GEORGE FREDERICK WESSON
Those of the pioneers of the days of gold who still remain in California are honored by their fellow citizens as pioneers are honored in all parts of the country. One of the most conspicuous of this class in San Andreas, Calaveras County, is George Frederick Wesson, a brief narrative of whose interesting career it will be attempted here to give. Mr. Wesson, who arrived at San Francisco November 19, 1849, was at that time between nineteen and twenty years of age, and he has been a witness to nearly all of the wonderful development which has placed California in a proud position among the states of the republic.
He is of English ancestry and his first American progenitor came over before the Revolution and some of his forefathers participated in that great struggle for independence. Phineas Wesson, his father, was born in New Hampshire, in 1794, and married Miss Lucy Smith, a native of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, whose father, Daniel Smith, died there at the age of one hundred and nine years and has a place in history as a soldier of the Revolution. After their marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Wesson settled at Providence, Rhode Island, and there George Frederick Wesson was born March 29, 1829, and there Phineas Wesson, who became well known as a hotel-keeper, died at the age of sixty-two years and his wife at the age of fifty-two. Of their seven children only three survive: George Frederick Wesson, of San Andreas, and two of his brothers who live at New Haven, Connecticut.
George Frederick Wesson was educated and learned the jeweler’s trade in his native city, and on the 3rd of March, 1849, was one of sixteen passengers who sailed from there aboard the bark Nahumkey for the long voyage around the Horn to San Francisco. When they arrived at their destination they were eight and a half months out from Providence and had suffered much discomfort and privation, each passenger having been for some time on an allowance of only a pint of water a day.
After setting foot on the soil of California, Mr. Wesson lost no time in getting to the mines. His first mining was at Long Bar, on the Yuba River; where by hard work he made six or seven dollars a day. From there he went to Downieville, where he met with less success. Then he was taken in by the Feather River excitement and had no success at all, and retired to Tony Bar, where he was taken sick and went to San Francisco for treatment! After his recovery he went to Chinese Camp, Tuolumne County. There was no water there, and he went on to Vallicita, in Calaveras County, and spent a year in clerking in a store at Vallicita and mining near there, and after that he gave his attention exclusively to mining for a time, with discouraging results, and drifted into the saloon business, in which for nine months his average receipts were sixty dollars a day with a good percentage of profit.
In 1854 he was appointed deputy sheriff and tax collector, and under the law then in force collected four dollars a month from each foreign miner. In 1861 he was elected county clerk of Calaveras County and took up his residence at Mokelumne Hill. At the expiration of his term of office he went to Reese River, Nevada, on a fruitless quest for precious metal. He returned to California and in the fall of 1864 was elected township assessor and tax collector. In this capacity he served for three years. Under a new law the county sheriff became collector of taxes. Mr. Wesson again engaged in the saloon business at Mokelumne Hill, and a year and a half later he was appointed deputy sheriff under Sheriff Ben Thorn, and held that office four years, during which time he had many exciting experiences in running down and capturing dangerous criminals. After that he kept a saloon for four years, when Mr. Thorn was again elected sheriff and Mr. Wesson again became his deputy and removed to San Andreas, in April, 1880. After service as undersheriff for a year and nine months, he opened a saloon at San Andreas, which he has since managed in connection with his mining interests, and the sightly hill on which his comfortable residence is located is considered good mining ground.
Mr. Wesson was married November 21, 1864, to Miss Mary Ann Conway, a native of County Mayo, Ireland, and a daughter of Richard Conway. Mrs. Wesson’s father died in his native land, and in 1843 her mother brought her, an infant, to America. Sometime after her arrival in the United States, Mrs. Conway married Philip Kelly, who became a member of Stephenson’s regiment and came with that organization to California in 1847, bringing his wife and step-daughter with him. Mrs. Kelly died at Mokelumne Hill, at the age of fifty-two, and Mrs. Wesson, who is the only survivor of her family, was undoubtedly the first auburn-haired child in California. Philip A. Roach, who became the first editor or the San Francisco Examiner, and some other prominent gentlemen, passing the San Antonio mission, saw her playing with some Mexican children and were greatly surprised at her appearance, for they never expected to see a white child so far removed from civilization. Mrs. Wesson learned Mexican Spanish in her intercourse with her Mexican playmates and has since spoken it fluently. A child of Catholic parents, she adheres to that faith. She has every right to the title of a pioneer woman of California, for the ship in which she and her mother sailed around the Horn, the Susan Drew, the first vessel of its class built for its peculiar service, came in 1847. She attended school at Monterey and was an early teacher in Calaveras County. Mr. and Mrs. Wesson have had five children, all born at Mokelumne Hill. Two died of diphtheria. Those who survive are Henry, now the tax collector of Calaveras County; Fred, who is the proprietor of the Metropolitan Hotel, the leading house of entertainment at San Andreas; and Tessie, a popular schoolteacher of Calaveras County, who is at present filling the office of deputy tax collector.
Mr. and Mrs. Wesson have both lived more than a half century in California and are proud of having witnessed its development. They possess many winning qualities of head and heart, which endears them to all who know them, and have such a place in public esteem as properly, belongs to such old and good citizens.
Transcribed by Gerald Iaquinta.
© 2010 Gerald Iaquinta.