Thursday, July 11, 2013

William A. Leidesdorff Collection

These 1847 account books for Hawaiian and Indian sailors form a fascinating part of the California Historical Society’s William A. Leidesdorff Collection (MS 1277). Given to the Society in 1955 by Mr. and Mrs. K. K. Bechtel, they remind us of the ethnic and cultural diversity of early San Francisco, and the city’s historical interconnectedness with other Pacific Rim markets, even in the Mexican Period. (Leidesdorff himself was of mixed-race Dutch and West Indian ancestry.)

The accounts also provide a glimpse into the sailor’s life in pre-Gold Rush San Francisco, recording individual sailors’ names, dates shipped, wages advanced and earned, and goods used. Below are Leidesdorff’s accounts with the Indian sailor Simon and the Hawaiian sailor “Harry Oahu” – note that charges for grog and other goods appear to have been deducted from the men’s wages.

A finding aid for the collection, including a short biographical sketch of Leidesdorff, is available on the Online Archive of California:

Marie Silva, Archivist & Manuscripts Librarian
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