Horace Walpole Carpentier, 1824-1918, Ancestor No. 32

I might be stretching the definition of “ancestor” a bit with this one.


Horace Walpole Carpentier is a fellow worthy of a book’s worth of words. But as I’d like to knock out this post in a single afternoon, my brush – as it were – will be exceedingly broad.

Horace was one of the savvy businessmen who came to California in 1849 and didn’t go to the gold fields. He stayed in town and made money off the miners – the successful ones as well as the less successful. After a year or so in San Francisco, he settled on the other side of the Bay – the contra costa – and, with some cronies, proceeded to found a town – Oakland. He also pretty much installed himself as its first mayor while nobody was paying attention.

It seems Horace did a lot while nobody was paying attention. He and his family and friends (or corporations controlled by them) eventually owned or controlled pretty much everything that mattered in the new city. And John Braddock Watson (Ancestor #31) was right there, at his good right hand.

Example: In 1852, through some staggeringly confusing sleight-of-hand, Horace and his cronies managed to secure in Horace’s name a deed to the Oakland waterfront. Immediately after the signing of that deed:

Carpentier placed himself in communication with his niece [actually his father’s cousin] in New York, Harriet N. Carpentier, and from her received an absolute power of attorney “to purchase, rent, receive and hold property, real or personal” in the State of California, “and to sell, lease, grant, assign and convey any and all property, either which I now hold or which I may hereafter acquire in said state, using his entire discretion in the premises,” under date June 14. 1852.

Then, on January 18, 1853, he sold a one-fourth undivided interest of the waterfront to Edward R. Carpentier [his brother] … for the sum of $2,800, together with an equal one-fourth of all rights, titles and claims either present or prospective;

… [O]n August 2, 1854, while mayor… he disposed of the remaining three-fourths to Harriet N. Carpentier for the sum of $60,000.

… April 4, 1855, Harriet N. Carpentier purchased from Edward R. Carpentier all “right, title, claim and interest in and to the waterfront …” for the sum of $12,000;

… August 16, 1855, John B. Watson sold the entire waterfront property to Harriet N. Carpentier for the sum of $6,000. How the property ever passed into the hands of Mr. Watson was a matter of the profoundest mystery. [Emphasis added, because it’s just so outrageous!]

– “Past and Present of Alameda County, California” (1914).

This shenanigans-fest started in 1852, and was finally dealt with by the courts forty years later! The 1892 trial dominated newspaper front pages on both sides of the bay for months!

Besides the waterfront, Horace was the reason the railroad terminates in Oakland and not San Francisco. And he was the guy who sent the telegraph message to President Lincoln announcing that the transcontinental telegraph line had been completed. Horace was a man of the time, to be sure. A larger-than-life character who saw his moment and seized it.

Now, I have a theory. But bear with me, there is a basis in reasonable fact.

Providence 1830

The federal census of 1830. Town of Providence, Saratoga County, New York. One household separates the Carpenters from the Watsons. Yes, those Watsons – and yes, those Carpenters. But wait – legend tells of them meeting for the first time at the 12th Street Bridge construction site! (See previous post.)

Please. Isn’t it categorically impossible for two neighbors from Upper Nowheresville, New York to have gone through their lives never meeting until they were introduced standing in a swamp, building a bridge connecting two sides of a town on the opposite side of the continent – a town that wasn’t even on the map yet??

As for me, I think that relationship went waaaay back – and those boys did a whole lot of dreaming back there on the farm. Together.

Miscellaneous oddities:

  • Yes, the family name was actually Carpenter. At some point, someone – his father or one of his elder brothers – thought the name looked far classier with the added “i”.
  • For a man as wealthy and well-known and influential as Horace W. Carpentier, I think the image at the top of this post is the only known image of him.


  • And for a man as driven as he was toward power and, presumably, fame, it’s especially strange that this is his only memorial. The headstone of his infamous cousin Harriet in Barkersville Cemetery, near Providence. Note the tiny H.W.C. carved in the lower-right corner.

Finally – the legitimizing factor. The actual familial connection!

My 3rd great-grandmother was Harriet Husted Watson. Her 2nd husband was her cousin, Orrin T. Husted. Orrin’s sister Emeline married a man named James H. Smith. James was the son of Horace’s sister Anna. So there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s