Lot 72 of 539:
US Navy Lt., first American Alcalde of San Francisco - Letter  

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US Navy officer, the first American Alcalde of San Francisco - letter as Coast Surveyor to a pioneering meteorologist

Bartlett, Washington A.

New York


Oct. 13, 1851


Autograph Letter Signed. NY, Office, Journal of Commerce. 1pg.  To pioneer meteorologist Ebenezer Meriam.

“I have completed my drafts of Ways Reef and sent a report to Mr. Bache [Superintendent of the US Coast Survey] today. I have a copy for you to consult and if you desire to see it, please meet me at the Atlantic Journal office…”

Meriam, wealthy soap manufacturer and passionate amateur meteorologist, precursor of the US Weather Bureau, had proposed a plan to improve navigation in the treacherous “Hell’s Gate” of the New York City’s East River by underwater demolition of rocks and reefs on which many vessels had foundered. Navy Lieutentant Washington A. Bartlett  was given Coast Survey oversight of Meriam’s plan.

Five years earlier, during the Mexican-American War in 1846, after the US Navy, having“ captured” California during the Mexican-American War, took control of the coastal village of Yerba Buena, Bartlett, a New York patrician who spoke fluent Spanish, had been given temporary military appointment as the small town’s first “Chief Magistrate” under US sovereignty - “Alcalde” in local parlance. Briefly held hostage by disgruntled Californios, he had been released in time to sign the ordinance of January 1847, permanently changing the name of the town to San Francisco.

Accused of financial mismanagement, Bartlett had happily escaped  from the political maelstrom, to a long tour with the Coast Survey, overseeing production of early maps of San Francisco and the northern California coast. When the Gold Rush began, given command of a schooner that sailed for seven months around Cape Horn, after suppressing a mutiny by sailors who tried to desert to the gold fields, he relinquished command but remained with the vessel when it wintered in Hawaii. He spent the succeeding years vainly seeking vindication after being removed from the Navy for more “financial irregularities”. Though raising a Naval Brigade during the Civil War, he was never reinstated in the service and spent the rest of his life in private practice as a New York engineer.

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