JOSEPH W. WINANS, a pioneer of 1849, and a leading and successful member of the San Francisco bar, was born in the city of New York, July 18th, 1820, the second of nine children. His ancestors were English and German, but it is necessary to go very far into the past in order to trace them to European origin. They came to America many years before the Revolutionary war, in which Joseph’s grandfather was a soldier in the American army. His son (father of Joseph W.) was a prominent merchant of New York city for forty years. He long since retired from business, having amassed a large fortune. The old gentleman and his wife are still living in that city. Time has dealt leniently with the aged couple, who celebrated their golden wedding some years ago.

      Joseph W. Winans spent his youth in a course of continuous study. Having entered Columbia College at the age of sixteen, he graduated from that worthy institution of learning at the age of twenty. In the same class with him were Hon. A. C. Monson, former Judge Ogden Hoffman, the distinguished Judge of the U. S. District Court for this State. Not resting from his labors, nor pausing in the pursuit of knowledge, young Winans entered immediately on the study of law, to which he applied himself for three years. At the end of that time he received his license to practice, and also the degree of A. M., from Columbia College, in the year 1843.

      Armed with this license and this endorsement, Mr. Winans at once devoted himself to his chosen calling. At that time, the ranks of the legal profession in New York were divided into two classes, attorneys and counselors. After practicing for three years as an attorney, with satisfactory success, Mr. Winans received his license as a counselor-at-law the year before the adoption of the new constitution of the States of New York, which abolished the distinction between the two grades. For three years more, he practiced as an attorney and counselor at the New York bar. The success which rewarded his labors, in the morning of his life, demonstrated that he had not been unwise in the choice of his profession.

      With all his love of study and his application to business, our subject was not without the natural ardor of youth. He wished to behold new fields. At the age of twenty-nine, in conjunction with a few friends, he purchased a vessel, manned and fitted her for the voyage, and set sail for California, by way of Cape Horn. The vessel landed the party at San Francisco on the 30th day of August, 1849. Resting for a few days in the sandhills of the Bay City, they turned the prow of their little craft towards the north, and after a few days’ sail, arrived at Sacramento. The City of the Plains, at that early day, was a vast encampment of tents and rude huts, thronged by a rough and restless multitude, hailing from all parts of the globethe grand headquarters of the miners of northern and central California. Crowded with the trampling, rushing, struggling mass of adventurers who filled her streets and her dens of dissipation and crime, the city presented a scene which cannot even be imagined by those who never beheld the motley picture.

      Here Mr. Winans pitched his tent. His journey was at an end. Only a few days were devoted to observation and repose, when he opened a law office and commenced the practice of a science unknown and unrecognized by the lawless throng which surrounded him. His course was in striking contrast to that of his fellow-pioneers. The community was mostly composed of miners and gamblers. Nearly every eager immigrant who, in the hot pursuit of the hidden treasure, was content to keep within the bounds of honesty and propriety, upon his arrival sought the mines and went to work as a miner; while a rapidly increasing multitude, not over-scrupulous as to the means or manner of acquiring fortune, attached themselves to the second class or division of the community. This latter class embraced many (a sad, yet curious fact) who had been above suspicion in older and sober communities. In the more laborious, yet not much larger, class of miners, could be seen the pale student, the prim shop-clerk, the emaciated teacher, and the delicate professional man, grappling with the earth and rocks, side by side with laborers of heavy build and brawny arm. Norval, when he had come to do, “the happy deed that gilded his humble name,” did not look upon the “shepherd’s slothful life” with greater disdain than did the doctor and lawyer of ’49 feel towards the profession to which his youth was bred, and which had been acquired at the cost of so much time, care, and labor. Bent only upon the rapid acquisition of wealth, wherewith to return to the old home, the land where professional flourished, this class of men cared only for the mineral riches, and gave no thought to the grand future, of California. To their restless spirits, this fair and fertile region offered no inducements for permanent abode, but was nothing more than a temporary abiding place for fortune-seekers.

      Our subject, however, be it said to his enduring credit, was not a victim to the general hallucination. He had faith in his new home. That faith assured him that the existing dissolute state of society must ere long give place to law and order, and at times gave him glimpses of a new and mighty empire, which would rear its power upon the Pacific slope, blessed by the influence of American civilization, protected by the American arms and the American flag.

      A few months after he commenced practice, Mr. Winans formed a partnership with John G. Hyer, which continued for ten years, and up to the time of Mr. Winan’s removal to San Francisco. The firm of Winans & Hyer was for many years acknowledged as the leading law-firm of the capital. When that city was visited by the most terrible of her many afflictions, the great flood of 1860-’61, Mr. Winans removed with his family to the metropolis. There he soon formed a partnership with Mr. D. P. Belknap, the compiler of the valuable work upon Probate Practice in California. This partnership still continues.

      In politics, Mr. Winans was formerly a Whig. He cherished a deep-seated devotion to the principles of the Whig party. Through the columns of the press, as the editor of several influential journals, and on the stump, as a speaker in many exciting campaigns, he has always ready to do battle for the old party, he has uniformly acted with the Republicans. He has never been a seeker after office. He has held many honorable and responsible positions in Sacramento and San Francisco, but has been before the people on only two occasions as a candidate for office; first, in Sacramento, in 1850, when his Whig principles led him to defeat, as the candidate of his party for Recorder or Criminal Judge; second, in San Francisco, in 1865, when he was elected as the Union candidate for School Director of the sixth ward of that city. In 1852, he was elected by the Board of Alderman of Sacramento, to the position of City Attorney or Corporation Counsel, which he held for several years.

      In 1853, he was elected President of the Pioneer Society of Sacramento, and twice reëlected to that place. In 1858, he was chosen President of the Sacramento Library Association. For many years he has been a delegate to the to the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church for the Diocese of California, and in 1859 attended the session of that body held at Richmond, Virginia, on which occasion he took frequent part in the debates. In 1861, he was appointed by the Legislature one of the trustees of the State Library, and was subsequently chosen by his associates President of the Board. He still occupies this position. In 1864, he was elected President of the Society of California Pioneers of San Francisco; and in 1865, President of the Board of Education of that city. He has been one of the regularly retained counsel for the Union League since its organization in California.

      Mr. Winans wields a vigorous and facile pen. During his residence at Sacramento, notwithstanding his large law practice, he found time to indulge his literary taste. For many years, he edited the Index and Times, both papers published in Sacramento. He was also for years a frequent contributor to the Sacramento Union. Some of the ablest editorials in that popular journal, which, from time to time, have attracted public attention, are the productions of his pen. In the columns of that paper have been first submitted to the public eye a great many of his essays and poems, most of them appearing under the nom de plume of “Glyeus.” Over this name, and in the editorial columns of the leading journals of the State, he has talked so often and familiarly to the reading public, that it is unnecessary here to even refer to his qualities as a writer.

      Mr. Winans is a finished classical scholar. In the course of his life, he has been called upon to deliver lectures and orations before political, benevolent, and other associations of men. He is a fluent speaker, and his manner and gesticulation graceful and earnest. His voice, though not harsh or unpleasant, does injustice to his rich and glowing diction. His power is in his prolific pen, which never tires. A collection of his miscellaneous productions would show him to be one of the most voluminous writers on the Pacific coast.

      In 1864, Mr. Winans married the second daughter of Alexander Badlam, Sr., of Sacramento. He has three living children.

      In his office, he is a hard worker and close student. His firm attachment to the practice of law and his close application to business have secured him at all times a handsome business. He is eminently a successful lawyer. Nor has his success been the result of accident; it has been the legitimate fruit of patient toil, and a judicious use of his talents.

      To his profession he has ever been loyal, and beneath her banner he has walked for over twenty-five years. His constancy and fidelity to the noblest of sciences, furnish a bright example to the army of young men in California who are about entering upon the practice of law.

The Golden Wedding
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The Dignity of Labor
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Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.

Source: Shuck, Oscar T., “Representative & Leading Men of the Pacific”, Bacon & Co., Printers & Publishers, San Francisco, 1870. Pages 249-254.

© 2008 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.












San Francisco County