Reading Between the Lines in a Portion of a Letter and a List of Articles from Abraham Temple to F.P.F. Temple, 24 October 1845

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As has been stated here on many occasions, the Homestead is fortunate enough to have, thanks to donations by descendants, Workman and Temple family papers to help us better understand the family’s history in the context of the greater Los Angeles region during our interpretive time period of 1830-1930.

John H. Temple (1856-1926), son of Antonia Margarita Workman and F.P.F. Temple, was the first family historian, saving much valuable material, especially from the 19th century, much of which has been provided to the Museum. He was followed by Thomas W. Temple II (1905-1972), the eldest child of John brother, who preserved many documents, including from his immediate family though the first few decades of the 20th century.

Their relatives and descendants include those who maintain the interest in their family history as well as those have continued that tradition of being custodians of photos, letters, financial records and other items. The Homestead is always grateful to be the recipient of donations of material that it can process internally for that increase in our knowledge as well as to share with visitors and the public—including through this blog.

With that in mind, this latest post in the “Reading Between the Lines” series dealing with correspondence in our collection features another recent donation, that in 2021 from the estate of the late Josette Temple. It comprises a letter and a list of articles, both dated 24 October 1845 sent to F.P.F. Temple in the “Pueblo de los Angeles” from his brother Abraham, living at the family’s longtime town of Reading, Massachusetts, northwest of Boston. In the very large family, with their father Jonathan having two wives and sets of children, F.P.F. was the youngest of the brood, while Abraham was eight years older. This was in contrast to Jonathan, the eldest and who was 26 years older than F.P.F., who came to Los Angeles four years prior to meet his brother for the first time and then stayed, working in Jonathan’s store (the first in the pueblo).

On 30 September 1845, just a few weeks before Abraham’s missive and list were generated, Pliny, as he was born, was baptized a Roman Catholic (having been a Congregationalist) immediately prior to his wedding to Margarita Workman, and he assumed the baptismal name Francisco, which then made his moniker the rather impressive F.P.F. with those close to him often calling him Frank or Don Francisco, as well as Templito.

The letter (which comprises part of a hand-written copy by John H. Temple of the original–which was recently sold by a San Diego-area map dealer along with three other letters to F.P.F. by Abraham and a sister, Cynthia,) includes with the very interesting report that

The attention of many Americans is directed to your coast. I have heard that 1000 men would start from the Western States early next spring. It seems to be a settled point in the minds of our country men that California is destined to become a part [of the United States], but I will make no prediction on the subject, but I will say it is my opinion that land will be in better demand than formerly.

It had long been openly bruited about that America was, through what some called “Manifest Destiny,” certain to extend from “sea to shining sea” regardless of the indigenous people as well as Mexican sovereignty or claims by Great Britain to territory between the Midwest—or what Abraham referred to as the “Western States”—and the Pacific.

On 19 October 1842, the Navy frigate United States and accompanying sloops, the Dale and Cyane sailed into the bay at Monterey, the departmental capital of Mexican Alta California under the impression that war was declared by the United States against México and that California was to be seized before the British laid claim to it.

With 100 sailors and 50 Marines, the Americans demanded surrender of the town, which had fewer than 60 troops and little in the way of weapons for defense. Consequently, the Mexican flag as lowered and the American flag took its place. Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado, who was waiting for Manuel Micheltorena, an appointee of the government to take command, and Mariano Silva, who had charge of the fort, signed a capitulation.

The following day, however, Commodore Thomas ap Catesby Jones realized that the rumor of war was untrue and quickly backtracked on his rash actions, apologizing to Alvarado and Silva and offering to “place everything exactly as I found them.” Micheltorena, who was in Santa Barbara on his way northward, fumed and fulminated against “the perfidious North Americans” and then reported to authorities in México City of the stunning withdrawal of Jones and his ships.

Micheltorena headed back to Los Angeles and there met Jones, who landed at San Pedro on the new chief executive’s invitation, at the El Palacio adobe house of Abel Stearns, another Massachusetts-born merchant who came to Los Angeles shortly after Jonathan Temple settled there in 1828. While the governor (who was so despised by the independent-minded Californios that he was overthrown by Pío Pico in February 1845) sought money and new uniforms as compensation for Jones’ actions, he was politely rebuffed. Jones, as he expected, was recalled from command for his error, but returned to active service including another tenure in command of the Pacific Squadron.

Abraham’s report of impending war was correct and a declaration was made in May 1846, about seven months after his letter. He then turned to another notable topic concerning California’s first gold rush, which happened seven years before the astounding discovery at Sutter’s Mill that had international consequences. This much more modest rush followed the March 1842 finding of flakes of the precious metal in San Francisquito Canyon east of modern Santa Clarita.

F.P.F., who’d only been in Los Angeles for around nine months to date, joined Stearns as an early purchaser of gold dust from San Francisquito, and enlisted Abraham to take the material to the national mint at Philadelphia and convert if for cash. A previous post here highlighted a 30 June 1844 letter from F.P.F. to Abraham with instructions for handling 15 ounces of gold and included a long list of items to be purchased and sent back to Los Angeles.

With this missive, Abraham informed his brother that

The gold sand you sent me was of good quality—I have disposed of it at $18 pr. ounce. There is a difference in the weight of the countries, yours being lighter than ours, but I think you may do well to send on more if you an obtain it at $14 pr. ounce.

That leads to the list, headed with “Articles for P.F. Temple”. The text of the piece of correspondence included the comment that “the foregoing articles I have endeavoured to obtain at the lower prices,” with the addition that a music box (a gift perhaps for Margarita) was not included because it required a separate box and Abraham “thought it not advisable to send” with the rest of the material, though he offered to do so separately.

The list included about $75 worth of goods, including pocket knives; pencils; a pair of pistols and caps; two dictionaries; a trunk; a valise; the revised laws of Massachusetts; scales and weights; memorandum books; pants; writing paper and pens; knitting needles; gloves and handkerchiefs for men and women; men’s cravats; a pair of letter stamps; shirt buttons; and a half-dozen toothbrushes. Abraham, in a postscript, listed the amount of the items and stated that the balance of funds from the conversion of the gold dust was between $50-60.

He then wrote “I am inclined to believe that you are thinking of something that you have not stated, but if you think of settling down on the Coast, I should like to have you bring her [Margarita] on this way before the knot is tied.” Abraham, of course, could not know that the nuptials were just consummated!

After asking F.P.F. to “excuse my nonsense,” Abraham asked both Temples in Los Angeles to write as often as possible and added

the distance shortens yearly and I know of no better way of reducing [it] than by frequent interchange of letters, and if you cannot come this way perhaps some of your friends [and relatives?] may visit you some afternoon.

It would be another quarter century before F.P.F. made his only return visit home (Jonathan made at least a few trips back—meanwhile, Abraham died in 1851 at just age 37), when he went in 1870 and took the newly completed transcontinental railroad. The message included the query of “what should you think of the project of putting a steam mill in operation in your section? and the offer to acquire “anything that may be advantageous to you if I can forward it” and that such “will be done with pleasure.”

Returning to the transcription and national news, Abraham commented that “there has been much said in this country in relation to the annexation of Texas to the U.S.A.; it may be advantageous to California, but [I] think it will not [be] to New England; what the result will be in case of annexation I am not able to determine.” A joint resolution of Congress to that effect was passed in March 1845, but the official admittance did no occur until 29 December.

Coordinated with this effort was that “President [James K.] Polk is sending soldiers into Texas by thousands to meet any emergency that may arise.” The “emergency” was engineered by the Americans with claims that Mexican forces attacked Army troops on U.S. soil, though this was actually disputed territory, ad this led to the declaration of war in May 1846. One of the letters sold by the map dealer mentioned above was a 4 August 1846 missive from Abraham to “Francis P.F. Temple” expressing concern over “serious difficulties” that the Temples brothers may have been experiencing in California—Los Angeles was, in fact, seized just nine days later, though it was retaken by the Californios necessitating a second capture in January 1847.

Abraham then reported that “business is very brisk in this country and prospects seem flattering for a continuance,” while, speaking of railroads, he added that “the [Boston and Maine] Railroad is completed through Reading, they are running five times each way daily and a 30 cent round trip fare” and a depot finished outside of town. This transcription ended with the light-hearted admonition that “I have stated so that you may take the right cars” whenever F.P.F. came back for a visit, as he was so often implored to do.

Keep an eye out for more Temple family letters, as well other pieces of correspondence, from the Museum’s holdings in the “Reading Between the Lines” series, including those preserved by John and Thomas Temple and passed down and donated to the Homestead’s collection.

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