Ask any history buff about Sonoma County during the Civil War and you'll probably hear two stories. “The Battle of Washoe House” claims a mob of Petaluma men, angered over Santa Rosa's support for the Confederacy, started marching north but got no further than the famous roadhouse, where they drowned their fury in suds. But there’s no proof that story is even partially true; nothing can be found written about it during that time (MORE) so it gets four pinocchios, at least for now. The other favorite is the stealing of the "vigilante bell," and that tale's true - although nearly all versions of that story deserve at least two pinocchios.

The background of the story is consistently told and truthful. Manville Doyle, a prominent Petaluma livery stable operator was tasked to buy a nice, big bell for the town's Baptist church. In San Francisco he found the one used by the infamous Vigilance Committee of 1856. It was rung to summon members to their warehouse HQ known as "Fort Gunnybags" and sounded the death knell of four men who were lynched by the group.

Once the bell was installed in the Petaluma church belfry, it was agreed that it had an unusually beautiful tone and powerful enough to be heard for miles. Then years later, Doyle made off with the bell. After it was returned to the church it became damaged, losing its lovely voice. Here's a composite version of the many retellings of those events, with the falsehoods struck out:

In 1864 or in 1865 following Lincoln's assassination, Matt Doyle, a Confederate sympathizer, was angry because the bell was being rung to celebrate the North's military victories. One dark night he and others who were pro-South removed the bell and took it to a warehouse where it was hidden under a pile of potatoes. Several of Doyle's accomplices were brought before Judge Cavanagh, who postponed action indefinitely after their lawyer dragged the hearing out past suppertime. Days, weeks or months later, citizens retrieved the bell and returned it to the church belfry where it was cracked and irreparably damaged either by vigorous pro-Union ringing after the assassination or by pro-Rebel vandalism immediately after its return, probably done by Doyle using a sledgehammer.

Ain't much meat left on them poor ol' bones.

Some misinformation crept in over the following few years (mainly the sledgehammer theory and fuzziness over when the bell was damaged), but the bulk of the misinformation traces back to Tom Gregory's 1911 county history, where he milks the story for a whole chapter - and easily 90 percent of it is hyperbole or bullshit that he probably made up or heard in a saloon. While telling the story he detours to muse about Edgar Allen Poe, mentions someone in Petaluma was supposedly hiding a Mexican cannon on a boat, and notes there weren't many religious differences between Baptists and Campbellites (don't ask). Best read when very drunk, very stoned or very both. From his pile of reeking compost has sprung a garden of weeds - a century of misinformation found in magazine articles, newspaper columns, and books on county history.

Overall it's a textbook example of how easily the historical narrative can become  corrupted when writers just repeat twice-told tales. And as it turns out, the actual story was quite different and more interesting - the incident with the bell was just a sideshow to what was really upsetting everyone in Petaluma. Since the relevant newspapers from that time survive along with a later interview Doyle gave about the events (all transcribed below) it serves as a lesson why it's always critical to use primary sources. End of lecture.

So what actually happened?



In the space of just a few months straddling 1857-1859, Petaluma grew up. The town was incorporated, its first volunteer fire department was organized, and the big "Brick School" was built on Keller street. Self-government, fire protection and public education are all good things - and as a bonus, two of the three also came with bells.

(RIGHT: The First Baptist Church, c. 1890. It was across from Hill Plaza Park on Kentucky street, currently the location of the Park Plaza building. Postcard courtesy Sonoma County Library)

Besides the new downtown fire bell and the one in the school's belfry, three Petaluma churches added bells to their steeples. The Vigilance Bell that Doyle found was the biggest and loudest of them, and that was the reason he bought it; the Baptist church trustees had instructed him to seek a bell that weighed between 1,000-1,200 pounds. They were that specific because they apparently wanted to poke the Congregationalists, who had purchased a 600 lb. bell just a couple of weeks earlier. Too bad the bible says nothing about pride being sinful.

As another sign of progress Petaluma decided it needed a town bell, and the Baptist Church's new monster fit the bill. The town hired someone to ring it three times a day, marking morning, noon and night. Take a moment to sensitize yourself to how important that was in the mid-19th century; every mantle clock and watch was set by that bell, along with schedules for the boat and stage - being the town's bellringer was a position of great responsibility.

But it was still the bell for the church, so it also rang for church services as well as births, deaths, weddings, funerals, plus any other reason the preacher saw fit rejoice or mourn or call parishioners. All of the churches did this, and it was driving some Petalumans nuts. In 1858 "Belle" complained in a letter to the Sonoma County Journal, "To hear them banging (I can not say ringing), whatever may be the occasion, one would imagine himself in an old Spanish town on a gala day, when, as is well known, the only object of the ringers is, to make the most infernal noise possible."

During the Civil War, the church trustees later stated supporters for both the North and the South were allowed to ring the bell to celebrate military victories, but ringing it for the Union didn't stir Doyle's ire. What really pissed off Matt Doyle and his friends was being kicked out of their church.

The 1864 elections were only months away and as explained in the previous article on Sonoma county's voting history during the Civil War, Lincoln would win 61 percent of the vote in Petaluma, an even stronger show of support than when he was first elected. Much of the background leading to stealing the bell was explained in Santa Rosa's pro-Confederate paper, the Sonoma Democrat; despite the writer's strong rebel slant and gossipy tone, the relevant details can be verified elsewhere.

The First Baptist Church's new preacher was a Rev. A. Gould, who took up that pulpit in the autumn of 1863 (nothing further can be found about him). Over the next few months he lobbied the nine-member business committee to pass a set of resolutions which would fundamentally change the church.

The very first resolution declared only male church members could vote to admit or discipline other members. Men also controlled all financial affairs.

The second resolution stated any member who didn't attend church for a month without a good excuse could be disciplined or kicked out.

Resolution three excommunicated "those whose sympathies are with this rebellion and slavery."

These new bylaws were published in the Argus, on April 21, 1864, along with a notice that the new pastor of the church was one Rev. James A. Davidson, a 40 year-old travelling "temperance talker" who apparently had no role in any of this.

A week later Matt Doyle stole the bell.



"It was not stolen from the steeple, but was taken down in the middle of the day by myself and a number of sailors I had hired from the sloops in the creek,” Doyle defended himself in an 1893 interview. "When the bell was removed many persons stood around, among them being members of the city government." So much for the "dead of night" version of the story.

Nor was it hidden under a sack o' spuds; the next issue of the Argus reported "[Doyle] with a posse of men, on Friday last, and by means of a block and tackle, hoisted the bell from the belfry, placed it on a dray and stored it in Baylis & Co’s. Warehouse."

Doyle was not coy about why he took the bell - the Argus quoted him as saying it should not ring for a "[damned] Abolition congregation." He was more specific in 1893, explaining he justified it “Because that fanatical Republican, Davidson, the pastor, who came to Petaluma from the East, had turned all the Democrats out of the church. I said at the time that no bell in which I had a cent’s interest should hang over a church where such a sentiment was allowed to prevail. Others felt the same as I did on the subject."

At the time and again in the interview almost thirty years later, Doyle insisted it was "his" bell because he contributed around $100 of its $550 cost. "After it was carted to Baylis’ warehouse I offered to give twice as much as any man in town to build a belfry on the plaza or put it over the engine house, but I was bound it should not hang over that church."

His claim of ownership brought out the dry wit of Argus editor Samuel Cassiday:

The excitement consequent upon this defiant disregard of the feelings and rights of this community, was for a time intense, but it subsided, when it became manifest that Doyle with his bell, occupied as unenviable a position as did the man who drew the elephant in the lottery. Mr. Doyle, we are informed proposes give the Bell to our city; but while we fully appreciate the munificence of the proposed donation, we would suggest to our City Fathers that it would be well for them to be certain that he can give a bona fide title to his bell; otherwise, after they have incurred the expense of raising a pole to hang it on, it might be spirited away by any one owning a fractional interest therein. The only interest our citizens now feel in the matter is such as naturally attaches to the precedent established; and as there are institutions of public interest and utility, the origin of which is in joint contributions, it is important to know whether they are jumpable, if so we have our eye on the belfry of the Congregational church, and a friend of ours has visions of a crop of beans, where our stockmen most to congregate to try the mettle of their fiery steeds.

That segment also shows there was initial upset in the community when the bell first disappeared, but people adjusted - and presumably the town bellringer moved over to the Congregational Church. "It is highly probable that the matter would have rested there," Cassiday wrote, "had not the ears of Union men been daily offended with the declaration that they 'dared not attempt to replace it;' that if they did, vengeance dire would be visited upon them, etc."

Then twelve days later, Doyle and his fellow Copperheads escalated their war. Now they claimed to own not just the bell, but the actual church building. "Tuesday morning the windows of the Baptist Church were nailed down and the doors closed, after which the officers of the church were notified that they could no longer occupy the building," the Argus reported.

The Argus: "This was the last straw that broke the camels back; forbearance was no longer a virtue, and the loyal citizens of Petaluma at once determined that, regardless of cost or consequences, the church should not only be opened, but the Bell should be restored to its place in the Belfry, before night."

So in mid-afternoon a group went down to Tom Baylis's warehouse on B street and placed the bell on a dray. "As it passed up Main street, Merchants, Professional men, and artisans, as if by common consent joined the throng and proceeded to the church," wrote the Argus.

With a block and tackle the Bell, which weighs over 1000 lbs., was hoisted to its place, and as its “familiar voice” reverberated over hill and dale, the elfin was made to ring with the huzzas of the bystanders. A patriotic song was sung in front of the church, in the chorus to which all joined with a vim. The Stars and Stripes were unfurled from the cupalo, and received three lusty cheers after which the crowd quietly dispersed.

But the trouble would carry over for months. The next Sunday someone tried to throw a large rock through the church window during evening services, hitting the clapboard instead. The next month, Rev. Davidson's home was the scene of a bedtime attack, with a brick thrown though his bedroom window and two more through the parlor window. And then in August, Rev. Gould - the man who stirred all this up - was stoned in Healdsburg as he and others left a night church service.

And now we come to the crack.



No, Matt Doyle didn't creep into the belfry and give it a mighty whack! with a sledgehammer - although that's such a good story our loveable but awful historian Tom Gregory undoubtedly would have claimed it happened, had not Doyle still been alive when his history book was written. When the bell was returned to the church, Doyle sold his "interest" in it to a trustee, who told Doyle a consoling white lie that it was actually being bought on behalf of the town.

Nor did the damage occur during the Civil War. An item in the first 1866 issue of the Argus noted "it has either received a fracture or chafes against something which deadens its sound." The next issue confirmed the bell was cracked, and in his private journal Cassiday noted the cause was "purely accidental." So perhaps it split that New Year's Eve or the following day.

The town's best blacksmith tried to fix it, but such things can't be mended. Even though its ding-dong was now more of a clunk-thunk, the bell continued to be used until 1911, when the building was torn down to be replaced by a new church (designed by Brainerd Jones). The bell was stored in the basement of Schluckebier's Hardware Store and they wrestled it upstairs on Egg Days to show it off in the store window.

Petaluma July 4 parade, 1976. (Photo: Sonoma county library)


In 1916 there were feelers out that suggested it belonged to be in a San Francisco museum. The Baptist church trustees published an open letter that was surprisingly emotional, insisting it was theirs alone: "...It called the people of this community to public worship, and tolled in announcement of the death of scores of the early residents of this city and surrounding territory for years prior to the Civil War...we believe it to be our duty to retain possession of the old bell as the property of the Petaluma Baptist church and as soon as possible to arrange for its being kept where the public can view it from time to time. "

The subject came up again in 1925 when San Francisco asked to borrow it, and this time the trustees agreed the historic relic deserved better than Schluckebier's storeroom. They donated the bell to San Francisco and the following year about a dozen citizens there "gifted" the Baptist church $891 to retire its mortgage for their new building.

During the 1976 Bicentennial, San Francisco returned the favor and loaned it back to Petaluma for a couple of months. During the Fourth of July parade it was driven around in the back of a pickup, oddly shaded as if it might be sunburnt. Today it can be seen at the Society of California Pioneers in the San Francisco Presidio at 101 Montgomery.

Soon after the fight over the bell, Manville Doyle sold his interest in the livery stable and moved to Nicaragua, returning to Petaluma around the time the Civil War ended. In 1890 he and son Frank founded the Exchange Bank in Santa Rosa. Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley recalled he was a "square shooter" who always stood by his friends, but remained a "bitter partisan." When he died in 1916 he left a big pile of "friendship notes" - bank loans he did not expect to be repaid. One has to wonder how many of them were gifts to his old rebel cronies.

The surprise epilogue belongs to Rev. James A. Davidson, the poor man who was named the Baptist pastor just the week before Matt Doyle declared war on the church. Davidson wasn't even a career preacher; he was a leader in the "Independent Order of Good Templars," a Freemason offshoot focused on temperance. After leaving Sonoma county he was their lead speaker in Pennsylvania, then retiring as editor/publisher of the Geauga [County] Leader in Burton, Ohio.

Someone from Petaluma ran into him in the East and wrote to the Argus, "He occasionally laughs loud and long in talking over some of his experiences there. He says his experience at Petaluma partook of both comedy and tragedy, and when he publishes his life he calculates the chapter headed 'A Year in Petaluma,' will increase the value of the copyright many thousand dollars."

Photo: Wikipedia





ANOTHER BELL.-A paper is now in circulation among our people for the purpose of raising funds to purchase a bell, to weigh from one thousand to twelve hundred pounds, and to be placed upon the Baptist church in this city. We are told that the principal portion of the required sum has already been subscribed. This will make the third church bell that has been purchased by subscription on this place within the past few months.--Verily, our people are bound to hear their loose change jingle out of pocket, if not in pocket.

- Sonoma County Journal, October 1 1858



First Baptist Church, Petaluma.

The following Resolutions recently adopted by the First Baptist Church in this city, if faithfully carried out, and firmly adhered to, are well calculated to remove the odium that has been attached to this denomination here in consequence of the irregular manner in which its business has in times past been conducted, and the notoriously disloyal tendency and character of some who have arrogated to themselves an important influence in the business matters of the denomination; an influence that has manifested itself to such an extent that many respectable parties in this city and vicinity have kept themselves aloof from the church. Although Baptists in principle, and christians in heart and life, they desired to have no fellowship with rebels or the sympathizers with Rebels. These Resolutions will have the effect of ridding the church of the drones, Copperheads, and rebels, and we heartily wish the Baptists much success in their effort to maintain in their purity messages of the Body and the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ:

[Resolved that male church members can vote to admit or dismiss other members, and also control financial affairs; that any member who doesn't attend church for a month without an excuse can be disciplined or dismissed]

Whereas, We believe that the existing rebellion in the Southern States of our Union was conceived in wickedness and oppression, and that it is the natural result of the system of American slavery, and that both are contrary to every divine and moral law, and to the best interests of our country therefore,

Resolved, That as Christians we cannot have fellowship with those whose sympathies are with this rebellion and slavery.

At a regular meeting of the Church, held on Monday evening, Rev. James A. Davidson, of San Francisco, received the unanimous vote of the meeting to act as Pastor for the church here, and has accepted the position. We certainly wish the Baptist Church much success in their efforts to maintain the preaching of the Gospel, and to keep themselves unspotted and unpolluted by the abominable leprosy of disloyalty to God and their country.

- Petaluma Journal and Argus - April 21, 1864



Rev. J. A. Davidson, well known as a temperance lecturer, and lately travelling agent of the Evangel, has accepted a call to a Baptist pastorate at Petaluma.

- Daily Alta California, April 29 1864



An Historic Bell.

On Friday last an incident transpired in our city, which, though trivial in itself, aroused antagonistic passions and prejudices which like a slumbering mine, required but a spark to cause an explosion; but thanks to that genuine courage most praiseworthy when manifest in forbearance, the counsels of cool heads prevailed and we were spared an outburst which might have led to results most disastrous. The circumstances were in brief as follows: Several years since our citizens were afflicted with a bell mania. The inhabitants of the lower portion of the city having, by contribution purchased a bell for the Song Church; the inhabitants of the upper portion of the city at once determined to purchase a bell that would “weigh more” and “sound louder” than the one destined to call the inhabitants of Lower Petaluma to their devotions. The result of this determination was the contributing, by divers and sundry persons, of a sum amounting to six or seven hundred dollars, which was entrusted to Mr. M. Doyle, who with it purchased the old Vigilance Committee Bell, the solemn cadence of which warned Casey and Cora that the time had come for them to shuffle off this mortal coil. By common consent this Bell was hung in the belfry of the First Baptist Church, in this city, with the conditions that it was to be used not only a s a church bell, but by the city, and on all occasions when bells are usually in requisition; and in accordance with this arrangement, the city has kept a man employed to ring the bell at morning, noon and night. In consequence, however, of the revolution which is shaking our country from centre to circumference, a revolution, on a small scale, was inaugurated in the Baptist congregation, and the result was the enacting of a set of loyal Resolutions, very unpalatable to the secession element in our community. “Revenge is sweet,” so sayeth the poet, or some “other man,” and the parties, considering themselves grieved, foremost among which was Mr. M. Doyle, determined that the bell should not give forth its brazen notes over a “d—d Abolition Congregation;” and as he (Doyle) had invested the sum of $105, in lawful U. S. coin in the aforesaid bell, he proceeded with a posse of men, on Friday last, and by means of a block and tackle, hoisted the bell from the belfry, placed it on a dray and stored it in Baylis & Co’s. Warehouse, much to the inconvenience and detriment of sleepy citizens who were wont to be released from the embrace of the drowsy god by its familiar peals. The excitement consequent upon this defiant disregard of the feelings and rights of this community, was for a time intense, but it subsided, when it became manifest that Doyle with his bell, occupied as unenviable a position as did the man who drew the elephant in the lottery. Mr. Doyle, we are informed proposes give the Bell to our city; but while we fully appreciate the munificence of the proposed donation, we would suggest to our City Fathers that it would be well for them to be certain that he can give a bona fide title to his bell; otherwise, after they have incurred the expense of raising a pole to hang it on, it might be spirited away by any one owning a fractional interest therein. The only interest our citizens now feel in the matter is such as naturally attaches to the precedent established; and as there are institutions of public interest and utility, the origin of which is in joint contributions, it is important to know whether they are jumpable, if so we have our eye on the belfry of the Congregational church, and a friend of ours has visions of a crop of beans, where our stockmen most to congregate to try the mettle of their fiery steeds.

- Petaluma Journal and Argus,  May 5, 1864



The Bell Again.

In our last issue we gave an account of the removal of the Bell from the Belfry of the Baptist Church. It is highly probable that the matter would have rested there had not the ears of Union men been daily offended with the declaration that they “dared not attempt to replace it;” that if they did, vengeance dire would be visited upon them, etc. Aside from those who lacked the discretion to profit by the forbearance shown their premeditated insult to this loyal community, there was yet another class, true to their Copperhead instincts, who hypocritically professed to deprecate the action of those who removed the bell, but who could see in any attempt to restore it to its former place just cause for riot and blood-shed. After the deed had been consummated they were immediately transformed into blatant lambs of peace and were tremulous lest the loyal people of this city should dare to resent insult and injury, and thus “fire” the hearts of those who had thrust a fire brand into this community. But all their tears were of no avail. Tuesday morning the windows of the Baptist Church were nailed down and the doors closed, after which the officers of the church were notified that they could no longer occupy the building. This was the last straw that broke the camels back; forbearance was no longer a virtue, and the loyal citizens of Petaluma at once determined that, regardless of cost or consequences, the church should not only be opened, but the Bell should be restored to its place in the Belfry, before night. At 3 o’clock P. M. the Bell was taken from Baylis’ Warehouse, where it had been stored, was placed on a dray, and as it passed up Main street, Merchants, Professional men, and artisans, as if by common consent joined the throng and proceeded to the church. With a block and tackle the Bell, which weighs over 1000 lbs., was hoisted to its place, and as its “familiar voice” reverberated over hill and dale, the elfin was made to ring with the huzzas of the bystanders. A patriotic song was sung in front of the church, in the chorus to which all joined with a vim. The Stars and Stripes were unfurled from the cupalo, and received three lusty cheers after which the crowd quietly dispersed. Things now stand just as they were prior to the removal of the bell; and if there are any aggrieved we should say to such, you have thus far been protected in your rights, both of person and property; however odious your sentiments to loyal men, in your capacity as citizens you have received every courtesy and consideration at their hands; and as it has been so it will continue to be, unless you wantonly provoke a collision. If the Bell in question, belongs to joint contributors, let those interested meet and honorably determine what disposition shall be made of the same. This is but just and proper, and could not fail to give satisfaction to all. If the Church Edifice is the private property of a few individuals, by a proper showing of the facts in any court of justice they will be protected in their rights. Let this course be pursued and there will be no need of any apprehensions of further trouble; pursue a different course and time will determine whether or no you have acted wisely in your choice.

- Petaluma Journal and Argus,  May 12, 1864



A COPPERHEAD ARGUMENT.—During Divine service in the Baptist Church on Sabbath evening, quite a number of noted Copperheads were observed prowling around the building, taking care, as is their style, to keep under cover of darkness. While the Pastor was in the midst of his sermon, a large stone was hurled against the house, evidently intended for the church window, but which fortunately struck a few inches lower on the clapboard. There was a large congregation present, larger than usual in the evening, and some excitement. Such barbarous conduct deserves the most condign punishment. We are informed the authorities have a clue to the perpetrator of the outrage, and we can only hope he may be arrested and meet his deserts. The rowdies of Petaluma must be taught respect for law and order, and they certainly will be taught, if an indignant public is much further provoked by them.

- Petaluma Journal and Argus,  May 12, 1864




LETTER FROM PETALUMA.
(From an Occasional Correspondent)

Petaluma, May 10, 1864. Editors Alta: On the 29th of April last the bell, for several years used in the First Baptist Church, was taken down by a party of citizens of very questionable loyalty, and placed in a storehouse. The Church being about to try some of its members for disloyalty, it is generally surmised the parties who took away the bell were actuated by motives anything but lovely and loyal, and wished to intimidate the Church, and prevent action in reference to the parties on trial.

The Church, in due time, excluded the disorderly ones, to the number of a dozen or so, and the public generally considered that the action of the Church was just and proper. Every effort failed to reclaim them.

One of the excluded members, having more zeal than knowledge, attempted to trespass on the Church property yesterday morning, rendering himself liable to a heavy penalty, and this circumstance awakened a very indignant feeling in the minds of the better class of our citizens, and they, yesterday afternoon, went in a large body, and took the abstracted bell out of the hands of the Copperheads, and replaced it on the church belfry, with cheers and loyal songs, and finished their work by ringing out a loyal peal, and hoisting a large Flag of our Union on the church steeple.

By this vigorous movement Petaluma has wiped out a stain on its fair fame, and lawless men have been taught a salutary lesson. The Baptists of Petaluma are a peaceable, loyal, mind-their-own-business set of people, and they have a splendid church edifice erected by friends of that denomination, and recently called a loyal Pastor, and are endeavoring to live peaceably with all. But a gang of graceless young and old rowdies have for some time been very impudent to this church. Stones have been thrown and mischief attempted, but our citizens are determined to make a marked example of the first one of these rowdies caught transgressing. Because a church sees fit to adopt loyal resolutions, and has the honesty and courage to enforce them, the candidates for San Quentin here seem to think they have full privilege to annoy. But woful will be the doom of the first one caught attempting violence after this time.
Citizen.

- Daily Alta California, May 13 1864



Spiritual Communication with a Bell. —Some fellow at San Francisco has been holding spiritual communication with that historic church bell of Petaluma. The bell is intensely loyal and accuses its owner of establishing the reign of Dixiedom in Petaluma, because he saw fit to remove it from its elevated position. An appeal to the Spirit of Revolutionary Fathers is made, and just at that juncture a severe shock of an earthquake arrived and brought him to his senses. See Argus.

- Sonoma Democrat, May 14 1864



Baptist Church Difficulty at Petaluma.

Editor of Sonoma County Democrat : The undersigned an humble and quiet spectator in Israel, familiar with and cognizant of all the facts and circumstances out of which the difficulties of the First Baptist Church, of this place, arose, and about which so much has been said and published, has witnessed with deep regret, not to say mortification, the actions and conduct of many of the principal movers in the affair, and which in the judgment of the writer, savors much of injustice, oppression and persecution towards a portion of the members of that Church.

For the sake of the truth and the cause of Christianity, the writer, with your kind permission, will candidly state all the facts to the public through the columns of the Democrat, and ask all charitable and liberal members of the community to withhold a judgment of condemnation against those members of the First Baptist Church of this place, against whom so much has been said, until they know the sequel.

Should you conceive it consonant to your duty as a public journalist to give publicity to the facts, they must run thus:

 In September or October, 1863, Rev. Mr. Gould, professing to be a minister of the Baptist persuasion, arrived in Petaluma, and took shelter, meat and drink, at sister F---'s, (now expelled from the Church), where he and his wife remained for several weeks gratis, preached several sermons, was received by the society and regularly paid and supported tor several months, and until many of the members became satisfied, not only that he was a bad man, but that he was a hypocrite; many things contributed to produce this conclusion, and finally induced several of the members to withhold their support; chief and foremost among which, was his marked discourtesy toward other ministers of the Gospel present in the Church, during divine service, observed not only by the ministers, but by the audience; suffering himself to become angry at trifling and frivolous things, and leaving the Church abruptly, declaring that he never would either preach or pray in it again; refusing to pray for his wife in her last illness, when requested by her, in the presence of members of his Church, his wife being a devout Christian and most estimable lady; gross neglect, and unchristian-like conduct towards his wife during her last illness; peremtory refusal to allow the sisters of the Church to dress the body of his deceased wife in a dress which she had prepared with her own hands, in view of her approaching and anticipated dissolution, and expressly directed and requested that she might be buried in, (true it was more valuable than the one she was buried in); but these are only some of the facts and circumstances that induced the belief that he was unworthy of the support of the members subsequently expelled.

 The Rev. Gould being fully aware of all these objections and the consequences, too ignorant to please and too lazy to work, with the duplicity and cunning of a fifth-rate politician, devised a plan by which he fancied he could be continued in the service of the society, and compel it to support him. The scheme opened by calling a business meeting and receiving by previous arrangement, into the Church, nine recusant members, upon their professions, promises, etc.

 Rev. Gould and one or two of his devoted friends, being the principal movers in this plan, knowing the objection of a majority of the society to political sermons, made free use of political arguments to carry out the scheme.

 The next step was the passage of the following resolution, also by prearrangement among the friends of loyalty and the Rev. Pastor, to wit:

“Resolved, That all the business of the Church, pertaining to financial affairs and discipline, be transacted by the male members of the Church, the female members having the right to vote upon the admission and dismissal, of members."

This resolution was earnestly protested against by the female members, as well as one or two of the male members, as a gross violation of Baptist usage and Church government.

The adoption of the resolution having given rise to considerable dissatisfaction, as it deprived the female members of a voice in the selection of a pastor, a right which they had always enjoyed as Baptists, was further considered at a business meeting of nine male members, held at the house of the newly admitted members. At this second meeting it was thought, notwithstanding but two male members voted against the resolution, that it was the secesh element in the Church that objected to the Pastorage of the Rev. Mr. Gould, and the adoption of the resolution, although Mr. Gould had, at least generally, very properly abstained from preaching politics.

But, sir, this was the pretext and furnished the means by which seven out of the nine male members at this second meeting, subsequently carried out a portion of the scheme proposed by the Rev. Gould; these seven Christian brethren proposed and adopted the scries of resolutions to which exceptions were subsequently taken.

The very liberal and charitable seven (or a Committee appointed by them, with the aid of Rev. Gould,) first procured the publication of the series in the Evangel of the 17th of March, 1864, and afterwards reported the same to the Church for adoption and approval. The Church refused to adopt them by a decided majority; the moderator failing to declare the vote or result, one of the members requested an announcement, whereupon one of the loyal righteous seven arose in his pew, and with much gravity and in great humility, stated that the vote was only an informal one, and the result of course immaterial.

It will be observed that the first resolution of the series, as subsequently framed by the loyal seven, and published by their direction in the Journal and Argus, deprives the female members of any voice whatever in matters of finance and discipline.

As many of the female members, yea, all of them were bound by their covenant to support their pastor, some of them felt that it was unjust to deny them a voice in the selection of the one they were called upon to support; especially as the whole scheme was gotten up by and intended for the benefit of the devout Rev. Gould, and to continue him as pastor, but the disaffection toward the Rev. Gould was too general, and a committee was appointed to engage another. The committee first obtained the services of the Rev. Mr. Medbury with whom the society were generally pleased, but the very loyal seven and the disappointed Gould, thought they would serve the Lord a little further, and employ one who, in their own language, “would drive the secesh element out of the Church,” they succeeded in obtaining the services of the Rev. Mr. Davidson, who seems to know none greater than himself, and therefore swears by himself and the series of resolutions, prays day and night for the slaughter of all Rebeldom, the punishment and expatration of all Copperheads and sympathizers with slavery or the rebellion, and denounces all objectors to the resolutions as traitors, rebels and heretics.

Under the teaching and advice of this abolition Nomad, all those who refuse to indorse and approve the series ot resolutions, were excommunicated, except four or five who were necessarily absent, nine females and one male member of the society for refusing to approve the resolutions, were expelled, and now, out of these facts has been manufactured all the loyal editorials of the newspapers on the subject, and singular as it may seem, the only voter expelled was at the time and for years had been a Republican voter.

But for fear of writing too much in a single letter, let me add in conclusion that the members expelled, and the remaining few who objected to the resolutions and wore not expelled because of their absence at the meeting, were the founders and builders of the edifice from which they have been or are to be forced by the radical proscriptive spirit of these two Ministerial Nomads and their loyal followers; their labor, money and means, bought the land, built the house, even the American Flag that floats in the breeze, from the belfry, is the handi-work of, and was contributed by those who protest against the resolutions.

The few who built this church house did it when their members were so limited that it cost some of them almost all of their earthly valuables, yet, generously gave it, and like Roger Williams, the founder of the Baptist Church in the United States, sought it as a place at which they conid worship unmolested, unawed and untrammelled by political schismatics or intolerance; but they are now turned out of it for refusal to declare by resolution that the Sisters of the society are unworthy or incompetent to declare who would be a suitable minister for this Church, and for refusing to declare further by resolution that the Government of the United States, the Government of their Fathers is contrary to every divine and moral law.

To the hasty brethren who first gave publicity to those resolutions, we must say, you would have done better to have remembered the 9th and 10th verses of 25th Proverbs.

"Debate thy cause with thy neighbor himself; and discover not a secret “to another; lest he that heareth it, put “thee to shame and thine infamy turn “not away.”

Much has been said about the bell on this Church, which is an entirely separate matter, about which, with your approbation, I will write another epistle, until then believe me a prisoner, yet in the bands of peace.
SCOTUS. Petaluma, May 25th, 1864.

- Sonoma Democrat, June 4 1864


Letter from Scotus.

Editor of Sonoma County Democrat: In my last I promised to write you again, since which time I have visited the western part of the county, was much surprised on my return to this place to-day, to find that the few facts given in my letter about the Baptist Church troubles had been made the subject of three lengthy articles in the Journal and Argus. Have you read those articles? if not read them, the facts seem to trouble the loyal, the “late Pastor of the first Baptist Church,” A. Gould favors us with one of those articles; docs he take issue with “Scotus” on any of the statements of facts? does he deny that his wife was buried in an old alpacca, or that it was only fourteen years old? instead of a decent gown prepared by her own hands, and requested she might be buried in; does he directly deny a single statement made by “Scotus?” Not he, sir; when he does the “Scotus tribe” stands pledged to produce the proof; this, however, we venture to predict the Reverend and devoted gentleman will never call for.

Let the worthy gentleman understand and know that the “unknown assassin" may be found with but little effort. There is a single additional statement in the worthy Pastors letter deserving notice; he says, “the parties who have cooked up the slanderous letter,” etc., never come near my house either to enquire as to our wants (during his wife’s illness) or to proffer the sympathy and assistance so much needed. Now to this charge, “Scotus” pleads guilty, as he had no acquaintance with the lady or her husband, and was wholly ignorant of her illness; but if the pastor means to say that the sisters, then in this Church and since expelled, did not frequently call, sit up with, and as good neighbors and Christians, minister to his lamented wife, then, indeed, has he stated a falsehood, and hero is a tangible issue, on which if he desires, he can find “Scotus.”

Another article in the Journal and Argus, fathered by “Argus” says “it is true that Rev. Gould made the pews with his own hands and gave the thankless beggars then in the Church, $200 in cash and work.” Here is another falsehood the first we shall notice by “Argus,” and this makes up an issue with him on which he can find “Scotus” if he desires. The truth is that Rev. Gould agreed and undertook to put in the pews for a stipulated amount, worked a few days, and then sold his contract to Jas. Hosmer, and received his pay, and Mr. Hosmer performed the labor and received of the Trustees every dollar of the contract price; nor did Rev. Gould ever give two hundred cents to the Church.

Now, sir, these matters were first referred to, and here noticed simply in reference to Rev. Gould to justify the belief which the expelled members of this Church had, that he was not the right man in the right place.

But says “Argus,” “the present loyal members have paid off all the old debts of the Church,” etc. How much did they pay, “Argus?” We know that the Church did not owe to exceed $30. How did they pay it, by appealing in this trying time to those outside loyalists, who, like yourself have studied niggerology until they have strained the mind? We think yes.

As wo owe no potatoe, meat, bread, or clothes bills or grocery bills and pay our pew rent, and see no application of the other portion of “Argus’s” squib to the “Scotus tribe" we dismiss him with the suggestion that we think from his apt use of, and familiarity with small he would make a better “beach comer" than clerk of a church; he would make a full hand in gathering deselect waifs and treasure store.

There was also * * [sic] appeared in the Journal and Argus of the same date, but the “wise men of the cast” will never in all probability see the sign.

The author is evidently a loyal man, he mentions it in his prayers, all of his dreams are exceedingly loyal, he is too loyal to respect a Copperhead or the vile conductor of the Democrat, but stoops from his high loyal degree to notice “Scotus.” But we are writing too much in our letter, will notice them again with your permission. Truth is mighty and will prevail. June 16th, ’64.

- Sonoma Democrat, June 25 1864



Guerillas at Work.-- The residence of the Rev. Mr. Davidson, Pastor of First Baptist Church, of, this city, was stoned last Sunday night, at half past 11 o'clock. One half of a brick was thrown through his bedroom window, striking the wall just above the head of his bed, and making a hole through the plastering. Two large stones were hurled through his parlor window one with such force as to go through the curtain, leaving a hole that looked as though it had been cut with a knife. Tho upper sash in the bedroom window was almost entirely destroyed. Mrs. Davidson, who is in delicate health, was frightened terribly. There were three of these murderous assassins, engaged in this outrage, who threw their rocks and then fled like cowardly hounds. We can imagine no reason for this, unless it is of a political nature. Mr, Davidson preaches loyalty and prays for the success of the Union Army! He is an active worker in the cause of temperance and for all worthy objects of charity. He attends strictlv to bis own business, is in offensive and quiet, and is much admired and respected by the loyal portion of this community for his many christian virtues. It is useless to add that this outrage has produced great indignation among our law abiding citizens. We earnestly hope, for the credit of our city, that the officers of the law will at least make an effort to ferret out the guilty ones. --Petaluma Journal.

Mr. Davidson is well known in Santa Cruz as a firm advocate of the cause of temperance, and a loyal man. We hope that all diligence will be taken to arrest and punish these offenders.

- Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel, July 30 1864


FURTHER OUTRAGES. — The Petaluma Journal of August 11th gives another instance of Copperhead outrages in Sonoma county: The day appointed by the President for prayer was observed at Healdsburg, and religious services were held, in the Baptist Church in the morning, and Methodist Church in the evening. Rev. A. Gould preached a loyal sermon in the forenoon, arousing the Coyote and Hit-ite party. After service, in the evening, as Gould, in company with the pastor of the Methodist Church and several ladies, were on their way from church, they were assailed with stones, by concealed scoundrels. On the following evening, while Gould was alone in his study, the house was assailed with great violence, and a shower of blessings in the form of bricks and bowlders came against the house, smashing things considerably. Gould went to the door and heard the rowdies running as for dear life. We truly live in delightful times, when loyal Christian people are endangered in life and properly because they are true to God and the nation. Our Baptist friends seem special favorites of the rebels and their rowdy allies. We heartily sympathize with them in their persecutions, and only hope the Union people may be able, ere long, to "tie to" some of their assailants. Rev. A. Gould is as good and loyal a man as we have in California.

- Sacramento Daily Union, August 15 1864


We have noticed recently, and have heard others remark it, that the bell in the Baptist Church, wich is rung morning, noon and night, has lost much of its clear sweet tone. It has either received a fracture or chafes against something which deadens its sound.

- Petaluma Journal and Argus, January 4 1866


Cracked-The bell on the Baptist Church has received a crack which renders it useless for the present. This is unfortunate, as it was not only remarkable for the clearness and compass of its tone, but had an historic association - being the Vigilance Committee bell, during troublesome times in San Francisco, and sounded the death knell of Casey, Corey, Hethrington, and Brace, and struck terror to the hearts of other desperadoes of that city.

If the facture cannot be healed by brazing, the bell will have to be recast. For the present the bell on the Congregational Church will be rung morning, noon and night.

- Petaluma Journal and Argus, January 11 1866



Scranton, Penn.--...Your old friend Davidson is here. When I was in Petaluma you remember he was Pastor to the Baptists. Everytime we meet he has something to say of Petaluma, and always gives your town a fair name. He occasionally laughs loud and long in talking over some of his experiences there. He says his experience at Petaluma partook of both comedy and tragedy, and when he publishes his life he calculates the chapter headed "A Year in Petaluma," will increase the value of the copyright many thousand dollars...

- Petaluma Argus, April 16 1868



THE OLD BELL
An Interesting Talk With M. Doyle About Its History.

Knowing that M. Doyle wan directly interested in the famous old bell of the Baptist Church in Petaluma, about which so much has been written, a Democrat reporter called on him Monday afternoon for a short talk on the subject.

"Yes,” said Mr. Doyle, "I know all about the old bell, and I want to say right here that it was never stolen, as the Imprint has it. I was the man who bought the old bell from Conroy & O'Connor for $550, and of that sum I had subscribed $110. It was not stolen from the steeple, but was taken down in the middle of the day by myself and a number of sailors I had hired from the sloops in the creek.”

“Why was it taken down?”

“Because that fanatical Republican, Davidson, the pastor, who came to Petaluma from the East, had turned all the Democrats out of the church. I said at the time that no bell in which I had a cent’s interest should hang over a church where such a sentiment was allowed to prevail. Others felt the same as I did on the subject. When the bell was removed many persons stood around, among them being members of the city government. After it was carted to Baylis’ warehouse I offered to give twice as much as any man in town to build a belfry on the plaza or put it over the engine house, but I was bound it should not hang over that church. Instead of being put back in the steeple on the next morning, it stayed in the Baylis warehouse for three months [ED: It was twelve days - je, July, 2018]. It is an historic old relic anyway, and when in its prime was one of the finest bells I ever heard. On a clear day it could be heard in Bloomfield and Sonoma. In fact, when it was rung in San Francisco at the time Casey and Corey were hung, it has been said, the wind being favorable, that it was heard in San Jose. But what I have said about the removal of the bell in the daytime many of the older citizens of Petaluma will bear me out. In order to keep my word about not letting the bell hang over the church I agreed, after it was put back, to sell my interest to the city, and John Shrofe, the chairman of the trustees, bought it on behalf of the city.”

- Sonoma Democrat, December 23 1893



A Famous Bell.

A proposition has been made to exhibit the bell in the Baptist Church in Petaluma with the Sonoma County display at the Midwinter Fair. The bell has a remarkable history; a history which will within a century make it almost as famous in California as the old Liberty bell of Philadelphia. It is a pure metal bell manufactured by Ho er & Co., of Boston, and weighs about 1,150 pounds [ED: It was cast by Henry N. Hooper & Co. in Boston, 1855 - je/July, 2018]. It is the identical bell owned and used by the famous Vigilance Committee in the historic days of 1860. It was then rang by the committee when William T. Coleman was its president. Those were days that tried the souls of San Francisco’s worst men. During the war it was stolen from the church steeple, and on being replaced was cracked one dark midnight, by a sledge-hammer.

- Sonoma Democrat, December 23 1893



OLD BELL TO STAY IN PETALUMA
Relic of Vigilantes’ Day Wanted for San Francisco Museum, Will Remain in Sonoma County Town

There has been a little agitation in Petaluma for a few days since the city of San Francisco sent a request that the old bell that hung so long in the belfry of the Petaluma Baptist church, be sent there for installation in a museum, or something of the kind. It is not likely, however, that the bell will be shipped away from Petaluma, for on Monday night the trustees of the Baptist church voted to keep the bell in the following resolution;

Whereas, It has come to our attention through a communication published in a local paper that certain parties desire that our old bell be presented to a San Francisco museum, we deem it wise at this time to state our position in the matter.

The bell was purchased with funds raised by subscription among the members and friends among the and became the sole property of the Petaluma Baptist church. [sic]

It called the people of this community to public worship, and tolled in announcement of the death of scores of the early residents of this city and surrounding territory for years prior to the Civil War.

During the early stages of the war it announced the receipt of news of victories of the contending armies. Friends of the Northern forces rang it to proclaim the news of Union victories and adherents of the South rang it on receipt of news of victories of the Confederate armies. It was on account, of such announcements that the bell was finally broken by a zealous adherent of one of the contending forces.

The bell was for a time used by the Vigilante Committee of San Francisco, but it has been the property of this church for more than half a century and has become more closely connected with the history of Petaluma than it was with that of San Francisco: therefore, be it

Resolved, That we announce through the press of Petaluma that we believe it to be our duty to retain possession Of the old bell as the property of the Petaluma Baptist church and as soon as possible to arrange for its being kept where the public can view it from time to time.

Trustees of Petaluma Baptist Church.

- Press Democrat, April 5 1916



True: Sonoma county was on the Confederacy's side during the Civil War (mostly). That fact never fails to draw a reaction when it's mentioned here in an article and someone in the audience always gasps when it comes up in a presentation.

But the situation was also not so simple. Being pro-Confederate in California did not necessarily mean someone was for slavery in the South, and voting against Lincoln did not even reveal the voter was against the Union; there were many issues at play.

To (hopefully) clarify these issues and correct some misinformation that's been floating around for decades, what follows is an overview of the Sonoma county homefront during the Civil War, using fresh statistical analysis and pointing out some relevant articles that have appeared here earlier.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Lincoln had support in Petaluma and some small hamlets, but never came close to winning the overall Sonoma county vote. In Santa Rosa, Sebastopol and Sonoma, Lincoln was always strongly opposed - but there is no clear explanation why those communities were so anti-Union before and during the Civil War. Five men from Sonoma county went East and enlisted as soldiers, most of them for the Confederacy. Further details on all these points are discussed below.

(The rest can be found at WordPress version of this article, as the formatted tables cannot be properly displayed on this older Blogger platform - sorry.)

Sebastopol has admirable things in its past as well as the awful, but goddesses help me, the cliché is true: Go back to the earliest years and the town was always quirky. Current Google results on "Sebastopol" and "quirky" - about 95,200.

The town deserves plaudits for being a tolerant and (mostly) welcoming place for ethnic minorities that were hated and persecuted elsewhere in Sonoma county during the 19th century. A Native community endured continuously on the banks of the Laguna through the early 1900s, complete with their own cemetery. The following article shows Sebastopol had a thriving Chinatown going back to 1869, even as Chinese immigrants were elsewhere being driven out of the area. Later Japanese newcomers also found it a good place to bring their families and put down roots.

On the flip side, lots of awful stuff happened in the early 20th century, particularly the child labor camps where boys as young as seven were brought up here from the Bay Area to work in the fields and canneries. Feel free to also rage over the destruction of Lake Jonive, an irreplaceable treasure which the town turned into an open cesspool and garbage dump.

But there was often something different about the people who lived there. They seemed to be the sort that liked to doodle in the margins of a cookbook more than following the recipes - and I measure that by the number of times I've read something about the village in the old newspapers and found myself mumbling, "wow, that's unusual." What they often did was just...quirky.

Downtown Sebastopol in 1881 (Western Sonoma County Historical Society Collection)



They certainly did not take themselves as seriously as some folks during the Civil War. Sebastopol sided with the Confederacy, as did the rest of Sonoma county (except Petaluma) but unlike the clench-jawed fanatics over in Santa Rosa who actually rooted for the North to be crushed, the Southern sympathizers of Sebastopol mostly enjoyed punking the mainstream "Union Democrat Party" - the so-called moderates who wanted peace declared and everything to go back as it was before Secession.

In 1862, with their customary pre-election barbecue and party rally coming up, the Democrats of the Analy District hosted speeches by candidates. One who appeared was a San Francisco politico named Worthington who was apparently obscenely heckled or otherwise deeply insulted by some Sebastopol wiseguy. Whatever was said must have been pretty ripe because the candidate exploded at the audience of voters:

"...[Mr. Worthington] was suddenly brought to a close upon that topic, however, by a remark from some one in the crowd at which he seemed to take umbrage, and closed in a terrific abuse of the citizens of Sebastopol — stating that if he came there to the barbecue, he would take good care to bring his dinner with him."

The following year the Analy Democratic Club announced they were throwing another party barbecue, and all Democrats in the county were invited. (It turned out to be a very big deal indeed, with speakers speechifying from 10AM until midnight.) Right after it was announced, the Sebastopol pranksters erected a flagpole taller than anything else around, waving a Union flag and a streamer with the upside down word, "Constitution." The point, I'm guessing, was for them to hang out at the base of the flagpole and mockingly pretend to be namby-pamby Union Democrat moderates.

"They had a grand 'pow-wow,' and apparently had a good time generally," commented the (pro-Union) Petaluma Argus. "The whole affair was evidently got up for the purpose of 'roping in' outsiders; but we hope with no effect. The whole affair is so transparent that nobody but very silly people can be deceived."

The Argus also heard from a Sebastopol subscriber complaining that his newspaper was being stolen by the very people who looked down on its anti-Confederate content as the equivalent of "fake news," yet were still reading the paper avidly. “This is just like the rebels here. They sneak around get the reading of the paper and then talk all week of the march of vile abolition ideas.”

At least once, though, the joke was on Sebastopol's anti-Yankee fanboys. During the Civil War, Fort Alcatraz was used as a military prison for Confederate sympathizers charged with seditious acts, and a telegram arrived that "Dr. Harris, Willson and Valentine, three noted rebels of Sebastopol, had been arrested for treason and would be sent to Alcatraz." Hours later it turned out to be a hoax, and much celebratory drinking followed. What's interesting about this anecdote, however, is that it seems like a "dog that didn't bark in the night" story. If some truly innocent men were sent to the slammer for the duration of the war you'd expect an angry outcry from friends and neighbors; here, the attitude seems to have been, "well, we all knew they'd get arrested eventually..."

The final Civil War episode concerns farmer Aaron Barnes, who definitely took his politics seriously. In 1863 a man named Peters came to his farm to buy a wagonload of fruit. A deal was made and Peters was invited to stay the night, as it was getting late. Late that evening - and presumably after a bottle or three had been uncorked - the conversation turned to one of the big controversies of the day: The Vallandigham affair.

Clement Vallandigham was an Ohio politician who was exiled to the Confederate states a few months earlier after rabble-rousing against "King Lincoln" and the government. (Obl. Believe-it-or-Not! factoid: He died in 1871 while defending a man accused of murder, arguing that the victim had killed himself by mishandling a gun. Vallandigham was demonstrating his theory in the courtroom when he accidentally shot himself.) When Peters said he had no sympathy for Vallandigham, farmer Barnes "told him no abolitionist should stay in his house, and that he must leave; which he had to do, team and all, but without the fruit."

Main Street circa 1898



That Aaron Barnes anecdote has weight because so little is known about him except basic genealogy (1816-1897). Yet as discussed in the next article, Sebastopol's Chinatown mainly owed its existence to him - and what happened during a period of great upheaval in his personal life also became one of the most gossip-worthy tales in the history of the county.

In June of 1885, Aaron's wife Lydia/Liddy died; he was 69 years old at the time, and within five weeks he was married again, his new wife Jessie being younger than all but one of his children.

"The old gentleman concluded that the term 'single blessedness' was a misnomer, and a short time since commenced looking about him for another partner," the Healdsburg newspaper explained. "He met a musical gentleman named Professor Parks, to whom he proffered $500 in consideration of his finding him a suitable wife. The Professor readily accepted, and in a short time a lady from the East, twenty-seven years of age, attractive and cultured, agreed to share the old man's wealth." (Sam Parks was the leader of dance and concert bands around Santa Rosa for about thirty years; a "Jessie Burk" which might be her was arrested several times for prostitution/disorderly conduct in Louisville, Kentucky during preceding years.)

A different paper noted, perhaps tongue in cheek, that after their wedding "the young couple left the following day for Lake county to spend the honeymoon."

Aaron gave his new bride $14,300 in bank stock when they married, followed by local real estate in 1885, 1887 and 1889. Then in 1892 she deserted him.

He sued her for breach of contract and sought $20,000 in damages, arguing "...she was not a worthy woman at the time of the marriage, and that it was a scheme on her part to obtain possession of his property." Jessie Burk Barnes freely admitted she had left him, but insisted she had fulfilled the contract by marrying a man old enough to be her grandpa. The court agreed with her.

The case went to the state Supreme Court in 1895 and Aaron lost again. The court ruled, “When a man marries a woman knowing her to be not virtuous, he forfeits his right to allege that fact as an avenue of escape from the ties with which he has bound himself, and it is presumed that when taking a wife a man will satisfy himself as to her character before leading her to the altar.”

Yet that's still not the end to the story of Barnes' family eccentricities. Aaron died a few months after losing the suit, and it was discovered that he placed an unusual clause in his will requiring his estate to be left untouched for twenty years, after which his children - some of whom would have been over 70 by then - could divide it up. This was such a bizarre demand I can't help but wonder if it was intended as an attempt to protect "his" Chinatown post-mortem. The court declared the long waiting period invalid.

There was still the problem that one of his children could not be found. Samuel - the only kid younger than his ex-stepmom - had disappeared while his dad was still married to her. Since Aaron died, Samuel's share of the estate was held in trust while the family had him declared legally dead in 1901. But just as his sizable inheritance was about to be distributed to his brothers and sisters, he popped up and contacted them for the first time in twelve years. All were happy he was still alive - let's generously just presume.


Sebastopol in 1895 (Western Sonoma County Historical Society Collection)



More stories about Sebastopol during the 1890s come from an obscure memoir, "The Tenderfoot Comes West" by Roy McLaughlin, who spent his teen years there.

McLaughlin sketched what the village was like: "What struck me was the dust and cobwebs everywhere...All the streets were merely continuations of the several intersecting dusty roads." He wrote there were three general stores complete with "a few men [who] sat around the stove and cracker barrel and exchanged news and gossip," one full-time church, seven saloons (!) and a large winery. In the little schoolhouse seventh and eighth grade were taught together, and "...the front rows of seats were smaller than those in the rear, which were occupied by boys who were almost grown men."

There wasn't much for a kid to do; they swam in the Laguna, which at the time was teeming with carp that were introduced by accident after heavy rains caused a couple of commercial fish ponds to overflow. (One of those ponds was owned by... wait for it... Aaron Barnes.) Boys hung around Chinatown - McLaughlin seemed awfully well-versed in the details of opium smoking - but they also tormented the Chinese men cruelly, as described in the next article. Most exciting was the time "...a troupe that accompanied a horse-drawn merry-go-round spent one winter month with us. They were all ham actors, but their performances in the town hall at least served to relieve the tedium during the season when no work could be obtained in harvesting fruit."

The key Sebastopol story in his book, though, was a description of one of the town's  quirky drunks:

There were, of course, many fine, respectable people who quietly went about their affairs. But quite in contrast were the drunkards. I have never seen so many sots of different types as were always in view. Some only occasionally got tight; others were periodic performers, and we knew about when to expect to see them on Main Street. One was of such fixed habits that he deserves special mention. This was old Doc Whitson. One could almost set a clock by his two daily appearances. Early in the forenoon he would walk up the street to the winery, and later in the afternoon would weave his course back down the street, always in an angry mood. On one side of Main Street there was an open ditch, dry in the summer and a gushing torrent in winter. The ditch at one place was crossed by a footbridge consisting of a single board. One winter night during a drenching rain our neighbor heard shots, and the lady of the house said to her husband, a mild-mannered man, "Will, somebody is shouting. You better see what the trouble is." Will lighted a lantern and went out toward the noise. Near the footbridge he saw old Doc sitting up to his arms in the water. Will politely inquired, "What are you doing, Doc?" The muffled reply was, "The inquisitiveness of a small village is appalling!"



Sebastopol in December 1904 (Western Sonoma County Historical Society Collection)




Finally, no discussion of the town's quirkiness is complete without considering how it got its name. It was originally called "Pine Grove" in 1855, and which can be verified in a Sonoma County Journal ad from that December.

Trigger alert: Things are about to become very confusing.

Trouble was, there were lots of other Pine Groves in the state, and the one in Amador County got the official nod from the post office in 1856. That same year the USPS also designated "Sebastopol" as the mailing address for a place - in Napa county.

What we were calling Pine Grove here was officially the post office named "Bodega" and it handled every piece of mail between there and the Oregon border. Then in 1857, the residents of Pine Grove decided it would be really cool if the village were now called Sebastopol instead.

The whole mess was not sorted out until 1868, and presumably not before a whole bunch of letters were returned to confused senders. That year the post office at the place everyone called "Bodega" was designated Bodega, Sebastopol/Napa was officially renamed Yountville, and Sebastopol/Quirky became recognized as Sebastopol, California. All the many other Sebastopols in Tulare, Sacramento and Nevada counties ("Sebastopol" was obviously a very popular name in the 1850s and 1860s) were left to dream up a different pseudo-Russki name.

But why was "Sebastopol" a popular name at all? The indefatigable John Cummings wrote a research paper on the historical military standoff and how it was celebrated in the Bay Area, while the oldest account of why the name was chosen here appeared in Robert Thompson's 1877 Historical and Descriptive Sketch of Sonoma County, California:

...The formidable name of Sebastopol originated in this way: a man named Jeff Stevens and a man named Hibbs had a fight; Hibbs made a quick retreat to Dougherty's store; Stevens in pursuit. Dougherty stopped Stevens, and forbid him to come on his (Dougherty's) premises. The Crimean war was raging at that time, and the allies were besieging Sebastopol, which it was thought they would not take. The Pine Grove boys, who were always keen to see a fight--chagrined at the result,--cried out that Dougherty's store was Hibbs' Sebastopol. The affair was much talked about, and from this incident the town took its name.

It's a fun story, but I can't find any evidence it is true. There were no men with those names found in the 1850 or 1860 census; that "much talked about" fight wasn't talked about even in passing within any surviving newspapers of the time (at least, currently available online). Methinks author Thompson was probably repeating some retrofitted barroom tale made up in the twenty years since.

Now that story has been accepted without question, even while more details have been larded onto its ribs. Tom Gregory - author of the county's 1911 history book and a man who could lie like a salesman working on fifty percent commission - added that Hibbs' first name was "Pete" and they were slugging away at each other because they were both so, so passionate about the Crimean War which was already over. Gregory's account further dripped with gooey prose, "...so out from the red flames of the Crimea, out from the bloody rifle-pits of the Redan, out from the fadeless glory of the Light Brigade, and out from the historical scrimmage at Dougherty's came out Sebastopol. Jefferson and Peter are aslumber on Gold Ridge, mingling their dust with the rich yellow soil, with orchards to the right of them, vine-rows on the left of them, blooming and fruiting." Lordy, I do so appreciate reference books that are concise.

A letter from a Sebastopudlian published by the Argus in 1865 also didn't mention the fight, but simply that they chose to adopt the name of “Russia’s renowned Fortress” - in other words, because it was considered a very honorable name. I agree with Cummings that is the most likely answer, as the writer was probably living there around the time.

Cummings is a fellow newsprint spelunker and a first-rate researcher; SSU offers fifteen of his research papers online, and they have proven invaluable to me. But in this case he was incorrect on several points, particularly, "Pine Grove was renamed Sebastopol in the about seven month period between November 1855 and the end of May of 1856." Since his essay was finished in 2009, an enormous number of historic newspaper pages have come online and are searchable, providing tools he did not have.

The ads published in the Sonoma County Journal show the name change happened in May, 1857 - although there are still no articles to be found about the switch. After May 22 it's always Sebastopol in advertisements, except for an old display advert from a non-local delivery company that continued listing Pine Grove as late as 1860.

Sebastopol is the only community around here with a colorful story about its name, and personally I love the idea that some joker in Sebastopol may have made it up, most likely to make the place seem less respectable. From that quirky seed grew a tree that looks mostly like others in the forest until you take a closer look - and then you realize it's really not quite the same. Not the same at all, and that's something nice to appreciate.

Sonoma County Journal ads: May 8, 1857 / May 22, 1857






...[Mr. Worthington] was suddenly brought to a close upon that topic, however, by a remark from some one in the crowd at which he seemed to take umbrage, and closed in a terrific abuse of the citizens of Sebastopol — stating that if he came there to the barbecue, he would take good care to bring his dinner with him. He then thanked those who had given him their attention, and took his departure, feeling pretty well satisfied, we expect, that Sebastopol was not a very good place for an itinerant political preacher to stop at.

- Sonoma Democrat, August 28 1862


SECESSION IN SEBASTOPOL. -- Last Saturday the Democratic party, which now spells its name "Secesh," erected a pole 91 feet high, and hoisted the Union flag upon it, surmounted with a streamer, bearing the word "Constitution," upside down. Then they had a grand "pow-wow," and apparently had a good time generally. The whole affair was evidently got up for the purpose of "roping in" outsiders; but we hope with no effect. The whole affair is so transparent that nobody but very silly people can be deceived. The conduct of the Secessionists reminds us of what some travellers tell us about the habits of the ostrich. When it is pursued and wishes to escape observation it thrusts its head into the nearest sand heap and leaves its body sticking out. Not until it feels the blows of its pursuer does it find out its mistake. The Union party very plainly see the body of Secession sticking out of all these so called Democratic demonstrations, although its head is hidden; and when the day of next election comes we hope that a vigorous application of boot-toe will emphatically convince the Secesh ostrich that it has deceived no one but itself.

- Petaluma Argus, August 5, 1863


BADLY SOLD.--The Constitutional Democracy were badly sold last Sunday. W. L. Anderson telegraphed from Santa Rosa that Dr. Harris, Willson and Valentine, three noted rebels of Sebastopol, had been arrested for treason and would be sent to Alcatraz. As the despatch came from a rebel, they believed it to be true, and many a long face might have been observed on our streets.

BADLY SOLD Until the evening stage arrived in Petaluma with news that the report was false, the earlier report in the telegram from W. L. Anderson, a rebel from Santa Rosa, was believed – that three noted rebels of Sebastopol, Dr. Harris, Wilson and Valentine, had been arrested for treason and would be sent to Alcatraz. A constitutional expounder in Petaluma offered to bet $500 that the arrests resulted from the lying of the awful fellow, Joe McReynolds. Democracy rejoiced with great joy and the indulgence of “tangle leg fluid” when the initial report was exposed as a hoax.

- Petaluma Journal and Argus, July 28, 1864


 MEAN

A subscriber of the Argus at Sebastopol complains that he gets very little from his subscription since his Secessionist neighbors read and circulate his paper from house to house and he is seldom able to read his own paper. “This is just like the rebels here. They sneak around get the reading of the paper and then talk all week of the march of vile abolition ideas.”

- Petaluma Journal and Argus, December 1, 1864


Editors Alta:  Yesterday evening a circumstance occurred here which illustrates the principles of the Copperhead Democracy so perfectly, that I must give it to you for the benefit of your readers.  On the 3rd, Mr. Gordon Peters, a Union man, went to the house of Aaron Barnes, a Democrat, for the purpose of purchasing a wagon load of fruit.  Terms were agreed upon between the two for a load, and Peters was invited to stay all night.  In the evening, about 9 o’clock, Barnes commenced talking about the state of the country, and finally asked Peters what he thought of the arrest of Vallandigham.

Peters replied that he thought it was right and proper, whereupon Barnes commenced abusing him, and told him no Abolitionist should stay in his house, and that he must leave; which he had to do, team and all, but without the fruit.  The above facts I had from Mr. Peters himself this morning, and as he is a man of first-rate standing, there can be no doubt about their truth.  Comment is unnecessary.

- Daily Alta California, August 8 1863


ANOTHER SEBASTOPOL - The name of the Post Office at Sebastopol, Sonoma County, has been changed from Bodega to Sebastopol, and John Dougherty has been appointed Postmaster thereof. The name of the Post Office at Smith's Ranch will be changed to Bodega. These changes have become necessary by the settlement of the country. Bodega Post Office hitherto has been located at the town of Sebastopol, fully ten miles from Bodega Corners, and the Post Office at the latter place has been known as Smith's Ranch. The names are now made to conform to the localities more nearly than before. The Bodega (now Sebastopol) Post Office was the oldest established in the county except that at Sonoma, and its establishment was the most northern Post Office above the Bay of San Francisco and west of the Sacramento Valley -- letters for everyone up to the Oregon line being sent to that office. We now have three Sebastopols in California, but only one of them has a Post Office by that name. The Post Office at Sebastopol, Napa County, is now called Yountsville [sic], and the Sebastopol in Sacramento County had no Post Office at all, so far as we are informed.

- Petaluma Weekly Argus, January 23 1868


The wedding of Mrs. Josie Burk, of Santa Rosa, and Aaron Barnes, of Sebastopol, took place on Sunday afternoon of last week at the residence of C. A. Reigels, on Sonoma avenue, in the former place. Smilax and cut flowers adorned the parlors. The ceremony was performed by the Rev. T. H. Woodward, in the presence of the relatives and a few invited friends. After the marriage rites, a wedding supper was served at tete-a-tete tables, where the bridal cake was cut. The health of the bride was drunk by those present in bumpers of sparkling wine. The young couple left the following day for Lake county to spend the honeymoon.

- Daily Alta California, July 27 1885


Wedded Again.
(Healdsburg Enterprise.)

Some five weeks ago Aaron Barnes, a very wealthy citizen, of Green Valley, lost his wife. Though on the shady side of life, between seventy and eighty years of age, the old gentleman concluded that the term "single blessedness' was a misnomer, and a short time since commenced looking about him for another partner. He met a musical gentleman named Professor Parks, to whom he proffered $500 in consideration of his finding him a suitable wife. The Professor readily accepted, and in a short time a lady from the East, twenty-seven years of age, attractive and cultured, agreed to share the old man's wealth. The latter desired to settle upon his fair young intended $30,000, besides two cottages in Santa Rosa,and her legal advisor pressed her to accept, but it seems she was modest, and would receive but $10,000 in money. On the strength of this they were duly married, and it is stated that few men are prouder to-day than the happy groom.

- Daily Alta California, August 5 1885


Aaron Barnes Sues His Wife.

Aaron Barnes of Sebastopol was married to Jessie Burk in 1885, and they lived together as man and wife until August, 1892, when she left him. Previous to tbe marriage the plaintiff deeded to the defendant $14,000 in personal property, and now be wishes to recover $20,000 in damages for breach of contract. The defendant appeared by demurrer Monday before Judge Dougherty, and while she admits the facts of desertion as alleged, sbe denies the conclusion and the breach of contract. In his judgment sustaining the demurrer Judge Dougherty says that as the sole consideration of the contract and transfer of the property was marriage and the marriage had been executed, therefore desertion afterwards could constitute no breach that would effect the property transferred to her, although tbe parties were not living together since 1892. The plaintiff sets up the plea that the defendant was not a worthy woman at the time of the marriage, and that it was a scheme on her part to obtain possession of his property, and that part of the plan of the defendant was ultimately to leave him. To all this the defendant filed a demurrer and the judge sustained the demurrer and granted ten days for tbe defendant to amend.

- Sonoma Democrat, October 13 1894

There were up to 1,500 men crowded into Santa Rosa's Armory that winter's night. Some were there because they were angry, some were curious and some were frightened, but all there learned that racial discrimination was now a civic duty. It was the first official 1886 meeting of the Santa Rosa Anti-Chinese League.

- -
SOURCE NOTES (37 page PDF)
Spoiler alert: this is not a pleasant story, yet it's not nearly as awful as some try to portray.

A few days before, a meeting was held to elect a "Committee of Fifteen" which would write a mission statement.* They composed a resolution stating any Chinese presence in Santa Rosa was a "source of great evil" and detrimental to the "white race." Chinese immigrants should leave town ASAP and Santa Rosans should sign a pledge vowing to boycott their businesses and fire any Chinese workers they might have.

Santa Rosa was actually a latecomer - and although about half the men in town showed up, attendance was relatively light. Meetings had been held previously in Petaluma (2,000 there) and Cloverdale (1,000). At Healdsburg almost the entire town came to their first meeting and their Chinese boycott was already going strong.

The resolution also asked the Santa Rosa City Council to appoint additional policemen for night duty to prevent "riotous demonstration by white persons toward Chinamen". That was a very real concern; throughout the West, anti-Chinese sentiments had been escalating from grumbling newspaper editorials to acts of violence, even mob riots. Newspapers reported local bigwigs were having "secret meetings" to figure out how to get rid of the Chinese - although telling a reporter about it seems to defeat the whole secrecy biz.

In Wyoming, white miners went on a rampage and murdered at least 28 Chinese men with many burned alive. Three more were shot to death in Washington state over hop picking. A mob armed with clubs drove out Tacoma's 350 Chinese residents which was followed by the razing of their neighborhood. Federal troops were stationed in Seattle because vigilantes were itching to attack the large Chinatown there, which was the home to 1 out of 10 people in the town. And matters were about to become far, far worse; even as our ancestors were getting organized in Santa Rosa, thousands of Chinese immigrants were escaping to Portland from Oregon's interior under vigilante threats. The shadow of madness had fallen upon them and enveloped the sun.

Yet it's quite possible the anti-Chinese frenzy might have bypassed Sonoma county - if not for the  Wickersham murders.

Sarah and Jesse Wickersham were a reclusive couple who were brutally killed at their remote cabin west of Cloverdale in mid-January 1886. The presumption of guilt immediately fell upon their Chinese cook, who could not be found and was presumed to have fled to China. As explained in my four-part series, it's highly unlikely he had any hand in it but everyone at the time was certain of his guilt, thanks in great part to two racist law enforcement officers who were widely quoted in the initial accounts. They told reporters there was no question the "Chinaman" slaughtered them and hinted Sarah had been raped (possibly gang raped) - a lie they continued repeating even after the Wickersham family asked them to knock it off.

The charge that an American family had been killed by their live-in Chinese servant gave bigots a new, powerful weapon to demonize Chinese people as crazy, unpredictable, and, for the first time - extremely dangerous. James Ragsdale, editor of the Santa Rosa Republican and soon to become part of the "Committee of Fifteen," dipped his pen in the bigot's inkwell and wrote a vicious screed:

...The tragedy that occurred in the northwest portion of this county on Monday last, where two of our most highly respected citizens, man and wife, were murdered in cold blood by a Chinese fiend, has done much to increase the bitterness against a race that are most wicked and inhuman. It only proves the assertion that they have neither conscience, mercy or human feeling and think no more of murdering a human being than they do killing a pig. They are monsters in human form, cunning and educated therefore more dangerous and vile. Let us get rid of them and at once.

The first anti-Chinese Leagues in the county were formed just a few days later.



Up to then, both the Republican and Sonoma Democrat had occasionally used the popular catchphrase, "the Chinese must go" in an editorial or in a reprinted item but it was framed in the abstract, as if "the Chinese" were different than the immigrants who lived and worked here. Just two days before the Wickershams were killed, the Democrat ran a sort-of travel story describing a tour of the Santa Rosa opium dens. It concluded with mention that the Chinese community here had both a Masonic and an Odd Fellows lodge.

(RIGHT: ad from the 1885 Sonoma Democrat)

While our newspapers portrayed the Chinese immigrants as an exotic (but somewhat suspect) underclass, the local economy depended upon them. In the towns, the Chinese did our laundry and sold us produce from pushcarts on the streets - Santa Rosa had six roaming vegetable vendors. On the farms and in the vineyards they did the hard work no one else wanted to do. And everyone in town or country who wanted a cook or house servant could find a Chinese man or boy ready to hire. Because they did all this for less money than anyone else, they were in great demand; in 1885 there was a Chinese employment agency on Fifth street.

Their low wages led to accusations they were “taking jobs away from Americans,” exactly mirroring the anti-Latino immigrant bias of today. In some cases it was true; companies used Chinese workers as strikebreakers or to replace an entire workforce.

But in truth, good manual labor jobs were scarce at the time not because of the Chinese but because the national economy wasn't so hot; effects of the Depression of 1882-85 began to be felt locally with an uptick of newspaper articles about "tramps" in the area. "These men, with few exceptions are in destitute circumstances and are compelled to move from place to place in search of employment," sympathized the Democrat paper, while at the same time noting that many were responsible for burglaries and other theft. The paper suggested that the first Anti-Chinese League meeting have an aftersession so everyone could discuss what should be done to "protect the women and children" who were hesitant to leave home lest a vagrant break in.

Meanwhile, there were now an estimated 600+ Chinese living in Santa Rosa according to the Democrat - likely an all-time high. Some had just arrived from Cloverdale and other places where Anti-Chinese Leagues were already acting out.

A week after that big League meeting at the Armory, the Committee of Fifteen visited these locations as "forty or fifty citizens accompanied the committee on its rounds," the Democrat observed, which probably made it look like quite the intimidating mob.

Committee president John Kinslow - speaking "in good pigeon-English" [sic] - told them that as of the end of the month, "all white men would cease to patronize them" and they should leave. From the description in the Democrat it appears some of the immigrants misunderstood and thought he was offering to pay for their passage back to China, which most greatly desired but could not afford.

 The committee also divided Santa Rosa into seven wards, each with a few men expected to walk the neighborhood and ask residents to sign the boycott pledge. Lists of the ward men appeared in both town newspapers and are reproduced in the source notes. Both lists have 49 names, of which only five appear in any other articles about the League. Aside from some spelling differences the lists are the same with two exceptions: One adds "James Gray" in ward five and the other includes "Burbank" in ward two. On the basis of the latter mention, the Press Democrat published two articles and an editorial in May, 2018 claiming Luther Burbank was a racist and leader of the Anti-Chinese League - see discussion here.

(RIGHT: ads from the 1886 Sonoma Democrat)

As the month of February rolled on, news was mixed. There were regular items about Chinese immigrants trickling out of town, countered by articles of some vowing to stay. The Democrat found one Chinese laundry with half its workforce idle, followed a few days later by a story that the white laundry wagons "didn’t have enough aboard to make a decent load for a poodle dog." An interview with an immigrant called "Hoodlum Jim" said the boycott only served to "get rid of the scum of the race, and the others were glad of it, but the better class would stay here, just the same."

It was remarked that "white labor is scarce in Santa Rosa" yet many Chinese men were out of work and crowding into the tenements on Hinton avenue to save money. It was also written that they were going hungry, reduced to foraging for greens along the banks of the creek and on the Plaza. It's difficult to understand how that could be the case, given that Chinese truck gardens had been feeding the entire town not so long before.

Oddly, the only real conflict in Sonoma county centered on Duncan's Mills. The League in that vicinity had a torchlight rally and marched on the little Chinatown there to demand the residents clear out. The mill owners contacted the U.S. Marshal and asked him to appoint a deputy to protect the Chinese workers. Complaints over this went on for weeks, with the Republican paper and the Leagues squawking the involvement of a federal officer instead of local police, plus that it was really a labor issue because the mills were using cheap Chinese workers instead of white men in the community.



The March 1 boycott deadline came and went, but apparently little changed. A banner was hung over a downtown street reading, “The Chinese Must Go; We Mean Strictly Business!” In terms of threats, that ranked down there with a schoolyard bully drawing a line in sand while toothlessly bellowing, "you step over this and you're really gonna get it!"

In truth, there was little the Santa Rosa Anti-Chinese Non-Partisan Association (hey, new name!) could do to force the immigrants to leave, short of violence. Attention of the League - uh, Association - turned to Plan B: Boycotting fellow Americans who weren't boycotting the Chinese. That sort of "nuclear option" was discussed at the beginning, but it was not believed matters would come to that. The Committee's subcommittee on the issue hashed it over; local farmers were saying they depended on Chinese workers. If there was to be a boycott of the farmers as well as those who wanted to hang on to their Chinese domestics and other workers it would cause "strife and bitterness" in the county. "We do not believe that a general boycott can be made successful at the present time," the subcommittee concluded.

By the end of the month, the Committee of Fifteen was hunkered down in its racially-pure safe place muttering about retribution against "backsliders." State Assemblyman Allen suggested they should publish the names of all those who signed the pledge but still "either allowed their families to patronize the heathens, or did so themselves." He was voted down.

In Santa Rosa, the fight came to a head over strawberries.

A Sebastopol man named Crawford raised what were considered the best strawberries around, but he used Chinese workers. Two hardcore members of the Committee paid a little visit to a downtown grocer who sold his fruit. They suggested they step out of the store to discuss the difficulty, but the grocer said they could talk right there, in front of his customers. The grocer said he had signed the pledge, but one of the Committee men remarked he did not think the grocer was "sincere in his action." (Feel free to re-read this paragraph while imagining the Committee men as played by Sopranos goons Christopher and Paulie Walnuts.)

After receiving his own little visit from Committee "investigators," Mr. Crawford took a wagon load of his strawberries to Santa Rosa. He hitched up on Fourth street, according to the Democrat, and began selling his berries by the box. "His price to Chinese boycotters was $1 a box, and to all others thirty cents. It was but a very short time before he was entirely sold out."

But pushback to the anti-Chinese movement was happening all over northern California. The Sacramento Bee ran a story about a housewife seen buying vegetables from a Chinese peddler and a "spotter" rushed over to confront her, demanding to know the name of her husband. When she indignantly refused he sneered, "You must be a lover of the Chinese."

Yet the bigots in Santa Rosa kept wandering even farther into the weeds. The Committee of Fifteen appointed a Committee of Nine "to act on the outside, to keep their eyes open, talk with the people, see what is going on and report to the League." For those who were unwilling to cooperate with the boycott "the League should not hesitate to treat them with severity."

That Committee of Nine immediately went into executive session to appoint another secret subcommittee of nine to ferret out the traitors to the white race who were not discriminating against Chinese immigrants. Oh, good grief...

Further, it was proposed that a committee "should go to all the business men in town and present the membership roll and request them to sign the same and pay the initiation fee of 25 cents. If they refuse then the League will know where to find them. He thought there were but two sides to this question — either for or against the cause."

Healdsburg appears to be the only place that followed through and publicized names of Americans who refused to boycott, and by summer their racist hatred of Chinese people had spiraled down into foolishness that bordered on lunacy. The Healdsburg paper reported a secret society had been formed:

...signs may be frequently seen done in chalk on the sidewalks. They, to us, unintelligible signs are in the form of a large arrow or dart, surrounded by figures and small signs. By following the direction of the pointing arrow you are led to a similar one on the next corner, and so on until you reach the place of meeting. At the last meeting, beyond the river, some forty of our citizens were seen to pass into a building. All our efforts to learn anything in regard to the organization have so far failed. It is a branch or lodge of a secret order existing in this state, whose sole object is to rid the country of the Chinese.




By every measure, Santa Rosa's anti-Chinese campaign was a flop. The last League meeting I can find mentioned was poorly attended and came only seven months after it was formed. A newspaper item at its peak revealed the League's dues-paying membership was merely 43.

While the boycott certainly created economic hardships for the Chinese community, it was by no means catastrophic. One Chinese wash house closed and some landlords evicted immigrant tenants. The population was reduced to roughly 100-125 residents. From the Sonoma Democrat:

...the Chinese population in this city has decreased about one-half since the anti-Chinese movement started, and they are still going. There are a few who manage to live by taking in washing, and some who are still employed as servants; the latter, however, are very few. Within the last week three Chinese house servants have been discharged, and they were working for people who have not signed the pledge.  How they live is becoming a mystery. Dozens of them may be seen loitering on Hinton avenue every day...


1885 map of downtown Santa Rosa showing Chinese businesses and residences. Some of the locations on 9th avenue (better known as Hinton av) are estimates



It may seem a victory that the population had dropped by half after the League began in February, but even that claim is shaky on closer examination. House servants, pushcart sellers, laundry workers and the like were the smallest categories of Chinese immigrant labor - most men worked in the country for much of the year, staying in tents or bunkhouses near where they were employed. (The state Labor Commissioner said that year there were "30,000 Chinamen employed in the hop fields, vineyards and orchards.") These men only came to live in the towns during winter, so it was the customary pattern for them to begin trickling out of Santa Rosa and other urban areas as spring approached.

What happened as the seasonal work ended that year is a mystery. Now that the League was gone the local papers lost interest in writing about all things Chinese, and returned to the old pattern of only writing about the men when someone was arrested or created a commotion. There was one mention that because hop-picking was over "the Chinese are returning to San Francisco by the carload," so perhaps some of the Sonoma county immigrants chose to spend their winter in the big city than come back here.

But the League had no long term impact; the 1890 census - taken during peak growing season, when farmworkers were away from town - shows 151 Chinese living in the city of Santa Rosa, a boost of at least 30 percent from the year of the League. (There were 277 found in the whole Santa Rosa Township during 1890.)

In the years that followed, Santa Rosa's Chinese community migrated to the corner of Second and D streets to form a compact little Chinatown (see 1908 map here). There would be little or no growth of that neighborhood in the years that followed, but not due to any discrimination by the town or racist nonsense from white citizens; it was because a different place had emerged as a hub for Chinese-American culture and business in Sonoma county - Sebastopol's two Chinatowns.


NEXT: SEBASTOPOL'S CHINATOWNS


* Membership of Santa Rosa's "Committee of Fifteen" was never explicitly listed in the newspapers, which only named those in attendance at meetings. Membership seemed to fluctuate over the first part of 1886. Some either did not attend meetings regularly or dropped out while new names appeared. Looking over all newspaper coverage, there seems to have been an overall core group of thirteen men, with eight of them being very outspoken. In rough order of frequent mention: John Kinslow, David Sheward, Assemblyman Samuel I. Allen, Lawson Ross, Frank Muther, Peter Towey, James W. Ragsdale, Jacob Harris, Ellis Morrow, Charles Bane, M. V. Vanderhoof, John F. Smith and Frank Berka.

Poy Jam, who opened Santa Rosa's long-standing Jam Kee restaurant. Shown here in a studio portrait taken in Oakland, c. 1875, he was Song Bourbeau¹s maternal grandfather. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Museum

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