When the young city of Vallejo became California’s state capital in 1852, the future looked bright. The fledgling town, located midway between the bustling port of San Francisco and the gold fields above Sacramento, seemed poised for greatness. But unfortunately the State Legislature departed Vallejo after only two abbreviated sessions in 1852 and 1853. Nearby Benicia became the seat of California’s government and Vallejo was rapidly depopulated.
So by July of 1853 the state legislature had fled Vallejo and the U.S. Navy had not yet arrived. More than a year would pass before Captain David G. Farragut would establish the Navy Yard at Mare Island in September 1854. In the summer of 1853 only two families and a handful of bachelors remained in the struggling town. Vallejo’s future seemed grim.
But those early settlers remained patriotic. In The History of Solano County, published by Wood, Alley & Company in 1879, we find an account of the first 4th of July celebration in Vallejo:
“On July 4, 1853, we find the first celebration of Independence Day, in Vallejo, by a dinner at the Vallejo House [a hotel] and bonfire. At the former there sat down two ladies and eight gentlemen, Mrs. Robert and Thomas Brownlee, Captain Stewart, Squire Hook, Edward H. Rowe (elder), West Rowe, Lemuel Hazelton, B. F. Osborne, with Robert and Thomas Brownlee. At an early hour Captain Stewart had donned his full uniform and called on all to celebrate the day with becoming ceremony. A few tar barrels had been procured from the dry-dock and dragged up to what is now called Capitol hill; a pile of brushwood was heaped up to an immense height, and ‘lashings of whisky’ had not been forgotten. At dark the hill was ablaze, making the surrounding country as light as day. Success to the Union was drunk amidst much enthusiasm; the glass and merry song went round; speeches were the order of the day, or rather night, while intense loyalty gave place to noisy enthusiasm, to be replaced by morbid toast making, until one by one the heroes who had braved so many dangers sank to rest on the bosom of mother earth in a slumber which the mighty Bourbon had invoked.”
Happy 4th of July, Vallejo!