San Francisco Vigilance Committee of 1856

Stephen Palfrey Webb
San Francisco Vigilance
Committee of 1856

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Title: A Sketch of the Causes, Operations and Results of the San
Francisco Vigilance Committee of 1856
Author: Stephen Palfrey Webb
Release Date: June, 2004 [EBook #5802] [Yes, we are more than one

year ahead of schedule] [This file was first posted on September 4,
Edition: 10
Language: English
Character set encoding: ASCII

This eBook was produced by David Schwan

A Sketch of the Causes, Operations and Results of the San Francisco
Vigilance Committee in 1856
Written by Stephen Palfrey Webb in 1874

Stephen Palfrey Webb was born in Salem on March 20, 1804, the son
of Capt. Stephen and Sarah (Putnam) Webb. He was graduated from
Harvard in 1824, and studied law with Hon. John Glen King, after
which he was admitted to the Essex Bar. He practiced law in Salem,
served as Representative and Senator in the Massachusetts Legislature,
and was elected Mayor of Salem in 1842, serving three years. He was
Treasurer of the Essex Railroad Company in the late forties.
About 1853, he went to San Francisco, where he resided several years,
serving as Mayor of that city in 1854 and 1855. It was during this time
that he witnessed the riotous mobs following the Gold Rush of 1849,
and upon his return Salem made notes for a lecture, which he delivered
in Salem; and later, with many additions, prepared this sketch, probably
about 1874. He was again elected Mayor of Salem, 1860-1862, and
City Clerk, 1863-1870. He died in Salem on September 29, 1879. On
May 26, 1834, he married Hannah H. B. Robinson of Salem.
There have been several accounts of the activities of the Vigilance

Committee, but this is firsthand information from one who was on the
ground at the time, and for this reason it is considered a valuable
contribution to the history of those troublous days. It certainly is a
record of what a prominent, intelligent and observing eye-witness saw
regarding this important episode in the history of California. The
original paper is now in the possession of his granddaughter, Mrs.
Raymond H. Oveson of Groton, Massachusetts.
Many of the evils which afflicted the people of San Francisco may be
traced to the peculiar circumstances attendant upon the settlement of
California. The effect all over the world of the discovery of gold at
Sutter's Mill in 1848 was electric. A movement only paralleled by that
of the Crusades at once commenced. Adventurers of every character
and description immediately started for the far away land where gold
was to be had for the gathering. The passage round Cape Horn, which
from the earliest times had been invested with a dreamy horror, and had
inspired a vague fear in every breast, was now dared with an audacity
which only the all absorbing greed for gold could have produced. Old
condemned hulks which, at other times, it would not have been deemed
safe to remove from one part of the harbor to another, were hastily
fitted up, and with the aid of a little paint and a few as deceptive
assurances of the owners, were instantly filled with eager passengers
and dispatched to do battle, as they might, with the storms and perils of
the deep during the tedious months through which the passage extended.
The suffering and distress consequent upon the packing so many
human beings in so confined a space; the miserable quality and
insufficient quantity of the provisions supplied; the weariness and
lassitude engendered by the intolerable length of the voyage; the
ill-temper and evil passions so sure to be roused and inflamed by long
and forced companionship
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