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California Genealogy and History Archives

Sonoma County


John Bailiff

The record of the life of John Bailiff, who passed from the scenes of earth at his home near Santa Rosa, December 27, 1900, is striking exemplification of the truth that industry, perseverance and determination, are uniformly rewarded by his success. Mr. Bailiff was one of the army of men who foresaw the result of patient application in the development of the boundless resources of California in the early days of the state, and from the beginning of his career adhered strictly to a well-matured plan to allow no opportunity to gain a competency to pass without an investigation.

Mr. Bailiff was born on the Isle of Man, St. George’s Channel, England, in 1824, a son of Abraham Bailiff, a native of France, and his mother was before her marriage a Miss Curphy, a native of the Isle of Man. Until he was sixteen years of age John Bailiff was a student in the common schools of his native locality, after which he was apprenticed to the trade of carpenter and joiner. At the expiration of his apprenticeship of four years he began working as a journeyman, continuing thus until 1848, when he embarked for the United States as a passenger on the ship Erin’s Queen. Nearly half of the ship’s passengers had died of plague before the vessel reached New Orleans, but although Mr. Bailiff escaped the disease on shipboard, soon after his arrival in New Orleans he was taken ill and confined in a hospital for two months. As soon as he had sufficiently recovered his strength he began working at his trade, having secured a position in the employ of the United States government, building hospitals for the returning veterans of the Mexican war. Going to Vera Cruz, Mexico, in the fall of 1848, he was there engaged in carpenter work when he heard the news of the finding of gold in California. With a company of twelve other mechanics he started across Mexico for San Blas, a month’s travel bringing him to that point. There they were joined by a number of other immigrants, and together they purchased a schooner and embarked in it for San Francisco. During the first night’s voyage a severe electrical storm swept over the sea, the vessel was struck by lightning, shivering the masts and destroying the sails and rigging, and many of the passengers and crew were severely affected by the electrical shocks. Relief came to the distressed vessel the following morning and the passengers were taken back to San Blas. Paradoxical as it may sound, the disaster proved fortunate in that it averted a more serious disaster later on. In fitting up and provisioning the vessel before setting out from San Blas a German had been engaged as super-cargo, he being master of the Spanish language and familiar with the port. He reported the vessel fully provisioned and ready for the voyage, but just before anchor was lifted he was missing. A reason for his sudden disappearance was discovered after the wreck, when it was found that there were provisions and water on board sufficient for a few days only. Another vessel was secured from Mazatlan, and from there they embarked for San Francisco, arriving there in August.

On reaching the metropolis Mr. Bailiff found that skilled labor was in great demand and received excellent wages, so he wisely decided to accept the certainties of good wages rather than the uncertainties of mining. Going to Benicia, he entered the employ of the United States government in the construction of military barracks. It was there, in November of 1849, that a company was formed, consisting of thirty mechanics and others, to build a mill in Sonoma county, near what is now Freestone. This was known as the Blumedale sawmill, so named for William Blume, the owner of the site. With Charles McDermott as president and John Bailiff as secretary of the enterprise, they installed a twelve-horse power steam engine which they purchased for $20,000. In the beginning the enterprise proved a tremendous success, lumber selling for $300 a thousand feet, but by the year 1852 the price of lumber had depreciated so materially that it was unprofitable to continue the business. The mill was therefore sold, the company disbanded, and the engine was taken by the purchasers to the north fork of the American river.

After the disposition of the milling business Mr. Bailiff took up land north of what is now Sebastopol and engaged in stock-raising with James Hayward, the latter taking charge of the ranch, while Mr. Bailiff followed the building business. Many of the buildings which he erected were for Mexicans, from whom he received his pay in cattle, which he sent to the ranch. It is worthy of mention that the first frame house ever erected in Santa Rosa was put up by Mr. Bailiff. Subsequently, in 1859, he increased his holdings by the purchase of three hundred and eighty acres of land eight miles west of Santa Rosa, adding to this still later until he owned six hundred and nine acres altogether. Here he planted a vineyard of one hundred and thirty-five acres, fifteen acres of orchard, while the remainder of the land was devoted to stock and grain raising. This property is now in the possession of his son, John D. Bailifff, of whom a sketch will be found elsewhere. Besides the property in Sonoma county Mr. Bailiff owned a large tract of land in Humboldt county, upon which he raised sheep extensively.

During the many years of Mr. Bailiff’s residence in Sonoma county he was a stanch supporter of all enterprises that would in any way advance her welfare, and politically he was a Republican, true to his party at all times, but never an aspirant for office. His interest in the welfare of the rising generation was deep and well founded, as was witnessed in the interest which he showed in providing them with good schools, and for many years he served as school trustee. Mr. Bailiff’s marriage in 1866 united him with Miss Jeanetta Ladd, a native of Missouri, and the daughter of John and Margaret, natives respectively of Virginia and Illinois, who came to California and became residents of Sonoma county during the infancy of their daughter. Four children were born to Mr. and Mrs. Bailiff, two sons and two daughters. Margaret Geranie was born in Sonoma county, July 23, 1867, and upon reaching womanhood became the wife of Charles Dillon, of Napa county, and a daughter, Grace has been born of this union. Evangeline was born June 10, 1874, and died October 28 of the same year. Frank Ladd, born September 6, 1878, died November 2 9, 1882. A sketch of the other son, John D., will be found elsewhere in this volume.

In 1905 Mrs. Bailiff Sr. took up the study of nursing in the San Francisco Nation Training School, graduating the following year. She followed the profession for about two years, when she gave it up to become the wife of Edwin Wallis Dyke, April, 1908. Mr. Dyke is a retired stockman, formerly a resident of Eureka, Humboldt county, but since their marriage Mr. and Mrs. Dyke have resided in Oakland, Cal.

History of Sonoma County, California
Biographical Sketches of The Leading Men and Women of the County Who Have Been Identified With Its Growth and Development from the Early Days to the Present
History By: Tom Gregory
Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, California (1911)

Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011