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California Genealogy and History Archives

Sacramento County



Genealogical records indicate a long and honorable citizenship of the Woods family in Maryland, where descendants of the original settler still are to be found prominent in business and active in public affairs. Several branches of the family have been transplanted from the early eastern headquarters into various portions of the west, and one of these branches is worthily represented by John L. Woods, an honored pioneer of California. It has been his privilege to witness the development of the west since the year 1852, when he first came, a boy of ten j-ears, from his native city of Baltimore in company with his parents. He recalls the appearance of Sacramento in 1852, prior to the fire and the great flood, and as he contrasts its aspect then with its present beauty and its substantial construction he realizes afresh the magnitude of the transformation wrought by the intelligence and enterprise of the citizens. When he was sent to the schools he found them occupying buildings poorly constructed and fully equipped, while the method of instruction was far inferior to that of the present century. It will therefore be seen that he had few advantages from an educational standpoint, yet he impresses a stranger as a man of broad information and varied knowledge. His father, John Lee Woods, who was born in Baltimore in 1816, had enjoyed excellent advantages in that cultured city, but when he exchanged a city home for frontier existence he was unable to prevent his family from undergoing hardships and privations, with few of the advantages his ambitious spirit craved for them. When he died in 1897, at the age of eighty-two, it was with the realization that the removal to the west had proved to the distinct advantage of the family in their ultimate enjoyment of the great prosperity that came to the country. His wife passed away in 1896, at the age of eighty-three years.

Although a blacksmith by trade, John L. Woods devoted much of his active life to mining, and he' has worked in the mines of California, Colorado, Montana and Alaska, meanwhile experiencing many hardships and at times incurring actual danger from the hostility of the Indians. This was particularly the case while he mined in Montana during 1866, at which time the enmity and the attacks of the savages reached their climax. Considerations of health led him to discontinue mining many years ago, but he still owns an interest in a very valuable mine at Grass Valley. Upon leaving the mines and coming to Sacramento in 1886, he embarked in the mercantile business on Fourth street and continued in the same place for five years. Upon selling out the business he began to manufacture eider, and for twenty-two years he conducted a large business in that line, meanwhile furnishing the most of the cider sold in San Francisco. It was his custom to sell to wholesale firms, which entailed less annoyance than small sales to retailers. While he still owns the business, he no longer gives it his personal attention, having practically retired from all active cares. During 1872 he married Miss Mary Higgins, who was born in Ireland and died in California. Of their five children the sole survivor is Mary, the wife of Robert E. O'Neal and the mother of one son, Robert Lee O'Neal. His second marriage took place in 1891 and united him with Mrs. Josephine C. Lewis, who was born in New York and accompanied her parents to California at an early age; her father, Michael Van Norman, died in February of 1897, while her mother, at the age of eighty-nine, is still living. In her family there are five generations now living, while Mr. Woods proudly claims four generations on his own side. As he has been devoted to his family and true to his friends, so also he has been loyal to the commonwealth of his adoption and the land of his birth. At the opening of the Civil war in 1861 he offered his services to the Union, and was accepted at Auburn, Cal., where his name was enrolled as a private in a California regiment of volunteer infantry. The regiment was not called to the east, hence saw only little of active service. Upon the organization of the Grand Army of the Republic he became interested in its philanthropies and patriotic enterprises and for years he has been prominent in Sumner Post No. 3, of which he served as commander at one time. Fraternally he has been a member of the Foresters and an officer in the local camp. 

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