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Mon, 03.26.1810

William Leidesdorff, a San Francisco Icon

William Leidesdorff

*On this date we celebrate the birth of William Alexander Leidesdorff, in 1810. He was a Black businessman and explorer.

Leidesdorff was born in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, to a white-Danish father and an African mother.  He was a merchant captain first in New York, then New Orleans, and, by 1841, in California. While in Louisiana he became a wealthy cotton broker.  Leidesdorff sailed his ship to the Hawaiian Islands in 1838 and began making the trip from Hawaii to the coast of California to trade with the mission at Yerba Buena, bringing sugar from Hawaii and returning with animal hides. By 1841, the sophisticated Leidesdorff decided to make the Bay area a real destination, building a City Hotel and its first shipping warehouse.

He aligned with Emanuel Victoria "the Black governor" of Alta California and became a Mexican citizen.  Victoria granted Leidesdorff Rancho Rio de Americanos on the site of the current city of Folsom, California.  Leidesdorff also bought 41 lots in Yerba Buena and built the largest house in the city at the site of the current Bank of America tower. Leidesdorff Street in the city by the Bay was named for William Leidsdorff, the first African American citizen of San Francisco.  William Alexander Leidsdorff died in 1848.

Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail
By W. Jeffrey Bolster
Harvard Univ Press,
Copyright, September 1998
ISBN 0-674076273



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