A New Name: San Francisco
Perched on a sheltered cove in San Francisco Bay, the little hamlet known as Yerba Buena (good herb) had been so named by the Spanish because of the wild mint that grew there. For a hundred years sailors had agreed the bay was the greatest harbor on earth, capable of comfortably accommodating all of the assembled navies of all of the nations of the world. As things were—before the Mexican-American War started, that is—it rarely harbored more than one whaler or trading ship at a time. In January 1847, as the American conquest of California was all but complete, the little village contained about 300 residents, most of them recently arrived by ship from the States. Then on January 30, acting mayor Lt. Washington Bartlett of the American ship Portsmouth issued a proclamation that henceforth Yerba Buena would be called San Francisco, after the names of the bay itself and the nearby Franciscan mission. Bartlett published his announcement in the California Star, the town’s first newspaper. He named Jasper O’Farrell to survey the city, draw up an official map, and lay out streets. In less than two years, the Gold Rush would transform San Francisco into a major port city.