President Abraham Lincoln Appoints One of the Earliest 49ers and President of “The Society of California Pioneers” to a Senior Treasury Position in San Francisco

William Farwell was a prominent California editor, who had campaigned for him in that state.

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In September 1848, the print on the newspapers announcing the discovery of gold in California had barely dried before some enterprising young men began preparing to go there. One ship was chartered by 152 well-educated young men, of whom Willard B. Farwell was one, who named it after the famous statesman, Edward...

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President Abraham Lincoln Appoints One of the Earliest 49ers and President of “The Society of California Pioneers” to a Senior Treasury Position in San Francisco

William Farwell was a prominent California editor, who had campaigned for him in that state.

In September 1848, the print on the newspapers announcing the discovery of gold in California had barely dried before some enterprising young men began preparing to go there. One ship was chartered by 152 well-educated young men, of whom Willard B. Farwell was one, who named it after the famous statesman, Edward Everett. At that time Everett was president of Harvard college, and was a mentor to some of the wayfarers. As a going away gift, he presented the company with 300 volumes of the works of major authors. The vessel left Boston January 10, 1849, and arrived at San Francisco July 7th. The company brought with it a knock-down steamer hull, cabin, boilers and engine. A smaller boat was obtained and christened The Pioneer, and it would be the first steamer to reach the gold fields themselves. The Pioneer launched on August 12, and five days later, wrote Farwell himself, the little Pioneer sailed up the Sacramento River, reaching its destination early in the morning on August 19th. The miners already on site cheered until they were hoarse, and the day was given up to jollification and whisky. Farwell stayed in California, and became editor of a popular newspaper that supported the policies of the new Republican Party.

Dr. Anson Henry, Sen. Edward D. Baker, and Abraham Lincoln were friends and prominent Illinois Whig politicos back in Lincoln’s Springfield days. Henry moved there to practice medicine when Lincoln was assistant surveyor of Sangamon County. Henry emigrated to Oregon when he was appointed Indian agent for that territory, at the specific suggestion of Lincoln. The two men stayed in contact. In fact, states “Mr. Lincoln & Friends,” Anson “acted as the Administration’s eyes and ears” on the west coast. President Lincoln appointed him surveyor-general of Washington Territory in 1861. Edward D. Baker moved to California in 1852, and when Henry advised him that he could win the upcoming Senate election there, Baker went to Oregon. He was elected and started serving in the U.S. Senate in late 1860. Lincoln was so close to Baker that he named one of his sons after him, and was devastated when Baker was killed in action leading a Union regiment at the Battle of Balls Bluff in 1861. Henry and Baker were friends of Farwell, who was also Baker’s biographer. One of these men clearly placed Farwell in touch with Lincoln, and Farwell became involved in the Lincoln election campaign in California. As the Lincoln Papers in the Library of Congress point out, Farwell was in direct communication with Lincoln about events on the West Coast during that campaign. Farwell predicted to Lincoln accurately that he would do well in the Golden State, and in December 1860 wrote the President-Elect, “I trust the result gave you sincere gratification.”

The President-Elect asked Baker to make some recommendations for appointments to be made for posts on the West Coast. On April 3, 1861, shortly after Lincoln’s inauguration, Baker wrote him a letter on this subject: “I have named Mr Willard B. Farwell for Naval Officer of the port of San Francisco. He has been for four years and upwards the editor of the Daily Alta California, the most influential independent public journal in California. In every crisis he has caused it to evince Republican tendencies, and has rendered us immense aid and service. He has represented the city of San Francisco in the legislature. He has shown high courage, when such a quality was greatly needed. He is a man of character, talents, and education.”

Lincoln concurred. Document signed, Washington, April 15, 1861, appointing Willard B. Farwell as naval officer for the District of San Francisco. The position of naval officer was not a military one; the naval officer was the chief deputy to the Collector of a port, a Treasury appointment. Thus, this document is also signed by Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase. Lincoln made this appointment during the time when the U.S. Senate was in recess. He reappointed Farwell in July 1861, for the Senate’s confirmation. To illustrate the types of tasks this post involved, Farwell went to Europe and the East to ferret out frauds in importations of wines. Later in life, Farwell was President of “The Society of California Pioneers.”

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