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California Genealogy and History Archives

Sonoma County


ISAAC G. WICKERSHAM. One of the old and prominent residents of the coast, well known through his accomplishments in financial and other activities throughout Sonoma county, was the late Isaac G. Wickersham, whose residence in Petaluma dated, from his arrival in November, 1853, until his death, in June 1899. The youngest of the large family of eleven children included in the parental family, he was born in Newberrytown, York county, Pa., August 26, 1820. The father died in 1825, when Isaac was only five years of age, but the mother did a noble part in endeavoring to supply the loss of this parent to her children. Though handicapped by delicate health and a nervous temperament, Isaac G. Wickersham struck out in the world on his own account at the age of fifteen years, and as testimony of the careful rearing of his mother, as well as to the possession of an inborn refinement and uprightness of character, it may be said that he met hardships and temptations with fortitude. For a number of years he experienced life in the eastern states and Canada, but the year 1840 found him in Indiana, where, in Newcastle, Henry county, he had taken up the study of law in the office of Judge Elliott. In the meantime the slavery question had created two strong factions, and it was to the anti-slavery cause that the young law student gave the weight of his influence, in 1840 acting as secretary of the Indiana State Anti-Slavery Society, and he took an active part in Harrisonís presidential campaign. Upon the completion of his law studies, in the spring of 1843, he was admitted to the bar, but before settling down to practice he decided to come further west.

Mr. Wickershamís next move brought him as far west as Keokuk, Iowa, where he established a law office and built up an excellent practice, which gave evidence of his thorough understanding of the intricacies of his profession and the confidence which his clients reposed in his ability. During the decade which he remained in Iowa he accumulated considerable means, but failing health at the end of this time was the means of his making an extended tour through Mexico and California, in the hope of restoring is lost vitality. From New Orleans he went to Vera Cruz, where he was joined by a company who bought horses, and from there they went to the City of Mexico, and ten days later to Acapulco. During all of this time, with the exception of the time he passed in the City of Mexico, he slept out of doors. By steamer from Acapulco he went to San Francisco, thence on to Sacramento, where he bought a horse and supplies and made an investigation of the mines. Crossing the Sierras he met emigrants coming to California, and it was there, at Carsonís sink, that he saw and grasped a good opportunity, which was to buy cattle and cut hay. November, 1853, found him in Petaluma, which was then a very small village, and consequently he did not find the market for his goods that he had anticipated. However, he was not discouraged and decided to hold his cattle and hay for a better market in the spring. In the meantime he showed his faith in the ultimate future of the settlement by erecting a house that was a credit to himself and the town. In the spring of 1854 he cut three hundred tons of hay on the flat directly north of town, thereby putting to use the first mowing machine that had ever been brought to the Sonoma side of the bay.

The young town and its ambitious fathers were not long in recognizing Mr. Wickershamís ability to fill any position which he could be prevailed upon to accept, and in addition to taking care of his private practice he also acted as district attorney, a position to which his fellow-citizens had elected him in 1855. He also acted as notary and did considerable business in lending money. As a development of the last-mentioned industry, in February, 1865, he established the private bank of I. G. Wickersham & Co. on the corner of Main and Washington streets, and so successful had the venture proven, that two years later, in 1867, he erected the first bank building in the town. Business advanced with the passing of years, and in October, 1874, the name of the bank was changed to the First National Bank of Petaluma, and at the same time the capital stock was raised to $200,000. Business under the new regime began January 1, 1875, with Isaac G. Wickersham president; H. H. Atwater cashier; while the trustees were the president and cashier just mentioned, and Jesse C. Wickersham, P. B. Hewlitt and H. L. Davis. On September 11, 1884, the institution became a state bank under the name of The Wickersham Banking Company.

On May 21, 1857, Mr. Wickersham was united in marriage with Miss Lydia C. Pickett, a native of Fall River, Mass., and six children were born to them, two of the number dying in infancy and two, Frederick A. and Frank P., after becoming prominent in business circles, passed away about the age of forty. One of the daughters, Mae L., became the wife of A. M. Bergevin, and the other daughter, Lizzie C., became the wife of Thomas MaClay, a well-known citizen of Petaluma, of whom a sketch will be found elsewhere. Throughout the years of his residence in Petaluma Mr. Wickersham took a leading part in whatever was done for the upbuilding of the town and county, and his death was counted a loss to the entire commonwealth. He was a member of the Episcopal Church, to the forwarding of whose good work he gave liberally of time and means.

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

Wickersham, Isaac G. No man has held a more prominent position in Sonoma than he whose name appears above and whose portrait has a place in this work. He was born of respectable, well-to-do Quaker parents at Newberry, York county, Pennsylvania, on the 26th of. August, 1820, and is the youngest son in a family of eleven children - his father died in 1825- of rather delicate physique, but of an active nervous temperament. At the age of fifteen he left the confortable home of his mother and commenced the battle of life on his own account, meeting with many hardships and travelling much over the United States and Canada. Engaged in various honorable employments, by industry and economy overcoming all obstacles in his youthful career, avoiding bad company, with a fixed determination that his name should never be coupled with a dishonest or dishonorable act, and wherever he is known, either in his youthful wanderings or latter life, he has enjoyed the confidence of all. In 1840, we find him Secretary of the Indiana State Anti-Slavery Society, and taking an active part in the Harrison presidential campaign, and a law student in the office of Judge Elliott at Newcastle, Henry county, Indiana, where he remained until the Spring of 1843, having been admitted to the bar. He resolved to go farther west, and located at Keokuk, Lee county, Iowa, where he engaged in the practice of his profession with reasonable success. In the Spring of 1853, being in poor health, and having travelled over much of the United States and Canada, and having accumulated ample means to entitle him to a little recreation, he conceived the idea of a tour through Mexico and California. Proceeding to New Orleans, thence to Vera Cruz, where in company with others who had joined him they purchased horses and proceeded north to the City of Mexico, where he remained about ten days, and thence on horse-back to Acapulco, not having slept in a house or on a bed, except while in the city of Mexico, since leaving Vera Cruz; thence by steamer to San Francisco, from there to Sacramento, where he purchased a horse and blankets and started alone to inspect the mines. Finally he crossed the Sierra Nevada mountains, meeting the emigrants at Carson sink. His active temperament could not allow of his being idle and, having some ready means, he commenced purchasing cattle and cutting hay. In November, 1853, he arrived with his cattle at Petaluma, but not finding a desirable market for them in that Fall he determined there to await the Spring. During the Winter, he occupied his time in the erection of a house in the then infant city of Petaluma, but with no intention of permanently locating there. In 1854, he cut about three hundred tons of hay on the flat immediately north of the city, where he used the first mowing machine operated on the Sonoma side of San Francisco bay. Shortly after this event, he commenced the practice of his profession; in 1855, he was elected District Attorney, an office he filled with much ability for two years; with his legal business he combined that of Notary Public, and also engaged in the lending of money. In the year 1865, he established the private banking firm of I. G. Wickersham & Co. in Petaluma and in 1867, erected the first bank building in that city, while, on January 1, 1875, the banking house of I. G. Wickersham & Co. was organized as a National Gold Bank. Mr. Wickersham has been inseparably connected with many benefits conferred upon the city where he has made his home, as may be attested by a reference to our history of Petaluma township. It is a pleasure to look upon such a career rewarded with comfort and plenty. He has taken and is taking a great and leading interest in the affairs of the Episcopal church in his town, and though of a modest and retiring disposition, his knowledge of the world and keen acumen will stand him, we hope, in good stead for many years to come. Mr. Wickersham married May 21, 1867, Lydia C. Rickett, a native of Fall River, Massachusetts, by whom he has now living four children, two boys and two girls.

Source: HISTORY OF SONOMA COUNTY, Alley, Bowen & Co. 1880

Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011