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California Historical Society [FN-00951]

William Alexander Leidesdorff

Born in Saint Croix, Virgin Islands, William A. Leidesdorff (1810 - 48) was the son of a Danish planter and a black mother. As a youth, he traveled to the United States to work in his father's cotton business, sailing vessels between New York and New Orleans. In 1841, as the manager of the 160-ton schooner Julia Anna, Leidesdorff sailed to the West Indies, Hawaii, and California, then under Mexican authority. Two years later, he secured a land grant in San Francisco, where he later built the Big City Hotel. In 1844 he became a Mexican citizen in order to purchase the 35,000-acre Rio de Los Americanos Ranch in California. Leidesdorff's numerous businesses, including his beef and leather business, and real-estate holdings made him a wealthy man. In addition to his many commercial enterprises, he became a significant political and community leader. Leidesdorff served as a U.S. vice-consul, a member of the City Council, and a member of San Francisco's first school board.

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