William A. Richardson, 1795-1856

Courtesy of the Sausalito Historical Society

Alta (Upper) California Governor, Juan Alvarado, described William Richardson as "an educated man who had many friends because he was a man of principle and fair to all who had any dealings with him," and "was of an extremely gentle and generous nature."

On March 27th 1999 a monument was unveiled in Richardson's honor. The monument, a huge boulder with a ship's anchor and plaque, is located on the seawall adjacent to the Venetian steps in Gabrielson Park, Sausalito, California.

Capsule Biography

1795 - 1835

  • Born August 27, 1795 in London, Richardson went to sea at age twelve.
  • In 1822, he served as First Mate aboard the British whaler, Orion. When the ship arrived in San Francisco Bay, Richardson, knowing some Spanish, was sent to the Presidio to negotiate for fresh meat and water. He was warmly welcomed and invited to the ongoing fiesta. When Richardson returned to the ship the following morning, he was castigated by the Captain and either then jumped ship or was discharged .
  • Richardson next traveled to Monterey where he obtained permission to settle in Mexican California, thus becoming the first white person to settle in the San Francisco Bay area. He lived with the family of Presidio Commander, Ignacio Martinez, at the San Francisco Presidio and was obligated to teach the trade of carpentry.
  • On May 15, 1825, he married the Commander's daughter, Maria Antonia Martinez, at Mission Dolores and the couple honeymooned at Sausalito.
  • Richardson helped lay out the buildings at the new Mission San Francisco de Solano in Sonoma.
  • Richardson was the first to chart San Francisco Bay and often served as pilot and translator for foreign ships entering the bay.
  • After the 1829 revolt of Mexican officers at the Presidio (who had not received pay or rations for 12 years), he moved his family South to San Gabriel and stayed for five and a half years.
  • Richardson transported M. G. Vallejo's cavalry to its new garrison at Sonoma and helped Vallejo lay out the town of Sonoma.
  • Richardson engaged in collecting hides and tallow from the ranchos for loading onto oceangoing ships. And, as with many others involved in shipping, he engaged in smuggling to avoid high anchorage fees and customs duties.
  • He helped the Mission Alcalde (magistrate), Francisco de Haro, lay out the town of Yerba Buena (San Francisco).
  • Richardson's adobe was the first house built in San Francisco.

1835 - 1856

  • Richardson petitioned for Rancho Sausalito in 1835 which was granted to him in 1838. The grant totaled over 19,500 acres and extended from the Marin headlands North to the tip of Bolinas Bay and Mt. Tamalpais. The family moved to Rancho Sausalito in June of 1841, occupying a two-room wooden house on Whaler's Cove.
  • In 1844, as compensation for his service, he was granted Rancho Albion, a 20 square league tract of land along the coast, North of Fort Ross.
  • After the 1846 Battle of Olompali, the Californios sought aid from Richardson, who allowed them the use of his schooner to cross the Bay to Contra Costa.
  • 100 women and children sought refuge from Fremont and the "Bears" by staying near the Richardson home.
  • The U.S. flag was raised at Rancho Sausalito on 17 July 1846. He then served as pilot of the Congress for Commodore Stockton, carrying 360 marines and seamen South to San Pedro.
  • Richardson was appointed by Stockton to the posts of Captain and Collector of the Port of San Francisco for the U.S. government.
  • He laid out the new town of San Diego.
  • During the Gold Rush, Richardson transported prospectors and supplies from San Francisco to Sacramento but never mined for gold himself. He also operated a lumber mill and waterworks at Sausalito.
  • He purchased three oceangoing ships, all of which sank in the space of six months, taking down with them substantial investments in cargo. In order to reenter the shipping business, he mortgaged Rancho Sausalito at 36% annual interest. Ultimately, competition from large corporations spelled financial ruin for Richardson. He was forced to mortgage, sell, or lease all his properties.
  • William A. Richardson died 20 April 1856 and was buried on a hilltop on his rancho. He was later reinterred at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in San Rafael. His wife, daughter, and son later died penniless.
  • The legal process under U.S. law took 27 years to confirm Richardson's Rancho Sausalito grant. His claim for Rancho Albion was confirmed by the Land Commission and then rejected by the District Court.


Miller, Robert Ryal. Captain Richardson, Mariner, Ranchero, and Founder of San Francisco. Berkeley: La Loma Press, 1995 
[Call number at SSU: Regional Room F869 .S353 R546 1995]
Prado, Mark. "Sausalito's Founder Gets Overdue Honor." Marin Independent Journal, March 26, 1999, C1.