THERE are several places in California, where the Church has been founded, the story of each of which is short, and yet the annals of this diocese would not be complete if it were omitted. I shall group them together therefore in a single chapter, taking them in succession.
At the close of my first year's residence here--in 1854--I received an urgent appeal from a young man at Coloma, to pay it a visit. He described it as a thriving town--the county seat--and yet, without any place of religious worship. I determined therefore in the following month to go there.
January 21st, 1855, I was officiating at Marysville, where Mr. Hager had recently begun his labors. The following day, Monday, I left Marysville, to return to Sacramento, in the little, high pressure steamer, Pearl. Another steamer started at the same time, so that we raced down at the top of our speed, reaching Sacramento at two p. M. Five mornings afterwards, the Pearl, in repeating the race, was blown to pieces, every officer and about seventy passengers killed, leaving only twelve unwounded out of one hundred and twenty-two individuals who were known to be on board.
On Tuesday, I took the stage at daylight for Coloma in the mountains of El Dorado County. It was a long and wearisome ride. The distance is about fifty-five miles, but it was the rainy season--the roads had been cut up--and there were occasional showers through the day. After about twenty miles, the road turns aside into the mountain mining district. We passed through several little mining settlements, such as Negro Hill, and Mormon Island; and in the gulches and ravines saw the miners, by twos and threes, at their hard tasks. The country, too, is traversed in various directions, by ditches and flumes constructed to carry water to the "diggings." We reached our destination at about four in the afternoon, where my correspondent met me; and I found a place had been provided for me at the hotel.
The town proper of Coloma contains only between six and seven hundred inhabitants, but a numerous mining population is scattered around it. Although ranked among the mining towns it has beautiful gardens which are famous for their fruit, and extensive vineyards are being planted in the vicinity.
It is a beautifully situated place, surrounded by high mountains on which the lights and shadows play; and the effects, particularly at sunset, are sometimes exceedingly fine. Through the mountains, flows a little stream, on which is a mill that has become historical as the spot where gold was first discovered in California. Some men were digging a mill race for General Suttor, when their attention was attracted by the glittering ore. This led to further explorations, the riches of California were disclosed, and as soon as the news reached the world, the rush of immigration began. While here, I saw the first piece of gold that was discovered, which is still in the possession of the wife of the finder. They are poor people; and the State of California should procure the specimen, which may have in it about five dollars worth of gold, and place it in security with the archives of the State.
In the evening I met some members of the Church who were arranging a choir for their first service. Wednesday was spent with Mr. Searle in visiting all those in the town whose tendencies were in favor of the Church. In the evening, the Court House was crowded, and I held service and preached, baptizing an infant after the Second Lesson. The next day I returned to Sacramento, reaching there in time for the noon boat for San Francisco.
I found, as they had told me, there was not a religious service of any denomination held in Coloma. Now and then, some wandering Methodists came, but they were generally so illiterate that the congregation could not listen to them with patience. While I was there measures were taken to erect a Church--a subscription was commenced--and they soon after wrote me, that a plan had been adopted and the building commenced.
During the following May, I once more visited Coloma, arriving there on the evening of the 11th. The first object which greeted my sight as we entered the town, was the little Church which had been built since my last visit.
On the next day--Saturday--I drove over to Placerville, eleven miles distant, in company with Judge Robinson of Coloma, who kindly volunteered to be my guide. My object was to inquire into the feasibility of establishing the Church in that place, and if possible, to become acquainted with some of those who were Churchmen at home. While there I met a State Senator -whom I know, and upon inquiring with regard to several persona, as to whether or not they were Churchmen, he at last gave me in a single sentence the Californian practice on this subject: "I don't know," said the honorable gentleman--(poor man! the next year he was in his grave)--"when a stranger comes here, we inquire into his political creed and financial ability, but never ask any questions about his religious belief."
Sunday, May 13th. The Court House was well filled for our services both morning and evening, when I read service and preached.
I remained over the next day for the purpose of visiting the different members of the Church; and to give some advice with regard to the interior and chancel arrangements of the new building.
During the following January, 1856, the Rev. James W. Capen arrived and entered on his duties as Rector. The health of his wife, however, in a few months, obliged him to remove to Oakland for sea air. Then the Rev. D. F. Macdonald came, who remained for more than a year. During their residence I visited the parish several times, and on one Sunday evening officiated at Placerville in the Presbyterian house of worship, which was crowded. About this time, however, Coloma began to decline. The "diggings" in the neighborhood proved less rich, and the removal of the county seat to Placerville took away some of the best people, Mr. Macdonald went to Stockton; and while I write this the church is without a pastor. If possible, I will send some one to Placerville, who will hold occasional services at Coloma.
Oakland is another rural parish. It is situated directly across the bay from San Francisco, and is the residence of many who are engaged in business in the city. My first visit was on Wednesday, Nov. 15th, 1854. I went over in the afternoon, expecting to hold a service in the evening; but owing to some mistake, notice had not been given, as was expected. I therefore spent the evening with Mr. Compton, an English gentleman residing there; and did what I could by personal conference with the members of the Church to induce them to begin its services among them.
The result was, that a commodious room was arranged for service, with altar, chancel, pulpit, vestry-room, etc. I spent Sunday, Dec. 17th there, and held the first service, reading prayers and preaching, morning and afternoon. Then, Rev. Mr. Syle, who had gone to China as a missionary, but being unable to accomplish anything there had settled down in Oakland, took the parish. In a few months, however, it died on his hands and he returned to China. Then Mr. Capen removed thither from Coloma on account of his wife's health. In a few months, however, he returned to the East. Then the room used for a chapel was burned down, and for two years nothing further was done.
Then Rev. Benj. Akerly entered on his duties as missionary, and by his untiring energy the congregation was collected and the present Church erected, which was consecrated March, 1860.
Among my most pleasant recollections is that of my first service at Petaluma. Mr. Wickersham, one of the congregation, had called on me, and I made an appointment for Tuesday, March 10th, 1857. I found Petaluma, a flourishing town which had sprung up in the last two years, and as it is at the outlet of some of the richest valleys in the State, the prosperity is likely to continue.
It was a soft and beautiful moonlight night. In accordance with notice given, I had Evening Service and preached in the Methodist house of worship, which had been offered for our use. The building was crowded, very many not being able to obtain admission. Immediately after service I baptized two children, and the next day returned to San Francisco.
Napa is a similar agricultural community. My first visit there was on July 31, 1858. I officiated in the morning in the Presbyterian house of worship, and again in the evening in the Methodist meeting house. These were our first services in Napa.