officers and soldiers lived in tents. A so-called tidal wave almost engulfed the Sea Bird, plying between San Pedro and San Francisco, as she was entering the Golden Gate.

Under the splendid seamanship of Captain Salisbury Haley, however, his little ship weathered the wave, and he was able later to report her awful experience to the scientific world.

Daily Alta California, September 10, 1858

The Pacific Aground in Victoria Harbor.

The Pacific started to leave the wharf at the Old Salmon House in Victoria Harbor, on Sunday, at noon. She had gone only about 100 yards when she found the Wilson G. Hunt lying in the channel, and had to come to anchor. After the Hunt had moved, the Pacific hoisted her anchor and started again, but on coming to the last crook in the harbor, ran upon a mud back, where she stuck. Attempts to back her off by press of steam, assisted by hawsers fastened to trees on shore, proved unavailing.

The steamer Sea Bird, which had been lying near the Salmon House started to assist the Pacific, but ran aground also. Both vessels stuck fast until near midnight, when the Sea Bird got off and then helped the Pacific off. At the time the two steamers ran aground the tide was up, but it was only what is called "half tide," that is, it did not rise so high as the "whole tide," which came at night. The Pacific was under charge of the government pilot, who surveyed the harbor. It will be remembered that the channel of the harbor is very narrow, crooked, and shallow, for large steamers to navigate. The mail steamers will not enter it, and the Constitution tried it and got a hole in her bottom.

Capt. Haley says he can enter the harbor safely at high tide, when there are no vessels in the way, and he intends to do so, for the purpose of accomodating the people of Victoria. He attributed her running aground on this occasion to the small headway, caused by stoppage on account of the Hunt, so that his ship would not obey the helm. Fraser River News. -- The Sea Bird and Wilson G. Hunt arrived on Saturday in Victoria from Fraser River, but brought no news of special interest.

~ ~ ~ ~

Entrance to San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean.
View of Golden Gate and Fort Point
San Francisco, California

The Presidio has served as a military reservation from its establishment in 1776 as Spain's northern-most outpost of colonial power in the New World. It was one of the longest-garrisoned posts in the country and the oldest installation in the American West.

In 1846, during the Mexican-American War, the 7th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment occupied the crumbling adobes at the Presidio. The U.S. Regular Army took over the post the following year. This military reservation at the Golden Gate developed into the most important Army post on the Pacific Coast. Over time its armaments evolved from smooth bore cannons to modern missiles. It became the nerve center of a coastal defense system that eventually included Alcatraz and Angel Island and that reached as far north as the Marin Headlands and as far south as Fort Funston. Eventually, there were five distinct posts at the Presidio, each with its own commander: the Main Post, Fort Point, Letterman Hospital, Fort Winfield Scott, and Crissy Army Air Field. Also on the 1,491-acre reservation were a Coast Guard lifesaving station and a U.S. Public Health Service Hospital. From 1847 to about 1890, the Presidio defended San Francisco and also participated in the Indian Wars in the West. From the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the conquest of the Philippines to the end of the Vietnam War in 1973, the Presidio was a key link in the projection of American military power into the Pacific Basin and further west onto the mainland of Asia. New concrete fortifications built after the 1890s indirectly preserved native plant communities on the dramatic Pacific bluffs by making them off-limits.

Get Your Captain's License, Fourth EditionGet Your Captain's License.

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The Maritime Heritage Project.

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Johnson and Nurminen History of Seafaring.History of Seafaring.
The History of Seafaring:
Navigating the World's Oceans

Donald Johnson and Juha Nurminen

San Francisco.

"Master Under God"

Gold Rush ships.Gold Rush Ships.

Captain Gwilym Williams
Captains exercised absolute authority at sea and so were dubbed "Master Under God" by early insurance writs, agreements with ship owners and passengers and the Board of Trade.

The captain is responsible for its safe and efficient operation, including cargo operations, navigation, crew management and ensuring that the vessel complies with local and international laws, as well as company and flag state policies.

All persons on board, including officers and crew, other shipboard staff members, passengers, guests and pilots, are under the captain's authority and are his ultimate responsibility.

On international voyages, the captain is responsible for satisfying requirements of the local immigration and customs officials. Immigration issues can include situations such as embarking and disembarking passengers, handling crewmembers who desert the ship, making crew-changes in port, and making accommodations for foreign crewmembers.

Customs requirements can include the master providing a cargo declaration, a ship's stores declaration, a declaration of crewmembers' personal effects, crew lists and passenger lists.

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