San Francisco: 1859. Unbound.
Both Blair and James had been free-soil Democrats who were instrumental in both forming the new Republican Party in 1856 and securing John C. Fremont to run for President on its ticket. Although, Fremont was not one of the major candidates to represent the Republicans in his hat was still in the ring, and this letter suggests that he, Blair, and James were preparing to defend against lingering political charges of fraud regarding his ownership of the most important California goldfield, the Mariposa Ranch.
James’s letter is datelined “San Francisco / Aprl 5th 1859 reads,
“My Dear Sir / At the request of Col Fremont I send you the inclosed answer to the charge made at the Attorney Genl’s Office of fraud in the Survey of his Mariposa Grant.”
Its envelope is franked with a 10-cent green type 1 Washington stamp (Scott #31) tied to the cover by a circular New York city steamship receiving postmark. It is annotated “Uncle Sam” in the upper left corner indicating the name of the steamship that carried it out of San Francisco harbor..
The article is in two columns totaling about 29” in length, with an additional 5 ½” square map. It was cut into two pieces, perhaps to facilitate mailing. The article is titled “The other Side of the Mariposa Grant,” and the map of Fremont’s Rancho Mariposa is titled “Map Referred to in Col. Ransom’s Letter.” It was prepared by Fremont’s Mariposa Attorney’s “Shafter, Park & Heydenfeldt” and lays out ownership details in exceptional detail.
An abbreviated excerpt from the article that leaves out the details due to space constraints reads:
“To the Editor of the Bulletin. . .. Col. Fremont and others . . . have hitherto refrained from publicly noticing these charges. . .. But lest this silence should be misconstrued we have thought it desirable to submit to the public [proof that] the present location of the Mariposas was established in conformity to the directions of the Supreme Court. . .. There has been . . . ever since the survey was made so much misrepresentation [although] “the Land Commission confirmed the claim [as] being the same land described in the grant and map filed in the office of the United States Surveyor General for California, No. 21, 1851. . .. The result of the final survey . . . formed a compact figure, and the lines corresponded with those of the public surveys. . ..”. Item #010089
In 1844, the Mexican Governor of Alte California granted ten square leagues of property (70 square miles at the time) along Mariposa Creek to one of his predecessors, Juan Bautista Alvorado. The terms of this “floating” grant allowed Alvorado to select his land anywhere within a much larger region within the boundaries set by the Sierra Nevada, Merced River, Cowchilla River, and San Joaquin River. Alvorado never finalized the location of this “floating claim” as Mexicans attempting to settle there were frequently attacked by the Miwok tribe. In 1847, Fremont, who was anxious to settle along the Pacific Ocean adjacent to San Francisco, bought what he believed was such a property for $3,000 from California land speculator, Thomas Larkin. To his chagrin, he later discovered he had purchased Alvorado’s grant which was located far inland in the Yosemite region. He was unable to contest the sale, because at the time he was preoccupied fighting a charge of mutiny made by his military rival, Brigadier General Stephen Kearny in a ludicrous court-martial.
By the time Fremont’s legal issue was behind him, the California Gold Rush was well underway, and he began to build a homestead on his grant with the hope of establishing lumbering operation. However, gold was found on his land which led to the discovery of a five-mile vein producing hundreds of pounds of placer gold each month. Overnight, Fremont became a very rich man. As he had no desire to run a mining operation himself, Fremont hired a team of San Francisco bankers to establish the Mariposa Mining Company to lease property to mining companies willing to do the hard work.
Unfortunately, because of the imprecision of Fremont’s ‘floating’ grant, squatting prospectors began to lay claim to his land. Worse, large scale mining companies did as well. To fight the squatters, Fremont had his property surveyed, and it became clear that several mine complexes were located on his land. The situation reached a head when Biddle Boggs leased the property upon which the Merced Mining Company had illegally squatted. Merced took both men to court declaring that Fremont’s survey was a fraud, and the original grant did not specifically include the property’s mineral rights. After numerous court decisions and counter-decisions, in a travesty of justice, in January of 1858, the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Merced Company in one of the most egregiously acts of judicial legislation based upon Congressional mind-reading, stating “The defendant is occupying the premises simply and solely for mining purposes, under the general license of the Federal Government. It is true that there has been no express Act of Congress creating this license, but such seems to be its will.”
A request for a rehearing was granted, and it was during this time that Fremont provided Thomas and Blair with the article detailing his defense against fraud charges to prevent damage to his reputation and possible political future.
When the California Supreme Court revisited the case for the last time, it found in favor of Fremont after which the Merced Company and other squatters were finally forced to leave Rancho Las Mariposas.
(For more information, see Grossman’s “John C. Fremont, Mariposa, and the Collision of Mexican and American Law” from Selected Works of Lewis A. Grossman, Kens’s “John C. Fremont and The Biddie-Boggs Case: Property Rights versus Mining Rights in Early California” in the Mining History Journal Vol 5, R. H. Banks’s “Forging a Republican Party” in King of Louisiana. . .., Harrington’s “The Reception of the Frémont-Robinson Letter. . ..” in The New England Quarterly Vol. 12 No. 3, Chamberlain’s The Call of Gold, and “Colonel Charles James” in Raymond’s Poems by Charles James.”)
An important historical piece with connections to the California Gold Rush, the birth of the Republican Party, and the life of John C. Fremont. At the time of listing, nothing similar is for sale in the, has ever been offered at auction trade per the Rare Book Hub, or is apparently held by an institution per OCLC..