A Contemporary Recalls: Mr. & Mrs. Richardson

By Larry Clinton - Sausalito Historical Society

Last week, we excerpted memories of Sausalito founder William Richardson from the book, “Sixty Years in California.” The author, William Heath Davis, Jr., also included these charming recollections of Richardson’s marriage and early family life:

After the [whaling ship] Orion had dropped anchor off the Presidio, the usual old anchorage, William A. Richardson, first mate, landed a boat’s crew on the beach. He found there a portion of the inhabitants of the garrison who were attracted by the arrival of a foreign vessel in the bay. Among the number were the Señoritas of the Martinez household.

 Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As Richardson leaped from the boat to the landing, Señorita Maria Antonia Martinez exclaimed, with joy in her eyes, to her lady companions, “Oh, que hombre tan hermoso el estranjero que desembarco del bote; el va hacer mi novio y yo voy hacer su esposa.”– Oh, what a handsome man that foreigner just landed from the boat. He will be my bridegroom, and I will be his wife.”

It was love at first sight. Richardson was equally impressed then and there with the loveliness of Doña Maria Antonia. A match was made and two hearts were entwined as one, without the formality of expressing to each other orally their love and devotion.

Richardson, during his stay at San Francisco, resided at the home of Lieutenant Ygnacio Martinez, then comandante of the Presidio. He married Maria Antonia, the eldest daughter of Comandante and Martina Martinez. The young couple was married at Mission Dolores by Father José Altimira; the sponsors were the comandante and one of the bride’s sisters. The wedding was made the occasion of a great feast. The families of the officers and others were present at the ceremony and banquet.

Señorita Maria Antonia was considered a belle of great beauty among the handsome women of the Presidio in the thirties. There was a romance connected with this marriage.

The union was blessed with three children: namely, Francisco, Stephen and Mariana. (Lieutenant Wise in Chapter XII of his book, “Los Gringos,” gives the following delightful portrait.)

“This anchorage (Sausalito) is a great resort for whale ships, coming from the north-west fishing grounds for water and supplies; the procurante of which was an English man, for many years a resident in the country, and possessing myriads of cattle, and a principality in land and mountains; among other valuables he was the sire of the belle of California, in the person of a young girl named Mariana.

Her mother was Spanish, with the remains of great personal charms; as to the child I never saw a more patrician style of beauty and native elegance in any clime where Castillian donas bloom. She was brunette, with an oval face, magnificent dark gray eyes, with the corners of her mouth slightly curved downward, so as to give a proud and haughty expression to the face-in person she was tall, graceful and well shaped, and although her feet were incased in deer skin shoes, and her hands bare, they might have vied with any belles of our own.

I believe the lovely Mariana was as amiable as beautiful, and I know her bright eye glancing along the delicate sights of her rifle, sent leaden missives with the deadly aim of a marksman, and that she rode like an angel, and could strike a bullock dead with one quick blow of a keen blade.”

During Richardson’s long life in California, he made friends with all who came in contact with him in social or business relations. They were firmly attached to him for his goodness. He had not a single enemy, because his heart and nature were noble. He was seized with a desire at all times to serve his fellow beings in their hours of need. He was incapable of saying no to a deserving applicant for alms. It was inconsistent with the impulses of his nature; a birth-right inherited from his pure Anglo-Saxon parents. He was a handsome man, above medium height, with an attractive face, winning manners, and a musical voice, which his daughter, Mariana, inherited.

My knowledge of the captain dates back to July 1838, when I was in the employ of Nathan Spear. Richardson was the grantee of the Saucelito rancho with thousands of cattle, horses and sheep. His family had two residences, one at Yerba Buena, an adobe dwelling, a structure of primitive architecture, which contained a parlor, commodious bedrooms and a sitting and dining room which was used at times as a ball room. The walls were thick with blinds or massive shutters closing the windows on the inside. The other residence was at Saucelito.

At the time of my acquaintance with this good man, he was Captain of the Port and Bay of San Francisco, under the immediate direction of General Vallejo, who was the comandante general. General Vallejo appreciated Richardson’s experience as a sea-faring man, and as the General expressed it, Richardson was the right man in the right place. Both men respected each other, and their official and social relations were as smooth and as placid as the waters of the anchorage of Saucelito or Richardson’s bay on a calm day.

I knew Mrs. Richardson personally as far back as the year 1838. She was a model of grace and dignity with a face full of expression. Doña Maria Antonia was truly entitled to be called a Spanish beauty. She was gifted with vivacity and intelligence, and a little spice of satire gave an added charm to her winning manners. She came from a family of good looking brothers and sisters.

“Sixty Years in California” is in the Sausalito Historical Society’s rare book collection and is also available online.