California Genealogy and History Archives
The history of the pioneer and the conditions which he had to encounter in assisting to bring about the civilization which we of the present day enjoy as a free gift never loses its interest for the reader, whether he himself be a pioneer of a school-boy of the present day. Both may read between the lines and know that “the half was never told,” of danger, hardship and heart loneliness, all endured bravely by the noble men and women for the sake of coming generations. One of these noble pioneers is brought to mind in mentioning the name of James McChristian, who is not only a pioneer himself, but is also the son of a pioneer, his father bringing the family to California in 1845, before the days of the gold excitement, and becoming residents of Sonoma county in June, 1846. There is no question in the minds of the present residents that Mr. McChristian has been a resident of this county longer than any other white man now living within its borders.
Mr. McChristian’s earliest memories are of a home in New York state, where, in Rochester, he was born November 10, 1827, the son of Patrick and Orpha (Church) McChristian. The father was a native of Ireland, and the mother was born in Vermont, the descendant of New England ancestors and a granddaughter of Col. Benjamin Church, who gained his title through meritorious service in the French and Indian war. Patrick McChristian at the age of eighteen years had grown discontented with the prospects which he saw as his future if he remained in his native country, and taking his future in his hands he immigrated to the United States, and from Castle Garden, where the ocean vessel landed him, he made his way to Rochester, N. Y., where he found employment at the miller’s trade. The year 1843 found him crossing the Mississippi river into Missouri, and for the following two years he made his home in Andrew county. His watchword seemed to be “ever westward,” for each removal brought him nearer the setting sun, and the spring of 1845 found him starting out on the journey that was to bring him to the Pacific coast. At St. Joseph he with his family joined a train consisting of one hundred wagons, among those in the train being General Kearney, who accompanied them as far as South Pass. It was not until October 1, about six months after they left Missouri, that Mr. McChristian landed in California, the first winter in the state being passed in Younts, Napa county, where, after plowing the land with an implement of his own manufacture, he put in a crop of wheat, this without any doubt being the first ever planted in the state. He is also credited with bringing the first wagons in this part of the country.
On June 1, 1846, Patrick McChristian located in Sonoma, Sonoma county, where a few days later, June 10 or 11, the famous Bear flag was raised. The materials for the making of this historic flag were furnished by Mrs. Elliott and the wife of a man nick-named Dirty Mathews, the first-mentioned donating some white cloth and the latter a red petticoat. One of Mr. McChristian’s fellow-companions across the plains, William Todd, painted it, while the sewing was done by three sailors, Jack Ranchford, an Englishman; Peter Storm, a Dane; and John Kelly, the latter being the only American. This flag waved in the breeze for a month and then was hauled down by Commander Montgomery of the American forces when he took possession of San Francisco in the name of the United States in 1846. This historic old flag is now the property of the Pioneer Society of San Francisco. In the year 1852 Patrick McChristian started for the east by way of the Isthmus of Panama, but never reached his destination, as he was taken ill and died at Aspinwall, the ocean being his grave. His wife lived to a good old age, passing away in Green valley in 1890. Of the children born to this worthy pioneer couple two are living, James and Sylvester.
James McChristian came to Sonoma county with his parents in 1846, and the following year he was among those chosen to serve on garrison duty in the little settlement. In the fall of that year, however, he left Sonoma and located in Freestone, Analy township, where since that time he has been continuously engaged in ranching. During the early days his efforts were among general lines of faming, growing such crops as were necessary for the household needs, but the change in conditions with the passing of years has made it possible for him to specialize, and for the past twenty-five years he has given his entire attention to the cultivation of the grape. In addition to the home place he also owns a seventeen-acre tract in the limits of Sebastopol.
The marriage of James McChristian in 1876 united him with Miss Rosa Romain, who was born in the French province of Alsace, now a part of Germany. When she was a child of one year she was brought to the United States by her parents, who settled in Indiana. Four children have blessed the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. McChristian, Delafine, George, Charles and Mamie, the last-mentioned the wife of Frank Middleton. In his political views Mr. McChristian is a Democrat, and his first vote was cast for Zachary Taylor. The two eighteen-pound guns that defended Sonoma from massacre by Spaniards were taken east aboard the Portsmouth and have been in the east ever since.
Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011