During my research of where my family was in the early 1800’s, I discovered that my great-great uncle, William Alexander Leidesdorff, (1810-1848) was instrumental in the founding of San Francisco. He was a prominent figure at the time because he was one of the first black and Jewish leaders in California. Leidesdorff was born in the Virgin Islands and was the son of a sugar planter. He moved as a young man to New Orleans and worked in maritime trade. He then bought a 106-ton schooner and voyaged to the Pacific. He acquired a small fortune from trading, and after months on this journey landed on Yerba Buena Cove in what is now the San Francisco Bay. At the time the city was a small town, and Leidesdorff threw himself into the making of the great city. He started with introducing maritime business to the city, launching the first steamboat on the bay.
I think that the history of Leidesdorff and what he was able to accomplish shows how America, especially California, was beginning to overcome the extreme racial and religious tentions that were so prominent just 20 years before. Leisesdorff could have never did what he did just a few years earlier, and he certainly could not have done it in most the rest of the US. There are very few people of black and Jewish origin who became famous at that time. The fact that he was living in the west is probably the reason he was able to achieve his fame. It is interesting how different racial and religious issues were in the west and the rest of the US, and in large, flourishing cities vs. small towns, such as the one that was to become San Francisco. Although I’m sure he faced many setbacks due to his race and religion, he was still a significant and well-recognized figure in Californian society and history.