October 23


October 23, 1810 William Alexander Leidesdorff, one of the earliest black settlers in California and often called the first black millionaire, was born in St. Croix, Virgin Islands. Leidesdorff left St. Croix when he was 15 for schooling in Denmark and after that went to New Orleans where he worked as a ship captain from 1834 to 1840. In 1841, he moved to California where he launched the first steamboat to operate on San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento River. He also built the first hotel and the first shipping warehouse. In 1844, Leidesdorff became a naturalized Mexican citizen and received a land grant of 35,521 acres. He went on to establish extensive commercial relations throughout Hawaii, Alaska, and Mexican California. When the United States took over California, Leidesdorff was one of three members on the first San Francisco school board and he was later elected city treasurer. He also donated the land for the first public school. In 1845, President James Polk hired him as the United States Vice Consul to Mexico. When Leidesdorff died on May 18, 1848, he was one of the wealthiest men in California and on the day of his burial, flags were flown at half-mast, business was suspended, and the schools were closed. When his estate was auctioned in 1856, it was valued at more than $1,445,000. Leidesdorff streets in San Francisco and Folsom, California are named in his honor. His biography, “William Alexander Leidesdorff: First Black Millionaire, American Consul and California Pioneer,” was published in 2005.


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