1856: William George Ross to James William Denver

This letter was written by William George Ross (1818-1875), a native of Richmond, Virginia, who datelined his letter from San Francisco in 4 October 1856. William was married to Mary Esther Dashiell (1820-1889) in Fairfield, Iowa, in 1845, and came to California not long after, taking a public patronage job as a “warden” or “inspector” in the port at San Francisco.

Ross wrote the letter to James William Denver in October 1856, then serving as a congressman from California in the US House (March 1855-March 1857). His primary purpose for writing was to ask his “old friend” to use his influence as a congressman to have him appointed to the vacant post of Collector at the Port of San Pedros. Apparently stroking Denver’s ego and naming a son after his old friend wasn’t enough, however, as Ross was still the port inspector in San Francisco for the next few years until he landed the post of “State Gauger” in 1860. The State Gauger was tasked with gauging and inspecting all liquors arriving in the port.

At least one source in Ancestry. com claims that William had a tragic ending to his life, stating that he was shot on the street on 13 May 1875 by Charles Duane as a result of a dispute over a tract of land. I cannot find any period newspapers that corroborate this claim, however.

View down Stockton Street in San Francisco, May 1855: View north from Sacramento Street, with Alctraz and Angel Islands visible in bay. (UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library)


Addressed to Gen. James W. Denver, M. C., Washington City, D. C.

San Francisco [California]
October 4th 1856

Dear General,

I wrote you by the last steamer informing you of the death of Col. [Isaac] Williams, Collector of the Port of San Pedros, Los Angelos county, in which I asked your kind influence towards procuring it for me. I understand there are several applicants. No doubt there will be many. I would be pleased to get the appointment as it is one that would suit me & would place me in a position that at some future day I might be of some benefit to my friends. I am heartily tired of San Francisco and intend to leave it this winter, appointment or no appointment.

I was much disappointed not seeing you here on the last steamer. I met with Frank. He is in good health. Major Graham and Col. Weller are quite sick. I understand Col. Weller is something better to day.

I am grateful to say to you from all I can learn that you stand a thousand percent higher in California at this time than the day you received your election. The people seem to have approved of your intercourse as their representative. I am in hopes you will be at home before the election. I would like to see you here. I think there is no doubt but we will carry the state for B & B. There seems to be a good deal of unanimity of action & feeling in our party at this time.

Things have settled down here to a great extent so far as the vigilante community is concerned & I hope it will never be agitated again so long as I am in the confines of San Francisco “for it has separated & divided many a friend.” I am in hopes you will be able to fix up the war bonds matter e’re you return. It all will go to strengthening you with the people. However, you will find when you do return that “Denver is the most popular man in the State.” This is the common expression on the street every day, not that I would wish it so, but it is so.

Dear General, I do not wish to tax you with long letters, and asking opportunity so I will close, hoping you will so all you can to assist an old friend. Yours truly, — William G. Ross

N B. My wife desires me to say to you she has a fine son which she calls J[ames] Denver Ross. He is a fine looking boy. — Ross

Write me by return mail as I will be anxious to hear from you. — R

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