The Irish, Scots and Scots-Irish in Early California
The video above tells a bit about the Californians of Irish descent who had a role in the 1916 Easter Rising, but, Celts have been present here in California from the earliest days of European settlement. By 1800, Irish priests and immigrants were among those settling near the Spanish missions here in 'Alta California'.
Many Scots and Irish, who arrived in California by sea, really didn't want to be whalers, fishermen or sea-traders all their lives. They really wanted to settle down on farms or ranches of their own. So many began jumping ship in Monterey and San Pedro, the port of Los Angeles, and heading inland. One example of Scots leaving the economic depredations of the "Highland Clearances" was a member of the Scottish Cameron family.
As reported in the San Jose Mercury News by Scott Herhold, the current Mayor of San Jose, Sam Liccardo, is descended from such a person. "Jose Francisco Ortega, (was) a Spanish scout on the Gaspar de Portola expedition of 1769-70. Having missed Monterey because of the fog, Portola landed (sic) on the San Mateo County coast and sent his scouts inland to explore. Ortega was reportedly the first European to see San Francisco Bay. Ortega's son was given a land grant in what is now south San Jose, and his daughter, Maria -- Jose's granddaughter -- married a Scot who jumped ship in Monterey and changed his name to John Gilroy (his original name was Cameron). Through his mother, Laura (nee Aceves), Sam Liccardo is a direct descendant of Maria Ortega." and John (Cameron) Gilroy. (ed)
After 1821, the brand new government of Mexico had a problem. Alta California was a slowly growing ranching and agricultural area, particularly known for fine ranches and cattle and the hides and meat, salted and later tinned. These goods were being traded all over the world, including to the east coast of the U.S. Additionally, fur seal and whale hunting ships from New England were trading and obtaining supplies in the ports of Alta California. Other trading vessels from around the world circumnavigating the Americans on their way between East Asia and Europe and the east coast of the U.S. were also obtaining critical food and water supplies in Alta California.
Meanwhile, the Russians had established the Russian American Company for furs and fish and had built Ft. Ross (Ros) and a community at what is now Bodega Bay. Americans and British had established fur trade forts on the northwest coast of the U.S. at what is now Vancouver and near what became Portland. The Spanish, and now Mexico, had no settlements north of San Francisco at that time.
After 1815, with the Napoleonic Wars ended, world trade resumed. The British were masters of that world trade, and their ships were stopping in San Pedro and Monterey. The Mexicans began encouraging Catholic Irish sailors to jump ship but it was never enough.
By 1823, the total population of Spanish and Mexicans only numbered a few thousand, so the Mexican government ordered one more mission to be built, at what is now Sonoma. In the 1830's Mexico became very alarmed, when, having first made their way into Oregon by wagon trains, the first Americans began moving southward into what is now northern California since they found passage to northern California from eastern and central Oregon easier than crossing the Cascades into the Willamette Valley. In 1835, the Mexican government ordered Governor Figueroa of Alta California to add a fort and pueblo at Sonoma. It was already too late.
The first Scots-Irish Americans had already arrived north of San Francisco Bay and the town of Sonoma was laid out with the help of a Scots-Irish descended man named Richardson. You'll find the Richardson family among early settlers of the then back country, now the piedmont, of North Carolina in the 1750's. However, Scots and Irish, born in Scotland and Ireland had already been arriving and settling in Alta California, south of San Francisco since the 1820's if not slightly before. They had become sailors and sea-going tradesmen to avoid the poor economic conditions in Scotland with people being deliberately evicted for sheep in what were known as the "Highland Clearances." The Irish fled the poor economic conditions for them resulting from the limits on land ownership and enterprise under English occupation and rule.
The first known Murphy in California, "Don Timoteo" (Timothy) Murphy, born in County Wexford, Ireland, arrived by sea, in this manner in 1829 and settled in what eventually became San Rafael where his grave is still found. Interestingly, nearly all later Murphy's were born in Ireland in County Wexford and settled in Northern California, including one notable family in San Jose, CA. One antecedent of this family was Martin Murphy, born in 1807 in County Wexford, who first immigrated to Canada, then moved to Missouri then came to California in 1845 via the Oregon Trail. He was known also for keeping the Irish traditions of his family alive all his life and passing them on to his sons. He had what was called "the Bay View Ranch" in San Jose and Santa Clara and is buried in the Santa Clara cemetery.
Realizing that the Irish were Catholic and thus less of a threat to Mexican rule than the Scots-Irish and English descended Americans coming into Alta California from the north via Oregon, the Mexican government began deliberately setting aside land grants for Irish Catholic persons. In the early 1840's, an Irish priest, Father Eugene McNamara who was living in Alta California, was deliberately given huge grants of land in the San Joaquin Valley with orders to bring in and settle upon them 3,000 Irish families. Unfortunately by this time the U.S. had expeditionary forces exploring for new overland trails under the rogue "Captain" Fremont and the priest died without completing his task.
Another Irishman who had come with Fremont, Thomas Fallon, had other ideas as well. Mexico lost California. Fallon, did as many Irish had previously done, and married a Californio heiress. In 1846 Fallon raised the American flag over San Jose which then became the state's first capitol. By that time, there were already more Irish, Scots and Scots-Irish-Americans, than Spanish/Mexicans and most of the original Spanish and Mexican families were already intermarried with these slightly later Celtic immigrants.
All of these Celts made their mark here in California several years before the infamous Gold Rush of 1848-9.