Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Montgomery Landing

There are two sites associated with the Montgomery Landing. The first, where Montgomery landed his sloop Portsmouth is on the south east corner of Montgomery and Clay in the Financial District of San Francisco. The second, where Montgomery raised the United States flag for the first time in San Francisco, is in Portsmouth Square, on Kearney between Clay and Washington.

These two sites encapsulate an important episode in San Francisco, and California, history. Captain John B. Montgomery, and his ship, the United States sloop-of-war Portsmouth, arrived in the San Francisco Bay in early June of 1846. He arrived just in time to be a witness to the Bear Flag Revolt and the popular insurrection, largely led by American citizens, that led to the United States Army seizing control of Mexican controlled territories in California. As a representative of the U.S. government Montgomery was approached by representatives of the revolt, of the Mexican government, and by other agents of the United States government, to investigate the situation and try to gain control over it.

On July 9th, 1846, Captain John B. Montgomery landed the Portsmouth at what is now the corner of Montgomery and Clay (the shoreline used to run along Montgomery. Everything east of Montgomery has been reclaimed from the bay). Leading his troops inland, he raised the United States Flag over what was then called the town of Yerba Buena, but would become officially known as the city of San Francisco in 1847. With the raising of the United States flag at Yerba Buena, the leaders of the Bear Flag Revolt were instructed to lower their sovereign flag and fly the red, white, and blue instead. The territory

These are seminal events in the growth of United States control of Northern California, and are important events in the Mexican-American War. The flag flown by the leaders of the Bear Flag Revolt became the blueprint for the state flag of California and the seizure of the territory by the United States government paved the way, following the conclusion of the Mexican-American War and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848, for the creation of the state of California on September 9th, 1850. The town square where Montgomery raised the flag would remain an important site in the then small community, housing the state's first public school, the terminus of the state's first cable car line, and was where, on May 11th, 1848, Sam Brannan displayed the gold that he had mined in the Sierras and sparked Gold Rush fever throughout the country. Portsmouth Square would remain an important site for popular demonstrations. My two favorites are a citizen's demonstration on July 16th, 1849, to rally against the depredations of a lawless local group known as the "Hounds", and an oration delivered on September 18th, 1859, by Colonel E.D. Baker as he literally stood over the body of U.S. Senator David C. Broderick, killed in a duel with Chief Justice David S. Terry.

Getting There By Bike...
These monuments are in the thick of downtown San Francisco and so all the warnings about heavy traffic, fast cars, one-way roads, and all the other hazards of city riding should be considered. To be honest, there are a lot of sites that are located in really close proximity to each other in the neighborhood immediately surrounding Montgomery St. I actually locked my bike up at the Transamerica Pyramid bike racks and walked to most of these sites because it was easier than either fighting my way through traffic, figuring out how to get places on the one-way streets, or pushing my bike from site to site when they were only half a block apart. Use your best judgment. Avoid the area during rush hour of course, but it doesn't get much better during the off hours unless you're there on a weekend or a holiday.

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