Sunday, July 17, 2016

Caspar Thomas Hopkins (1826 – 1893): Pioneer Insurance Man

Caspar Hopkins (Grave by Michael Colbruno; Head shot courtesy of Bancroft Library)

Caspar Thomas Hopkins (1826-1893), moved to California in 1849 two years after his graduation from the University of Vermont. In 1853, he married Almira Burtnett (1828-1875), with whom he had four children, Frances "Belle" Isabella (1854), Amelia (1856), Myra (1864), and William (1866). He settled in what is now known as the Fruitvale area of Oakland. His home was known as Alderwood  and sat on six acres of apple orchards near Sausal Creek. 

After testing out several endeavors, including trading, sailing, and exploring southern Oregon, Caspar finally settled on a career in marine and fire insurance. In 1861 he established the first insurance company on the Pacific coast, the California Insurance Company, and served as its president for 35 years.

He was a prolific writer, including letters which are archived at the University of Michigan, articles for "The Vermont State Agriculturalist," which he founded, and a civics textbook called the "Manual of American Ideas (1872). In 1876, he also was granted a patent for "S.F. street railroad rails."

His letters document many stages of his life, such as his 1849 voyage to California via Mexico and his participation in the Gold Rush as a speculator and businessman, his exploration of the Umpqua River in southern Oregon in the early 1850s, and his career as president of the California Insurance Company in the 1860s through the 1880s. His Gold Rush letters contain stories about the miners he encountered and on their way of life. On October 14, 1850, he wrote a letter to "Friend Clarke," describing frontier conditions, the attitudes of settlers, and the habits of Native Americans in the Klamath River Valley. 

His brother, Dr. John Henry Hopkins, wrote the popular Christmas song "We Three Kings."

Sources: William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan, North Adams Transcript, Bancroft Library.

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