William A. Richardson
William A. Richardson was born in London, England, on August 27, 1795. He went to sea as a youngster of twelve and spent his early life as a seaman. In 1822, at the age of twenty seven, he sailed into Yerba Buena Cove in San Francisco Bay aboard a whaling ship (L'Orient). He left the ship under questionable circumstances and petitioned the Spanish governor for permission to remain in California. The governor, Pablo Vicente Sola, gave his permission providing Richardson agreed to teach the neophytes at Mission Dolores how to construct small boats for use in the bay. Richardson agreed.
At the time the only European communities in the area were those located at the Presidio and the Mission. The European community was composed of Spanish soldiers and Franciscan missionaries. Richardson was the first non-Spanish European to settle in the area. One of his earliest projects was the construction of a small launch which he used to move people and cargo around San Francisco Bay. Shortly after Richardson arrived in Yerba Buena, Mexico won it's independence from Spain and California began opening it's doors to increased trade with a variety of European and American traders.
In 1823 Richardson converted to Catholicism, became a naturalized citizen of Mexico, and changed his name to Guillermo Antonio Richardson. in 1825 he married Maria Antonio Martinez, the daughter of Lieutenant Ygnacio Martinez, the Commandante of the Presidio. In 1829, the Richardson family moved to Mission San Gabriel (near present day Los Angeles) where Richardson sailed two small schooners (Josephine and Maria Antonio) in the expanding California coastal trade. In 1835 Governor Jose Figueroa made Yerba Buena California's second port of entry (along with the original port of entry at Monterey). The governor invited Richardson to assume the position of Port Captain. Richardson agreed and moved his family back to Yerba Buena.
In Yerba Buena Richardson assisted the Alcalde, Francisco de Haro, in surveying and laying out a small town for the slowly expanding settlement. He purchased a plot in the new city and constructed an adobe home for his family. (It is thought to have been located near the present day corner of Clay Street and Grant Avenue). Richardson used the home for his trading business and it quickly became the center of the town as other businessmen moved into the same area. In 1838 Richardson obtained a 20,000 acre grant of land across the bay from Yerba Buena. In 1841 he sold his property in Yerba Buena and moved his family to the new land grant which was known as Rancho Sauselito. (The family home is believed to have been located at the corner of Bonita and Pine Streets in Sausalito.)
Rancho Sauselito was ideally located for Richardson's expanding business enterprises. The small harbor at Rancho Sauselito was called Whaler's Harbor (Richardson's Bay) and most of the ships entering San Francisco Bay obtained their water and supplies there. Richardson served as pilot for the ships as they entered and then provided them with their resupply. It was a profitable adjunct to his own trading ventures. Import duties were considered to be onerous and most traders, including Richardson, engaged in at least some smuggling. In 1844 Richardson was relieved as Port Captain due to some irregularities with customs. By that time he was so well established that he continued to prosper financially even without the postion of Port Captain.
In 1846, as war between Mexico and the United States grew closer, Richardson was associated with those who favored a political course that would see California become a protectorate of Great Britain. There is little evidence to indicate that he took any major action to support this course of action, but on one occasion he did assist his Californio friends elude American forces led by Captain John C. Fremont. Fleeing Fremont's force, Mexican Captain de la Torre used Richardson's launch to escape across the Bay to Yerba Buena. Richardson did not have a high regard for Fremont or any of the other American military leaders but there was little that he could do about the American conquest of California. At the height of the hositilities Rancho Sauselito did, however, serve as a haven for many Mexican friends of the Richardsons.
When Commodore Robert Stockton arrived in San Francisco aboard the USS Congress he used Richardson as his pilot and subsequently named him Port Captain. Richardson was replaced in 1847 by an American naval officer, Captain Joseph L. Folsom. (That same year Lieutenant Washington Bartlett was appointed Alcalde of Yerba Buena and the name of the town was changed to San Francisco.) In 1848 the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo ended the war with Mexico and conferred United States citizenship on virtually everyone in California including the Richardsons.
Immediately following the discovery of gold in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1848, Richardson's business interests profited handsomely because of the overnight importance of San Francisco Bay. Like many of his Californio friends, however, it was not long before he was having serious trouble with squatters on Rancho Sauselito. In addition he engaged in a series of bad business deals which broke him financially. These included a sawmill venture on Rancho Albion that failed when he was unable to prove ownership of the land. He also fell victim to a land fraud engineered by Jose Yves Limantour and lost a fortune in a failed plan designed by "Kanaka Bill" Davis to develop San Diego City. As if things were not bad enough all three of his trading vessels were lost in shipwrecks during 1855.
Richardson died on April 20, 1856, of an overdose of mercury tablets that had been prescribed for his rheumatism. He is buried in Mt. Olive Catholic Cemetery near Mission San Rafael.