California Genealogy and History Archives
Among those whose names stand out prominently in the pioneer history of Sonoma county is John Merritt, a prosperous and prominent citizen of Petaluma. His identification with this immediate locality dates from the year 1851, and in truth he may be called one of the pioneer settlers and upbuilders of the town and surrounding country. At that time the thriving center of activity which Petaluma has since become was not dreamed of, and he relates the fact that he himself stacked hay on the corner of Main and Washington streets under a white oak tree. All of this he has seen change, cultivated fields giving place to city lots, which have become the homes of a thrifty and contented people.
A native of Indiana, John Merritt was born in Marion county, June 30, 1827, and until he was fourteen years of age he lived in the locality of his birth. Removing to Missouri at that age he located at Savannah, Andrew county, and was still there at the time of the breaking out of the Mexican war. He enlisted his services in the cause in the spring of 1847, under Captain Rogers, becoming a part of Powel’s Battalion of Cavalry, Company D. He remained in service until November, 1848, the date of his honorable discharge at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and following this he made preparations to come to California. The spring of 1849 found him en route with ox-teams and after a four-month journey with its round of danger and excitement he finally arrived at Hangtown (now Placerville) September 4, 1849. A short experience as a miner at that place, followed by a brief period in which he was interested in a grocery business on George slide, Canyon creek, near Georgetown, preceded his advent in Sonoma county in 1850, and here he has made his home for over sixty years. During this time, however, in 1860, he went to San Luis Obispo county and was interested in the stock business until 1864, when he was forced out of business on account of drought. Returning to Sonoma county, he began to buy and sell stock and hogs, and is still interested in the cattle business, several head of fine stock now being fattened for the market. His ranch near Petaluma comprises one hundred and fifteen acres of fine land, of which twenty-five acres are in apples, plums, pears and cherries, while the remainder of the land is used as pasturage and grain land. In addition to the home ranch he also owns a ranch of three hundred and twenty acres at Green Valley station, leased to an Italian tenant, who carries on general farming and stock-raising.
Mr. Merritt’s marriage in 1854 united him with Miss Sarah E. Silfley, who was born in Scotland county, Mo., November 10, 1837. She was one of nine children born to her parents, Samuel and Nancy (Ellis) Wilfley, the former of whom was born in Tennessee April 3, 1812, and the latter a native of Illinois. They were married in Missouri, and that state continued to be the home of the family uninterruptedly until the year 1853, when Mr. Wilfley came to California, only to return soon afterward, but he again crossed the plains in 1856 and from that time until the close of his life he made his home in the Golden state. Five children were born of the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Merritt, four sons and one daughter, as follows: John T., Edward B., William, Warren and Ida Jane. The eldest son, John T., makes his home I Petaluma with his wife, formerly Jennie Anthony, and their four children, Lyel, George, Effa and Ruby, the eldest daughter, Effa, being the wife of George Hawkins. Edward B. married Mollie Davis and has two children, Bert and Jessie, by this marriage; his present wife was formerly Miss Emma Hueberger. Ida Jane became the wife of Nathaniel Benson, by whom she has three children, Roy (who married Bertha Casta), Harold and Forest. Politically Mr. Merritt is a believer in Democratic principles, and always casts his vote in favor of that party’s candidates. Fraternally he is a Mason, belonging to Petaluma Lodge No. 180, and to Chapter No. 22, R. A. M.
Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011