The finding aid for the Den Family papers. C057898
Society of California Pioneers
101 Montgomery Street, Suite 150
Presidio of San Francisco
San Francisco, CA 94129
B002182 / B-2-1b
Language of Material: English
Contributing Institution: Society of California Pioneers
Title: Den Family Papers
Identifier/Call Number: C057898
Physical Description: 1 folder (3 handwritten letters, 1 typed letter, 3 handwritten manuscripts)
Date (inclusive): 1844-1914
Abstract: This file Includes the extensive Den Family history beginning in Ireland and ending with the two Den brothers becoming some of the most successful and wealthy landowners and ranchers in Southern California. The folder contains the detailed history of the Den family and covers their crossing of the Atlantic to Americas and multiple business transactions. The file includes a detailed list of births and marriages of many of the Den family between the years 1844-1901. The two handwritten letters are addressed to Mr. Eldredge - most likely Zoeth S. Eldredge, who appears to have asked them for a sketch of their lives. The First letter is not signed, but the second is signed by a Kaktherine M. Bell, and is dated 1913, and notes at the end: Zoeth S. Eldredge Esq. 2621 Divisadero Street, San Francisco. Ms. Bell seems to have been Katherine Den before her marriage.
This file includes the extensive Den Family history beginning in Ireland and ending with the two Den brothers becoming some of the most successful and wealthy landowners and ranchers in Southern California. The folder contains the detailed history of the Den family and covers their crossing of the Atlantic to Americas and multiple business transactions. The file includes a detailed list of Births and Marriages of many of the Den family between the years 1844-1901.
Nicholas and Richard Den journeyed from their Irish homeland to the New World under a cloud of financial misfortune. An unspecified financial affair apparently devastated the family, forcing the brothers to seek their fortunes overseas. They would go on to become two of the largest and most important landowners of the south coast of California. Nicholas Den was born in 1812, his brother, Richard, in 1821, into a family of Norman origin that had settled in Ireland in the 12th century. Both brothers supposedly studied medicine at the University of Dublin, although the records are unclear. The family’s financial misfortunes pushed Nicholas to cross the Atlantic and take a job with a cousin in Nova Scotia who was engaged in the mercantile trade. He was disappointed and chagrined to discover that his new business career primarily consisted of acting as his cousins valet. The final straw came when he was asked to shine his cousins shoes. After beating his cousin over the head with the footwear in question, he stalked out, eventually took passage to Boston, and then signed aboard a ship headed for California. Den arrived in Santa Barbara in December 1836. Here he was befriended by Daniel Hill, who, when he settled here in 1823, had become one of the first Americans to call the South Coast home. Hill became a Mexican citizen, converted to Catholicism, married into the prestigious Ortega family, and became a successful rancher. Hill introduced Den to one of his daughters, Rosa. Smitten, Nicholas determined to make Santa Barbara his home. He also applied for Mexican citizenship to facilitate the process of successfully applying for a land grant from the Mexican government. Younger brother Richard followed Nicholas to Santa Barbara by a rather circuitous route. Despite the lack of a medical degree, he signed on as a ship’s surgeon and sailed off to Australia. He then landed in Mazatlán, before arriving in Santa Barbara in the fall of 1843. There he met Nicholas, who had married his beloved Rosa earlier that year. The elder Den was also now the proud owner of the Rancho Los Dos Pueblos, a land grant of more than 15,000 acres that stretched along the coast from present-day Fairview Avenue westward almost to El Capitán. He had begun a family that would eventually include 11 children and had recently built a fine adobe home, which was a landmark of the Goleta Valley until it was torn down in the early 1930s. Richard settled in Los Angeles, and then headed for Monterey, the capital of Alta California, to apply for a medical license. While there, he was pressed into service to combat an outbreak of smallpox and then returned to Los Angeles in the summer of 1844. His involvement with Santa Barbara was about to begin in earnest. The Mexican government was in the process of secularizing and selling off the California missions. The president of Mission Santa Barbara, Father Narciso Durán, struck a deal in November 1845 with Nicholas Den and his father-in-law, Daniel Hill, to lease the mission for nine years at $1,200 annually in an attempt to stave off an outright sale. In June 1846, Nicholas and Richard bought the former mission rancho, San Marcos, and two days later, Pío Pico, the last Mexican governor of California, sold Mission Santa Barbara to Richard Den, the latter to take possession after the Den/Hill lease had expired. Questions arose over the legality of the sale, and in 1859, a U.S. court invalidated it, pointing out the lack of documentation, including any evidence that money ever actually changed hands. There was also a question whether Pico was within his rights to make the sale in the first place. Den never pushed the matter. The brothers continued to prosper. Nicholas became involved in Santa Barbara civic affairs. Richard took primary responsibility for the operation of Rancho San Marcos. Nicholas died in 1862. Two years later, Richard divested himself of his portion of San Marcos and returned to Los Angeles to practice medicine until his death in 1895. The two Irish lads had ended up doing quite well for themselves in Alta California. Nicholas and Richard Den were both members of the Society of California Pioneers. Richard joining in October of 1850, and Nicholas joining on March 7, 1859. (Some of above information taken from an article in the Santa Barbara Independent. March 11th 2010, Michale Redmon)
Source and date of acquisition unknown.
The Society of California Pioneers, 101 Montgomery St. Suite 150, Presidio of San Francisco, San Francisco CA, 94129
The Den Family Papers. The Society of California Pioneers.
Society of California Pioneers Institutional Records: Richard Somerset Den, Archive Record, vol. 5, pg. 122; Nicholas Augut Den, member card.
Subjects and Indexing Terms
Frontier and pioneer life – California
California, Southern -- History
Society of California Pioneers
Den, Richard Somerset, 1821-1895
Den, Nicholas August, 1812-1862
Bell, Katherine Den, d. 1926