On This Day: William Workman’s Commemoration of His Family’s Arrival in Los Angeles, 5 November 1841

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Surviving accounts of the arrival of the so-called Rowland and Workman Expedition to greater Los Angeles vary as to date.

Teenage naturalist William Gambel wrote to his mother in January 1842 that it arrived in Los Angeles “the last of November.”  Benjamin D. Wilson, in an 1877 interview, recalled that the party “arrived in Los Angeles early in November.”  Albert Toomes, who settled in northern California, wrote in an 1868 newspaper article that “we got into California on the 10th November.”

Michael White, also in an 1877 reminiscence, remembered the group “arrived here in December at the Cajon [Pass” where Christmas Day was celebrated.  Isaac Given wrote in an undated manuscript that “entering through the Cajon Pass we reached the settlements, not far south [east?] of Los Angeles on November 5th.”

Workman Arrival Plaque
This glass plaque, long displayed on a door at the Workman House, was commissioned by William Workman to mark the arrival of him and his family to the area on a British holiday called “Guy Fawkes Day.”  Broken in a 1941 centennial ceremony of the arrival, the item is owned by his descendant Josette Temple.  A copy is on a door to the same part of the house where the original was located.

Then, there was William Workman, who memorialized the arrival of he and his family, by placing a glass plaque on a door to his home on the Rancho La Puente.   The plaque simply indicated the location of “Puente”, Workman’s name, and the arrival date, including that it was “Guy Fawkes day.”

For any natives of England this might mean something, but, to the rest of us, who knows what Guy Fawkes Day is?

One of our longtime volunteers, Eldon Dunn, just happened to provide us with an article in the new issue of National Geographic History all about the holiday and what was behind it.

Also known as the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, the event was an attempt by Roman Catholics to blow up the Houses of Parliament with a massive amount on gunpowder and kill King James I.  While there was a baker’s dozen (thirteen) men involved, including the man who was the ringleader, one became the face of the scheme and that was Guy Fawkes.

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Homestead docent Eldon Dunn brought copies of an article in the current issue of National Geographic History on Guy Fawkes and his role in a plot to assassinate King James I of England, which was planned for 5 November 1605.

Since Henry VIII formed the Church of England in 1534 and his daughter established a Protestant “settlement” for the national church, conflict between the new church and its adherents and Roman Catholics was frequent and it came to a head when James ascended the throne in 1603 and simultaneously sought tolerance for Catholicism and increasing Protestant hegemony in his realm.  Robert Catesby spearheaded the plot against the king and recruited Guy Fawkes, who was skilled at handling explosives.  The idea was to assassinate James and have his Catholic daughter Elizabeth ascend the throne and change the direction of the religious controversy.

A letter informing of the plot, followed by a search of a basement storeroom at the Palace of Westminster which yielded three dozen gunpowder barrels concealed behind firewood, foiled the scheme.  A man, identifying himself as John Johnson, but proving to be Fawkes, was arrested on 5 November and later tortured, during which he confessed.  Catesby and others were shot and killed during the manhunt, but Fawkes and others were tried, convicted of treason, and sentenced to die in January 1606 by being hung, drawn and quartered.

On the day of execution, however, Fawkes was able to leap from the gallows and broke his neck in the resulting fall.  This meant that he was not subjected to the gruesome series of acts that entailed hanging near the point of death, disemboweling, the burning of entrails, and beheading, before the body was then torn about, usually by tying each of the arms and legs to a horse and having the animals spurred in various directions.  The body parts were then displayed throughout England as a warning to potential rebels.

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Guy Fawkes masks have now become popular for protest movements across the world.

In 1606, James decreed a day of thanksgiving for 5 November in which deliverance from the plot was to be celebrated.  Also known as Bonfire Night, celebrates light fireworks (to stand for the gunpowder) and bonfires while effigies of Fawkes are burned.

Interestingly, the recent graphic novel and film V for Vendetta reworked Fawkes into a symbol against totalitarian rule, with the main character wearing a Fawkes mask.  In the last decade or so, this mask has been worn by persons in protest movements around the world, including the Anonymous and Occupy ones.

As for the glass plaque, it has survived and is owned by Workman’s descendant Josette Temple.  Unfortunately, during the November 1941 centennial celebration of the arrival of the Rowland and Workman Expedition, it was being handed by one person to another and was dropped, breaking into three pieces.  This is reflected in the accompanying photo.  A copy of the plaque is installed in the door to the same part of the Workman House at which the original was displayed.


2 thoughts

  1. I mentioned the Anniversary Date yesterday at my Tours in theWorkman House.


    Sent from my iPad


  2. Hi Jan, great, thanks for being on top of that! We do have the copy plaque on the door to the east side off the north porch, too!

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