San Francisco County
COLONEL F. A. BEE
COLONEL F. A. BEE is cheerfully accorded the following space in this record of some of California`s most illustrious and deserving citizens. He is the present Consul for the Chinese Government in this city, and is a prominent member of California Pioneers. He was born in the State of New York, at Clinton, Oneida county, in 1825, his parents being of English and Scotch descent and early settlers in that part of the country. In his early boyhood he entered the academy at Clinton, and afterwards began the study of law. It was just at the time the gold discoveries were made in California, and the attention of the whole world was directed to that point. Colonel Bee determined to go to the Pacific coast and see for himself what the possibilities might be. He set sail from New York city on the ship Elizabeth Ellen, and made the Voyage via Cape Horn. Among those who took passage on the same vessel were several who have since become noted in the annals of California, notably James L. Flood and Senator Charles N. Felton. They were 228 days on the trip, and arrived here in August, 1849. Colonel Bee went at once to the mines, and was connected with mining interests altogether for fifteen years. Three years of this period he was also engaged in the mercantile business.
Before the breaking out of the civil war, Colonel Bee saw the necessity of telegraphic communication between the east and west, and organized the Placerville & St. Joseph Overland Telegraph Company, with a capital of $250,000. He was elected president of the company, and it was through his efforts that the stock was subscribed to build the line across the Sierras. Great energy and enthusiasm were manifested in the construction of the line, and the Sacramento Daily Evening Bee of 1859 announces that laborers of all classes were gladly taking their pay in stock, and that the provisions were being furnished which were being paid for in the same way. After the line was completed to Fort Churchill, Utah, in 1859, Colonel Bee went to Washington, District of Columbia, to place the matter before Congress and ask aid from the Government. The Project met with violent opposition from Eastern telegraphic companies on the ground that it was ten years too soon to build a line across the continent, its only friends being ex-Postmaster -General Amos Kendall, under Jackson `s administration and Cyrus W. Field , directors of the Western Union Company. After much waiting and working, an appropriation was made of $65,000 a year for ten years, in return the Government business to be done free. The contract was taken by the Western Union, and the line was completed in 150 days. His company was then consolidated with the Western Union and other lines, and much of the stock of his company sold for $400 per share. Colonel Bee bore his own expenses while he was in Washington, and was not one dollar of expense to the Western Union Company. It was during this time that he met General Russell of Russell & Waddle, Government contractors to the famous Utah Military Expedition. He laid before them the proposition to establish a pony express between St. Joe and San Francisco, which was also established through his own personal efforts.
Colonel Bee returned to California via Panama, and upon the breaking out of the civil war he was appointed, under President Lincoln`s administration, Provost Marshal of the Central and Northern districts of California, an important and responsible position which he held until the cessation of hostilities. After the surrender, he came to San Francisco, and was connected with various enterprises, among which was the construction of the San Francisco & North Pacific Railroad, of which he was superintendent from its inception.
On July 6, 1876, both houses of Congress passed a joint resolution, authorizing the appointment of a committee of senators and representatives to proceed to California and investigate the Chinese question. The great war Governor of Indiana, the Hon. Oliver P. Morton, then Senator, was chairman of the committee. At this time the “Sand lot“ agitators, who were organized to drive the Chinese out of the city, were running things with a high hand. Threats and intimidation were freely made against any citizen who dared to defend or protect the Chinese. The Joint Committee were to meet in October. Leading Chinese applied to prominent attorneys to represent them before the commission, but without success.
Senator Morton, when informed of this, sent a telegram to Colonel Bee, requesting him to act as the attorney of the Chinese before the commission. This honor he promptly accepted. Senator Morton and Colonel Bee had been close friends for many years. The committee held its first session October 18, 1876. Colonel Bee`s opening address for boldness of utterance caused a sensation throughout the State. As a result, the commission received scores of letters from prominent citizens, offering to testify on behalf of the Chinese in corroboration of Colonel Bee`s statements. The session lasted seven weeks, the report making a volume of 1,218 pages, the preponderance of testimony being favorable to the Chinese.
His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor of China, in acknowledgment of his services, the following year, tendered Colonel Bee the position of Chinese Consul at San Francisco; and for the past thirteen years he has discharged the duties of this responsible position with great credit to himself and to the entire satisfaction of the empire. He has been three times decorated by the Chinese government. When he was made a Sir Knight, the decoration was accompanied by a letter from the emperor of China, a very rare compliment and worthily bestowed. He has spent much time and thought in establishing amicable commercial relations between the United States and China, and has the distinction of being the only American in the Consular service of the Chinese government. He has been closely identified with public enterprises tending to develop the Pacific coast.
Colonel Bee was happily married to Miss Catherine Maxwell of Ballston Springs, New York, a lady of rare accomplishments and unusual force of character. The marriage occurred in 1850, and during the union, which covered over thirty-eight years, they were not separated from each other more then one month. They made twelve journeys together across the continent, and she aided her husband in all his arduous undertakings. Her death in this city. August 18, 1889, was deeply lamented by a host of friends. To her husband she was the best of God`s creation. They had one son, Frank M. Bee, who resides on his beautiful farm, “Cherry Croft” vineyards, near Martinez, California.
Transcribed by Kim Buck.
Source: "The Bay of San Francisco," Vol. 2, Pages 491-493, Lewis Publishing Co, 1892.
© 2006 Kim Buck.
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