San Francisco is Born

At the opening of 1847 the little hamlet known as Yerba Buena sat perched on a sheltered cove in San Francisco Bay. For a hundred years sailors had agreed it was the greatest harbor on earth, capable of comfortably accommodating all of the assembled navies of all of the nations of the world. As things were, it rarely harbored more than one whaler or trading ship at a time. The land itself consisted of sand dunes, unfit for agriculture. The little village contained about 300 residents, most of them recently arrived by ship from the States, who planned to settle elsewhere. Then on January 30, acting mayor Lt. Washington Bartlett of the American ship Portsmouth issued a proclamation that henceforth Yerba Buena would be called San Francisco, after the names of the bay itself and the nearby mission. Bartlett published his announcement in the California Star, the town’s first newspaper. He named Jasper O’Farrell to survey the city, draw up an official map, and lay out streets. Soon news arrived from Washington D.C. that the cargoes of American vessels would be admitted duty-free; and General Stephen Watts Kearny, military governor of California, released to San Francisco from United States ownership a large block of land consisting of the beach, and water lots. By June of 1847 the population had risen to 375; in September, the first city council was elected by popular ballot.