Ritchie's ownership of the two huge ranchos in South Lake County involved a few other men who played significant roles in our history.
The Man In Charge of the Ranchos During Probate
John M. Hamilton, Captain Ritchie's brother-in-law, had scouted the two ranchos in 1851, possibly seeking a home site, and reported no sign of any white settlers on either of them. He visited the area frequently there- after and, after Ritchie's death became his sister's emissary in dealing with the estate.
When probate proceedings made sale of the ranchos possible, first the Calloyomi in 1870, the Guenoc in 1872, it was Hamilton who handled the promotion and sales. He himself was one of the first to purchase, 313 acres in the heart of the Callayomi.
Hamilton moved his family to Coyote Valley in 1865, and they lived in the historic Stone House for several years. He served as the last postmaster at Guenoc, from March 31, 1876, to December 31, 1879, although the official closing of the post office was August 31,1880. He also aided Capt. Waterman in settling Ritchie's estate, selling the Ritchie properties in both Lake and Solano counties.
Hamilton, was born in Philadelphia in December 1820; his parents died when he was young, and he was raised in New Castle, Delaware. He studied law, and in 1850 was appointed Assistant United States Marshal for Delaware.
In 1851, at Ritchie's invitation, Hamilton decided to move to California and engage in farming on Ritchie's Suisun ranch. He and his wife and two children sailed around Cape Horn to San Francisco, arriving on August 22,1851. Because of violent squatter difficulties at Ritchie's rancho in Solano County, the family chose to locate near Napa.
In 1852, Hamilton was elected to the Napa Board of Supervisors, and in 1858 became Superintendent of Schools for several years. In 1861 he was appointed to the State Committee on Textbooks and in 1875 to the Board of Regents of the State University in Sacramento.
He was still a supervisor when the board, in 1853, created the third supervisorial district which included the Upper Lake and Lower Lake, Hot Springs and Pope Valley voting precincts. The Board levied a tax of one-fourth of one per cent to construct public roads — one on the west side of Napa creek to the Russian River valley, and another on the east side of Napa creek to Clear Lake by the way of Chiles Canyon. He was one of the directors who decreed that every male aged 21 to 50 had to dedicate five days per year to building roads or pay a sizable fine.
In 1862, he was foreman of the grand jury, and the next year he ran for County Clerk, but was defeated. He was an attorney and notary public during most of his years in California.
In the 1860s Hamilton became interested in quicksilver mining. Cinnabar deposits had been spotted in several locations in the upper Napa Valley in the mid-1850s. The potential for profit was great; gold processing created huge demand for mercury.
He leased the Phoenix Mining Co. in Pope Valley; it had been discovered in 1854, opened in 1861 and a year later leased to Hamilton. He was in charge for about a year, but failed to make it pay. The mine was reopened under new management in 1867 and again in 1870 with some success. In 1888 it became the Aetna Mine.
Also in 1862, Hamilton was one of the original trustees of the Washington Mining Co., which adjoined the Phoenix-Aetna, and, with several associates, organized the Hamilton Quicksilver Co., likewise unsuccessfully. C.A. Menefee wrote that his mining failures were due to "lack of experience and bad management."
Nonetheless, he became one of the first directors of the Ward Ellis Silver Mining Co. in 1873 and the patent holder on the Napa Quicksilver Mine in 1875.
In the mid-1860s, Hamilton, along with J.H. Bostwick and John Lawley, had bought Berryessa Valley and surveyed a town site they thought would be known as Berryessa. With that venture, Hamilton and his partners were remarkably successful, estimated to have quintupled their investment and come out millionaires. The rich bottomland acreage was snapped up immediately and the little town of Montecello grew rapidly. Sadly, it is now covered by the waters of Lake Berryessa.
In both Lake and Napa counties, Hamilton was active in devel- oping agricultural groups. He was Master of the Guenoc Grange, and was elected Overseer of the State Grange Patrons of Hus- bandry in 1873. Two years later, he was voted Worthy Master of the State Grange, and served as chaplain of the Golden Gate Grange in 1878. That same year, he was one of the founders of the Lake County Agricultural Society.
Hamilton's last years were spent in Coyote Valley, Middletown, and Lakeport. He was a Supervisor of Lake County (1883-84) and a Lakeport Trustee (1888-89).
J.M. Hamilton died in 1893 and is buried in the Middletown Cemetery. His wife and all of their eight children had died earlier.
Ritchie's Partner and Executor of His Estate
Robert Henry Waterman
Robert Henry Waterman was twice the uncle of Robert Henry Sterling; he had married a sister of Sterling's father and was the brother of Sterling's mother.
Ritchie had sold one-third of his Suisun property to Waterman on the same day he bought it. Both a business partner and friend, Waterman eventually became co-executor of Ritchie’s estate.
Waterman seems to have had less trouble with squatters at Suisun than Ritchie. He established on his acreage the town of Bridgeport, renamed Cordelia in honor of his wife when a post office was sought. His intent was to develop a shipping port for produce and other items from the Sacramento valley. The town by now has been absorbed into the city of Fairfield, which Waterman initiated a year or two later specifically to wrest the title of county seat from Benicia, naming it after his birthplace in Connecticut and donating land for public buildings. His effort succeeded and Fairfield became the county seat in 1858.
Waterman is still honored as the founder of Fairfield. He is also credited (or blamed) by some for introducing eucalyptus into America on his ranch; after 30 years at sea, he told a friend, he “wanted to plant a whole lot of trees.”
Waterman’s is a colorful history, and much has been written about him. Often called “Bully Bob Waterman,” his biography reminds one of Dana’s tales of shipboard mayhem.
Waterman had run away and gone to sea at the age of 11, on a ship captained by young Sterling’s grandfather, Capt. John Sterling — the Sterling and Waterman families were intertwined over many generations. Over the next twenty years as he quickly became a captain, Waterman became renowned for his ability to bring in trips ahead of schedule, under the worst of weather and circumstances, setting records, reveling in the acclaim.
Waterman’s name is inevitably linked with the clipper ship Sea Witch, which was built especially for him, under his supervision. Sea Witch was noted for both her beauty and her remarkable speed. Her third return trip home from Hong Kong to New York in 74-days remains unmatched and widely marveled over in maritime circles.
By 1849, Waterman purchased the land from Ritchie, acquired a herd of cattle and started building a home and farm. But, how could such a man refuse an offer of a $10,000 bonus, a pretty nice figure in 1851, for bringing the brand-new ship Challenge into San Francisco ahead of schedule?
He made the wrong decision. The rush to California in search of gold had filled every ship, and employed every experienced seaman. Waterman took on a suspect first mate and the two of them corralled every willing hand they could find, even from skid row. So, when the Challenge arrived weeks late in San Francisco in 1851, several crewmen were dead, others in leg irons or sick bay. Eight were charged with mutiny; the remainder spread stories in the city’s bars of Waterman’s and his first mate’s brutality. The first dozen or so cases heard by the U.S. District Court Ninth Circuit in San Francisco revolved around Capt. R. H. Waterman. The accusations of cruelty and even murder were judged “necessary maritime procedures,” and he was modestly fined.
Once the trials were over, he sent for Cordelia, who boarded a steamship bound around The Horn to San Francisco. A lady as intrepid as her husband, she decided to cut a month off the journey by trekking across the Isthmus of Panama with two men she had befriended on the trip. For one reason or another, she wandered away by herself and eventually awoke, alone, in a military hospital in Panama City, bag and valuables intact. The Watermans were finally reunited in Panama City and soon settled happily on their Suisun ranch, and the captain remained an active force in the growth of Fairfield. Both seemed content never to go to sea again. Nonetheless, R. H. Waterman is noted as captain of the steamer Active and other small ships on the Sacramento River through the 1860s.
And we know that he was involved in settling the affairs of the Collayomi and Guenoc ranchos from 1856 to 1882.Shumate, Society of California Pioneers, 1991.
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