From Lincoln Street to Macondray Lane: the Life and Family of Seth S. Lincoln

Macondray Lane is a two-block lane on Russian Hill, bound by Green, Taylor, Union and Leavenworth streets. While walking its west block affords some nice views of Alcatraz and the bay, it’s the east block, between Jones and Taylor that gets the attention from guide books, &c. For instance, Stairway Walks in San Francisco calls the east block the “magical part,” and goes on about a small waterfall pond, garden ornaments, annual and perennial plantings, that is, how this stretch of Macondray is more like walking through private gardens than down a public lane.*

Macondray Lane Jones Gate
Entrance to east block of Macondray at Jones Street.

While Macondray’s name comes from Frederick W. Macondray, a successful tea merchant of the gold-rush era^~^ whose home and grounds on Stockton Street were known for lush and varied gardens, researching the lane all the way back to the gold rush proves interesting. In fact, today’s Macondray is actually a rechristening of San Francisco’s original Lincoln Street; and while it may seem obvious who a Lincoln Street would be named for, keep in mind that Abraham Lincoln wasn’t elected president of the United States until over ten years after the California gold rush. While today it’s safe to say Lincoln Way at the south side of Golden Gate Park is named for Honest Abe, Lincoln Street of the 1850s was named for a man named Seth S. Lincoln, an early-Mormon settler of Yerba Buena, who in 1848 was granted most all of the land surrounding today’s Macondray Lane.

*

Seth S. Lincoln was born in Middleborough, Mass. circa 1819. In 1837, he became a member of the Central Baptist Church in his hometown, under Rev. Ebenezer Nelson.# However, after marrying his wife Priscilla, also from Middleborough, the Lincolns became involved with the newish Mormon movement, and in 1843 sailed from New Bedford, Mass. on the ship Timoleon with Addison Pratt and other Mormon missionaries bound for Tahiti.## While initially considered by the Mormon missionaries as “Baptists who might someday be Latter Day Saints,” in Tahiti Seth and Priscilla were considered “first fruits,” and subsequently Seth was in charge of the Mormon branch at Tahiti;^ eventually though, after Priscilla birthed a son in 1846,^^ the Lincolns, along with Pratt – who’d been on the island of Tubuai, south of Tahiti – carried on to California.

Macondray Lane Stairs
Accessed from Taylor Street, the stairway at the east end of Macondray.

When Lincoln and Pratt arrived in Yerba Buena Cove in late-1846, the small town surrounding the cove was still known as Yerba Buena, and a considerable part of the population was Mormon due to the July 1846 arrival of the ship Brooklyn which had transported 230 folks to the west coast from the United States, many of which were Mormon.^-^ Lincoln and Pratt fit right in, and proceeded to build a house on Vallejo Street at North Beach,< and though Pratt and Sam Brannan (a Mormon leader who’d arrived on the Brooklyn) didn’t see eye-to-eye, Lincoln was hired by Brannan to clear off a lot at the SE corner of Washington and Stockton streets and build a story-and-a-half-high home of redwood, with a front porch that looked down over the town and cove below.> In January 1847 Brannan started publishing Yerba Buena’s first newspaper, the California Star. It was in this paper, that on January 23, 1847, an ordinance signed by Alcalde Washington A. Bartlett (the alcalde was basically the mayor and judge of the town under the Mexican system) appeared declaring the immediate change of the town’s name to San Francisco from Yerba Buena.><+ At the time, San Francisco was a hamlet of about 400 people, not including Indians, “there were only about fifty houses… most of which were small single story buildings, constructed chiefly of adobes,” scattered about the cove at the northeastern part of the peninsula, between the foot of Telegraph Hill and Happy Valley, around Portsmouth Square.*^*

It appears that Seth Lincoln and family may have spent some of 1847 doing mission work in the Hawaiian Islands, and if so, lost an infant son to illness on the journey back to San Francisco aboard the brig Francisca.~~+ Well-involved with the San Francisco community when home, later that year on Thursday, Nov. 18, 1847, Thanksgiving Day in the United States back east, Lincoln held San Francisco’s first open-to-the-public Thanksgiving celebration.~ Early in 1848, as news of gold trickled from Sutter’s Mill in the Mormon community, and then beyond, San Francisco started changing rapidly. Addison Pratt, with his feelings toward Brannan reaching a boiling point, resigned as head of the S. F. Mormon branch and decided to meet back up with his family in Utah with Brigham Young, and on the way, give mining a go. Pratt left San Francisco with 150 others bound for the mining community of Mormon Island, between Sutter’s Fort and Sutter’s Mill. Brannan nominated Lincoln to replace Pratt as the new president of the S. F. Mormon branch, and Lincoln was indeed voted in as such; however, with the onslaught of the gold rush, the branch became disorganized, “the settlement [became] abandoned, and every member thereafter followed the counsel of his own will.”** In March 1848, Lincoln was among those San Francisco citizens displeased with the moves of San Francisco’s town council, or ayuntamiento, and was among 57 or so men that signed a petition, praying to military governor of California, Richard B. Mason, to remove George Hyde from the office of alcalde.==

California Gold Fields - Mormon Island
Map showing Mormon Island and other gold rush mining communities, from Richard O. Cowan and William E. Homer’s, California Saints: A 150-Year Legacy in the Golden State (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1996), 105–26.

By February 1849, full swing gold rush times, San Francisco’s population was upwards of 5,000, with hundreds of folks arriving and leaving by ship daily. Though Seth Lincoln was still popular enough in the community to be a candidate for “District Legislature,” he wasn’t popular enough to be one of the fifteen elected, and came in 20th of 21, with 67 votes.% In March 1849, “Reverend” Lincoln married David Long and Silena Petch.$ A year later, Lincoln opened up part of the Vallejo Street house to Miss Winlack for use as a seminary for young ladies, ~~ and by August 1850 he was consigning business of some sort with various ships, like the Eliza Taylor and Wassacumcon.<^

In the fall of 1850, with California a newly ratified state of the Union, lawsuits started stacking up in regard to land titles granted and sold while Yerba Buena/San Francisco’s government was still under the Mexican political system. Lincoln found himself up to his neck in litigation, for back on Sept. 22, 1848, Alcalde Thaddeus M. Leavenworth had granted Lincoln a large slice of land from North Beach up Russian Hill, between Union and Green, Grant (then Dupont) and Leavenworth streets, and now there were speculators, and judges that sided with them, that were questioning the validity of Lincoln’s grant, as well as others honored by Leavenworth and other alcaldes.-

Looking west down the east block of Macondray.
Looking west down the east block of Macondray.

While Lincoln did win some of these legal battles, like a judgement in December 1850 against Henry Pierce and Nathaniel Parlow for over $2,314,^^^ by 1852 he had auctioneers Henry S. Fitch & Co. selling six lots divvied up at the SE corner of Union and Taylor streets, all part of fifty-vara lot No. 666, and probably some of No. 615, all across Taylor from the eastern stairs of today’s Macondray Lane.<< While it’s possible that the post-gold rush Lincoln family home was by then up the hill a bit versus the initial Vallejo home, I cannot be certain, though it appears that during the later half of 1852 the Lincolns returned to the east coast for a trip, as on Jan. 6, 1853, S. S. Lincoln and family are listed as returning to San Francisco aboard the steamship Cortes, from Panama.– While Lincoln may have indeed stepped from the Cortes, and returned to his home, it appears he was not well, for that day or evening, he passed away at the age of 34. He was later buried at Yerba Buena Cemetery.^^< It is worth noting that around twenty seven persons died on the Cortes between Panama and San Francisco, from yellow fever, dysentery, &c., all engendered from the Isthmus of Panama.*^

*

With no will, Lincoln’s estate went to Priscilla, until it could also be divided among Lincoln’s sons: Seth H., Granville H., and George S. In August 1853, following a court order, Priscilla sold a nice chunk of property through auctioneers Henry S. Fitch & Co. that included many lots surrounding today’s Macondray Lane, like lot Nos. 806, 807 and 845.<> Later that year, in December, Selim & Edward Franklin resold these lots divvied up, and within the advertisement for the auction referred to the path the lots backed up to as Lincoln Street.<<> These lots were gradually sold over the next few years, and built upon, and in March 1855, an ordinance “providing for the opening of Lincoln Street, between Taylor and Leavenworth” was adopted by the city leading to the sale of the lots west of Jones as well.>>

Lincoln Street Humphreys Atlas
Detail from Atlas San Francisco, William P. Humphreys & Co., 1876, showing Lincoln Street among the official lot numbers.

By 1857, living in Sacramento and married to newspaperman F. L. Sargent, Priscilla was ordered by the state of California to sell lot Nos. 868 and 871, on the south side of Lincoln, west of Jones Street,>>< and in 1862 a similar act was in process for more of the Lincoln family land as well.>><< In 1866, controversy still surrounded the area, and the Sacramento Union reported that the heirs of Seth Lincoln, “leaving a considerable estate, consisting of the alternate fifty-vara lots between Dupont and Leavenworth, Union and Green streets, which was sold by order of Court, have been hunted up by speculators, and a bill having been passed through the last Legislature allowing them to sell real estate, actions of ejectment, nominally in their names, have been commenced against the owners of the property, all of which is improved and highly valuable. The claim is based on an alleged informality in the proceedings in the Probate Court. Mrs. Lincoln married a Mormon and moved to Salt Lake many years since, where she is now residing.”>>> Most likely this is in reference to Sargent, and that they ultimately moved to Salt Lake for some time; however, by 1870 Priscilla was back in San Francisco, living as a widower with her sons at 16 Rausch St.**–

In June 1866, at 412 Clay St. in San Francisco, a meeting had been held in hopes of quieting the titles of the Seth Lincoln lots// though the legal battles surrounding them continued to linger for years, until 1895, when the last standing suit, Priscilla H. Lincoln et al. vs. S.D. Cary et al. was dismissed for lack of prosecution. “The parties now interested are all different from those who were involved in the suit when it was first brought,” reported the Alta.*** By the turn of the century there were four other streets in San Francisco with the name Lincoln, and in 1910, with the institution of Lincoln Way, three of the other Lincoln streets received name changes. Seth Lincoln’s Lincoln Street was changed to Macondray Lane, Lincoln Avenue was changed to Burnett Avenue, and one of the two Lincoln Places was changed to Hastings Place.+

The west block of Macondray, from Jones Street.
The west block of Macondray, from Jones Street looking west.

_______________________________________________

* Adah Bakalinsky, Stairway Walks in San Francisco (Berkeley: Wilderness Press, 6th Ed., 2007), 42.

^~^ Today Macondray Philippines Co., Inc., a private investment holding group in the Philippines, traces itself all the way back to Macondray & Co. of San Francisco, 1848.

# Duane Hamilton Hurd, History of Plymouth County, Massachusetts (Philadelphia: J. W. Lewis & Co., 1884), 989.

## Baltimore Sun, Oct. 12, 1843.

^ Inez Smith Davis, The Story of the Church (Herald Publishing, 8th Ed., 1969).

^^ Year: 1870; Census Place: San Francisco Ward 11, San Francisco, California; Roll: M593_84; Page: 531B; Image: 224; Family History Library Film: 545583. Seth H. Lincoln is listed as born in Tahiti, circa 1846.

^-^ Californian, Sept. 5, 1846.

< Daily Alta, March 5, 1850.

> Reva Scott, Samuel Brannan and the Golden Fleece (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1944), 154.

><+ California Star, Jan. 23, 1847.

*^* Frank Soule, John H. Gihon & James Nisbet, The Annals of San Francisco (Berkeley: Berkeley Hills, 1999), 188.

~~+ Californian, June 12, 1847. Infant Isaac Lincoln died on June 6th at Lat. 27, 80, N., Long. 124, 25 and was committed to the deep of the ocean on the 10th.

~ Ibid., Nov. 17, 1847. This is deduced given the fact that the name San Francisco was new to 1847, and also, the other Thanksgiving celebration listed that year in the newspaper was a private dinner at the City Hotel for the “sons of New England.”

**Kenneth N. Owens, Gold Rush Saints: California Mormons and the Great Rush for Riches (Norman, Okla.: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 2005), 132-133; Richard O. Cowan and William E. Homer, California Saints: A 150-Year Legacy in the Golden State (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1996), 105–26; S. George Ellsworth, “Zion in Paradise” (1959), USU Faculty Honor Lectures, Paper 24.

== The Bancroft Library, Finding Aid to the Official Documents Relating to Early San Francisco 1835-1857, BANC MSS C-A 370, Folder 208.

% Daily Alta, Feb. 22, 1849.

$ Ibid., March 22, 1849.

~~ Ibid., March 5, 1850.

<^ Ibid., Aug. 5, 1850; Jan. 8, 1851.

Ibid., Nov. 27, 1850; The Bancroft Library, Finding Aid to the Official Documents Relating to Early San Francisco 1835-1857, BANC MSS C-A 370, Folder 212.

^^^ Ibid., Jan. 1, 1851.

<< Ibid., Jan. 25, 1852.

Ibid., Jan. 6, 1853.

^^< California State Library “The Book of the Dead” – San Francisco, El Dorado County and Tehama County Cemetery Records, ca. 1850-1862; Sacramento, California; Microfilm Reel #: 31.

*^ Daily Alta, Jan. 6, 1853.

<> Ibid., Aug. 12, 1853.

<<> Ibid., Dec. 22, 1853.

>> Ibid., March 13, 1855.

>>< Sacramento Union, May 5, 1857.

>><< Ibid., March 1, 1862.

>>> Ibid., June 12, 1866.

**– Year: 1870; Census Place: San Francisco Ward 11, San Francisco, California; Roll: M593_84; Page: 531B; Image: 224; Family History Library Film: 545583; Langley’s City Directory of 1871, 403.

// Daily Alta, June 28, 1866.

*** Ibid., Dec. 21, 1895.

+ Crocker-Langley’s City Directory of 1910.

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