Larry Clinton/Sausalito Historical Society
We previously reported that William Richardson first applied for a Southern Marin land grant in 1827. That application turned into a convoluted process lasting more than a decade.
According to Robert Ryal Miller’s biography of Richardson, in late 1829 he decided to go to San Diego, where the governor resided, to present petitions for full naturalization and for a rancho grant.
That December, Captain Richardson put his wife, son, and daughter aboard a Mexican brigantine he had restored, “and sailed with them from San Francisco Bay to the harbor of San Pedro. From there they went overland to Mission San Gabriel, where the family was to live for the next five and a half years.
In San Diego on February 18,1835, Richardson submitted a diseño (crude map) which showed the boundaries and its relation to adjoining properties.” Addressed to the “Superior Political Chief,” the document stated in translation:
“Citizen William Antonio Richardson, before your Excellency, in due form of law respectfully represents: that having a considerable quantity of cattle in the vicinity of the Port of San Francisco, together with a growing family, in conformity with the laws in relation to the matter, he requests that you may be pleased to grant him the place that is marked out on the sketch that accompanies this petition.
“This land is vacant; it is not recognized as the particular property of any individual, corporation, or pueblo”
The application process was passed on from one governor to another until Governor Alvarado signed the final grant papers in February 1838. Finally, Richardson moved his family across the strait from Yerba Buena to his Rancho Sausalito in June 1841.
Richardson’s son Stephen explained his father’s decision to move to Sausalito:
“Having laid the foundation stones of a city and watched its progress long enough to know with certainty that it would grow, my father turned his back on it. Had he waited a few years longer till the great gold rush began, with a probable acquisition of land and water rights, his wealth would doubtless have been enormous—large enough to withstand the mishaps that wrecked his fortune in his old age.
“Indeed, my father believed that two cities would spring up on each side of the Golden Gate, and he preferred to cast his lot where he owned everything.”
At first, the Richardson family occupied a two-room wooden house near the springs on Whaler’s Cove (at today’s Second and Valley Streets), but about a year later they moved to a new adobe hacienda. “This larger home, befitting the owner’s newly acquired title of Don (a gentleman and estate owner’s title used before the last name),” in Miller’s words, “was situated in a broad valley near the Sausalito anchorage, almost a mile north of Whaler’s Cove and the waterworks. The central portion of the adobe dwelling measured 16 by 20 feet, to which a room was added on either side, making the house about 20 by 40 feet, with a storage loft above.
(The site was on the present Pine Street, between Bonita and Caledonia Streets.) Indian servants of the family had huts nearby.)
Stephen’s sister Mariana was fifteen years old when they moved to the ranch. Many years later she recalled some aspects of her life at their hacienda:
“Our furniture was plain and substantial… The carpets were woven by the Indians… Indian women worked the wool into strips, and the Indians [also] made them into blankets. The women did excellent work with the needle, all the bed clothing being done by hand, all the sheets and pillow slips having Spanish [lace] work, also the table linen, the ends of which were made into fringe. The Indian women dressed plain and neat and made excellent servants. They took good care of children and were fine cooks and very trustworthy.
“Our tables were generally furnished with an abundance of good food, consisting of meat: mutton, steaks, chickens, eggs; also vegetables: corn, beans, peppers and squash… For bread we had tortillas made of [maize] flour and milk… Large ovens were built out in the yard. These ovens were large enough to roast a good-sized sheep. We always had the finest chocolate which came from Mexico.”
Richardson’s home became famous throughout the Bay Area as a scene of lavish hospitality.
Besides neighboring ranch families, Richardson and his wife Maria entertained visiting ship captains from all over the world. His acquaintances included mountain man Jedidiah Smith, General Vallejo, and John Sutter, whom he transported up to Sonoma so he could begin the explorations that led him to develop Sutter’s Mill, the site of the 1849 Gold Rush that, ironically, contributed to the collapse of Richardson’s empire.