Monday, January 21, 2013

Benjamin Franklin ("B.F.") Ferris (1806-1876) - Oakland Mayor Committed Suicide

LOT 1, PLOT 258

Ferris is buried in an unmarked grave in Plot 1
Benjamin Franklin (B.F.) Ferris was born in Seneca, New York and came to San Francisco in 1850 to strike it rich in the gold mines. However, he quickly returned from the hills and his political and professional career took off in the East Bay.  He served as a judge, Contra Costa County Justice of the Peace, Oakland Justice of the Peace and one-term mayor of Oakland in 1864-66. Before becoming mayor, he served for two terms on the city council. At the time of his election, mayor’s were elected annually. He was also the candidate who ran against the corrupt Horace Carpentier in 1854 and it was assumed that he as the "chosen candidate" in a fraudulent election.

He is best known to history as the only Oakland mayor to have committed suicide, although it occurred a decade after he left office. After accumulating debts of $15,534.04 against assets of $1,825.00, Ferris couldn’t bear life anymore, telling intimates that he was embarrassed about his debts. In May 1876, he boarded the Amador under the name of H.A. Johnson. 

According to the Oakland Tribune of May 22, 1876:
About 5 o’clock Saturday morning, when the steamer Amador was within a few miles of Sacramento, one of the passengers, who had registered his name as H.A. JOHNSON when he procured a stateroom on the previous evening, jumped overboard. It is stated by a hotel runner, who saw him sitting on the guard rail and solicited his patronage for a Sacramento hotel, that at that time he had his ankles tied with a handkerchief. He did not show any uneasiness or singularities of conduct, and the two men had a conversation of a few minutes. When the runner came back, after having been away a very short time, Johnson had disappeared, but his hat and cane were lying where he had been last seen. The alarm was immediately given, and a number of persons looked anxiously in the wake of the boat to see if the unfortunate man was visible, but nothing could be seen of him.

An examination of his room was made, and there was found on his bed three vials, each of which had contained laudanum, a purse containing $8.80 in coin, a pair of spectacles and a pencil case. The hat had pasted inside a piece of paper bearing the name “H.A. JOHNSON, Oakland.” There were also found two unsealed notes, one of which, directed “My Dear Wife and Daughter in Oakland.”

The note, which was dated May 19, 1876 and marked “Sacramento River” read:
To my Dear Wife and Daughter, in Oakland: The time is now arrived for me to take my awful plunge into the river. My brain is on fire. I am now losing my senses fast. I shall commence in a few moments to take the poison, after which I shall jump overboard and hope and trust that my body may never be found. Adieu! adieu! for you have been a good wife to me, and may God bless and protect you both.

P.S. - I wrote to you and some others just before I left San Francisco. Very fortunately for me there is not a single person on board that I have ever seen before. 

Newspaper accounts followed the missing case of Judge Ferris almost daily until a man found his body floating in the river. Friends and relatives were dispatched to Sacramento to identify the body. The family had become concerned when the day after he left for Sacramento they found his watch, diamond ring and safe key in his room, which he always kept on his person for safe keeping. 

The Ferris home
Ironically, Ferris had been a successful man in business, as well as politics. In San Francisco he co-owned the wholesale grocery firm of Ferris, Crowell and McCullom and was the keeper of the U. S. Temperance House on Kearney Street. He set up the first private bank in Oakland, the First National Gold Bank, which became the First National Bank in 1800 and served as president of the Savings & Loan Society. According to the book “The History of Berkeley,” he was a close business associate and financial backer of two other Oakland mayors who all happened to be early founders of Berkeley, George Blake and Francis Shattuck. The men were all part of the efforts to bring rail lines to Berkeley.

He is buried in Plot 1 of Mountain View Cemetery in an unmarked grave near three other Oakland mayors, Enoch Pardee, George Pardee and Andrew Williams.

1 comment:

PACE Hobbies said...

I am glad you are back to posting.
I have enjoyed your pictures and history notes. D. Pace