Contra Costa County












            ALBERT SHERBURNE.  That adverse fortune builds up the strong and breaks down the weak is a truism illustrated in its better part in the life of Albert Sherburne, an early settler of Contra Costa county, and now a retired merchant of Walnut Creek.  In the broadest sense of that much-abused term Mr. Sherburne is a self-made man, and he is emphatically a man who has known how to bravely face and make the best of bad luck.  He is gifted with a rare and optimistic temperament, one that sees the bright side of even the darkest situations, and one that can profit richly by misfortune.  He was born September 4, 1823, in Bennington (then in Genesee county, now included in Wyoming county), N.Y., twenty-five miles east of Buffalo.  At a very early age he was called upon to display his mettle, for when four years old his mother died, leaving him at the mercy of people who could use his young strength to their own advantage, and concerned themselves but little with the task of showering brightness upon his boyhood days.  His earliest remembrance is not of a fond mother’s care, of a genial home, and solicitude for his welfare, but of working hard for others from the rising to the setting of the sun, and of receiving in return nothing but his board and clothes.  Subsequently he received $49 for seven months’ work.  Naturally his educational facilities were as limited as his social and recreative opportunities, and it was not until his seventeenth year, when he went to the state of Maine to visit his uncle, Lewis Flanders (who, by the way, had made a home for Mr. Sherburne’s brother and sister), that he received any encouragement whatever for his toil.  His uncle, appreciating his faithfulness and bright nature, assisted him in his education and afterward furnished him employment, besides surrounding him with more pleasure than his short life had ever before known.  The money he earned was saved and placed beyond the temptation of expenditure, and he continued to labor with fair success until the early spring of 1852.

            Mr. Sherburne had long cherished a desire to strike out for himself into the wilds of the west, and emphasis was lent to this desire through the return of Robert Vance, who told of the great deposits of gold within the power of anyone to accumulate.  Accordingly young Sherburne made arrangements to turn the tide of fortune his way, making ample provision for his wife, whom he had married in 1847, and who was formerly Caroline Louise Craig, a native of Kennebec county, Me.  One child had been born into his family, George Alfred.  Going to New York Mr. Sherburne bought his ticket for Panama on the steamer Ohio.  Crossing the Isthmus he found it impossible to embark for San Francisco at any price, as all boats were engaged for several months in advance, and thousands of people would have to wait until something unexpected turned up.  There were eight or ten young men in his party, and these engaged passage on the brig Philena, which ran out of provisions soon after starting, and was obliged to put into Port Point Arena for supplies after a voyage of thirty-four days.  They were afterward obliged to put into port again, this time at Acapulco, where they decided to abandon the boat and trust to luck to reach San Francisco.  Eventually they accomplished the journey on the steamer Winfield Scott, the best they could secure being a deck passage, for which they paid $60 each.  They landed in San Francisco, April 28, 1852.  Soon afterward Mr. Sherburne made his way to the mines in Eldorado county.  However, the roughness and exposure of mining was beginning to tell on his health and spirits, and in 1853 he left the mines and in partnership with Hiram Little, and later Joseph Berry, built a bowling alley and saloon combined at Kelsey’s dry diggings, although he continued to keep an interest in the mines until 1856.  January 1 of that year their establishment was burned to the ground, and the partners lost about all that they had in the world.  Nothing daunted, Mr. Sherburne counted on collecting some outstanding bills, but found the parties unreliable, and nothing remained to him but to seek other fields of employment.  The furnishing of his saloon had been very expensive, not only because pool tables and such things had an added value in those days, but because the expense of transporting them to the west was enormous.  The result was that when he came to Contra Costa county he was penniless.

            In the meantime, Mr. Sherburne had sent for his wife and child to join him in 1855, and after the fire he took them to Contra Costa county, where his brother David was already established on a paying ranch.  To tide him over temporarily he built an addition to his brother’s cabin, and, having no money, he was obliged to seek work on the surrounding farms.  Later he took up a claim in Crow’s canyon, which he improved slightly, and then had a chance to sell out for a great deal more than he paid for it.  He then rented land of his brother in the Sycamore valley, and subsequently bought a quarter section, farmed it until 1869, and then sold out at a profit.  He then purchased of L. G. Peal a stock of goods and store at Walnut creek [sic], engaged in the merchandising business for twelve years, and then was burned out.  In 1880 he rebuilt his store, took his son in to run it, later on disposing of his stock and renting his store building.  Since then he has lived in retirement, and in the meantime has seen the brighter side of life and has had time in which to enjoy himself.  When he was fifty-six years old he celebrated the occasion by taking a trip back east, visiting the places and friends of his youth, and bringing back a sister to share his home and good fortune.  Later still he sent his wife east, giving her every opportunity to see the country and visit old friends.  Mrs. Sherburne died in October, 1903, at the age of nearly seventy-eight.  She was the devoted and loving mother of eight children, three of whom are living: Mary, wife of W. S. Burpee, of Walnut Creek; Lewis F., a farmer in the Sycamore valley in Contra Costa county; and John O., a merchant of Danville.

            Mr. Sherburne has been identified with the Masons ever since 1851, and was connected with Lodge No. 41, of Readfield, Me.  After he became settled in Contra Costa county he took a demit and joined Alamo Lodge No. 122, of which he is one of the oldest living members.  He has passed through all of the chairs of the lodge, and is one of its most honored and popular members.  A pronounced feature of the life of Mr. Sherburne has been his ability to make warm and lasting friends.  He seems to draw good and prominent people toward him, and to retain them by the force of his earnestness and sincerity, and by his wonderful and never-failing good nature.  He has succeeded, notwithstanding the obstacles which have beset his path, and in this regard is an inspiring example of what may be accomplished by grit, determination and philosophy.





Transcribed by Doralisa Palomares.

­­­­Source: History of the State of California & Biographical Record of Coast Counties, California by Prof. J. M. Guinn, A. M., Pages 1125-1126. The Chapman Publishing Co., Chicago, 1904.

© 2016  Doralisa Palomares.





Contra Costa County Biographies

Golden Nugget Library