January 13, 2006
It was 1841, and like so many of those who have washed up on these shores, then or since, William Alexander Leidesdorff was a man on the run from his past — a man trying desperately to reinvent himself on the blank canvas of the western coast.
Though hardly anyone remembers his name these days, he became essential to the fabric of Yerba Buena, honored and mourned by the entire city upon death. he racked up an unparalleled array of “firsts” in the city, state, and even country — not the least of which was his entry into the historical record as the United States’ first black millionaire.
Leidesdorff arrived in the village a tall, dark and handsome man, multi-lingual, highly educated, and an instant commercial success. Though well-liked in the village, he was by all accounts a lonely and solitary figure, his history shrouded in mystery. what had driven him to the far edge of the continent, and why is he forgotten today?
- #8: Corpseflower at San Francisco Conservatory
- #65: Memories of an Argonaut
- San Francisco Timecapsule: 05.18.09
- Timecapsule podcast: San Francisco, December 15-21
- Grandpa’s archives: San Francisco Chronicle aerial photo ca. 1949