Judge William Blackburn Judge William Blackburn is my great-great granduncle on my maternal grandmother’s side. He was the younger brother of my great-great grandmother, Mary Ann Blackburn. William was born to Joseph Blackburn and Margaret Drew on February 14th, 1814 in Harpers Ferry in Jefferson County, Virginia. He was the oldest brother of Daniel Drew Blackburn, Maria A. Blackburn, James Hanson Blackburn, and Jacob A. Blackburn. Of my ancestors, Judge William Blackburn has much written about him as he was truly a remarkable man.

William Blackburn was 6’4″ and was described as “gentle and good humored.” Some called him, a “peppery judge.” He was able to rise in stature with limited education and terse common sense. In the book Pioneer Times In California, Judge Blackburn was described as a person who looked dignified, but had a sense of humor. 
“He was very tall in person, and very dignified in his aspect. To look at him you could hardly fancy that he ever laughed, yet beneath this appearance of austere diginity lurked the most uncontrollable desire to create merriment and fun. He was a sharp, and naturally witty, and had a keen sense of the ridiculous. His opponents always feared him, for in controversy he was sure to give them some cut, when it was least expected, that would put them in the most ridiculous point of view, and, while doing this, not a smile would disturb his own absurd dignity.”

As a young man, he spent some time as a cabinetmaker in New Orleans before arriving in Branciforte, California in 1845 with the Swasey-Todd Party. According to James Gregson, William Blackburn met up with the Greenwood Party at Fort Hall in 1845 travelling with pack horses. The cost of joining the Greenwood party was $2.50 per person. 

He settled briefly in Zayante, California (Rancho Zayante which is in the present Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park). He went to work in Santa Cruz as a lumberman, and was a witness at a trial of Williams for killing Naile in April 1946.

William Blackburn operated his hotel on the Mission quadrangle. 

After serving a while in Fauntleroy’s dragoons, William rode with Fremont’s F Battalion in the Bear Flag Revolt to Los Angeles with 400 men. He was also made 2nd Lieutenant of Company A artillery unit under McLean.  Apparently, Lt. William Blackburn was the first to fire a shot at the battle of Buenaventura (which Fremont’s battalion reached on January 5, 1847). Afterwards, he moved to Santa Cruz, California to build a sawmill. He was named alcalde of Santa Cruz on June 12, 1947 by acting governor, Colonel Richard B. Mason. 

In 1847 William Blackburn bought the tannery from Pauline Weaver and Pruitt Saint Clair. He brought in Richard C. Kirby to run it for him, paying him $75.00 per month. In 1852 Kirby married and moved to Santa Cruz. Blackburn sold out his interest at that time. Kirby had also worked his own tannery in the Squabble Hollow or Glen Canyon area. He is most famous, however, for his large tannery in Santa Cruz. 

An alcalde was left over from the Mexican era of California and served as a judge and mayor. It was a quite an honor at the time and allowed him access to wealth and influence. Being able to pocket court fees for property cases made the post financially attractive. Regardless, William Blackburn was known to have a strong desire for justice. Many of the more interesting cases the Judge precided over have been recorded. 

One such case was of Alexander Rodriguez, a Spaniard who had his horse’s mane and tail shaved by a mischieveous young boy. Shaving a Spaniard’s horse was the ultimate insult as horses were a spaniard’s most precious possession. Rodriguez dragged the boy into court before Judge Blackburn. Judge Blackburn searched his law books and found no punishment for this offense. The only law that seemed to be appropriate was “the Law of Moses”, or “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” The Judge opined: 

“Plaintiff sued defendant, a boy, for shearing his horse. It was proved that the defendant did cut the horse’s mane and tail off. He was sentenced by the court to have his head shaved in front of the office. Signed: W. Blackburn, Alcalde of Santa Cruz, November 27, 1847.”

During the hearing of this case, a young lawyer, a newcomer in town, decided to take up defending the boy. As the boy already confessed to the crime there was not much he could do. When the sentenced was declared, the young lawyer argued that the sentence was too strange and demanded what law authorized such a sentence.  

“Young man,” said the Judge, with solemnity, “I see you are a newcomer, and I therefore excuse your ignorance, and will answer your question for this once. In this instance I go by the oldest law known in civilization; I go by the Mosiac Law, a tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye, you know, young man; and permit me to advise you to be more careful in the study of the Bible, there is nothing like it, young man.” 

On February 10, 1848, there was the case of Territory of California v. Trueman. This was a case involving a robbery. The defendant was accused of robbing an individual named Brock. Trueman was tried, found guilty by a jury, and sentenced the man to immediately receive twelve lashes on his bare back, well laid on, and be banished from this jurisdiction forever; and if ever found here again, be hung by the neck until dead.

Around the same time, the Judge sentenced a man convicted of Purjury with 50 lashes and banishment, death being the punishment if he ever returned.  

There is another case the Judge handled that involved an ill-fated hog, a garden, and a hungry family. The hog persisted in breaking into another man’s garden. One day, the owner of the garden gave up patience, killed the hog, and dragged it off his property. Another man nearby saw this and thought that his family would benefit from the pork rather to leave it rot or be eaten by coyotes. The hog’s owner sued the owner of the garden for damages due to the loss of the hog. All the facts were examined by Judge William Blackburn. The judge granted that the owner had the right to kill the hog if it damaged his property. He also granted the right of the hog owner to collect damages and court costs from the man whose family ate the hog — even though he was not the party of the original suit.

On August 21, 1847, the judge was faced with dealing with the sad case of orphaned sisters. Eleven year old, Balinda and nine year old, Josepha Gomez’s father had killed their mother. Judge Blackburn has Alexander Rodriguez (the man who’s horse was shaven) custody of Josepha. The court rules that Balinda be raised by Jacinto Castro until she is 21 or is sooner married. Jacinto was under obligation to give her a good education, and three cows and calves at her marriage, or when she arrives of age.

Judge William Blackburn also drew criticism by the governor for not running by sentencing through him before carrying it out. One such case was of a convicted wife beater, who was sentenced to death by hanging. The sentenced was quickly carried out, and then the governor was notified.   

While it would seem that the Judge was a true blue hanging judge, there is a case where the judge’s sense of justice and mercy, saved a man’s life. A New York man just arrived in Santa Cruz and borrowed a man’s horse to ride to Monterey. Once at Monterey, he was offered a princely sum for the horse, so he sold it with the intent to give the money to the owner of the horse. Then he decided that he could double that gambling, but lost the money. He returned to Santa Cruz with no money, no horse. The case came to Judge Blackburn’s court and the jury found the man guilty of horse stealing which was punishable by death. The Judge asked the jury in the spirit of good will to consult a volume of New York Law and try the New Yorker based on those laws, since the current law was based on Texas laws. The new verdict was “guilty of breach of trust” punishable by jail time till he can pay the owner he sold the horse for, together with the costs of prosecution.

The commencement of the 1849 Gold Rush, it was difficult to keep Alcades and Blackburn was no exception.  Blackburn was building a sawmill at Branciforte creek when gold was discovered at Colma. He resigned his alcalde-ship and he and his employees rushed off to Sacramento. Soon, William realized that the real “gold” was in growing and selling provisions at a huge markup. He and his brother Daniel Drew Blackburn grew potatoes in the rich San Lorenzo bottom lands and delivered them to the miners via a schooner up the Sacramento River (William is recognized as the first to build and launch a ship from Santa Cruz).
By charging 13 cents per pound, the two brothers made about $100,000 in one year. In the four acres around William’s home yielded $1200 profit each for the brothers. The Judge’s potatoes weighing 4 pounds each took first prize at the Crystal Palace Fair in New York. He also planted and orchard which in time became famous for its fruits.

When he returned to Santa Cruz from the Gold Rush in 1849, he was appointed Justice of the Peace under the territorial government.

From Santa Cruz County Biographies:

In 1850, William Blackburn was elected county judge for Santa Cruz County in the first election held in Santa Cuz County in April 1950. Out of 213 people polled, William Blackburn got 155 votes, while John Barton got 54, Peter Tracy got 1, and Eli Moore got 1. Looking at the list of those polled we find a lot of familiar names like Daniel Drew Blackburn, Jacob Blackburn, Thomas J. Weeks, James Blackburn, William Blackburn himself, William Finley, and Thomas Fallon (business partner).

From 1856-57, Judge Blackburn was the sixth person to represent Santa Cruz County (3rd District) in the California Assembly from the American Party, also known as the “Know-Nothing” Party. The American Party called for: severe limits on immigration– especially from Catholic countries, restricting office to native born Americans, mandating a wait for 21 years before an immigrant could gain citizenship, restricting public school teachers to Protestants, mandating daily readings from the Protestant version of the Bible in public schools, and restricting the sale of liquor.

In 1854, William Blackburn was listed as one of the Board of Directors of the Society of California Pioneers.

In July 1959, William Blackburn was 45 years old when he married Harriet Mead, who hailed from Lanesboro, Massachusetts. She was born on August 4, 1831. She was the daughter of Henry Mead and Betsy Kent. Harriet’s education was acquired in her Harriet Mead(e) Blackburnnative State. Harriet came to Santa Cruz with her brother-in-law and sister, Dr. and Mrs. Francis M. Kittredge.

The Blackburn-Mead wedding took place in their home which was located on Beach Hill in Santa Cruz. The Kittredge home eventually became the Hotel McCray (the inspiration for the Bates Mansion in Psycho), and now a retirement home, Sunshine Villa.

In the 1860s, William Blackburn was considered one of Santa Cruz’s wealthiest men. On July 7, 1862, Harriet Mead gave birth to Fredrick “Freddie” Synder (William rode to California with a man named Synder) Blackburn. Freddie died on October 19, 1864 of “teething fever — congestion of the brain”.

William Blackburn died on March 25, 1867 in San Francisco. Some said that he died of a broken heart over the death of his only son.

Mrs. Blackburn’s home has ever since been on the place where she and her husband lived. Her brother, Gaylard K. Meade, with his family, shares her residence.

Mrs. Blackburn is well known in Santa Cruz, not only as a woman of business ability, but as a kind-hearted and charitable lady, whose good deeds have gladdened the hearts of many poor people. She is one of the directors of the Ladies’ Aid Society, and takes a leading part in the affairs and work of that organization. She has been its treasurer ever since the society was organized. Besides this she does many personal deeds of charity. Harriet was also a member of “The Club” started approximately 1910 and was a literacy group. She was also a charter member of the Decorative Society, and member of the Women’s Exchange. Even though Harriet was a staunch proponent of women’s suffrage, she refused to pay for the first year of nursing education for her niece. The reasoning was that nurses would have to see men naked, and that was not proper for ladies.

In 1894 there was a great fire and Harriet Blackburn built a chinatown along Sycamore Street in Santa Cruz and allowed Chinese-Americans to farm the orchards.

Harriet Blackburn died at the age of 89 on October 11, 1920 of Artereo Sclerosis with Thrombosis. When she died, she left an estate of $104,000, $75,000 in real property ($20k of it in Santa Cruz), $4000 in cash, and $5000 in personal property. Her last address was on 122 Oceanview Avenue in Santa Cruz.

.- E. S. Harrison, Pacific Press Publ. Co., San Francisco, 1891, Transcribed by Kathy Sedler.

Edited Appletons Encyclopedia, Copyright © 2001 VirtualologyTM