1826 – A Cabal of Foreigners
As they unloaded fish at the presidio wharf, a tall Englishman walked their way. Unlike the Californian upper class who wore leather riding clothes, Hartnell preferred the customary clothing of his native England. His brown breeches fit snugly into his walking boots while his double breasted waistcoat had a ruffle hanging down from the throat. His slightly conical hat accented his cutaway coat. Even though he rarely mounted the back of a horse, preferring a carriage, he carried a riding crop.
“Good day to you young Master Beadle. It appears you have a bumper catch this fine morning.”
“Yes, Señor Arnel, the gulls led us directly to a large school of red snapper. You should have your cook prepare some for you. Most tasty.”
William Hartnell knew not to proffer his hand as it would embarrass James to refuse with his hands slick with fish oils and scales.
“That is, as a fact, the reason I've come to interrupt your offloading.” He paused before asking, “May I call you James?” When James nodded, he continued, “My wife and I would like to invite you and your lovely wife to our home this evening for a late repast.”
That caught James by surprise. The strict caste system of Spain had carried over into the new Mexican customs. And, even though Hartnell was English, he had married Maria Teresa, the daughter of Captain de la Guerra, commandant of the presidio. How would she react to the presence of a half-breed Mestizo and a full-blooded Indian, for that was what James and his wife, also named Maria Teresa, were?
“We dine at the eighth hour but would look forward to your arriving at seven.”
“I thank you very much for the invitation, Don Eduardo. But, as I am sure you understand, I must confer with my wife before I can accept or decline your generous offer.”
Hartnell nodded and indicated he would await a messenger informing him of James' decision.
“Why is he inviting me and Maria Teresa and not you and Apolonia?”
Timothy shrugged. “I am not certain, my son. William is not a secretive person. At least not in my dealings with him.” The elder Beadle paused and stared down into the central garden where two of his grandchildren tended to the plants. “I do know that he is somewhat uneasy about the current state of affairs with the governor and the men who consider themselves to be important members of the California population.”
“What do you know of his wife? Will she accept Maria Teresa and I?”
“I have met her on several occasions and she appears to be a typical member of her family. As you know, the soldiers serving under her father are a mixtures of Criollos, Mestizos, Mulatos, and others of mixed blood. And I have never found the captain to concern himself with the blood of his soldiers and their families so long as they perform their duties to his satisfaction.”
James had told his wife of the invitation and her only concern was what items of clothing he should wear. And her own.
While Maria Teresa had ridden since before she could walk, James decided to take the calesa, as the Spanish-speaking called the American buckboard. Not because they did not want to ride horseback but Maria Teresa insisted on taking a huge clay pot of frijoles and another large bowl of masa to make fresh tortillas.
“We were not asked to bring these things.”
“I am aware of that, mi hombre. It is the custom and Doña Arnel can always tell me it is not needed.”
James shrugged, having long ago learned that he would never win an argument with the woman he loved so dearly. He donned the snow white shirt she had laid out on the bed and tucked it into the soft suede breeches slipped into ornately etched brown leather boots. He slipped on his vaquero jacket with intricate stitching applied by Maria Teresa and one of his daughters. As usual, she came to knot the bright red bow tie and brushed off his hat. He forswore the leather belt and holster although his new Winchester rifle would be holstered in the buggy.
As for Maria Teresa, she had already put on her day blouse and floor-length skirt of tan cloth, also intricately hand-stitched with vines and colorful flowers. Her pointy-toed shoes peeked out from under the hem and she had a small sombrero partially covering her raven hair. As most fashionable women of the day, she also carried a fan, this one of intricately decorated silk from the islands far across the Pacific ocean. She knew of no other like it and chose it simply to show her hosts she was more than a simple India.
Alberto proudly stood at the head of one of the fine mares The Family raised and James could not help but note he had used the finest breast strap harness for the animal. Every square inch of leather was carefully decorated.
James handed his lady up into the carriage and quickly joined her, taking up the reins and shaking them to start the horse moving at a gentle trot.
As they seldom if ever dressed up in fancy clothes, the passage of the pair brought people to the side of the road to gawk and stare – all in the most friendly manner. Some of the ladies smiled and called out how beautiful they were. Those they passed along the road across the hills doffed their hats and smiled at the prominent pair.
Unlike the hacienda on the hillsides north of the presidio, Hartnell's house and compound were unique in that the main structure was made of redwood in two stories. The upper floor had overhanging eaves that protected the balcony surrounding the building. An adobe wall encircled the compound topped with red ceramic tiles. The large gates swung open as the buggy neared and a servant showed them where to stop the buggy in front of an impressive entrance. James smiled at noting the massive doors were made of highly polished red wood with some figures engraved by Jaime, his brother.
Hartnell stood in the door with his wife at his side. “Señora Beadle, I believe you know my wife, Maria Teresa?”
That brought chuckles from both ladies as they had known each other from childhood, even though they moved in different social circles. Doña Hartnell instructed a house servant where the food containers were to be taken and took Maria Teresa by the hand, leading the way inside.
A servant James knew to be a sailor from one of Hartnell's trading vessels who had sought permission to live in California took James' hat and placed it on a large peg along with three other conical hats of the European style. Hartnell led him into a large room with several shelves filled with leather bound books and several pieces of sturdy furniture.
Three other men were already there. James knew all and quickly shook hands with David Littlejohn, a Scotch farmer who had come in one of Hartnell's ships in 1824 and had married an Esselen girl. He then turned to James McKinley, another Scotch sail who had arrived in Monte Rey in '24 and acted as an agent for Captain Cooper. And finally, he exchanged grips with Juan Malarin. a Peruvian married to Josefa Estrada, a member of that distinguished family.
When offered, James accepted a glass of red wine. “It comes from the vineyard at Misión San José. I find it one of the finest vintages I have been fortunate enough to partake of. Padre Durán has become a master wine maker.”
“I have been most fortunate to have been presented with a number of bottles of his wine. The reverend father adores working among the vines, as well as the orchards that are growing so well,” James responded.
In spite of his burning curiosity as to his invitation to join those present, he followed the light talk of the weather, local commerce, and social affairs.
Hartnell was beckoned away and quickly returned, accompanied by Edward Mel, a Scotch carpenter who had been baptized at Misión San Carlos and was married to an Esselen girl.
He was especially pleased to shake James' hand, saying, “Please express my deepest gratitude to your uncle when next you see him. I was a journeyman carpenter in my homeland and aboard ship. But El Carpintero has taught me more about bringing wood to life than I could have ever learned from anyone else.”
James noted a clock on the mantel over the fireplace and asked where it had come from.
“A clock maker by the name of Seth Thomas, in the American states makes them. I obtained that from a passing captain. If you are interested, I might be able to find one for you.”
James lightly laughed. “My father and uncle would never forgive me for trying to do away with the most accurate clock in the world – that of The Good Lord in the sun and moon He has given us.”
The others chuckled, appreciating James manner of putting aside certain technological advances. All knew he was open to advancements as the fishing fleet had many learned from visiting ships.
The chimes on the clock were ringing the eighth hour of the evening as Doña Hartnell came to the door and announced that the meal was on the table.
The impressive teak table was covered in show white linen with shining glass and silver at each place.
James was by no means a stiff neck, but had wondered how the Indian girls would deal with dining at a formal table. He need not have worried as they ate with an aplomb equal to any Spaniard or European.
He was also somewhat surprised to have Hartnell say the Catholic prayer of thanks over the food.
The meal was most sumptuous, even though with a typical California spread. First came a large tureen of una sopa del mar, pieces of Red Snapper, Sole, Lobster, Clam, and Mussels floating in a rich broth of vegetables. The chili seasoning did not overwhelm the various tastes.
“You have blessed our table, James. I do not know what we citizens of Monte Rey and Carmel would do without you and your fellow fishermen.”
“I am not the one to thank, William.” He had been told not to be formal with his host. “The Good Lord provides for that which we harvest.”
“But it takes the wiles of men to bring forth the harvests,” Edward said with his thick accent. “Brain and brawn are needed if we are to live better than the natives of this land.”
That raised a few eyebrows at the table because three of the ladies at the table were full-blooded Indians.
James' Maria Teresa closed the awkward pause by saying, “The people of the Californias often suffered greatly when drought or other acts of God took away the animals and plants they lived upon. It was not for lack of desire or ability but a matter of the old ways not being equal to those brought by the friars.” Her saintly smile made the males present shift in their seats. “And, fortunately, men like Don Eduardo and Don Jaime bring us new things from far away lands that make life easier for all.”
Maria Teresa Hartnell also quickly added, “And we who live here in California are blessed with a most gentile clime and fertile land.”
“Provided by Our Lord Jesus,” she added.
David Littlejohn added, “When we have not been plagued by drought or excessive rains in the past months. The territorial councilors were most displeased as the highway was so impassable they were unable to come and hold the meeting ordered by the governor.”
“And the recent tremors have not helped in making travel possible,” James McKinley added.
That brought about discussion of the beauties – and drawbacks – of California. The discussion did not falter when three servants cleared the table and brought forth the main course; along with more wine, of course.
A large platter held the usual large slab of flame roasted beef, along with a smoked ham. Frijoles, vegetables, and tortillas accompanied the meal. However, one item drew a great deal of interest, pieces of chicken coated with cornmeal, crisp on the outside and most tender on the inside.
“It is chicken cooked in the African manner. Called fried. The pieces of fowl are coated in a flavored flour of wheat or corn and then dipped into a boiling container of oil. Some of the plantation owners in the American south look down upon it as it is from their slaves, but I find it most savoring and novel.”
All agreed with Hartnell's assessment.
“And, when the servants bring out the pastries, there will be a selection of fruit to include another item from Africa called a water melon.”
“We have heard of it,” James' Maria Teresa said. “I believe it is grown along the north and eastern coast of Mexico.”
When the final course was brought, all exclaimed on how sweet and tasty the new fruit was.
Don Eduardo passed around a container emblazoned with leaves, indicating it contained some of the finest cigars he had ever had the pleasure to enjoy. “They come from the island of Cuba and are much sought after.”
James politely declined, removing his favorite pipe and filling it with some tobacco on a stand in the study. Once the men had lit their particular choices, they settled into plush leather upholstered chairs. Hartnell then brought a glass goblet to each, indicating they were called snifters. “They hold in the aroma of the brandy,” he explained as he poured a generous amount of the golden liquid for each. “Another product of Reverend Father Durán's vineyard,” he added.
Silence reigned for several minutes while the men let the sumptuous meal settle.
McKinley was the one to break the silence. “I am certain you all wonder what brings us together this evening.” Receiving a nod of acceptance from Hartnell, he continued. “I feel I may not be alone in feeling concern for the course of events here in California.”
“And Mexico,” he added.
“It is this territorial council that concerns me most. The governor appointed ten of the most stubborn men in California and expects them to set forth rules and regulations for the governance of this territory.”
Malarin responded to McKinley's comment with, “And he is a less than decisive governor. He cannot seem to make up his mind about anything – other than those silly little notes he has his aide print up on that miniature printing press of his.”
“And why does he not come here to Monte Rey which is the official capitol of the territory?”
“Perhaps it is better that he does not. Staying in San Diego seems to suit his health – and the Carrillo girl. I think her name is Josefa?”
That brought laughter to all.
“She is said to be a most comely young lady,” James said. “If she is as attractive as her mother, I can understand the governor's infatuation with her. I well remember when Don José regularly rode from here to San Francisco to woo her.”
“You knew many of the members of the original expedition, did you not?” Hartnell asked.
James spent some time relating childhood memories of the brave men who had faced the unknown in order to discover the sites of the present presidios and missions.
“Then you know all the current members of the territorial council?” Littlejohn asked.
“Some I do. Others are new to me as they came later. Many were pobladores for Los Angeles or San José. I know members of the Sola, Salgado, Ibarra, Bustamante, and Cardenas families, but not the remainder.”
Hartnell's face had turned dark, with a glower of anger. All knew he was thinking of the recent act of Governor Echeandía in revoking his exclusive port rights to Monte Rey, an act backed up by the diputación. It had caused him some severe business losses that were somewhat alleviated by the arrival of more trading vessels in the harbor.
That was one of the reasons James was somewhat curious as to the presence of McKinley, an agent for a major trader, Captain Cooper. McKinley traveled a great deal in search of trade for the ships owned by the captain and his backers.
He could no longer ignore his curiosity. “This is a most interesting gathering, Don Eduardo, but I must admit I wonder why you have called us together. Especially me.”
Hartnell re-lit his cigar before answering. “Californians have split into a variety of groups supporting different leading figures. The governor is a weak man and has received little directives from Mexico City. Although there is a delegate there to speak for territorial affairs, he has little influence. In addition, the government is not exactly settled, with many different parties and interests. Guadalupe Victoria seems to be a president few oppose, but he has a deeply divided congress that appears unable to come up with rules and regulations to deal with the territory.”
“It is most difficult planning for the future under such circumstances,” Malarin said.
“And Comisario Herrera makes things most difficult for us non-Mexican businessmen,” Littlejohn commented.
“The main reason we invited you,” Hartnell said to James, “is that you have lived here all your life and you know more about the people of this land than we. We seriously seek your thoughts on the future of California.”
James did not see that coming. “Why did you not invite my father then. He is far more aware of the people of California than I.”
“But he has the viewpoint of the past. Not the future. I have had many most interesting discussions with him, but he cannot see anything but an unwavering loyalty to the friars.”
“What on earth makes you think my sentiments are one bit different?” James angrily asked.
Hartnell raised a hand in defense. “We do not doubt your loyalty to the friars. In fact, it is because of that virtue we seek your advise. You are aware of the governor's aim to take the missions from the friars, are you not?”
James nodded. He hated the fact and knew full well what would happen if the directives were put into effect.
“And you know of the growing dissatisfaction between the Californians of the south and north?”
James did. It was subtle, but not to be ignored. One power center appeared to be Los Angeles while the other was San José. Leading members of each community saw little in common with the others, both seeking the territorial capitol for their own. The few living in the Monte Rey region seemed to be left out of the power groups. “The rift will become bigger as the years pass. The control of California is no longer in the grip of a firm, experienced governor.”
“Well, James, that is exactly why we are meeting. Edward and the rest of us feel that men like us from other lands will play a growing role in the fate of California and we must ensure we act in a united manner.”
The others nodded their agreement of McKinley's statement.
“You realize the danger of meeting like this? If Herrera or Captain Gonzalez learn of this, we will all face time in jail. You foreigners will be expelled.”
“That is why this must be kept between us. I ask you to not inform your father of this,” Hartnell said. “The fewer who know, the more secure we will be.”
“I have learned of a way to gather more without exposing the five of us. We each select a very few others of like mind and do not tell them about us. They will think they are the only group. As one gains trust in members, they may be called upon to recruit others.”
All agreed with Littlejohn's assessment.
“Just what do you expect of us?” James asked.
“Little more than keeping our eyes and ears open. And informing one another of any items we think will be of use in the future.”
James thought for a little while before speaking up again. “We must also follow the news from the north and, more important, the east.”
“Yes, the Russians have founded what they call Fort Ross not far north of Bodega Bay. There is some word of trying to station troops in the valley the Miwok call Napa.”
“And Adams, the American president, has sent explorers to the mouth of the Colombia River, their dividing line between their claim and that of the British.”
“I believe they call it the Oregon Territory,” Malarin said.
They talked for another hour before Hartnell's Maria Teresa entered the room and said, “Come, join us in the parlor. We are tired of women's talk and would have you with us. I have prepared pastries for all and have brewed some rich coffee we received from the last ship.”
James was relieved to see that his Maria Teresa and the other women seemed quite comfortable with one another. The group savored rich pastries topped with sweet, whipped cream and the coffee was quite good. James made a mental note that he would like to see more of that drink at home.
The full moon lit their way back over the hills into the valley of Carmel. Lanterns at the gate provided light to enter. He started to drop Maria Teresa at the front door but she insisted on joining him in the barn where they unhooked the wagon and tended to the horses.
“I've always loved the smell of fresh straw.”
James heartily agreed and took his wife's hand, leading her into one of the rear stalls piled high with hay. Even after so many years together – their entire lives in fact – they never tired of one another and the sweetness of their live.
“My oh my, my husband. More of that and we may once more find a baby in a crib.”
James chuckled before covering her with kisses. She quickly rose and took up a horse blanket, using it to protect them from the night's chill.