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California Genealogy and History Archives

Sonoma County


Charles Fitch

Genealogical records show the intimate association of the Fitch family with the colonial period of American history. The founders of the name in this country crossed the ocean to New England while that region was still a forest primeval. The transformation of a stern and inhospitable wilderness into an abode of thrift and industry was a task into which successive generations threw their eager energies. By degrees, however, agriculture gave place to maritime pursuits and, as captain of ocean vessels, many of the name sailed the stormy northern seas. Capt. Henry Fitch commanded a trading-ship that sailed under the English flag and he attained a position of wide influence among men of his calling. The next generation was represented by Henry Delano Fitch, who was given his fatherís name as a prefix to the family name of his mother. Born at New Haven, Conn., May 7, 1799, he was three years of age when his parents removed to Charlestown, Mass., now a suburb of Boston, and there he attended the local schools, with the advantage of subsequent training at Harvard University. An initial experience as a sailor under Captain Smith was followed by an appointment (secured through his fatherís influence0 in 1822 as successor to the recently deceased captain of a large ship owned by the firm of Bryan, Sturgis & Co., of Boston. Under his command the ship rounded Cape Horn, sailed along the Pacific coast of South America, anchored for a time at the Sandwich Islands, and ultimately reached California, where the sturdy young captain had the distinction of being the first to pilot a steamer within the Golden Gate.

While acting as commander of the ship, which was anchored in the harbor of a California port, Captain Fitch formed the acquaintance of Dona Josepha Carrillo, who was born at San Gabriel, Cal., in April 1810. She was christened Maria Antonia Natalia Elijia Carrillo, but was afterward called Josepha, because she forgot her names but thought one of them was Josepha. She grew to womanhood in San Diego, whither at the age of two years she removed with her father, Don Joaquin Carrillo. The affection of the young American for the beautiful Castilian girl was so deep that it overcame every obstacle to their union. Her father, a gentleman of fine family and an officer in the Mexican army, was an ardent believer in the Roman Catholic faith and would not permit his daughter to become the wife of one holding different religious views. It was to overcome this objection that about 1927 Captain Fitch announced his intention to become a Mexican citizen and was baptized in San Diego as Enrique Domingo Fitch. The consent of the parents to the union had been obtained finally, but in the midst of the ceremony an uncle of the bride raised objections, and by threats or otherwise so scared the priest that he refused to perform the rite, and the wedding did not come off then. However, the lovers had the aid of General Vallejo and Captain Cooper, who had married sister of the young girl and who assisted her in her elopement. The captainís vessel was boarded and on the arrival of the ship at Valparaiso the two were united in marriage. After one year they returned to San Diego and w4ere arrested and separated by ecclesiastical authority. After the trial by the vicar they were set at liberty, but Don Enrique was condemned to do penance to the extent of furnishing a fifty-pound bell for the church at Los Angeles. This the captive did by giving them a chime of three bells. The couple received the parental blessing and took up their residence in San Diego, where he was engaged in the mercantile business.

The interests of Captain Fitch first became identified with Sonoma county through receiving a grant of eleven leagues of land here in 1844 from the Mexican government. Cyrus Alexander was appointed manager of the Sotoyome grand (as the tract was called) and the captain himself gave considerable personal attention to its supervision, building on that portion of the grant now known as the Bailhache estate two adobe houses, both still standing and one forming the present ranch residence. On his estate he built the first mill in the county, the machinery for which he brought from Boston on his ship. The mill for yea4rs was utilized for the grinding of feed and the sawing of lumber. Fitch mountain visible from Healdsburg, over which it stands guard like a sentinel, was named in honor of the captain. He also owned Coronado Beach and a small grant in San Francisco, now the site of Golden Gate Park. A short time before his death he was appointed as representative of the pacific Mail Steamship Company, but never qualified for the position. Ere yet age has lessened his activities he passed from earth, January 14, 1849. It was not his privilege to witness the admission of California into the Union nor the wonderful transformation wrought by the discovery of gold, yet he had passed through many of the most stirring scenes in the early history of the coast and among his compatriots was recognized as a man far above the average in intellect. His widow survived him for forty-four years and lived to see three successive nations in control of the land of her birth. She passed away January 26, 1893, in Healdsburg, where her last days were passed in close proximity to her children, Charles Fitch, Mrs. Josephine Bailhache and Mrs. John B. Grant, all of whom are residents of this city. One son, John, died in Arizona in 1899.

During the residence of the family in San Diego, Charles Fitch was born September 1, 1842, and from there he came to the Sotoyome grant at the age of seven years. His education was secured principally in the schools of Alameda and in early life he engaged in ranching, but later turned his attention to railroading, which he followed from 1863 until his resumption of ranch activities. These he continues to the present and besides he devotes some attention to mining properties. During the Civil war he served as first lieutenant of Company E., First Native California Cavalry, and remained on duty in the state until the expiration of his time. Ever since the organization of the Republican party he has been in sympathy with its principles and at no time has he swerved in his allegiance to its platform. Twice married, he suffered a bereavement in the death of his first wife, Helen, in 1861, a year after their marriage. She was a daughter of Clark Foss, a noted stage-driver of early days. During 1877 he married Miss Carried Brown, born in Healdsburg, and whose grandfather, Captain Brown, of Ogden, Utah, was second to Brigham Young in command of the Mormons of the United States. Daniel Brown, father of Mrs. Fitch, came to California in 1849, at the time of the excitement caused by the discovery of gold and here he remained until his death in 1866. Two children blessed the union of Mr. and Mrs. Fitch, namely: Charles R., born in 1878, and Woodley B., born in 1886. Both were born in the house still occupied by their parents; both are married, the former residing at Coalinga, and the latter in Montana. The last mentioned son is the father of one child, Carrie.

In the west, as years ago along the coast of New England, the Fitch family has given evidence of the possession of those traits that bring prosperity and prominence, and Charles Fitch has proved a worthy representative of the race from which he sprang. Modest and unassuming to the unusual degree, tactful in his intercourse with all, generous to those in need, philanthropic in his association with charitable undertakings, he possesses the characteristics that endear a man to his contemporaries and entitle him to the respect of posterity. Proud as the state is of the splendid type of citizenship at the helm of affairs, there is a general recognition of that fact that the descendants of the pioneers are entitled to notable consideration and especially so when they supplement the courage and patriotism of their ancestors with the progressive spirit necessary to twentieth-century development.

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