Horace Walpole Carpentier was born to James and Henrietta (Ballard) Carpentier on March 6, 1824. At the time of Horace's birth, his father was 53 years old. His parents had been married for twenty one years and already had five living children. Horace, their seventh child, was their youngest. The family lived in Galway (or Providence), New York, a small community in Saratoga County. Sometime prior to Horace's birth, his grandfather changed the family name from Carpenter to Carpentier, the only branch of the family to employ this (Francophied) spelling.
Of the older brothers and sisters, Sarah married a man named Stokes Hall, who, like her father was a farmer, and continued her life as a married woman in Galway. They had one daughter, Maria, who married James Williamson; it is quite possible that they had a daughter (Sarah) born in California.
Horace's sister Anna married Edward Smith, also a farmer, and moved to Michigan. Sister Alice, for whom Alice Street in Oakland is named, married Herbert L. Loomis.
Brother Edward, in 1847 a member of the New York State Assembly, was an
attorney and followed Horace to the West Coast where he played a
relatively important part in this history. Edward played a role in a
number of important business dealings with his brother, but he had his own
law firm, Clarke & Carpentier, in San Francisco. Edward made a great deal
of money while in California, and returned with it to New York in 1881.
Brother James, 20 years Horace's senior, was also an attorney. He remained a resident of New York. At the time of Horace Carpentier's death, he listed no living relatives.
Among the (secondary) Carpentier relatives, one cousin is made especially conspicuous by her importance to the history of Oakland and Berkeley. Harriet Carpentier was Horace's first cousin once removed, the granddaughter of his father's brother, William Carpentier. She was born in July of 1815, making her some nine years older than Horace. Many court proceedings which surrounded the complexity of the Carpentier land claims refer to Harriet as his sister; this was not the case, and Horace never bothered to correct the misconception. While playing her important part, and at one time being listed as one of the wealthiest people in the State, there is no evidence that Harriet ever set foot inside of California, let along outside of New York. Several historians have suggested that a spinster niece did actually come to California to house-keep for her uncle, but this is probably apocryphal and founded on the fact that Horace was known to be constantly in the company of various "nieces" none of whom were actually blood relatives. In June of 1861 a Harriet Carpentier was listed as a member of the Oakland Congregational Church. She was later "removed by letter". Her "membership" was likely an attempt on Horace's part to establish her "residence" in the State.
Horace was a bright and promising young man. He completed his education at Columbia University in 1848, graduating with a degree in law. He left New York a short time later, and arrived in California on August 8, 1849 aboard the sailing ship "Panama", amongst the 200 passengers who had sailed around the "Horn". It is quite possible that while on this voyage he met the man who would soon become his partner in law and East Bay real estate, Andrew Moon.
It seems evident from the events which were to follow, that Horace
Carpentier arrived in San Francisco with established political
connections, for he had no sooner arrived than he was well into the local
political life. In the Spring of 1850 he set up his law office,
presumably with Andrew Moon and Edson Adams. Adams had arrived in San
Francisco in July of 1849 and had gone directly to the mines. On his
return trip, in March of 1850, he met Horace Carpentier who likewise had
made a brief trip into the gold country. This trip came in the wake of
Carpentier's early political defeats.
Horace Carpentier had competed unsuccessfully in the new State’s first election, for the Democratic nomination as State Senator. Failing to secure the nomination, he then ran, again without success, for the position of State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Failing that he went to look for gold.
In May of 1850 Adams, then aged 26, located himself on the "Encinal" of Vicente Peralta's land, and established his claim to 160 acres by "squatting". He was soon afterward joined by partners Moon and Carpentier who claimed their 160 acres adjacent to his, one to the east and one to the west. This constituted a tract of land of something over 200 city blocks bounded on the south by the estuary, on the north by 14th Street, with a yet to be delineated Broadway bisecting the parcel. Their pursuit of possessory rights culminated in the incorporation of the town of Contra Costa, quickly renamed Oakland.
Carpentier's political aspirations did not die with his first two defeats. In January of 1851 he was given the position of Senate Enrolling Clerk, a job which placed him in a favorable niche from where he would make the acquaintance of many other politically inspired men. While so serving, he was employed doing extra work on the Industrial Commission, on the Senate Finance Committee, and early the next year on the Committee of Navigation and Commerce, a position which would give birth to his waterfront schemes. In 1852 he also occupied the position of State Prison Inspector, holding this assignment until the Spring of the following year. If he had not previously been acquainted with them, he now became politically involved with several men who would serve him well in his ambitious schemes. These associations included Napoleon B. Smith, brother of Henry Smith (of Santa Clara County) and a member of the Legislature in 1852, and David Broderick, the political boss of San Francisco who was elected president of the State Senate in January of 1851. "President of the State Senate" has since become the office of Lieutenant Governor. Broderick, it should be noted, was closely affiliated with Governor Bigler, a man forever sympathetic with the efforts of Mr. Carpentier. Some accounts have gone so far as to suggest that Broderick actually controlled Bigler. The relationship between Broderick and Carpentier was as much a business relationship as a political one.
In August of 1851, Carpentier and Moon obtained a ferry licence from the Contra Costa Court of Sessions (predecessor of the Board of Supervisors), placed the licence in brother Edward's name, and began a ferry service between “Oakland” and from San Francisco. Soon afterwards the operation was turned over to fellow New Yorker, Charles Minturn, under a contract which provided Carpentier a monopoly in the ferry business for the next 20 years. Eight years later, a competing ferry service was initiated by James B. LaRue with the express purpose of defeating the Carpentier monopoly. It is worthy of note that the Carpentier/Minturn ferry activity was conducted from a pier not far from LaRue's, and across the slough from the Carpentier property. Reaching the estuary's deep water from Carpentier's property would have required a considerably longer pier. While legal efforts on the part of the Carpentiers failed to defeat his competition, the matter was soon thereafter resolved by simply buying out LaRue.
Incorporation of the Town of Oakland
When the Encinal was purchased from Vicente Peralta in 1852, Carpentier
drew upon his established relationships and persuaded Napoleon Smith to
introduce the bill which would incorporate the "town" of Oakland. The
introduction of the bill was planned for April 29, 1852; the legislative
session was due to adjourn in May. On May 1, State Senator J. Fry
introduced another bill to declare San Antonio Slough, which was too
shallow to navigate, navigable. This would mark the first visible signs
of his incipient waterfront scheme. The bill provided funds to dredge the
slough and thereby provide access. At that point Carpentier instructed
Peter Portois, a San Francisco architect, to create a map favorable to his
plans for incorporation, and presented this to the Legislature which was
in a hurry to adjourn. Bigler signed both Acts and on May 4, 1852 the
ball was rolling. It is not unthinkable that Carpentier penned both of
The town of Oakland was to be managed by a board of trustees, from which Carpentier immediately disqualified himself. The board was made up of Moon, A. W. Burrell (who had recently built Oakland's first hotel on the corner of 1st and Broadway [then Main St] on land given him by Carpentier and Adams), Amadee Marier, and Alpheus Staples. It is remarkable that so little is known of Burrell, Marier, and Staples. Their inclusion is likely to have been no more than a formality, their functions nil. Francis K. Shattuck, another Carpentier cohort, was appointed clerk.
The Oakland Waterfront
Two weeks after the installation of the new board, the entire waterfront
of the Encinal was turned over to Carpentier at the first town council
meeting on May 12, 1852. In exchange for his right to operate the
waterfront forever, he promised to build a wharf and a school house. The
school house was completed in July of 1852 at Fourth and Clay Streets.
The first teacher was Hannah Jayne who would become the wife of Edson
Adams in 1855. The initial terms of the waterfront agreement were not
agreeable to all, and when Marier dissented, Carpentier promised to post a
bond insuring the ultimate return of the property to the town. When
Marier remained reluctant to sign, Shattuck's willingness to accede
provided in the needed signatures.
While successful in getting his way politically, Carpentier did not endear himself to the hearts of the populace. Displeased with the waterfront conveyance, not to mention the secret elections, some citizens (of which there were not many in those days) protested by rioting and doing damage to Carpentier property. When such occurrences were imminent, Carpentier and Adams would escape harm by rowing out into the Bay, and return to file suit against the "evildoers". While some were against him, others were there to offer support, the latter being in a position to profit themselves by following in the shadow of this master of entrepreneurs.
When the town brought suit against Carpentier for any of a number of major complaints, the town was represented by John B. Watson, a legal partner of Horace Carpentier. The outcome was inevitable. A few years later this same legal flim flam would be repeated when another Carpentier associate, City Attorney, John B. Felton, would likewise represent the City's interest against Carpentier.
Desiring to offend no more than was necessary, as well as to reduce as best he could his inevitable visibility, Horace transferred title to the Oakland waterfront to his cousin Harriet in August of 1854. Through her power of attorney, Horace continued to manage "her" business with the waterfront.
It would be well to note in this context that Horace Carpentier was a charismatic man, generally well-liked if not approved of, and inclined to win the confidence of the most skeptical. He has been described as having a "suave, slender figure, fathomless blue eyes, prim mouth, and a thin aristocratic nose..." He spoke fluent Spanish, a tongue he picked up as a needed exigency for dealing with his Spanish speaking clients, and was inclined to not only wear a large crucifix around his neck, but to represent himself as a former "padre", thereby gaining their confidence. It has been said that Mr. Carpentier was a man without scruples, but his persuasive skills and municipal visions were unimpeachable. J. Ross Browne wrote frequently of encounters with the man and condemned him roundly for his finger in everybody's pie, including Browne's own, but in all these instances one can clearly read a barely veiled respect and even affection for Horace Carpentier.
In March of 1852 Carpentier made a deal with two of the Castro brothers, Victor and "J. J.", which would provide him half of all their land occupied by squatters plus additional lands if Carpentier would take the legal initiative in order to secure their title on that occupied land. Later that year the Castro brothers extended their contract with Carpentier, enlisting his help in dealing with the U.S. Land Commission. From that point on, Horace Carpentier was the "attorney of record" for various Castro litigation.
In June of 1854 Horace obtained power of attorney for his cousin Harriet and placed all of his Oakland properties in her name along with the waterfront. In large measure, Oakland had an absentee landlord represented by a local attorney. This action magnificently complicated all further efforts in dealing with the contested waterfront.
The 12th Street Bridge
In October of 1852, the Supervisors of Contra Costa County contracted with
Trustan Gilman for the construction of a bridge over the San Antonio
Slough, at 12th Street. Ready access was needed, short of traveling
around the end of the "lake", when moving between Clinton and Oakland.
The cost would be $7,400. With the events which were to follow already
regarded as a fait accompli, by January of 1853 Carpentier had already
sold a quarter of his interest in the bridge to his partner Edson Adams,
including the land upon which the bridge stood. The bridge would be
completed in August of 1853. In June of 1853, with the county suddenly
short in the needed funding, Carpentier leapt into the breach, offering to
buy and to improve the bridge, and to cut the Town of Oakland into a
portion of the tolls which he planned on collecting, but only until such
time as the town was able to buy the bridge. The toll taker was his
partner John B. Watson.
Rather than awaiting opportunity, Carpentier had clearly orchestrated these events, setting the stage for his proprietorship of the 12th Street Bridge, well in advance of its completion. As late as November of 1854 Gilman's fees had not yet been satisfied. In May of 1855 a bill was introduced within the proceedings of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors proposing that Carpentier's by now very controversial bridge be made into a public highway. In January of 1857, Carpentier was still in possession of his bridge and the city opted to offer him competition by building a free bridge across the slough at 7th Street. By July of that year the 7th Street Bridge was completed. The 12th Street bridge later went on to become the 12th Street Dam, thereby creating Lake Merritt.
Carpentier in the State Assembly
In November of 1852 Horace Carpentier was successfully elected to the State Assembly for the 4th district which encompassed Contra Costa County. He won this election with 590 votes out of a constituency which included only 130 voters. Historians have suggested that this was a case of ballot stuffing. That same month he engineered a sheriff's sale for delinquent taxes which left him in titled possession of 220 acres of the Peralta Reserve. In July of the following year, he repeated this tactic which left his brother Edward in legal possession of everything in Rancho San Antonio that had not already been nailed down. It was this maneuver which seriously compromised the magnitude of the sale to the partners of Joseph Irving.
Creation of Alameda
While serving as a State Assemblyman, he encountered a measure of
political censure from the governing body of Contra Costa County, with
especial reference to his acquisition of the waterfront. His response to
this was to remove himself from under the political/legal control of the
county, by fabricating a county of his own. This was done in concert with
Henry Smith who had been elected in Santa Clara to the State Legislature
in 1852. Together they drafted a bill which would remove portions of both
counties to form the new Alameda County. This bill was approved and in
March of 1853 Alameda County came into being. The county seat was to be in
Alvarado, home of Henry Smith. In April of 1853 Carpentier introduced a
bill to change the specifics of the incorporation, moving the county seat
to Oakland. This bill, however, failed. He next introduced another bill
that would divide Alameda County just south of Oakland, effectively
discarding the offending portions, making Horace's life considerably more
manageable. This bill failed as well. It was not long, however, before
Smith lost his political support and Oakland became the center of the
County's political life.
In 1859 the State Supreme Court wrote an opinion to the effect that the waterfront grant and contracts were void. The case was retried and Carpentier was found to have acted fraudulently. He immediately appealed and the decision was of course reversed. Since the matter of legal remedy (concerning the voided waterfront grant) was maintained by the governing body of Oakland, Carpentier took actions that appeared to be an effort to hedge his bets. He bought into the "Sisters Title" scam that had been so well employed by Robert Simson and William Chittenden. It would be many years yet before the waterfront issue was suitably resolved.
Pressing his claims on this basis he lost twice but secured many quit claim fees in the process; he later "sold" his rights to the "Sisters Title" to his brother Edward who persisted in employing them to his ongoing financial advantage.
Carpentier and Durant
In June of 1853 Horace Carpentier was named a Trustee of Durant's Academy, along with Timothy Dwight Hunt, Joseph Benton, and Edward Walsworth. In his behalf, it should be noted that Carpentier had a history of support to educational institutions which was substantial, and while he may have profited just a little from the real estate transactions involved with the location of the University in Berkeley, he later contributed heavily to this same institution. His activities as a trustee, as well as his relationship with Durant, are silent, and the nature of their business association can only be inferred from the evidentiary trail which has been left. Neither of these men did anything to encourage a public awareness of their long standing and mutually beneficial relationship. Durant did request his being on the board, and it was Horace Carpentier who suggested that Durant include Walsworth in the same capacity. Reverend Walsworth was in Marysville at the time, and the Reverend Brayton was sent to relieve him, providing for his participation in the local activities.
The City of Oakland
On March 25, 1854, by the process of incorporation, the Town of Oakland
became the City of Oakland. On April 17, 1854, his reputation
notwithstanding, Horace Carpentier was elected the city's first mayor.
This in spite of the fact that the city council that was elected at the
same time was described as being substantially anti-Carpentier. As the
Council’s first matter of business, it set about to both regain the
waterfront and to limit Carpentier’s monopoly by providing competition to
their new mayor's enterprises. On August 5, 1854, Alderman A.D. Eames,
formally a Carpentier cohort, set in motion an ordinance to provide for a
second wharf within the city of Oakland. His measure passed 8 to 6 and was
later supported by a petition signed by 170 of Oakland's citizens. The
wharf was to be installed at the southwest corner of the Encinal. Mayor
Carpentier refused to sign the measure. A month later it was made policy
over the mayor's objections, with support lent by George Blake and Mr
Kelsey. With this action political war was effectively declared on the
While serving as mayor, Carpentier made a bid for the Democratic nomination to office of Attorney General of the State of California, but did not succeed. Within the two years following the end of his reign as mayor (1855), the Carpentier matters were pressed with increased vigor by the governing fathers of the city. In 1857 James LaRue obtained the licence for his competing ferry line, beginning his ineffectual attempt to interrupt the Carpentier monopoly. In the meanwhile, Horace Carpentier's attention was being drawn elsewhere, as new horizons began to present themselves.
More on The Waterfront
In March of 1868 the City of Oakland passed an ordinance that would
presumably enable them to end the waterfront controversy. A week later the
Oakland Waterfront Company was created, with Horace Carpentier as
director, then Mayor Sam Merritt as Vice President, and Leland Stanford as
Treasurer. On March 31, 1868, all of Carpentier's interest in the
waterfront (i.e., all of Harriet Carpentiers interest in the waterfront)
was transferred to the City of Oakland, through the Waterfront Company;
all but a small waterfront lot which Carpentier (Harriet) deeded directly
to the city. The company was capitalized at five million dollars. The
stock was distributed as follows: Horace got 23,000 shares, or 46%,
Stanford got 17,500 shares, or 35%, Felton (the city attorney and a close
associate of Carpentier) received 5,000 or 10%, and Edward Carpentier
together with Lloyd Tevis received the remaining 4,500 shares, or 9%.
Together the Carpentier brothers owned 51%.
On the same date as the transfer of Carpentier's interest to the city, a contract was made between him and Stanford for conveyance of a sizable portion of the waterfront to the Western Pacific Railroad. On April 1, 1868, the Waterfront Company deeded 500 acres of waterfront and exclusive right-of-way to the Western Pacific (later to become the Southern Pacific) Railroad. In return, the railroad promised to complete its tracks from Niles Canyon, not through San Jose, around the Bay and up to San Francisco, but directly to Oakland, requiring only increased ferry service to complete the journey to San Francisco.
Carpentier's association with the founding fathers of the railroad system in and out of California was long and profitable. His ability to finesse the location of the Western Terminus of the transcontinental railroad system to Oakland was the result of this association. As a result of these efforts, the railroad also extended its service along a spur line into Berkeley, providing the basis for the development of a community in conjunction with the planned college. Because of this major transportation link between Berkeley and Oakland, the state was able to see its way clear to purchase the Berkeley site from the College of California. The year of 1868 was momentous in the history of Berkeley.
In 1853 the California State Telegraph Company completed its first
state-wide telegraph system. From 1857 to 1867 Carpentier served as the
president of this company. Other directors included J Mora Moss, Henry
Height, and William Ralston. In 1860 this company absorbed the Alta
California Telegraph Company, thereby coming into possession of the
controlling lines between San Jose, San Francisco, Stockton, Sacramento,
Nevada City, and Marysville. In 1861 the Overland Telegraph Company was
incorporated, of which Horace was also president. The Overland Company
constructed a junction with the Pacific Telegraph Company, owned by
Western Union. By 1887 Western Union owned all three companies.
In September of 1861, Horace and partners Moss, Beale, and Herman Wohler bought the Arroyo Seco Rancho from Andres Pico. This Rancho extended into Sacramento, Amador, and San Joaquin counties and occupied a total area of 11 square leagues.
Purchasing his way into William Ralston's Bank of California in 1864, he later became a director. In 1875 Horace Carpentier was listed as the ninth richest man in Alameda County with a property value of well over a million dollars. This figure belies his real wealth and actual holdings. He has been named as being at one time the largest landowner in the State of California.
Carpentier and Peralta As early as 1852, Carpentier had established an attorney/client relationship with Domingo Peralta. Offering to protect Domingo from the very hazards that he was in fact providing, he eventually extracted in the form of unpaid legal fees nearly all of the Reserve and large portions of the Homestead. While this bleeding of the Peralta lands was taking place, Domingo offered few complaints. When he changed legal representation, he was served by one or another of Carpentiers affiliates. Clearly Horace had major dibs on the Peralta Berkeley property, and he tolerated no intrusion into this portion of his domain. While his interest in the East Berkeley area is not quite explicit, it does become evident as we examine the working relationship between Carpentier and Shattuck, Higley, Robinson, Pioche, and others. Clearly his interest in this section of town was more than casual, as he proceeded to promote the installation of a dead end railroad line into what was then no more than a remote, unpopulated, entirely undeveloped section of privately owned turf.
As the political foundation of Horace Carpentier was lost to attrition and the increasing complexity of the East Bay communities, Horace found less and less interest in his local projects. Horace live far longer than all of his of his contemporaries, and he was not known to make many friends in his later years. Still owning a major share of present day Berkeley, none of which was in his own name, he moved back to New York during the early 1880's. There were various visits to the West Coast, some in response to demands that he attend courtroom hearings regarding many of the familiar issues that dragged on for years. The sale of his property was conducted from his New York home, with sales continuing well into the beginning years of the present century. In 1912 he sold off the remainder of his California holdings to C.A. Cooper and Company.
The Disbursement of the Carpentier Fortune Following his retirement from active business pursuits, Horace Carpentier engaged successfully in trade with the Orient. This activity increased his fortune substantially. He traveled back and forth to China, and acquired a Chinese valet (Ting Lung) who resided with Carpentier in his New York home. After returning from China in 1901 Carpentier endowed Columbia University, upon whose board of Trustees he sat, with a $100,000 chair in Chinese Language and Literature. Several years later he increased that gift with an additional $12,000 as a memorial to his now deceased companion, the misnamed "Dean Lung Professorship", honoring Ting Lung for his patience and loyalty. In his will he added yet another $300,000 to his established gift to Columbia University. In 1903 he gave the Columbia University Law School $300,000 in memory of his brother James.
Horace Carpentier died in New York on January 31, 1918. He was 94 years old. Mr Carpentier was buried at the family home in Galway. His will provided more than a million dollars to Barnard College, One hundred thousand dollars to the University of California and another one hundred thousand to the Pacific Theological Seminary. His estate totaled in excess of three and a half million dollars. Prior to his death, before he had given away a major portion of his estate, he was noted to be worth more than twenty million dollars. The Carpentier home in New York City was donated to Barnard College in 1917. The disposition of his Oakland home at Third and Alice is not known. The area is now occupied by the warehouses of Oakland's produce district.
Horace Carpentier was the last of his family to die. In addition to his distribution of funds among the various charitable and educational institutions, Carpentier's only other beneficiaries were a few of the young women that he had "adopted" as "nieces". Among these his favorite for many years was Maud Burk (1872-1948). While the other young woman came and went, Ms Burk remained a part of his life for many years. He had introduced her to the works of the classic writers, and managed to turn her tastes to the Greek and Latin poets, and to the works of Shakespeare. He became extremely possessive of this young woman and prevented at least one marriage on the grounds of terminating their relationship. She visited him for the last time in 1906. By then she had already married and became the "Lady Cunard", heir to the shipping fortune and the mother of Nancy Cunard. Maud was not mentioned in his will.
Horace Carpentier had arrived in California in 1849, and was a member of the Society of California Pioneers. Many years later, long after he had established his residency in New York City, he was asked by the Society to author his own biographic statement, to be included among a collection of those of the other members. The following constitutes his entire submission:
Without education or culture I have lived a rather long and busy life doing many common things in a common way and perhaps a few things well; a life, as I see it, of mixed good and ill, and with little or nothing in it of special interest to others or even to myself, or that can be worth a remembrance in the annals of your society.
There may be others, masters of fiction and rhetoric, who could invent for me a larger and more rounded history, but this seems to be about the best that I can do.
Yours very truly, H.W.C."
108 East 37 Street, New York July 7, 1901