William Jennings is numbered among the California pioneers who came to the Pacific coast in 1849, the year before the admission of the state into the Union. He is a native of Ohio, born in Milan, Erie County, on the 16th of December, 1825, and is English and German lineage, the progenitors of the family having been early settlers in Connecticut. His grandfather, Isaac Jennings, was a sea captain and was lost on one of his voyages. His son, Seth Jennings, the father of our subject, was born in Connecticut and married Miss Emily Kline, a native of Westchester County, New York, and had removed to Ohio in 1822, and her parents had been early settlers of Erie County, where they secured and developed a farm, assisting in the work and progress and reform of the Western Reserve; and Mr. Jennings also secured a wild tract of land, which he transformed into a rich and valuable farm. Both he and his wife reached the advanced age of eighty-four years and were people of sterling worth in the community in which they made their home. In public affairs the father took an active part, was postmaster and justice of the peace, was a man of great rectitude of character and his good judgment made him a leader among his fellow townsmen. In the family were three children, two yet living, John and William.
The latter was reared to manhood in his native town, and through the summer months he was a sailor on the lakes, while in the winter season he pursued his education in the little yellow schoolhouse in the neighborhood, also working in the shipyards; but the discovery of gold in California aroused a spirit of adventure within him, and determining to try his fortune by going to the Pacific slope, he left his Ohio home on the 28th of March, 1849, proceeding by train to Cincinnati, where in connection with others, he chartered the steamer John Hancock to take the party to St. Joseph, Missouri. On the 1st of April, 1849, with a train of one hundred and forty wagons, they started on the long journey across the arid plains, but the first day out they discovered that so large a party could not travel to good advantage and the train was divided. On the fifth day a second division was made and with his section Mr. Jennings continued the journey, which was made by way of Fort Hall, down the Snake River and up Goose Lake to the Humboldt River, at length arriving safely at Weavertown.
Mr. Jennings engaged in mining at Cold Springs and made some money at that place. In the spring of 1850 he went to the north fork of the American River, where he lost all that he had earned, after which he returned to Cold Springs, where he again met with creditable success in his mining ventures. Later he removed to Jackson, then in Calaveras County, where he successfully operated in the mines until the spring of 1851, when he went to San Francisco and thence to Feather River, but continued his mining operations in Nelson Creek, with poor success, however. Accordingly he went to Marysville, where he borrowed money and then proceeded to the Yuba country, devoting his energies to mining on Bullard’s Bar, where he and two companions secured twenty-four hundred dollars. In the fall he returned to Jackson, secured a position in a hotel there, where he acted as clerk, waited on the table, made the beds and did every kind of work that was needed. Subsequently he rented the hotel, which he conducted for six months, after which he purchased the old French Hotel bar and billiard room, which he conducted for five years, with profit. On the expiration of that period he engaged in farming on Willow Creek, purchasing a claim of three hundred and twenty acres, which he cultivated for some time, also giving his energies to stock raising. In 1864 he came to Drytown, where he was elected a supervisor of the county and served for three years, after which he was elected county treasurer, which important office he capably filled for eight years. He discharged his duties in a manner highly satisfactory, making an enviable reputation as a reliable and obliging public official. In 1871 he opened a grocery and provision store in Drytown, which he conducted until 1894. The following year he opened his saloon, in which he is now doing business.
Mr. Jennings was happily married in 1854 to Miss Ann Maria Dill, and to them were born four children: William Seth, who died in this thirtieth year; George Choat, a mining man from Drytown; Mary Kate, the wife of William Coyle; and Frank W., who is living in Portland, Oregon. Mrs. Jennings died in 1890, in the sixty-fourth year of her age. Mr. Jennings is a member of the Masonic fraternity, having taken the initial degree in Drytown Lodge, No. 174, F. & A. M., in 1867. He is past master in the lodge and is also a Royal Arch Mason. In politics he has been a lifelong Republican. He belongs to the Pioneer Society of Sacramento and he and John G. Norton, of Toledo, Ohio, are the two members now living of the party of twelve who started with him to California.
Transcribed by Gerald Iaquinta.
© 2010 Gerald Iaquinta.