What diseases caused epidemics in nineteenth-century California?

Highly contagious diseases such as smallpox, syphilis, mumps, influenza, and measles were prevalent in California during the 1800s. Europeans were learning to control outbreaks of the deadly disease smallpox by vaccinating. However, when the Spanish and Mexican soldiers mixed with the Native Americans in California, epidemics of smallpox and measles spread rapidly through the native population. The people had no immunity to these European diseases, and though some survived, many died within days after contracting them. Captain Richardson helped the Franciscan friars vaccinate for smallpox among many of the neophytes who had been at the California missions, but smallpox and other diseases returned, again and again, to cause havoc among the coastal people, resulting in severe suffering and death. In the Franciscan Mission Dolores (located in San Francisco), where on average 1,000 neophytes lived and worked, more than 300 might die in one year due to these diseases. 

What familiar Mexican folk songs did Californios play and sing?

Music and dancing were daily evening entertainment even in the California wilderness of the 1800s. Recently I heard on the radio the song “La Bamba,” made popular in 1958 by Ritchie Valens who sang it to a rock beat. Since it’s a Mexican folk song that originated in Veracruz, the Californios in the 1800s probably sang it during their dances, known as fandangos. The lyrics fit the story line for one of my chapters perfectly. Here is part of the refrain:

“Yo no soy marinero, soy capitán,

Soy capitán, soy capitán.”

When the commandant’s daughter María Antonia and Captain Richardson meet, this song is played at the evening dance. Here is the translation:

“I am not a sailor, I am the captain.”

The words seemed ideal for the scene of them getting to know each other.

What was the name of the first United States Liberty Ship launched in Sausalito?

While delving deeper into Richardson’s story, I discovered that his name was attached more recently to something historic. During World War II, a vital ship building industry known as Marinship was located on the shores of Richardson’s Bay, north of the city of Sausalito, in order to build Liberty ships. The busy shipyard employed 20,000 workers, three shifts a day, and launched a vessel, either a cargo ship or tanker, off to war every thirteen days. Since men were enlisting to serve in the armed forces, women were employed to build these riveted ships, leading to the sobriquet Rosie the Riveter.  The first Liberty ship launched from there was named the S.S. William A. Richardson. The S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien, now docked at Pier 45 in San Francisco and used as a museum ship, is one of four surviving Liberty ships.

Why do California towns, cities, and landmarks have Spanish names?

California was once called Alta California when Spain and then Mexico governed the territory. All of the Spanish names come from the Spanish explorers and pioneers who settled there from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Are you curious about California history and California people? I have been curious about California, its beginnings, and its annexation by the United States ever since I lived there. How could you not be curious about a state that was once a nation for a week? I don’t live there now, but my curiosity has never ended. I think it is hard to get the emotional attachment to California out of your blood once you have lived there. When I did live in the state, I started researching California history and began writing about Captain William A. Richardson, and the early settlement of California, especially around San Francisco. I learned about historical figures for whom streets and cities were named and about the northern California wilderness called Yerba Buena that grew into the metropolis of San Francisco. After leaving a time-consuming career in publishing, I continued my research and began a novel, writing about the Miwoks, Ohlones, California missions, ranchos, brigs, schooners, and the early settlers from Spain, Mexico, Britain, Russia, and the United States. In my story, I intend to give my readers through the eyes of one man and his family an insight into the daily lives of people who struggled to survive during this time of political upheaval and social change.

Who was Captain William A. Richardson?

When I started researching California history, Captain William A. Richardson’s name surfaced several times connected to the founding of the city of San Francisco and the city of Sausalito. Streets were named after him as well as Richardson’s Bay near Sausalito. He was the first mate on a British whaler that sailed into San Francisco Bay in the early 1820s in need of water, wood, and provisions. A romantic story was attached to his jumping ship to stay in Alta California. As a result, his life in California revolved around the sea, sailing ships, and the beautiful, charming Spanish daughter of the commandant in charge of the San Francisco Presidio, the Spanish fort that Mexico then governed. An ambitious, driven man, he built ships and adobe houses, sailed north, south, and west, became a ranchero, and was the friend of many famous historical people.