Those who have opened the way for civilization in our land, as the star of the empire has taken its way toward the sunset gates, have been men of strong character; courageous, hardy, tenacious of purpose and willing to endure hardships and privations for the sake of making homes for themselves and posterity. All honor has been paid the pioneers who blazed their way through the sylvan wilderness of the middle west in past generations, while not less is the homage due to those whose fortitude led them to traverse the plains, invade the mountain fastnesses and do battle with a dusky and treacherous foe in the great empire of the far west. Among those who are to be numbered as sterling pioneers of central California is William Mansfield, one of the leading citizens of Columbia, whose residence in the state covers a period of forty-eight years. He was one of the early pioneers of the water system that has done so much to advance the business development of the state. He became a stockholder of the company and since 1856 has served as its collector.
Mr. Mansfield was born in Slatersville, Rhode Island, on the 3rd of November, 1829, and is descended from an old England family that was founded in Middletown, Connecticut, at a very early period in the development of the colonies. His father, Henry Stephen Mansfield, became a prominent representative of the business interests of Slatersville and was an agent for the Slatersville Manufacturing Company. He was a scythe manufacturer and for many years held in important position of cashier of the Slatersville Bank. During the War of 1812 he was on a ship that was captured by the English and with others was taken to Halifax, where he was incarcerated for some time as a prisoner of war. His eldest son became the cashier in the bank and occupied that position for a number of years. Henry Stephen Mansfield was the owner of one hundred and sixty acres of land, where Chicago now stands, but in some way the title was lost. He was united in marriage to Miss Elizabeth Buffon, who was born in Rhode Island, and there was reared and educated. This union was blessed with nine children, seven of whom reached years of maturity, but only two now survive. A daughter, Mary S., occupies the old homestead in Slatersville, while Mr. Mansfield, of this review, makes his home in California, the two living representatives thus being divided by the breadth of the continent. The father was a prominent Mason in the early days and did all in his power to promote the work of the order. He died in the sixtieth year of his age, while his good wife attained the very advanced age of eight-four years. In religious faith he was an Episcopalian, while his wife adhered to the doctrine of the Congregational church.
Reared amid the refining influences of a Christian home, William Mansfield, of this review, was well trained in his youth. He attended a boarding school in Rhode Island and when he became a young man he managed a farm owned by his eldest brother. He was in the twenty-third year of his age when on the 11th of December, 1851, he sailed for California on the old steamship “Ohio” which bore him to the Isthmus of Panama and on its western coast he took passage on the Golden Gate, then on its second voyage in the Pacific waters. He arrived in California in January, 1852. His brother, Jared, came with him, but the latter afterward returned to the east in 1870, and died in Massachusetts. Mr. Mansfield engaged in mining on his own account, first at Camp Seco, in Tuolumne County, where he met with a fair degree of success. He and three companions paid fifty dollars each for a pile of dirt and when they washed it out it proved to be worthless. Some such experience met all the pioneer miners, but the most of them were successful if they but persevered, and Mr. Mansfield was of this class. On leaving Seco he and his brother came to Columbia with eight hundred dollars and purchased an interest in the ditch. Since that time Mr. Mansfield has done some mining, but has always remained as a stockholder in the water company which has been such an important factor in the development of the resources of California, furnishing a water supply for mining and agricultural interests. Of the company he has long been a director and one of its most reliable officers, and his capable management of its business interests has met the approval of the patrons. The corporation has acquired wealth through the legitimate channels of trade, and has built an electric light plant with which the town is lighted, also some of the mines, and on occasions the electric supply has furnished illumination for Sonora. Mr. Mansfield throughout the passing years has been connected to a greater or less extent with mining at a number of places, and on the hill, on his own land, he has engaged in mining for ten years, taking out between nineteen and twenty thousand dollars, while there is still a large amount of unworked mining territory of much value.
In 1857, in Columbia, Mr. Mansfield was united in marriage to Miss Sally Ann Burt, a native of Massachusetts, who came to Columbia in January, 1857, her father, J. P. Burt, being a prominent pioneer of this state. Unto Mr. and Mrs. Mansfield were born five children, of whom four a living, namely: W. B., who is foreman of the water company; Lillie P., now the wife of George Craig, teller of a bank in Middletown, Connecticut; Mary, a graduate of the State Normal School and a successful teacher and vocalist of ability; and Fanny Rebecca, who also is a graduate of the State Normal and is now the wife of Dr. R. Innis Bromley, of Sonora. The family reside at their pleasant home in Columbia, where Mr. Mansfield owns a tract of seventeen acres of land, a part of which constitutes his rich mining property. On this place, in the vicinity of his home, he also has a splendid orchard which he himself planted, raising many varieties of fruits. He has pears, apples, plums, grapes and figs, and is literally living under the shadow of him own vine and fig tree. Mrs. Mansfield is still spared to him, and one of the daughters is at home with her parents. The family is one of the most highly respected in the community, enjoying the warm regard of a very large circle of friends.
In his political views Mr. Mansfield has been a stalwart Republican since the organization of the party and has always kept well informed on the issues of the day, as every loyal American citizen should do, thus being able to uphold his position by an intelligent understanding of the questions which affect the wealth and woe of the nation. The cause of education has ever found in him a warm friend and he has labored earnestly and effectively for the best interests of the schools. For fifteen years he has been a school trustee and for a number of years the clerk of the school board. Since 1870 he has been identified with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and of the Methodist church he is a leading and earnest member, having long served as one of its trustees. His belief has permeated his life and ruled his conduct toward his fellow men. Of unswerving integrity and honor, and having a perfect appreciation of the higher ethics of life, he has gained and retained the confidence and respect of those with whom he has associated and is distinctively one of the leading citizens of Tuolumne County with whose interests he has long been identified.
Transcribed by Gerald Iaquinta.
© 2010 Gerald Iaquinta.