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James Achilles Douglas







The Douglas family are of Scotch origin. The great-grandfather of our subject, James Douglas, came from Scotland to the United States long before the Revolutionary war, and after the war settled in Abermarle County, Virginia, at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, five miles from Charlottesville, and near what was afterward known as the residence of Thomas Jefferson. The grandfather of the subject of this sketch was a soldier in the Revolutionary war, and he also had two brothers in the war. The Douglas family continued to make that section of Virginia their home until 1839, when the grandfather, with a part of his family, emigrated to Missouri, two of the sons locating in Cooper County, and a daughter also in that county, while the grandfather, James and William J., the father of our subject, and John J. Douglas, located in Howard County. William J. and John J. were in the war of 1812, and participated in the battle of New Orleans. Thomas Douglas, one of his grandfather's brothers, went from Virginia to Tennessee in the early settlement of that State and remained there. Beverly Douglas, his grandfather's brother, also at an early date settled in Kentucky. William J. Douglas, his father, was a farmer in Missouri, and raised hemp and tobacco, and died in Howard County in 1875, at the age of eighty-seven years, and his father was ninety-four years old when he died, never having had a day's sickness during his life, never eating more than two meals a day and some days but one meal; he was strong and active, never lost a tooth, and at the time of his death did not have a gray hair in his head. In William J. Douglas's family there were three daughters and one son.

The mother of the subject of this sketch, whose maiden name was Ann Bridgwater, was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia; and her family is probably of German descent. She died in Virginia in 1827.

James A. Douglas, the subject of this article, was born in Albermarle County, Virginia, on the old plantation, near Charlottesville, March 24, 1827, and therefore was a babe when his mother died. His father, being a farmer and a slave-owner, gave James into the care of a favorite black nurse, who cared for his wants, etc. His father and grandfather moved to Missouri in 1839, while young James was left behind and went to school in Virginia until 1842, when he also went to Missouri. At length he served an apprenticeship of two years and nine months learning the saddlery business, becoming a competent journeyman. He did all the fine work of the shop, some of which was placed on exhibition and drew the first premium in St. Louis; but he soon abandoned the trade, went to St. Louis and took a position on a river steamer as second clerk, and at the same time began studying the science of river piloting. He was promoted through clerkships to the position of pilot, where he commanded a salary of $250 a month. At the end of five years he bought a drove of mules in Missouri and drove them to Texas and sold them at a profit; and while he was in that State he saw the first gold dust from California, brought there in a goose-quill, and he immediately resolved to come to the mining region here.

Returning to his home in Howard County, he found his train had been gone eight weeks; he started in company with John Lowrey, now of Sonoma County, and hurried on until they overtook the train this side of Fort Hall, in Montana Territory.

In Mr. Douglas's mess were nine men, all young and unmarried, and full of life.

They landed at Sacramento, August 14, 1849. During the following autumn they built a cabin at Hangtown and followed mining there that winter. In the following spring the company divided, several of them going over on the Middle Yuba at Washington and mining there during the summer.

In October Mr. Douglas went down to the bay with a brother-in-law who came a little later, and another gentleman named Lewis Walker. His brother-in-law, Allen Rains, disliked this country, and started back to the East. While waiting for the steamer at San Francisco, and on the very day it was to sail, the subject of this sketch was tempted also to buy a ticket and go with him; and all three went back together. On board the vessel Mr. Douglas was taken sea-sick, and at Acapulco they all three left the ship, bought mules and started across Mexico, a distance of 700 miles; while at the city of Mexico they stopped ten days, and hired a guide to take them all over the old battle-grounds. At Vera Cruz they boarded a little schooner, which took them and thirty-seven other passengers to New Orleans, being seventeen and a half days on the way. In February, 1851, Mr. Douglas left New Orleans again for California, visiting en route his people in Missouri and coming by way of ship to Acapulco, at which place he and another party bought a hotel and conducted it for seven months, making considerable money - $14,000. Coming on to Yolo County he spent the ensuing winter on Cache Creek. In March he and three other men went to German Bar on the Middle Yuba, where they had a fine supply of water and followed mining; and while thus engaged news reached them of a new place called the Minnesota Diggings, whither 5,000 people congregated within ten days after the discovery of gold there.

In 1852 Mr. Douglas quit mining, came down to the valley and again entered the mule trade. He again went back to the Atlantic States in October, and in the spring of 1853 brought a drove of horses and mules across the plains to California. In 1854 he went to Oregon for the purpose of mining, but changed his mind, and, in company with another man, went to packing, making journeys from Crescent City, in Oregon, to Jacksonville, and at that time there was a hostile Indian behind every tree on the trail. Although he made considerable money in this business, yet it was accomplished by much hard work and exposure, and within five months he returned to the Sacramento Valley. In 1855 he was elected Sheriff of Yolo County, and served four years, and on October 24, 1860, he married and settled on Cache Creek; but his place there he at length sold, and he bought a quarter section of land a mile northwest of Woodland, put up a fine, large residence on it and made it his home for about seven years. He sold out again, at a good advantage, and moved to Woodland, in 1878, where he has since resided. His homestead on Third street consists of five acres. His residence, which he put up in 1884, cost $10,000, including the ground, and is one of the most elegant in the city. Mr. Douglas is a true type of a Southern gentleman, - hospitable, genial, social, and a good financier. In politics he was a sound Democrat. He was arrested April 5, 1865, as a citizen prisoner by sixty United States soldiers and taken to Fort Alcatraz in the bay of San Francisco, and wore a ball and chain twenty-four days for expressing his Constitutional rights and was released on May 4, 1865, without any trial by court either martial or civil, and without any charges being preferred against him, or without taking the iron-clad oath. O, justice, what a jewel!

October 24, 1860, is the date of Mr. Douglas's marriage to Sallie A. Moore, who was born in Platte County, Missouri, March 24, 1842, and came to California in 1853, with her parents. They settled first in Sacramento County, and moved to Yolo in 1857. Mrs. Douglas died May 24, 1889, the mother of four daughters, the youngest of whom is deceased. Her death is a very great loss to the family, - a severe one in every sense of the word.

Transcribed by Kathy Sedler, July 2004.
SOURCE: Memorial and Biographical History of Northern California, The Lewis
Publishing Company, 1891. pg. 316-318






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