Early Trading Ships

Shortly after the close of the American Revolution, Boston whalers and other ships hunting the prized sea otter began navigating in California waters.  Merchant ships from several nations followed.  At the time, Spanish-owned California was a bucolic, pastoral land sparsely populated with Franciscan missions and families who lived on government land grants called ranchos. After Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1822, more than 500 new grants were authorized.  A few of these land grants were enormous parcels and some were smaller, but all were grazing lands for thousands of cattle.  There was no industry to speak of, and farming outside of mission properties was limited to home gardens and private orchards.  The ranchos traded their hides, which became known as “California bank notes” at an average price of $1.50 to $2.50 each, plus rendered beef tallow, for the miscellaneous goods carried in the holds of the merchant ships.  French, English and American vessels brought calico, muslin, furniture, tableware, and other items.  Ships flying the Mexican flag took hides in payment for fancy embroidered men’s suits, satin shoes, cloaks, riding saddles, sugar, and goat skins made to cover the legs while riding in the rain.

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2 thoughts on “Early Trading Ships”

    1. Hi Shawn,

      Part of the material in this post is taken from the memoirs of a man who lived in that time and place. He didn’t use the word “chaps,” but it seems obvious that that’s what the goat skin leggings were.

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