Contra Costa County












LAFAYETTE IRVING FISH.To a certain extent a record of the life of the late Lafayette Irving Fish is a history of the county of Contra Costa.From the time he made his first investment in land here, during the fall of 1852, until his career ended, October 9, 1900, he was inseparably associated with many of the leading interests of the locality.After enduring the hardships attendant upon both an ocean voyage and an overland trip to California; after having shared with the gold-seekers their scanty fare, their hard beds in the lap of Mother Earth, and their life of toil; and after having experienced the vicissitudes of pioneer farming and stock-raising, it was his good fortune to reap the reward of his labors, and to enjoy in the twilight of his useful existence all the comforts his industry and executive ability rendered possible.


During the colonial history of New England the Fish family bore an honorable part in commercial and military affairs, and Josiah Fish served during the Revolutionary war as a lieutenant under Capt. William Hutchins.Lafayette Irving Fish was a grandson of this Revolutionary officer and a son of Libbeus and Polly (Holcomb) Fish.He was born in Batavia, N.Y., October 7, 1824, and received a common-school education in his native town, later becoming a student in a seminary for boys at Jackson, Mich., where his parents had settled.After two years in the seminary he began earning his livelihood as a clerk in a mercantile store owned by C. W. Penny.For two and one-half years he remained with the same employer and then resigned in order to accept a similar position with his brother Charles, in Monticello, Miss.However, not liking the South, his sojourn there was short, and he returned to his former employer.


At the time news reached him of the discovery of gold in California, Mr. Fish determined to seek his fortune in the west.With this purpose in view he resigned his position, left home and friends, August 8, 1849, and proceeded to Mississippi, where he visited his brother.From there he traveled via the isthmus and the Pacific ocean to San Francisco, where he arrived January 8, 1850.In February he proceeded to Marysville and the mines.To engage in mining a company was formed, consisting of E. S. Rockwell, J. W. Fish, J. G. Scott, Albertus Scott, G. W Brown, B. T. Graves and L. I. Fish.With an ox team, provisions and other supplies, they left Marysville June 25, bound for Slate creek.Before they had arrived at their destination they found that camp was being deserted for a new one on Feather river.Leaving Josiah Fish to follow with the goods, the others joined the rush and located claims on Nelson creek, a tributary of the south fork of the Feather river.In addition to mining they opened a store, building a log cabin, which they were often forced to use as a hotel for the accommodation of passing miners.Their guests were glad to pay for the privilege of sleeping on the bare earth (for the floor of the cabin was of dirt).While much is written and said concerning the high civilization of the twentieth century, Mr. Fish often remarked that he never lived in any community where all men seemed as brothers, where each respected the otherís rights, where robbery was unknown and where all were governed by so high a code of honor as was displayed in this camp.Men were accustomed to leave their sacks of gold dust in the cabin and no one ever molested them.There was a feeling of fraternal fellowship among them, and each wished the others to succeed.


Mr. Fish and Mr. Lathrop soon purchased the interests of their partners, afterwards buying an interest in the mercantile business of W. & J. Ford at Marysville.In the fall of 1852 the two purchased a part of the Welch rancho in Contra Costa county.Soon after this they formed a company to go east and buy sheep for the California market.In 1853, Mr. Fish and others went east and spent a year buying sheep and preparing a wagon train for crossing the plains.The sheep were wintered at Vermont, Cooper county, Mo.The journey was begun May 2, 1853, with five thousand sheep, about eight ox teams, one spring wagon, a herd of cattle, and several saddle horses and mules.They arrived in the Sacramento valley and crossed the river about twenty miles below Shasta in the latter part of October, 1854.At that time they had three thousand sheep, one hundred and forty head of cattle, twelve horses and mules, etc.The sheep had cost $1.50 apiece in the east and brought from $7 to $10 each in California, so that the profits were large, notwithstanding the losses en route.In 1855, Mr. Fish and his partner divided their holdings, and the former then entered into partnership with his brother, Charles, who had arrived here while he was in the east.In addition to engaging in farm pursuits they built a warehouse and bought and sold grain, also had many other interests until their retirement in 1884.


Mr. Fish was one of the first successful farmers of California, and was one of the first to practice summer-fallowing, so common now.Desiring modern equipments[sic] with which to conduct his work, he sent east for improved farm machinery, and kept himself and his foremen busy in harvesting his own grain and that of others.In early days his principal product was wheat, and one yearís crop sold for $52,000.He raised and shipped the first wheat ever sent from San Francisco to New York as a business venture.While at time he met with reverses, such as will come to all, he was almost uniformly successful, his excellent business sagacity enabling him to conduct his various interests in a profitable manner.


Having considerable money to invest and seeing an opening for a bank at Martinez, in 1873, Lafayette I. Fish, with the support of many other leading men of the county, established a financial institution, of which he was the first president; William Hale, cashier; and Henry Hale, teller.The directors of the bank were L. I. Fish, W. W. Cameron, William Hale, Henry Hale and Simon Blum.With a capital stock of $50,000 the bank embarked in business, but soon the capital stock was doubled and such was its success under the administration of Mr. Fish, who continued its executive head until his retirement in July, 1890, that at that time the holders valued their stock at two hundred per cent and none was for sale even at that premium.


The grain business was another industry that engaged the attention of Mr. Fish, who, in July of 1878, with Messrs. Baldwin and Simon Blum, began to buy and sell grain and established warehouses in various towns.From this business he retired in June, 1884.


In 1858, Mr. Fish and his brothers fitted up a house and sent for their sisters, Caroline and Cornelia.The latter died in 1861, but Caroline and the elder brother, Josiah, remained in the family circle until their death in 1893.In 1868 Mr. Fish erected the substantial and attractive residence which still remains the home of his family.


March 31, 1881, Mr. Fish was married to Miss Frances Lillian Webster, a teacher in the State Normal School at San Jose and daughter of Samuel Warren Webster and Mary (Nichols) Webster, representatives of colonial New England families.Two children were born of their union, a son, Irving Webster Fish, and a daughter, Annie Holcomb Webster Fish.





Transcribed by Donna Toole.

≠≠≠≠Source: History of the State of California & Biographical Record of Coast Counties, California by Prof. J. M. Guinn, A. M., Pages 403-404. The Chapman Publishing Co., Chicago, 1904.

© 2015Donna Toole.







Contra Costa County Biographies

Golden Nugget Library