Short History of Robert Livermore

On December 15, 1799, six-week old Robert Thomas Livermore was christened at a parish church in Springfield, England. He was the first of nine children of Robert and Mary Cudworth Livermore. He was raised in Bethnal Green, a London suburb. At age 15 was apprenticed to a mason. The next year, 1816, he went to sea as a cabin boy, bound for Baltimore, MD. Soon after his arrival, he enlisted in the US Navy, going on a man-of-war to the west coast of South America. Here he left his ship to join Admiral Lord Cochrane in the bombardment of Callao, Peru and participated in the capture of the 44-gun Spanish frigate Esmeralda on November 5, 1820.

Early in 1822, Robert Livermore appeared at San Pedro aboard the English trading ship, Colonel Young. He left the ship here or at Monterey and was soon employed as mayordomo (ranch foreman) at Don José Joaquin de la Torre's rancho near Castroville.

Records at Mission Santa Clara show that Robert Livermore was baptized into the Catholic Church there on June 20, 1823. And in the 1820's Livermore was employed at various ranchos between Monterey and San José, and at José Higuera's Rancho Tularcitos, near Warm Springs. The record indicates that, in 1826, he helped José Maria Amador build the first adobe at his Rancho San Ramon in the Livermore-Amador Valley.

Livermore was doubtless running cattle in what was to become Livermore Valley as early as 1831: there exists a bill of sale dated June 14, 1831 for 400 pesos worth of cattle he bought from Dionesio Fernandez. Some time later he had four hundred head of cattle, three hundred sheep and one hundred horses.

Robert Livermore and Josefa Higuera Molina were married on May 5, 1838. She was a widow with a small child. They first settled to Sunol Valley. From there, he was making trips to what was to become Rancho Las Positas, where since

1834 he had been keeping his livestock that consisted of several thousand cattle and horses numbering over one thousand.

It was in 1839 that Livermore and a partner, José Noriega, were granted Rancho Las Positas. That same year, Livermore, with José Maria Amador's help, built an adobe house on Las Positas creek. Some time later, when the threat of Indian attacks disappeared, he brought his family to the Rancho.

Alta California had a single item economy: cattle. Cattle were raised only for their hides and tallow. Hides for leather goods such as shoes, boots and saddles; tallow for candles; and horns for buttons, all of which were sold to American trading ships.

The fallout from the discovery of gold in 1848 brought both political change and culture shock. California statehood in 1849 brought an American system of government very unlike the Mexican system. It brought taxes and squatters.

The 1850's were busy years at Rancho Las Positas. Robert Livermore was prospering. He bought a two-story Around-the-Horn house and had it erected near his adobes in early 1851 at a cost of $700.00 for the job; he bought a square grand piano; he was educating his children at private schools. Because his place was on a direct route from the South Bay to the gold country, a post office was established in July, 1851 and lasted until January, 1853. It was also in 1853 that the US Engineers surveyed across the valley and through Altamont Pass for a railroad.

Livermore, who by this time had bought out Noriega, presented a claim to the US Land Commission for Rancho Las Positas in February 1852, which was confirmed in 1855. The US Land Commission attorneys appealed the ownership, but the title was again confirmed in December 1857, and the case dismissed. Livermore now officially the owner of 48,000 acres of land

Robert Livermore was buried before an altar at Mission San Jose on February 14, 1858. The mission church was destroyed by the 1868 earthquake and replaced by a wooden church. For most of the following 110 years Livermore's burial place was "lost." Not until 1981 when the wooden church was removed in preparation for the reconstruction of the original sanctuary was Livermore's grave marker uncovered. His wife, Josefa and ten children survived Livermore.

Livermore was known for his hospitality. After the discovery of gold, "all land travel for several years was past his house, and travelers both to and from the mines made it a point to stop at his house, as his hospitality was proverbial." It was said that when peddlers came to his house, on their way to the mines, and asked him to buy their merchandise, he not only purchased the whole load of wares, but also the wagon and sent the peddler on his way with a new saddle and plenty of money.

Joshua Neal, who worked for Livermore from 1851 until 1858, wrote in his reminiscences of him, "Many of the immigrants will remember his kindness of heart and hospitality to all, for he was continually assisting those in need. His orders to his vaqueros were to be on the lookout for coming immigrants, and as soon as discovered, to go up to them and ascertain their needs."

William Mendenhall first met Robert Livermore when Mendenhall was marching through the valley with Fremont's California Battalion in 1846. In 1869 Mendenhall named the town he founded after Robert Livermore.



November 25, 2000