Sunday, April 26, 2015

52 Ancestors #17: First Owners of Berkeley, Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro

Ancestor Name: Luis Maria PERALTA (1759-1851)

I don't usually have people in my family tree who have a biography on Wikipedia. In a nutshell, Luis Maria Peralta was born in Sonora, Mexico, in 1759, the son of a Spanish soldier, who followed his father into the army when he turned 21. He served the king of Spain from 1778 to 1820 when he was rewarded for his service, receiving Rancho San Antonio, a 44,000-acre land grant. It was one of the largest land grants ever given by Spain and encompassed most of the East Bay area of California, which is across San Francisco Bay from the city.

Luis Maria Peralta was described in the book, Alameda County, Past and Present, by Leslie J. Freeman and published in 1946:  "In person he was tall and muscular. His manners were those of the chivalrous men of his time and race. He died a respected, old man firm in the religious faith of his people."

1820 map of the proposed Rancho San Antonio land grand; courtesy of
University Terrace

The land was described in the same book as being:

"...rolling hills carpeted in green grass slowly sloping toward the [San Francisco] Bay -- here and there the hills' contour broken by a small grove of oak trees from which a bear is seen to slowly wend its way, across the ravine two deer approach a spring of water to quench their thirst, while high overhead, wild fowl cloud the sky in rapid flight toward their nesting ground."

Before his death, Luis gave his four sons equal shares of Rancho San Antonio. The brothers were rancheros, who owned about 8,000 head of cattle. Jose Domingo received the northern most quarter where Berkeley, California, is located today; Jose Vincente, the next southerly portion where Oakland, California, is today; Antonio Maria, the quarter that now embraces Alameda. The oldest brother, Hermenegildo Ignacio received the southern most section, which we know today as San Leandro.

Their lives on Rancho Antonio were described in Alameda County: Past and Present:

"...the brothers took up their residences respective estates. The herds were divided, four estates were created and the lives of these landed proprietors were passing in Arcadian tranquility. Until 1846, almost no intimation of a change in the quiet pastoral life they were leading had been given. Doubtless, the Peraltas cherished the belief that their descendants for generations to come would possess these delightful groves and that their herds and flocks would increase upon the hillsides."

But change was in the wind. United States soldiers were stationed on California soil by 1846 and white settlers began looking at Peralta land longingly. Gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill in 1848 and California became the place to be for so many people who hoped to strike it rich. Eventually Hermenegildo Ignacio, Jose Domingo, Antonio Maria, and Jose Vincente Peralta sold or lost almost all of their land and their ranchero way of life disappeared, a victim of growth and progress.

1936 map of Rancho San Antonio; courtesy of University Terrace

Jose Domingo was described as friendly and courteous with with an "impulsive nature" that could manifest itself in "moody and argumentative behavior." He began selling off land in 1852. The parcels were defined on a map surveyed by Julius Kellersberger. His map shows the parcels that were to be sold as well as reserves for three of the four brothers. Jose Domingo's land is to the far left, Jose Vincente's, in the middle, and Antonio Marie's to the far right. No mention is made of Hermenegildo Ignacio.

Julius Kellersberger's map; courtesy of University Terrace

Not everyone wanted to buy parts of Rancho San Antonio from the Peralta brothers. They used other means to gain the land and the brothers had to fight off those people in court and in the state legislature where land grabs of "native land" were often made legal. Eventually, Jose Domingo his lost his remaining share of Rancho San Antonio and died a poor man. His brother, Hermenegildo Ignacio, seemed better able to adapt to the changing times and his son-in-law built a large, lovely home for his wife's parents in 1860. It is built in the Spanish Colonial style and is on the National Register of Historic Places in Alameda county.

Home of Hermenegildo Ignacio Peralta during construction in 1860;
courtesy of the Library of Congress

So how am I related to the Peralta family? My great grand uncle, John Andrew Riggin, married Barbara Alice Hatherly sometime before 1929 when they first appeared together in a Hayward, California, city directory. Barbara was the three times great granddaughter of Luis Maria Peralta.

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge optional theme Prosper.


  1. I grew up in the SF Bay Area and the Peralta name was always in the background of history. I enjoyed reading about this and learning their story. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks for reading it! I really enjoyed researching the family.