Biographical Notes
Thomas Oliver Larkin

Thomas Oliver Larkin was born September 2, 1802 in Charlestown, Massachusetts, just across the Charles River from Boston. His father, also named Thomas Oliver Larkin, traced his ancestors back to the Mayflower and his grandfather fought in the American Revolution. Larkin senior died in 1808 when Thomas was not yet six years of age.

Thomas's ancestors on his mother's side were English. His mother's name was Ann Rogers and she had been married and widowed before she met and married Thomas's father. Ann had one son by that earlier marriage - John Rogers Cooper. In her second marriage she had Thomas, three other sons and a daughter. In 1813 the family moved to Lynn, Massachusetts where Ann married Amariah Childs, a wealthy banker. Ann had one son, George Edwin Childs, in that marriage, but Amariah had had ten other children by his previous wife. Thomas's step-siblings were also cousins because Amariah's first wife was Ann's second husband's sister.

In 1817 Larkin left Lynn for Boston where he was engaged in the manufacture of books. In 1818 Larkin's mother died. In 1819 Larkin went to work in a book store. In 1821 he left Boston and moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, where he obtained employment as a clerk. In 1822 he signed on as supercargo on board a schooner bound for Bermuda. On his return to Wilmington he opened a small merchandise retail store in partnership with Thomas G. Thurston. Thurston and Larkin ended their partnership in 1824. That same year Larkin established a new store in Wilmington with his younger brother William. The store did well but William died in 1825. That same year Larkin purchased a small plantation and the following year was appointed Justice of the Peace in Duplin County, North Carolina.

In the late 1820s Larkin sold his store and set up a saw mill just north of Wilmington. The saw mill failed and Larkin was bankrupt. By 1831 he was penniless and deeply depressed. That year his older half brother John Rogers Cooper wrote to Larkin's half brother Samuel C. Childs offering him a position in Monterey, California as a clerk/assistant in his diverse business enterprises. Samuel was uninterested but passed the letter along to Larkin. Larkin accepted Cooper's offer and sailed for Monterey aboard the Newcastle on September 5, 1831. The only other passenger on board was Rachel Hobson Holmes who was traveling to meet her husband, a ship captain sailing out of Acapulco. On March 8. 1832 Rachel's husband died while on route from Acapulco to South America.

On arrival in Monterey on April 13, 1832, Larkin went to work for Cooper as a clerk, but by February 1833 he was also in business for himself. On January 31, 1833 Rachel gave birth in Santa Barbara to Larkin's illegitimate daughter - Isabel Ana. Larkin married Rachel in June 1833 aboard the American ship Volunteer. The ceremony was performed by Captain John C. Jones, the American Consul in Hawaii. (Larkin had thought that an American Consul aboard an American ship could legally perform the marriage ceremony in any port in the world. He later learned that, under existing laws at the time, he had been in error.) In July 1833 Isabel died. In late August 1833 the Larkins returned to the Monterey area to live on one of Cooper's ranches. In July 1834 they moved into town where they built a store with living quarters above it.

During the next decade Larkin's business endeavors prospered and he became exceptionally well liked among the landowners and senior government officials. In 1842 Talbot H. Green began working for Larkin as clerk. Green did well and by the end of 1843 was running Larkin's main store in Monterey. Larkin spent more and more of his time in financing and making deals rather than in retail marketing. On May 1, 1843 Larkin was appointed American Consul in Monterey. Several others had been appointed to this position before Larkin but for one reason or another none had actually occupied the position and been recognized by the host government. (Ethan Estabrook was appointed to the position in 1840 and actually moved to Monterey, but the host government refused to recognize him. He departed in 1841.) Larkin quickly won favor in Washington because of his commercial and political reporting.

On October 17, 1845 President Polk appointed Larkin to be his Special Confidential Agent in California. He was instructed to work to encourage California to develop closer ties with the United States and to discourage relations with other foreign powers. He was not to give Mexico any cause to complain but he was to encourage independence and if possible association with the United States through statehood. During this period Larkin also carried on an extensive correspondence with leading newspapers in the United States. His letters were reported widely and stimulated considerable public interest in California. In January 1846 Green and Larkin formed a partnership under which the retail business would be carried on in Green's name.

Larkin was spending more and more of his time and energy on his consular duties and his responsibilities as President Polk's confidential agent. During this period both France and England were interested in improving their own political position among California's leadership. Both countries established a consular presence in California and several prominent landowners and government officials expressed interest in seeing California come under the protection of one or the other. In his correspondence with then Secretary of State James Buchanan, Larkin acknowledged the European threat but felt that things were moving in favor of the United States. He advocated a peaceful transition from Mexican suzerainty to that of the United States initiated and led by the Californians themselves. He predicted that it could be accomplished as early as 1847.