The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1974, Volume 20, Number 3

By Henry Schwartz

Images from the article

On the cold clear morning of January 24, 1848, at a sawmill at the south fork of the American River, James Marshall saw the glint of “something shining at the bottom of the ditch.”1 When the cry of “Gold! Gold in California!” spread the length of the land, indeed, to every part of the globe, a torrential flash flood of gold-seekers descended upon El Dorado.2 Within ten years the population soared from about 15,000 to nearly 400,000. The eager newcomers clamored for picks and shovels, buckets, tools, guns, tents, work clothes, frying pans and steaks. A sudden huge demand was created for goods and supplies.3

This commercial vacuum was just the opportunity sought by one segment of newcomers: European Jews.4 As their métier was commerce, many poor but ambitious Jewish emigrants became merchants in northern towns and gold camps. When business became too over-crowded in northern California, some took their chances on villages in the cow counties to the south.5 Hearing of the congenial climate and talk of a railroad someday, a trickle of Jews found their way to the somnolent Mexican-American outpost of San Diego. A few succeeded with stores and became civic-minded citizens, founding families, and the beginnings of a Jewish community.

What relationships resulted from the more or less concurrent arrival of Anglo-Americans and these early Jews during the decade of 1850-1860? Did their respective economic positions, traits and values result in an alliance of mutual interest? How was the Jew regarded by the Anglo? Was he accepted in the spirit of Western egalitarianism, as part of the frontier brotherhood? Or was there nativist hostility towards him as a foreigner, and an anti-Jewish sentiment which ranged from racial slurs to discriminatory actions? In point of time, the Jew arrived in San Diego during the same period as the Anglo, and thus was not an intrusive latecomer who had to contend with an entrenched establishment. Louis Rose, for example, came to San Diego in company with a former governor of Texas, an Anglo, on May 30, 1850.6 In the summer of 1851, Lewis Franklin, a devout English Jew, and his business partner rounded Point Loma aboard a vessel carrying trading goods from San Francisco.7 The United States Census of 1850, which was actually conducted in San Diego County in early 1851, bore two additional names of Jewish merchants: Jacob Marks from Poland and Charles Fletcher from Bohemia.8 In 1853 the Mannasse brothers, Joseph and Heyman, and their cousin Moses, arrived at San Diego.9 Another important Jew was Marcus Schiller, who landed in 1856, seeking a milder climate than San Francisco offered.10

There was a considerable flux of Jewish people in and out of San Diego. Some stayed only a few days; others opened stores and settled in San Diego for several years, then sold out and moved on. The Census of 1860 reveals a temporary decline in the number of identifiable Jews in San Diego Township. At that time there were only seven adults and three children,11 with one other Jew living in Temecula. The same census listed ninety Americans born in other parts of the United States.12

The future of both Anglo-Americans and Jewish Americans was interwoven into a community of interest in growth. The Jews owned and clerked in the town’s stores. The Anglos took over the politics, speculated in lots, and were the carpenters, carriage makers, physicians, printers, saddle makers, sign painters and blacksmiths.13 Their interests coalesced around a railroad, for a railroad would end San Diego’s isolation, bringing in. people and commerce, thus opening the harbor to world trade. In 1855 Louis Rose was elected treasurer of the San Diego, Gila, Southern Pacific and Atlantic Railroad.14 Rose later dreamed of his Roseville-on-the-Bay being the terminus for a railroad from the East.15 Lewis Strauss, another Jewish shopkeeper, Joseph Mannasse, and Marcus Schiller were also affected by “railroad fever” and joined committees pushing for the iron monster.

Another linking factor was the similarity of personal traits and values held by both groups. Rose, for instance, exhibited traits commonly attributed to the Yankee: ambition, industriousness, inventiveness, and aggressiveness. The Census of 1850 lists him as a “Laborer,” yet in a few years he owned a butchering business, had built a tannery, and found a use for kelp-a mattress stuffed with seaweed!16 The ingenuity of a Jewish grocer was noted by the San Diego Herald in 1853:

Food cost in San Diego has been reduced by produce being brought to San Diego by teams from San Bernardino by Marcus Katz. Eggs are selling at 500 a dozen . . . before we could hardly get eggs and then no less than $1.00 a dozen …17

A biographer of Marcus Schiller called him a “Jewish Horatio Alger,” a self-made man.18 Schiller and his partner, Joseph Mannasse, were both pioneer mercantilists. They are credited with being the first to bring lumber ships into San Diego Bay. Besides running a large general store, J. S. Mannasse &Co., they owned a 160-acre farm, raised cattle on an Encinitas ranch, and may have been the first to sell adobe houses on the installment plan.19 Competitive, materialistic values of business life are the same for Jews and Christians. Jewish beliefs of property rights, individual freedom and responsibility, material prosperity, personal achievement are similar to the Gentile creed.20

In San Diego in the 1850s, the two groups shared a more immediate concern: law and order. Jews were sober, law-abiding newcomers in a town that was sometimes unruly and violent.21 To protect their businesses as well as themselves, Jews joined military defense units-Fitzgerald’s Volunteers and the San Diego Guard-and sat on grand juries. Rose served on the first county grand jury in 1850, and Franklin was foreman of the 1852 grand jury that investigated crime and immorality in San Diego (and found both.)22 Franklin later became an Associate Judge of the Court of Sessions. The Superintendent of Schools for 1868-1869 was Marcus Schiller. Jews were active on the Board of Supervisors, on the City Council, and served as coroners.23

From the fragmentary evidence that has survived, it appears that the Jew was accepted socially by the Anglo. However, while the Jew wanted acceptance, it would not be at the price of conversion to Christianity or by inter-marriage.24 He regarded himself as a religious Jew who was an American by choice. There were no barriers on the club and fraternal level. Rose, Lewis Franklin and Heyman Mannasse were founding members of the San Diego Lyceum and Debating Club.25 The ubiquitous Rose was installed as Junior Warden of Masonic Lodge No. 35 in 1853.26 Solomon Goldman, another store owner, was also a Masonic official, and in 1861 Marcus Schiller was Master of the Lodge.27 Victoria Jacobs, in her 1856-1857 diary, records invitations to balls and to parties aboard visiting ships.28 The Herald noted: “Mannasse and Schiller gave a magnificent baile on Christmas eve, at which we spread ourself, in the latest and most approved style.”29 The Jew regarded himself as a religious Jew who was an American by choice, but did the Anglo think of him as a fellow American, or as a German, or as a Jew?

The traveling circuit judge, Benjamin Hayes, mentions in his diary that his fellow passengers aboard a stagecoach bound for San Bernardino were “Letha, Alice Ballou, Grewald and child, and two Jews.” And on his return trip Judge Hayes says that “a Jewess on the stage was Mrs. Cohn.”30 The Herald noted the first High Holiday service in 1851 with these words: “The sacred day was observed by Mssrs. Lewis Franklin, Jacob Marks, and Charles A. Fletcher, the only three Hebrews in town.”31 Humorist George Derby estimated that the San Diego of 1854 contained “about 700 inhabitants, two-thirds of which are a mixture of American, English, German, Hebrew and Pike County.”32 In 1853 and 1854 issues, the Herald made playful puns on the surnames Cohn and Strauss.33 The Jew was identified as a Jew.

What was the image of the Jew to the Anglo mind? Was it a sympathetic picture of friendship and tolerance or one of fear and hostility to the Jew as a foreign intruder? Historical evidence tends to support the former rather than the latter. However, a definite answer is made difficult by the very nature of prejudice. A pre-conceived opinion, a subjective feeling of hostility, prejudice is more the proper study of the social psychologist than the historian. Latent hostility, for instance, that is unexpressed overtly, will fall through the historian’s net. And even actual incidents of anti-Semitism are subject to varying interpretations of their significance. This ambiguity can be illustrated by a curious letter that appeared in the Herald of June 17, 1854.

The New Jerusalem.

Mishter Editursh:-It dish time dat de old shupersitions of dish place vos done avay vith. De alterations dat ave taken place in dish town in de last few years in point of society, calls for corresponding alterations in manners, customs and names. Every vare in dish happy little blace, at all de cornersh, in all de shtores, in all de offiches you shee de beautiful cuivelinear nosesh, de arching lips and lovely black air of de shildren of Zion. Ve are de population of dish place. Our harps no longer ang by de riversh banks, but de little boysh blays on em mit dere fingersh in all de bublic blacesh. De Brother Johnathan that comes today from New York, brings much more of our beoples, and a large invoice of Jews-harps for dem to blay upon. I have some to see [sic] myself at a dollar narf a dozen, and shelp me Chrised I don’t make a dollar on em. Mishter Editursh I propose dat ve call dish town now NEW JERUSALEM, in accordance vith the vishes of de bopulation, and by nexht sdeamer, I dinks myshelf dat de Mesiah himzelf, vill come here, and we vill make him County Shudge. San Diego is to old and superstitious a name for dish little Zion, and it is time it was shanged.

Yours truly,          

This is but a thinly disguised literary hoax. It pretends to be a letter from a Jew, one “Moses Bendigo,” calling for changes in the manners, customs and the name of the town since the Jews “are de population of dish place.” “Moses Bendigo” doesn’t appear on either the Census of 1850 or 1860, in the biographical files of the San Diego History Center Archives, or in any of the short histories of San Diego Jewry.35 The identity of the author of this piece is not known for certain.36 Although the letter has a satirical bent, a close study will reveal a case of classical stereotyping, from which the Jew has long suffered.37

While this hoax is in the style of the native humor of the period, with its exaggeration and outlandishness, the “letter” engenders the spectre of a crude and greedy people with “de beautiful cuivelinear nosesh, de arching lips and lovely black air. . . .” And that “much more of our beoples” would be coming that day from New York is an appeal to nativist fear of being overwhelmed and victimized. The Jew is caricatured as alien, obnoxious and mercenary. In short, the dark stranger in town is Shylock.

In the following edition of the Herald George Derby, lamenting what a boring place San Diego was, added this quatrain:

And four stores for every white human
Which are kept by the children of Zion
Where they sell there goods bort at auction
At seven times more than they costed38

Directly below the Derby soliloquy appeared an advertisement for a meeting of the Independent Order of Know-Nothings. This was a nativist order that had its roots in various secret societies such as the Order of the Star Spangled Banner.39 The Protestantonly membership pledged not to vote for any man “unless he is an American-born citizen, in favor of Americans ruling Americans . . . .”40 The Know-Nothings were a nativist reaction to the early influx of immigrants. Their credo was “100% Americanism.” Danger to the Jew was in the Know-Nothings’ campaign to exclude naturalized citizens from public office, to delay naturalization, and to restrict immigration. The meteoric rise to political power of the Know-Nothings in 1856 was indicative of widespread anti-foreign sentiment, especially in the cities and mining towns of northern California.41

While the Jews were only an indirect target of nativist agitation, they were the “lightning rod” in the agitation for a Sunday blue law. Churchmen argued that Sunday was for religious observance and not for the distraction of open businesses.42 Jewish merchants became “Sabbath breakers.” A San Diego partnership had an unusual solution. Thomas Whaley, a Gentile, would mind the Tienda California on Saturday and Lewis Franklin stood behind the counter on Sunday, thus both men could observe their own Sabbath.43 Later, after the Whaley-Franklin partnership was dissolved, and Franklin entered business with his brother, a conciliatory move was made to the Anglo-Protestant businessman. The Herald complimentarily announced that “Messrs. Franklin have consented to close their place of business Sunday as well as Saturday.”44 There is evidence that in 1855 a majority of the Jews of California would have supported a Sunday closing law.45

However, the controversy was exacerbated by remarks of the Speaker of the Assembly in 1855. On a bill to prohibit Sunday trading, William W. Stow, who five months later would seek unsuccessfully the Know-Nothings’ American Party nomination for governor, made an inflammatory speech.46 It was summarized in the Sacramento Democratic State Journal:

The Speaker was in favor of the bill and had no sympathy with the Jews, who ought to respect the law and opinions of the majority. They were a class of people who only came here to make money and leave as soon as they had effected their object. They did not invest their money in the country or cities. They all intend or hope to settle in their “New Jerusalem.” He was in favor of inflicting such a tax upon them as would act as a prohibition to their residence amongst us. The Bible lay at the foundation of our institutions, and its ordinances ought to be covered and adhered to in legislating for the state.47

Speaker Stow’s remarks advocating the exclusion of the Jews by means of a prohibitory tax drew rebuke from some of his fellow assemblymen, and a howl of protest from Jewish leaders.48 The Sunday closing bill was defeated that year but another Sunday blue law, allowing certain exceptions, became law in 1858. However, this legislation was declared unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court. Another Sunday closing bill was passed in 1861,49 and this time the same Supreme Court upheld it. This state law which, in effect, forced devout Jewish merchants to be closed both on the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Sabbath, however, did not mark the low point in Jewish-Anglo relations in San Diego.

The nadir had been reached in 1859 in an incident involving the civil rights of Moses Mannasse, who was a viniculturist in San Pasqual. Mannasse traveled into town in early October for the Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. On that day Jews abstain from all temporal business, fast, and ask the Lord’s forgiveness for their sins. Deputy Sheriff Reiner appeared at the room the Jews had rented and furnished as a synagogue, and told Mannasse that he must testify before the jury. Mannasse refused to leave the service. Reiner reported back to the jury, and it was decided to seek a writ of attachment from a presiding judge. The judge consented, and armed with a subpoena, the Deputy Sheriff returned to the ten praying men. His reappearance caused a commotion.50

Lewis Franklin, who was conducting the service, and who was himself a former judge, remonstrated with Reiner. Mannasse, it was pointed out, was the tenth man, it being required that ten male Jews be present in a body for the Jewish ritual to be performed. Nonetheless, the Deputy Sheriff grabbed Mannasse, who was himself physically handicapped, and the other nine men surrounded the pair. Reiner desisted, as the Herald put it, “on account of the resistance of those present.”51 The officer left and this time returned with a posse of men, presumably armed. The Jews had bolted the door from the inside so the posse forced the door from the outside. Moses Mannasse was seized by the posse and forced to appear before the jury. But “Mannasse Chueco,” as he was affectionately known, refused to be sworn in. Placed in the custody of the sheriff, he was released on his own recognizance. After sundown, he returned and answered the routine questions about what he knew of a drunken brawl.52

The Jews were furious, for not only was a grand jury involved, and presumably the district attorney, but also a judge and a voluntary posse of men. “Were I to say that unmitigated disgust fills my bones I would scarcely express myself,” Franklin wrote to L. L. Morris of Los Angeles. Seeking newspaper publicity of the ugly event, he pointed out that this was not an isolated happening, but was “one case out of several of a similar nature which lately transpired in California.”53 The only San Diego newspaper, the Herald, stated that the incident had “caused some little excitement and hard feelings among a portion of our community.”54 The indignant Jews must have vigorously protested this violation of religious freedom as the Herald noted, “Several encounters have grown out of this affair.”55

In conclusion, while the Jews and Anglos had primarily an alliance of interests, there was a certain ambivalence in the relationship. Even shared values do not prevent economic friction. Besides, the times were unsettling, even giving rise to a nativist “California for the Americans!” movement. While not the direct target of this xenophobia, the Jew was foreign-born, still the possessor of “alien” traits, and could be crudely cariacatured in a Moses Bendigo letter. And a grand jury could temporarily abridge the religious liberty of Moses Mannasse.

The Jews were desirous of acceptance, but not at the price of assimilation into the larger Christian community. Paradoxically, they appear to have been accepted as individuals, as characteristic in small towns, yet some people still held a negative stereotyped image of “The Jew” as a distant and shadowy figure.

However, by and large, relationships were harmonious. The interests of both Anglos and Jews coalesced around the need for law and order and growth. In those rough and sometimes violent days, protection of life and property was a common cause. And to the Jewish American, as well as to the Anglo-American, growth was indeed everybody’s business. The Jews arrived in San Diego at about the same time as the Anglo, shared the same experiences, held similar middle-class values, and became an integral part of the community. Their economic interests soon led them into the political, fraternal and social fabric of the isolated town which was San Diego in the 1850’s.




1. Andrew F. Rolle, California:: A History (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1963), p. 209.

2. Hubert Howe Bancroft, The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, Vol. XXIII (Santa Barbara, Calif.: Wallace Hebberd, 1970), p. 125.

3. Norton B. Stern, California Jewish History: A Descriptive Bibliography (Glendale, Calif.: Arthur H. Clark Co., 1967), p. 9.

4. Ibid., p. 9. These Jews are usually referred to as German Jews. This is misleading as a substantial proportion came from Poland, France, England. The Census of 1860 listed three from Bavaria and two from Prussia; Bavaria and Prussia became part of a unified Germany later. San Diego Census of 1860, San Diego History Center Archives.

5. Adrienne J. Wasser, Pioneer Jews in San Diego: 1850-1888. (San Diego: California State University San Diego, 1973), Unpublished manuscript, San Diego Historical Society Archives, p. 2.

6. Ibid., p. 4.

7. Ibid., p. 5.

8. San Diego Census of 1860, San Diego History Center Archives.

9. Wasser, op. cit., p. 10.

10. James Allen, “Marcus Schiller: San Diego’s Horatio Alger,” Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly, III (October, 1970), p. 29.

11. San Diego Census of 1860.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. Wasser, op. cit., p. 5.

15. B’nai B’rith Messenger, October 11, 1969. San Diego Jews, file at San Diego History Center Archives.

16. Rose Biography File, San Diego History Center Archives. (Unpaged).

17. San Diego Herald, May 12, 1853.

18. Allen, op. cit., p. 26.

19. Ibid., p. 31.

20. Robin M. Williams, Jr., Changes in Value Orientation in Jews in the Mind of America, ed. George Salomon (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1966), p. 345.

21. Stern, California Jewish History, p. 13.

22. San Diego Herald, April 17,18S2.

23. William E. Smythe, History of San Diego: 1542-1907 (San Diego: The History Co., 1907), pp. 723-727.

24. Myron Lustig, Nathan Schiller and Harold Keen, The Anniversary Story of Congregation Beth Israel (San Diego: Congregation Beth Israel, 1952), p. 7. Even with a predominance of male Jews and a shortage of Jewish girls, there was little marriage with Gentiles. Moses Mannasse married a Mexican woman although he retained his faith in Judaism. In later years several prominent Jewish families did assimilate.

25. Ibid., p. 4.

26. Smythe, History of San Diego, p. 651.

27. Ibid., pp. 651 and 654.

28. Victoria Jacobs, Diary of a San Diego Girl-1856, ed, Sylvia Arden (Santa Monica, Calif.: Norton B. Stern, 1974) pp. 23, 30 and 31.

29. San Diego Herald, December 27, 1856.

30. Max Vorspan and Lloyd P. Gartner, History of the Jews of Los Angeles (San Marino, Calif.: Huntington Library, 1970), p. 14.

31. San Diego Herald, October 9, 1851. The very first high holiday services in the West are believed to have been held in 1849 in a tent owned by Lewis Franklin.

32. Frances P. Farquhar, Phoenixiana: A Collection of the Burlesque and Sketches of John Phoenix, Alias John P. Squibob, Who was in Fact George Horatio Derby, U.S.A. (San Francisco: Grabhorn Press, 1937), p. 50.

33. San Diego Herald, August 24, 1853; May 27, 1854.

34. San Diego Herald, June 17, 1854.

35. Myron Lustig, “San Diego Jewish Community More than 100 years Old” (Unpublished articles on file at San Diego History Center Archives). Lustig, Schiller and Keen, op. cit.

36. The Bendigo letter appeared in the same newspaper column, with two other “Letters to the Editor,” by John Phoenix, a pseudonym for George Derby. However, a line slug separates the Derby contribution from the Bendigo letter. There is some similarity in phraseology and imagery between the Bendigo letter and “Sandyago-A Soloquy.” Yet this letter is not included in Phoenixiana, which is a collection of Derby’s pieces in the Herald. And “Moses Bendigo” doesn’t seem to be one of Derby’s pen names,’ of which at least eighteen have been identified. Editor Judson Ames, too, might have written the Bendigo letter. The attitude of the Herald towards the Jews could be described as condescending. Items on Jews were either complimentary or snide.

37. Charles Herbert Stember, Images of the Jew, ed, George Salomon, op. cit., p. 55. 38. San Diego Herald, June 24, 1854.

39. Walton Bean, California, An Interpretive History (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1968), p. 174.

40. Peyton Hunt, “The Rise and Fall of the ‘Know-Nothings’ in California,” California Historical Society Quarterly, IX (March, 1930), p. 21.

41. Norman Mansion, “The Know-Nothing Party in California,” (Thesis, San Diego State College, 1967), p. 71. Know-Nothingism appeared in San Francisco in May 1854, and by the end of 1856 had swept northern municipal elections, and won both the governorship and a working majority in both houses of the legislature. Participating in organizing the Know-Nothing’s American Party Majority in the Senate was Benjamin D. Wilson, state senator from San Diego, Los Angeles and San Bernardino. Editor Judson Ames was a strong booster for the American Party in the presidential election of 1856. However, the results of the race for governor in 1855 and the presidential election of 1856 indicate limited American Party strength in San Diego. Mansion, op. cit., p. 107 and Appendix A and B.

42. William Hanchett, “The Blue Law Gospel in Gold Rush California,” Pacific Historical Review, XXIV (November, 1955), p. 366.

43. Thomas Whaley personal letter to Anna E. Lannay, San Diego, March 14, 1852. MS at Whaley House, San Diego. As business partners Thomas Whaley, a Gentile, and Lewis Franklin, a Jew, trusted each other implicitly. Thomas Whaley personal letter to Rachel Whaley, San Francisco, September 29, 1851. MS at Whaley House, San Diego.

44. San Diego Herald, August 13, 1853.

45. Jacob Rader Marcus, “Anti-Jewish Sentiment in California, 1855,” American Jewish Archives XII (April, 1960), p. 20. Professor Marcus quotes a letter to Speaker Stow from H. J. Labatt, a prominent Jew of San Francisco, that “The Jews of San Francisco are in favor of a Sunday Bill.” The Los Angeles Star of April 7, 1885 editorialized that “no doubt a large portion of our Jewish citizens here and throughout the state would sanction and support a bill that was uniform in its operation.” Vorspan and Gartner, op. cit., p. 15.

46. Mansion, op. cit., p. 88.

47. Marcus, op. cit., p. 19.

48. Ibid., pp. 20-33.

49. Arnold Roth, “Sunday ‘Blue Laws’ and the California State Supreme Court,” Southern California Quarterly, (Spring, 1973), pp. 44-46.

50. Vorspan and Gartner, op. cit., p. 16. San Diego Herald, October 15, 1859.

51. San Diego Herald, October 15, 1859.

52. Vorspan and Gartner, op. cit.

53. Ibid.

54. San Diego Herald, October 15, 1859. 55. Ibid.

Henry Schwartz attended San Diego State University and the University of California, Berkeley. He has engaged in several pioneer businesses in San Diego in the fields of printing and real estate. He is a native San Diegan, now retired, pursuing free lance and historical writing, and is the author of Hidden Gold in Real Estate (1974). His article published here was an award-winning paper presented at the San Diego History Center’s 1973 Institute of History. Illustrations are from the Title Insurance and Trust Company, San Diego, and the San Diego History Center.