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The Immigrant and the University

The Immigrant and the University: Peder Sather and Gold Rush California

Karin Sveen
Foreword by Kevin Starr
Translated by Barbara J. Haveland
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    The Immigrant and the University
    Book Description:

    Peder Sather was a scribe before he emigrated from Norway to New York in 1832. There, he worked as a servant and a clerk at a lottery office before opening an exchange brokerage. During the gold rush, he moved to San Francisco to help establish the banking house of Drexel, Sather & Church on Montgomery Street. Sather was a founder and a liberal benefactor of the University of California at Berkeley where he is memorialized by the Sather Gate and Sather Tower (the Campanile), three endowed professorships, and more recently the Peder Sather Center for Advanced Study.Karin Sveen, one of Norway's most accomplished writers, pieces together a story yet untold-a beautifully crafted biography based on her dedicated search for scraps of information. The result gives readers a look at the life of a successful entrepreneur and a leading California patron who engaged in public education on all levels; supported Abraham Lincoln; and worked to give emancipated slaves housing, schooling, and employment after the Civil War. His legacy and vivid persona and the frontier city of his time are brought to life with interesting anecdotes of many famous people- General William T. Sherman, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, the Norwegian violinist Ole Bull, and above all, his close friend Anthony J. Drexel, legendary Philadelphia financier and one of the founders of Wall Street.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95712-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Karin Sveen
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    Kevin Starr

    Writings by Norwegians and Norwegian-Americans frequently exhibit a minimalist style that ranges from reticent to enigmatic. This tendency can be noted without fear of cultural stereotyping, for it reflects something deep and abiding that goes back to the Norse sagas; hence, it constitutes a frequently noted characteristic of the Norwegian temperment.

    In this biography, the noted Norwegian writer Karin Sveen employs a typically Norwegian restraint as she sifts through the meager documentation connected to her subject, banker Peder Sather (1810–86): trustee of the College of California, which was the forerunner of the University of California, whose widow donated to...

  6. ONE Monuments and Mysteries
    (pp. 1-11)

    I learned to read through my mother reciting to me the wording on shop and street signs in the town of Hamar, when we went shopping there. To me, words such asLondonerbasaren, Festiviteten,andBiografenwere not merely the names of a store and couple of cinemas; they were mysterious doors into unknown stories. We stopped to look at the old paddle steamer,Skibladner,and the memorial to the fallen, and when my mother told me the stories behind these, Hamar was no longer just a place where we bought light bulbs, soap, and reels of thread; it was...

  7. TWO Sole Passenger
    (pp. 12-22)

    Peder Sather was born Peder Pedersen Sæther and he came into the world at Nordstun Nedre Sæter farm on September 25, 1810. This, at any rate, is the date recorded a month later by the local vicar in the register of baptisms for the parish of Strøm, in the diocese of Ulleren. His date of birth is, however, still a bit of a mystery because in 1869, when immigrant Peder Sather applied for an American passport, he gave his date of birth to the notary public in New York as September 17. Had the vicar’s mind been elsewhere for a...

  8. THREE Baptism and Marriage
    (pp. 23-34)

    The world to which Peder Sather had come was not exactly waiting to lavish its bounty on him.¹ Unemployment was high in New York City in the 1830s, and the population was exploding. The number of inhabitants rose from 200,000 in 1830 to 350,000 in 1840, making New York the largest city in the country. Fourteen hundred immigrant ships sailed into its port every year: American merchant ships which sailed to Europe with cargoes of cotton, tobacco, and timber, and filled their holds for the return journey with what was callously referred to as “human cargo.” The immigrants came primarily...

  9. FOUR 1837
    (pp. 35-44)

    So, by marrying into the Thompson family did Peder Sather have everything handed to him on a plate? And are the historians correct in claiming that it was Francis Martin Drexel who gave the Norwegian his big break in 1836? We may indeed all be history makers, but when it comes to writing history, we still do have to hunt for documentation, study it, and give thanks when we manage to retrieve primary sources from the dim recesses of the past. As far as the early stages of Peder’s career in New York are concerned, I have found evidence that...

  10. FIVE New Yorker And Norwegian
    (pp. 45-57)

    The Sather’s daughter, Caroline Eugenia, was born in the house on James Street, July 28, 1836, at eight in the evening, according to the Sather family register. Such registers were public documents; they had grown out of a European tradition brought to America by immigrants in the seventeenth century. They provided the authorities with a clear account of the members of a household and of where a family was living when a new member was born. The entries in the Sather family register are neatly inscribed and surrounded by an ornamental border. From the handwriting it is clear that they...

  11. SIX A Specimen of the Gold
    (pp. 58-69)

    In 1847, after fifteen years in the United States, Peder Sather became an American citizen. When you consider that an immigrant could apply for citizenship after just four or five years, he does not seem to have been in any hurry to take this step. And this could make one wonder whether his farewell to Norway had been as full and final as the information given to the immigration authorities in 1832 would have it. But by the late 1840s Peder Sather was so established that he can scarcely have envisaged having any future in Norway, where poverty and hardship...

  12. SEVEN A Particular Friend
    (pp. 70-80)

    By the spring of 1850 Peder Sather was so ill that he was unable to work and was confined to bed for several weeks. He hadn’t the strength to write letters and apologized to Eliza on one of her frequent visits for not having dropped a line to Anthony. That evening she wrote to her husband:

    I went over to show him your letters and it relieved his mind greatly to hear your health was so good, as he had learnt of sickness and diseases among the miners from the newspapers. He asked me to tell that if you would...

  13. EIGHT Drexel, Sather & Church
    (pp. 81-92)

    It took Anthony Lewis Tasheira 165 days to travel to San Francisco via Cape Horn in 1849, but by the time Peder Sather and his party set sail from New York in the spring of 1851, the steamship companies had halved the time by offering a shortcut through Nicaragua or across the Isthmus of Panama. On the west coast of Panama a new ship waited to take passengers on the last stage of their journey, north to San Francisco. Something in the region of a thousand people were now arriving in this city every day, most of them men in...

  14. NINE Congratulaing Himself on Freedom
    (pp. 93-103)

    Only months later, Peder Sather was back in San Francisco. He kept the office in Nassau Street, as planned, but left Luther Lawrence to run it when he was away. Luther was still a bachelor and and still living with his uncle, Charles Farrar, on Willoughby Street in Brooklyn. Farrar occasionally assisted Luther in the bank, but I have not come across the names of any other employees.

    All the sources would have it that Sather actually moved to San Francisco at this point, and if this is so then 1851 saw the start of years of commuting back and...

  15. TEN Cigars, Wine, and Other Evils
    (pp. 104-116)

    Compared to prospecting for gold in Tuolumne, keeping the books for Drexel, Sather & Church was as good as a vacation for Anthony. Nor had he forgotten the din and dust and steam of William Metcalf’s foundry. Back then he had rarely had the strength to answer Eliza when she wanted to chat in the evenings, and he would often fall asleep in his chair. Now he wrote to her and said that he must have been an awfully boring man to have in the house, always exhausted and no fun at all. Had he stayed in that job he...

  16. ELEVEN The Turning Point
    (pp. 117-127)

    Eliza and the Tasheira children, sixteen-year-old Harriet, ten-year-old Lewis, and eight-year-old George, left New York with Peder Sather and set sail for San Francisco at the end of February 1855.

    I have the younger of the two boys, George, to thank for the insight I have been given into Peder Sather’s life at this time. George kept all of his parents’ correspondence, and as an old man he presented it to the California State Library in Sacramento. In the last letter sent by Anthony before his family made the move west he expresses a hope that the children will be...

  17. TWELVE Law in a Lawless City
    (pp. 128-139)

    In the letter which Peder Sather sent to Christoffer at Nordstun Nedre Sæter through Bernt Dysterud he says that his nephew had “experienced a little of the life here and can probably tell you more about it than I can say here.” This may seem a pretty harmless remark, but behind it lie events which shook the whole city and embroiled Sather in a series of violent events that belong to one of the darkest chapters in the history of San Francisco. When Bernt Dysterud returned to Odalen just before Christmas 1856 he must have had plenty to tell the...

  18. THIRTEEN Gold, Pigs, and a Summer Residence
    (pp. 140-151)

    The insurance company in New York and Sather’s friend Samuel Merritt had not been alone in helping Sather & Church out of a tight spot. Francis Drexel, too, had pulled a few strings in order to get the bank back onto an even keel again, or, as the newspapers wrote: “It is also believed that Mr Drexel of the old firm Drexel, Sather & Church, has taken Sather & Church’s affairs on his own shoulders.” Meanwhile, Peder Sather and Edward Church were doing everything in their power to pay their creditors. According to theDaily Missouri Republican,Sather & Church...

  19. FOURTEEN The Foundation of Man’s Future Circumstances
    (pp. 152-163)

    The majority of American universities, large or small, were private institutions, run by different denominations—Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, or Congregationalist. This had been the way ever since the founding of the country’s first university, Harvard, in 1636, and the custom had continued with the establishment of Yale in 1701, Princeton in 1746, and Columbia in 1754. The idea was that study should not only impart knowledge and culminate in an exam, it should also ennoble the spirit and turn students into good and pious citizens. Education had to serve a higher purpose and help to imbue society...

  20. FIFTEEN Morals, Money, and War
    (pp. 164-173)

    In 1860 Peder Sather was on the Board of Officers of the First Baptist Church in San Francisco. The old wooden church had burned down and a new one had been built in Washington Street, right round the corner from the bank on Montgomery Street. This church was constructed out of fireproof brick, the newspapers said, and a second-hand organ had been sent over from the East Coast for it. The congregation was growing, it now had two hundred members. Prayer meetings were held every Wednesday evening, services and Sunday school on Sundays.

    This was Peder’s religious arena, two hundred...

  21. SIXTEEN The Haunted House
    (pp. 174-185)

    When Peder Sather resigned from the university’s Board of Trustees, one of the reasons he gave for doing so was that “various circumstances” had arisen to which he could see no end. He did not say what these circumstances were; he only apologized for having to resign and said that his decision was final. There was none of the hesitancy here that he had shown when accepting his seat on the board.

    Events had occurred that were to have long-lasting consequences; circumstances of a very different nature from the deaths of Edward Church and Francis Drexel and in no way...

  22. SEVENTEEN Never Sather & Son
    (pp. 186-196)

    A year after Peder Jr. died James Hutchinson and his wife Coralie had a son. Birth records show that they named the boy James Sather Hutchinson, and it seems reasonable to assume that there was a direct connection between Peder Jr.’s death and the choice of name.

    As manager of the bank James Hutchinson was Peder Sather’s right-hand man and Coralie was Edward Church’s sister-in-law. It may be that the couple wished to comfort the grieving father by giving their son his name. If so, then this only goes to show how close-knit the circle around Sather was. Hutchinson also...

  23. EIGHTEEN Among Friends on Wall Street
    (pp. 197-207)

    Peder Sather came to a decision: he had been in America for half a lifetime and his letters from Christoffer were his guarantee that there was a way home to Odalen. They had brought it all back to him: the sound of the River Sæter on a spring evening, the taste of freshly strained milk, the smell of birch burning in the stove, the warmth of the room in the early morning when the floor was still cold! No, it was all too much! Plant potatoes, see the first curled-up leaves climb quietly toward the light, grow into full, leafy,...

  24. NINETEEN Under the Fever Trees
    (pp. 208-220)

    While the Sathers were in Europe five hundred men and tons of dynamite had blasted a cleft almost 130 feet deep through Rincon Hill. New times were coming: up ahead the factories awaited, behind lay a world in ruins. To reach their homes residents first had to clamber some way up the side of the gully and then climb up long ladders. When they reached the topmost rung and peered over the lip of the cleft, it was to find that the gardens were gone and the houses were teetering on the edge of the slope. The residents of Second...

  25. TWENTY Peder and Jane
    (pp. 221-230)

    In October 1881 Sarah and Peder paid one of their many visits to Burn Brae to see Mary Emma, who had now been there for six years. Afterward they went to New York and checked in at the Fifth Avenue Hotel. While there Sarah developed a fever and had difficulty breathing. A doctor had to be called and she was diagnosed as having pneumonia. For two weeks she lay in bed at the hotel, while her condition steadily worsened. And on October 31, she passed away. She was seventy-four years old. A mother with three children in the grave was...

  26. TWENTY-ONE In Memoriam
    (pp. 231-240)

    So read the first lines of Peder’s Sather’s will. The language is measured and precise, the details arranged systematically. The rise and fall of the words lends them both lightness and weight and keeps them flowing on, from one point to the next.

    Now obviously these lines can simply be read as legal formalese, but I would also venture to describe that “I, Peder Sather” as a statement of identity, containing as it does a Norwegian first name and an Anglicized surname. In 1832, when he left Norway and came to New York, he called himself Peter; when he left...

    (pp. 241-278)
  28. INDEX
    (pp. 279-288)