Thomas Fawcett (1823-1873) of Sonoma

Biography of Thomas Fawcett, a native of Northern Ireland, who came to the U.S., probably during the California Gold Rush and settled in Sonoma. He died there of tuberculosis in 1873.


This article copyright 2009 by Will Johnson,, Professional Genealogist
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Thomas Fawcett was born in Northern Ireland probably late in 1823. (In 1867 Thomas Fawcett appears in the Great Register of Sonoma "age 44 of Ireland", and in the 1870 Census "Age 46")

"Daily Alta California", 23 Jan 1861, "The Accident on Board the Schooner Bostonian -- Nearly a fortnight since we published the fact of a man having been lost overboard from the schooner Bostonian while on her way hence to Sonoma, and the news not having been reported here to the press, we considered that the affair had a suspicious look, especially as only one other person was on board at the time of the accident.  This man has called upon us and gives the following relation of the affair.  The name of the lost man was William Wells, who was the captain of the schooner.  He fell, or was knocked overboard by the boom, between the Sisters and the mouth of Sonoma Creek, sometime after half past ten o'clock, P.M., on the 26th of December.  It was the captain's watch on deck, and Thomas Fawcett, the name of our informant, was below in his berth.  The schooner drifted on to the flats, and Fawcett was awakened by her thumping.  He got her off the next morning, and proceeded to Sonoma, where he reported the loss of Captain Wells, and immediately made deposition of the facts before Justice Ellis, of Sonoma.  He also made special report to Mr. Green, the owner of the schooner; and those facts were published in the Sonoma Democrat, which publication escaped our notice.  This satisfactorily clears up the supposed mystery, and places Mr. Fawcett's part in the unfortunate affair beyond suspicion.  The body of Capt. Wells has not been recovered." [Note: William Wells is living age 28 born Ireland, in the household of lumber merchant and ship owner William Green in the 1860 Census of Sonoma, California (wj).]

In 1864 in the town of Sonoma, Sonoma County, California on a local tax roll that year he appears as "Thomas Fasritte".  On 26 Feb 1865 in the county of Sonoma, Thomas married Mary Otis Fowler (1849-1926), the daughter of Richard A Fowler (deceased) and his wife Mariah B.  Mariah was at that time married to her second husband William Cubberley.  A week later, on 2 Mar 1865 also in the county of Sonoma, Mary's sister Margaret Anne Fowler (1848-1926), married Douglas Church (1831-1919).  Thomas and Mary were married by John Miller, a minister of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, but I do not have any idea whether this choice was deliberate or happenstance.  That same year, 1865, Thomas Fawcett appears in the IRS Tax Assessment List being taxed ten dollars for the Schooner Hamlet, as a "Common Carrier".  The Hamlet was a 65-ton schooner, built about 1855/6 at Bolinas by Thomas and William Johnson.

In January 1866, Thomas and Mary's eldest child William Henry "Harry" Fawcett (1866-1945) was born in California, apparently in Sonoma County, but I am not certain of that.  That same year, Thomas again appears on the IRS Tax Assessment List as "Thos Fawcett Jr" again being taxed ten dollars for the Schooner Hamlet, as a "Common Carrier".

In 1867 Thomas Fawcett appears in the Great Register of Sonoma "age 44 of Ireland; Boatman; naturalized, registered 28 Mar 1866". I do not know where he was naturalized.  On 21 September 1867, an article appeared in the "San Francisco Daily Morning Call", entitled Delinquent Tax List on which appears: "Schooner Hamlet - Green, Wm 16 00; Fausett, Thos 8 13; Holter, L 8 13".  This would appear to indicate that Wm Green, Thos Fausett and L Holter were all partners in this Schooner. (Capt William Green, Thomas Fawcett and Louis Holton.)  William Green had been a member of Stevenson's Regiment during the Bear Flag revolt of 1848.

In 1862, Lewis Holton of Sonoma was taxed $5 by the IRS for having a Billiard table.  In 1863, this year of "St Louis" he was taxed on Retail Liquors, and again on a Billiard table.  St Louis was the name of what was otherwise called the "Sonoma landing", and also the "Embarcadero".  Since ships could not come into downtown Sonoma on Sonoma Creek, the place they stopped on the creek was known as the "landing".  The residents named it St Louis, and it was possibly, at one time, incorporated into a city, but I'm not certain.  I believe that passengers unloaded there and then either walked or took a carriage into the town itself.  It's quite likely as well that freight landed here.  The area was later re-named Schellville.

On 20 May 1868, Thomas and Mary's second child Thomas Douglas Fawcett (1868-1933) was born in California, apparently in Sonoma County, but I'm not certain.  That same year Thomas is taxed locally only for personal property worth $20.

In the U.S. Federal Census of 1870, Thomas, Mary and their two children are enumerated living in "Sonoma Township" as "Thomas Fassit", age 46, "Running in Schooner".  They are indexed at Ancestry that year as "Farrit".  They have real property worth $1000 and personal property worth $2000.  Living with them is a 12-year-old girl Maggie Wagner, born in New York.  I don't know any relationship here, so I will assume for the moment that she was an orphan, taken in by the family.  On one side of the family is enumerated Ferdinand Ehrlich, on the other side, her sister and brother-in-law Douglas Church.

That same year, 1870, Thomas is taxed on 1/2 of outlot #550 and outlot #551 and also personal property, all totalling $580.  This same pair of outlots in addition to outlot #539 was previously, in 1868, taxed to Thomas' mother-in-law Maria Cubberly.  The following year, 1871, Maria's other son-in-law Douglas Church is taxed for outlot #539 and part of outlot #550.  So it would appear that between 1868 and 1871, Maria split her real property holdings between her two sons-in-law.  Maria was probably at this time a widow again, William Cubberley having died on 29 Jul 1866 in Sonoma.  She would last marry James Kennedy, sometime before 1870.  James had come to Sonoma County from Pennsylvania by 1867.  They were fairly wealthy, James' real estate valued in 1870 at $36,000.  Also in 1870, William Green is enumerated in Sonoma Township with an occupation "Shipping Business", his wife at that time, Mary was born in Ireland.  Living next door is Montgomery Akers.

In Dec 1870, Thomas and Mary's final child Joseph Kennedy Fawcett was born in California, apparently in Sonoma County.  He was obviously named "Kennedy" after his new step-grandfather.  Joseph would later die in 1900 while on a hunting trip with his brothers.

In 1871/2 there is a business, taxed locally, called "Green, Fawcett & Holton", owning two schooners, the Hamlet and the Marguerite, running between Sonoma and San Francisco.  On 25 Aug 1872, Thomas Fawcett wrote his will, dated at Sonoma.  He states that he is weak of body.  He wills all his property to his wife "Mary Otis Fawcett" and "appoint her my only executrix".  The will was witnessed by : "Jas H Ovendale; Douglas Church; and James Kennedy"

Thomas appears again, listed in the 1873 Great Register of Sonoma, but that year on 13 Aug he died of consumption (tuberculosis).  He was buried in the Sonoma Mountain Cemetery but his tombstone, on a recent visit, could not be located.  His wife Mary, submit the will to probate and on 3 Jan 1874 was appointed James Kennedy, Harry Overdale and John Stofen appraisers of the estate.  Thomas Fawcett's probate makes no particular mention of what his personal property was, merely stating that it amounted to a value of about two thousand dollars. John T (or F) Fortson is appointed attorney ad litem to appear for the interests of Thomas Fawcett's minors (three boys). This John Fortson was evidently a clerk of the probate court. Notice of execution of estate was published from 19 Dec 1873 until 9 Jan 1874 in the Petaluma Argus. Final settlement was filed 22 Dec 1874. It appears that Mary was accorded about $2600 as a balance.

Both Mary Fawcett and her brother-in-law Douglas Church had a vineyard in 1874, if not earlier.  They both appear in "Appendix to Journals of Senate and Assembly, of the Twenty-First Session of the Legislature of the State of California, Volume I", Sacramento. 1875, showing that Douglas had 11,000 vines producing 25 tons, and "Mrs Fawcett" had 6,000 vines producing 9 tons.

Either on her own accord, or following her dead husband's interest, Mary appears again as a co-owner in the Sonoma Steamer company, along with Louis Holton, the Stoffen brothers and William Green.  The steamer was built for the traffic from San Francisco to Sonoma, but I believe it changed to run to Napa instead.  With the coming of the railroad a few years later, steamer traffic was doomed.

Mary married again on 5 Jan 1875 in Sonoma Valley to John J H Suhrbier, a native of Germany, age 38, resident of Sonoma.  Her brother-in-law Douglas Church was present, as was her mother as "Maria B Kennedy".  Mary divorced John Suhrbier 10 Oct 1878 in Sonoma, after having at least one child by him.  Mary's children also came to court and gave testimony, which is preserved in the several page acrimonious court record of this divorce.  John Suhrbier, moved to Visalia, California where he appears on the 1900 Census as a Carpenter with his second wife also named Mary.  They are still there in the 1910 Census.

James Kennedy died and while his will was yet being probate, Maria also died, leaving a will.  In her will, she left everything to her granddaughter, Annie Church (d. 1951 in Ukiah).  Mary contested that will, claiming that since Annie lived with Maria in her last days, she exercised an "undue influence".  The contest however was denied.

Mary married thirdly on 28 Oct 1880 in Sonoma, to William R Webb, also apparently of Sonoma.  They have a homestead declaration filed in 1886.  They were apparently still living in that area, when she filed in 1890, for a divorce from him as well.  In the 1880 U.S. Federal Agricultural Census, in Sonoma Valley, William R Webb appears as follows: "Rents for share of product, 130 acres, value of farm $5000, 6 milch cows, in 1879 four purchased and one died, no sheep, one pig, 24 poultry, made 30 pounds of butter, no milk, no cheese, no cereal crops, no fruit, no vines".  Meanwhile, Mary herself, not yet married to William, is also represented indexed as "Mary O Soukobier" as follows: "Owns land, nine and a half tilled acres, nine and a half permanent meadow pasture orchard or vineyard, three and a half unimproved 'old fields not growing wood, farm value $3000', $75 paid for laborers wages in 1879, eight weeks of hired labor, produced $170 of produce value in 1879, two calves dropped in 1879, no milk, no butter, no cheese, no sheep, twelve poultry, no cereal crops, no fruit, nine and half acres in vines, sold 15,958 pounds of grapes in 1879, no wine made."

Mary and William had two children.  Mary and her children, including her three adult unmarried sons, then moved to Modesto for several years, where they are found on the 1900 Census.  Sometime between 1891 and 1893, she married fourth and lastly to William Brooks Harbin (age 54 in 1890).  He had previously been married to Anne Augusta Goff, but they must have divorced before 1880, when Anne is listed already married again.  Mary is listed in the 1893 city directory of Modesto as Harbin, and is listed as a widow on the 1900 Census in Modesto.  It was while living in Modesto, that her youngest son died while on a hunting trip in Canada.

When her daughter Emma entered Berkeley in 1903, Mary and the family moved to that city for several years.  While at Berkeley, Emma met Robert Whitley and they married in 1905, but divorced by 1915.  The entire clan now moved to the area of Pomeroy, Garfield County, Washington where they again lived for several years, and where her second son Thomas married in 1915 to Alta May Wright whose family had moved there from Arkansas.  They stayed in Pomeroy until about January 1925 when Mary made her last move, with her two surviving sons to Kelso, Cowlitz County, Washington.  This is where she died 26 Mar 1926 from Bright's disease, fifty-two years after her first husband.  She is buried there in the I.O.O.F. cemetery.  She has an obit there, and her only daughter Emma appears as "Mrs Nick Hoffman", her last husband being Nicholas.