Search billions of records on


 Biographies Index  



California Genealogy and History Archives

Sacramento County



Among the stanch-hearted ones who made the perilous water journey to California, crossing the isthmus in canoes pushed by native boatmen and concluding their journey mule-back toward the landing of the steamer Isthmus, Captain Harris commanding, which was to be the means of transportation in the last stage of an ad- venturesome journey, were Mr. and Mrs. M. W. Griffin, descendants of old families in their native Ireland. While at college Mr. Griffin had become interested in America and had suddenly changed his life plans and set sail for New Orleans, where he identified himself with the coffee and cotton business. His marriage to his childhood playmate followed soon after her arrival in New Orleans. Mrs. Griffin was a member of the famous Fitzgerald and McDonnell families, the latter one of the most ancient in the west of Ireland. Though their life was care free and happy, they heard and responded to the call of the Golden West. With them were twelve young Kentuckians who were their companions on the dangerous Chagres river trip, with its yelling and fighting native boatmen. Becoming faint-hearted as they approached the steamer, tossing on the bosom of the Pacific, they besought the Griffins to return with them to home and friends. But this was in vain, for Marshall's great discovery, coupled with tales of the sunny land where flowers never die, made them ignore the dangers of the deep. So, with a tear for their friends and a smile for the future, they embarked on the Isthmus. For a time all went well, but suddenly the ship sprung a leak and twenty-four hours of peril followed; but this was soon forgotten under the lure of the land of the Golden West, and the steamer sailed through the Golden Gate April 16, 1853.

After a year's residence in San Francisco the Griffins stopped at what of Sacramento then existed and then pushed on to the gold mines, where all had faith that

"Gold was got in pan and pot.
Soup-tureen or ladle,
Basket, bird-cage or what not,
Even to a cradle."

In the spring of 1869 they located permanently in Sacramento, which then contained few imposing buildings. A stately capitol charmed the eye, but the glory of its park was wanting. Historic Sutter Fort, a ruin, was then far out in the country; today, a spot both interesting and sacred, it is surrounded by beautiful homes. Instead of the majestic Cathedral with its cross-tipped spire, was old St. Rose, several feet below the grade, and in admiring the splendid government building which occupies the old St. Rose location, the little low postoffice at Fourth and K streets seems but a dream.

Mining interests both in California and Nevada always held Mr. Griffin's attention, for he was a true pioneer, but he engaged for some years in the hotel business in Placer and Eldorado counties and became a prominent and public- spirited citizen of that section. On settling in Sacramento, he gave up his hotel interests and identified himself with the shipping department of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company. His two elder sons, John F. and Edward Emmett Griffin, rarely gifted young men, employed in the San Francisco offices of the same company, died in young manhood, and their passing proved his own death blow. Though he was in the midst of his labors and of his usefulness, he was unable to rally from the shock that he had received, and his life went out on a February day in 1894. Surviving him are Mrs. M. (Fitzgerald) Griffin, an honored mother, her son Franklin A. Griffin, a well known lawyer, accomplished musician, executive secretary to Governor Hiram W. Johnson and past president of Stanford Parlor, N. S. G. W.; Miss Mary G. Griffin, teacher and talented musician; and Miss Lizzie M. Griffin, vice-principal of the Mary J. Watson grammar school, composer, and organist of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. One grandson, Gerald Griffin, notary public for San Francisco and prominent in real estate circles, lives in that city. 

History of Sacramento 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: William L. Willis
Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, California (1913)

Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011