Pioneer Women: Rachel Larkin

Larkin House

Twenty-four–year-old Rachel Hobson Holmes boarded the trading vessel Newcastle out of Boston in September 1831. She was sailing for far-off California to join her seafaring, Danish-born husband Captain A. C. Holmes, whom she had married four years earlier but had not seen for some time. The only other passenger was 29-year-old Thomas Oliver Larkin, a once successful storekeeper and reputed ladies’ man, who  had lost everything and was now California-bound to accept employment with his older half-brother John Rogers Cooper, a successful trader in that Mexican province  for the past seven years.  During the months-long journey around Cape Horn, Rachel and Thomas became lovers, a relationship that continued when the Newcastle at last anchored in Monterey in April 1832. Since Rachel’s husband was still at sea and there were no hotels, both of them resided with John Cooper and his family. Discovering that she was pregnant with Larkin’s child, Rachel discreetly relocated to Santa Barbara, where she gave birth to their daughter Isabel Ann in January 1833, and also learned that Captain Holmes had died in March 1832 while en route from Acapulco to South America. Rachel and Thomas were married in June 1833 in Santa Barbara Harbor aboard the American ship Volunteer, but lost baby Isabel a month after the wedding.  The couple returned to Monterey where Thomas became a successful merchant on his own and constructed a fine adobe home—the first two-story house in Monterey— of a stylish New England design with wide, Spanish-style verandas. The Larkin home became famous throughout the territory for its generous hospitality, especially after Thomas Larkin was appointed the U.S. Consul to Mexican California in 1844.  Between 1834 and 1847, Rachel Larkin bore several more children: Thomas Jr., William Rogers, Frederick Hobson, Henry Rogers, Francis Rogers, Carolina Ann, Sophia Adeline, and Alfred Otis. Only five survived to adulthood.  Rachel Holmes Larkin was the first American wife in California, and until 1840, the only one. Through his merchant activities, land speculation and investments in various enterprises, Thomas Larkin became a wealthy man, able to provide his wife and children with the best of everything during the California Gold Rush. The family moved to New York in 1850 but recurrent illness and business considerations brought them back to San Francisco in 1853, where the Larkins built an opulent mansion. Stricken with typhoid fever, Thomas died in their San Francisco home October 27, 1858.  Rachel, who was born to Daniel and Eliza Hobson in Ipswich, Massachusetts on April 30, 1807, died in San Francisco October 29, 1873. Her first California home, the Larkin House in Monterey, was donated to the State of California in 1957 by her granddaughter Alice Larkin Toulmin.

 

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