PHILIP LEGGET EDWARDS was born in Breckenridge county, Kentucky, on the 14th of July, 1812; died the 1st of May, 1869; hence he was fifty-six years, nine months, and seventeen days old. His father and mother, Thomas Edwards and Jane Edwards, (whose maiden name was Jane Cunningham) were both natives of Virginia. At quite an early period they bade farewell to their native home, and marched westward to the then frontier State of Kentucky. Enterprise, coupled with adventure were leading characteristics of the Edwards family.


Virginia had, it is true, more of the comforts of life and promises of leisure than the wilderness west of the Alleghanies could offer; yet the father of Colonel Edwards stopped not to consider a life of ease in the land of his birthplace, but eagerly sought to lead the van of empire, whose path was westward. His move from the scenes of his childhood, instead of satisfying his desire to see new places and fasten his attachment for particular locality, rather stimulated his inclination still farther west, for in 1824 he was again on the road of emigration, this time to the outposts of the white settlements in the State of Missouri.


He located at Old Franklin, in Howard county, on the Missouri river; afterwards moved to Ray county, in that State, where he resided until 1850, at which time he took up the line of march for California. He lived to be quite an old man; was a resident of Nevada county several years, where, two or three years since, his career on earth was brought to a close.


Colonel P. L. Edwards, the subject of this sketch, (the title Colonel, was acquired during the Mormon troubles in Missouri, 1841) commenced teaching school at the age of twenty-one, in the village of Richmond, Ray county, Missouri. That avocation, which of all others is best calculated to discipline the mind, to inculcate method both of thought and action, systematize reflection, and enable the inquiring mind to arrive at just conclusions, was entered by him just as youth had ripened into manhood. This is the most important point in the life of every man, for at this period the tender cares of the mother, the wise admonitions and counsel of the father, culminate and unmistakably direct him to assume responsibilities which he never before held, and lay out the course which he would follow through an active, living world.


With a full supply of common sense; naturally kind, eager to learn; faculties capable of receiving and inclination to acquire knowledge; he commenced the active duties of manhood in that praiseworthy calling of imparting information to the innocent youth; and doubtless he also commenced the cultivation of those traits of character which endeared him to his friends, and formed that frame-work of esteem and respect that elevated him, wherever he resided, far above suspicion, even of the most vicious. That honesty of purpose, love of truth, independent thought, earnest action, gratitude to friends, and leniency towards antagonists, which he taught the young under his tutelage, he also practiced himself. Next to that of character, his fondest theme for the study of the young was the understanding of words. This theory he strictly pursued in all his readings as well as his writings. No man systematically analyzed the subject under consideration more completely than he. Its several branches he would unravel in detail, and unite the various collateral definitions as well as join the main line in one aggregated conclusion, and express the same in language sufficiently terse, perspicuous, and comprehensible to bring it within the scope of the simplest mind.


Frank, energetic, and industrious, he moved in any cause in which he engaged with a zest and ardor to succeed, not only to the understanding of the surface, but the cause, the wherefore, and the groundwork, as well as the superstructure. The glittering varnish, on the outer lines of the work might please his eye, but the plan of the architecture, the base and foundation of the whole structure, were subjects of far greater importance to him. The experience of those who had gone before him, the theories of government, the life and character of statesmen, the mysteries of politics, the teachings of theology, the works of the poets, the facts of the historian, the tales of life and stories of romance, all received his attention; and although the taste he nurtured for reading while the bloom of youth was on his cheek may have become somewhat abated as age advanced, yet he continued the habit of much reading down to the day of his death. This, coupled with his abundance of kindness for all, and ill-will towards none, is the explanation of that remarkable faculty he had in making every one easy in and fond of his company. If the man of letters was present, he could readily draw upon the rich storehouse of information at his own command, and never fail to entertain as well as inform his hearer. The illiterate would feel easy in conversation with him, because in his pleasant and unassuming style, he would anticipate their deficiency, and supply it for them in such a friendly manner, they would fail to discover their own ignorance in their admiration of the Colonel’s great good nature, manifested in understanding them, however awkwardly they expressed themselves. He was a man full of humor, indulged frequently in anecdotes, and highly enjoyed a good joke well told.


During the second year of his school, his health became rather feeble. Just at this time, a party was organized, some of the members intending to trade with the Indians on the plains; others to perform missionary duties among them west of the Rocky Mountains; others again were seeking to inform themselves of the topography and resources of the wild, uninhibited “West.” Of the traders, Captain N. J. Wyeth was the most prominent; Jason Lee had charge of the missionary division; Townsend, and Nutall, the distinguished naturalist, and Captain Steward, afterwards Lord Clyde, were seeking pleasure and information. The Colonel joined the party, mainly to improve his health, and at the same time to satisfy an inclination to explore the unfrequented plains and mountains of which at that time so little was known.


The party left Independence, Missouri, on the 25th of April, 1834. On the 15th of July following, they arrived at the point on Snake river since known as Fort Hall. Here Wyeth and his party of traders remained; the others continued their journey to Vancouver by the way of Walla Walla, arriving at the former place on the 15th of September of that year. The missionaries, after receiving their supplies, (which had been forwarded from Boston on the brig Mary Dacre) and being joined by those in the same cause who came on the brig, established their headquarters at Willamette Valley, about seventy-five miles above the mouth of the Multnomah. Colonel Edwards remained with them. This fact likely gave rise to the impression which has since appeared in public print, that he was a member of the mission. He was at that time a member of the Methodist Church, and may have joined his efforts with those around him in disseminating the truths of the Bible among the red men of the Pacific coast, but he was not officially connected with the mission. In September, 1835, Daniel Lee, nephew of Jason Lee, and Colonel Edwards, left the mission for Vancouver; the former seeking to restore his health, and the latter contemplating a return to the United States on the brig Mary Dacre.


The change from the mission to Vancouver seemed not to have the desired effect upon Mr. Lee’s health, for instead of improving, he grew worse; hence his friends deemed it advisable and did send him to the Sandwich Islands. Colonel Edwards in the meantime changed his intention of returning by sea, and went back to the mission. In October of that year, he established a school at Campment du Sable, of Champoeg, which he continued till the next spring. Other missionaries had arrived from the States, which, by the spring of 1836, increased their numbers to quite a settlement, sufficiently so as to make it necessary to look after the means of support and to provide against contingencies. Colonel Edwards again visited Vancouver, and soon after joined with others in the enterprise to obtain cattle and horses from California to supply the pressing wants of the fast increasing population of the Willamette Valley Douglass, Governor of British Columbia, being one of the interested parties in the venture. Captain W. A. Slocum, of the United States Navy, very kindly offered the interested parties free passage to San Francisco. Colonel Edwards and Ewing Young were appointed to take charge of the expedition. They arrived in San Francisco the 1st of July, 1869.


What a change ! A few huts here and there, standing on the margin of the bay, not of sufficient importance to deserve the name of village when first he saw the place, had grown to a populous and wealthy city when last he visited it in 1869.


The party delayed no time in purchasing and gathering together a band of cattle and horses, and started across the country for the settlement of the missionaries. The Indians frequently annoyed them, and on several occasions seemed determined not only to take their property but also their lives. They succeeded in stealing part of their band; yet, through the perseverance and undaunted courage of the managers of the expedition, near 1,200 head were taken through, which were distributed among the settlers, and laid the foundation for a rapid accumulation of the comforts of life and future wealth.


In March, 1837, the Colonel, in company with the Rev. Jason Lee and two Indian boys, whom they had educated in the English language, took their leave of the mission and started across the plains for Missiouri. After undergoing the hardships incidental to such a trip, they finally arrived safely at the Colonel’s home in the summer of that year.


Of course, after an absence of four years, the rejoining with relatives and friends necessarily demanded many conversations relative to his travels and experience during that period, which left but little opportunity for him to consider his future course. However, his active mind was ill at ease while idle, and no considerable time was lost in arriving at some conclusion. He settled upon the study of law, and placed himself under the instruction of Amos Reese, of Richmond, in that State. Like every thing else with which he dealt, he commenced the reading of law with a determination to fathom its mysteries and understand its complications. After close application for more than two years, he was admitted to the bar in 1840. He began the practice of law at Richmond, before a strong bar, meeting antagonists learned in the law and experienced in the practice. Carrying with him native urbanity, cultivated fine taste, penetrative intellect, an unflinching will for the right, and no countenance for the wrong, he soon acquired a high standing among his fellow-members of the bar. Unlike many lawyers who regard their calling no higher than ingeniously combined manæuvers to defraud innocent parties, and all the while hunting up the tricks to victimize some one, he looked upon his profession as one of the most responsible known among men; the leading objects of which are, as he regarded it, to allay broils between neighbors, adjust unavoidable disputes between parties upon the broad and honorable premises of equity, and to deal out even-handed justice between man and man.


As a practitioner, he was at all times fair with his adversary, scorning to take any advantage of technicalities, preferring to meet the issue boldly and rely upon the merits of the case. As an advocate, he was zealous, energetic, and persevering for the interest of his client. His cases were always well prepared; his argument to the Court, whether oral or written, invariably presented his theory of the cases in that concise language too plain for any to mistake his meaning. His appeals to the jury were animated and full of pathos; strongly persuasive to the side of his client. As a counselor, none were more careful, always preferring a thorough investigation of the law in contemplated application of the facts in the matter, before giving his opinion. Of course, like all lawyers, he had at times very doubtful cases, but under no circumstances would he advise a client to commence litigation, if he considered the facts of doubtful application and insufficient to sustain the case: he would frankly tell him so, and counsel him against the danger of commencing in the law on precarious grounds; for, said he, even a good case of action is attending with annoyance, trouble, and cost, and a bad one with still more annoyance, beside indefinite outlays of money.


In August, 1840, soon after being admitted to the bar, he married Miss Mary V. Allen, and entered upon the duties and responsibilities of a husband, which he never relinquished or neglected. His conduct in business matters and his social demeanor never failed to attract the admiration of those with whom he came in contact, and his domestic relations may well be pointed to as a perfect model of that union of love and affection equaled by few, surpassed by none. The pledges of good faith and confidence made to each other while yet they were young, lost none of their binding force as age increased, but rather grew stronger and deeper-seated in love and affection for each other.


In 1843, he was elected to represent Ray county in the lower branch of the Legislature by the Whig party, to which he adhered from his majority. His force of character, together with his admitted ability, attracted attention, and he was selected as the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which is the most important position in any Legislature. He filled the place with dignity and marked ability. At that time, politics was not the dirty pool it has since become. The two great parties of the country were honorable in their actions among themselves, as well as towards each other. Both parties had leaders upon whom the members doted, and were eager to do them honor. Henry Clay, the great leader of the Whig party, had his admirers and friends, among whom none were stronger in their attachment than Colonel Edwards. The writer has often heard him speak of Clay, and he would admit that Mr. Clay, as a matter of course, had some faults; “but, he would say, “Clay had the great, good man in him.” Without “the good,” he always insisted, “no man was great.”


The Whig Convention of 1844 selected him as delegate to the National Convention to be holden in Baltimore, which nominated Clay for the Presidency. He was Chairman of the Missouri delegation, and availed himself of the opportunity to express his admiration of the only candidate before that convention, as well as to predict the result of the ensuing campaign, which seemed apparent to all the friends of their chieftain, unquestionably in favor of Harry of the West. In this, however, he, like his comrades, fell short of the realization, for notwithstanding the flattering prospects of success when the canvass opened, their beau ideal of a man and statesman failed to be sustained by the people.


It will be remembered that just at that time Morse had about completed the first telegraph line ever made, which was between Baltimore and Washington City, and the nomination of Clay and Frelinghuysen was among the first dispatches sent over the line to Washington. Telegraphing at that time was regarded as among the wonders of the age, and the nomination of Mr. Clay was looked upon by his friends as an epoch in American history which ought to be commemorated; therefore his more ardent admirers seized upon duplicated telegrams of his nomination as appropriate mementos of the Convention that had done the noble work. The Colonel, visiting Washington after the adjournment of the Convention, procured a duplicate of the telegram referred to, as well as other samples which were in telegraphic characters as then used in the art, and had them for many years afterwards, if not up to the time of his death. After seeing the places of interest in the capital city listening to the discussion had in the United States Senate upon the tariff and other prominent subjects then agitating the country he returned to Missouri, and entered the canvass between Clay and Polk, which soon became intensely exciting. As did his brother Whigs generally, he fought gallantly for the chivalric leader of the “American system;” but the tide of opinion was against them, and all their hopes of placing the country under his administration fell prostrate under a defeat of their idolized statesman. Though beaten and defeated, he never yielded his good opinion and attachment for Mr. Clay, but insisted that he ought to have been President. The canvass over, he took a tip to Texas, with an intention, should some locality suit him, to move his family and permanently settle there. Seeing San Antonio, Galveston, and other prominent places of business, he returned pleased with the country; but the inducements were not sufficient to justify a change of residence, therefore he entered again upon the practice of his profession in Richmond, where he continued till 1850.


The gold mines of California by this time had become known, and were famous for their rich and unprecedented yield. Thousands were flocking to her shores to take a chance at fortune’s wheel in this fabulous rich land of gold. The stories of sudden wealth acquired by many who came to California, may have had some influence upon the subject of this sketch; yet they certainly were not the leading cause of his immigrating hither, for he came prepared and evidently intended to make California his home. He brought his family along with him, arriving in Sacramento in September, 1850, where his home continued through all the ups and downs of the city, until he was called to render that final account which must sooner or later occur with all that live. The wild excitement of the mines, the big strikes and rich diggings, did not lead him to engage in what he regarded the pursuit of fickle fortune within their precarious precincts. His attention was directed to his profession, and he soon established a reputation as a first-class lawyer in his new home.


In 1852, the Whigs made their last big fight for the Presidency, General Winfield Scott being the candidate. Colonel Edwards was selected by that party as a candidate to Congress. He made the canvass of the State, and from his energetic manner, and bold and argumentative speeches made from the stump, he was denominated the “war horse” of the Whig party. As before, his party failed. The failure on this occasion, however, he never seemed to regret so much as he did that of Mr. Clay.


In 1854, Colonel Edwards was elected by the Whig party as a Representative of Sacramento county. The Legislature met January, 1855. Attention was soon directed to him for the Speakership, but he declined the position, and accepted the appointment by Speaker Stow as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, a position for which he was well qualified, and which he filled ably and creditably to himself, as well as to those who elected him. This session was the one in which the memorable struggle occurred between Broderick and Gwin for a seat in the United States Senate. In joint caucus of their party, Gwin received the nomination, but Broderick’s friends bolted, and both of them came before the Joint Convention of the two houses. Col. Edwards was nominated by his own party in opposition to both of the Democratic candidates. He needed a few votes of an election at the beginning of the contest, but the parties were well drilled, and those few were not obtained. However, the required number could have been had, for the proposition was made, on the condition that the Colonel would pledge the appointment of several parties to Federal positions in California. His friends received the proposal, and consulted with him concerning it. He indignantly scorned the idea of permitting his hands to be tired by any one, or bartering for a position which should be untrammeled, and particularly screened from the machinations of that class of men who, like cormorants, hang upon the skirts of all political parties, seeking no higher distinction than the recipients of the spoils. What a contrast between his opinion as to what should be a candidate’s position and what really is their course now !


The joint convention of the two houses convened from day to day, when it was well understood no choice could be made. The Colonel would not vote for himself, and not being disposed to vote for the opposite candidate, would cast his vote for any one he happened to think of at the time his name was called. At one time some fellow-member suggested the name of a party, and the Colonel cast his vote for him. He afterwards learned that he had voted for Mr. Broderick’s servant, and some of the members regarded it as a good joke. “Well,” he remarked, “I am not certain but he would do about as well as any of us.”


The Whig party to which he belonged and to whose doctrines he had unwavering adhered, just at this time went into dissolution, and other and different isms sprang up. He never afterwards had any strong attachments for either of the political parties that were claiming the suffrage of the people. The Know-Nothing, or American party being in opposition to the Democratic party, he favored the former on the ground of continuing his opposition to the latter, which he had been fighting all his life, yet he condemned all secret political associations.


As a partisan, he was so on the broad ground of principle, and not capable of resorting to the narrowly contracted view too often entertained and practiced by those who, in deciding a proposition, first inquire how much, or the number of dollars they can make out of it. “After,” he would remark, “the chivalric and noble Whig party died,” he had to choose between his life-long foe and the new isms of the day. This, however, he did not do until after the Presidential fight in 1856, at which time he strongly advocated the claims of Millard Fillmore. Political parties then divided principally on propositions of a sectional character, and from that time he voted and acted with the Democratic party. Except the speech he delivered in the Democratic Convention in 1861, his political addresses were impromptu, and always to the point at issue strongly persuasive to the cause he espoused. On that occasion, he was careful lest he should be misrepresented by the reporters of the press, and wrote out his speech on the issues involved and the condition of affairs, before delivering it.


In his public as well as his private life, all had full opportunity to understanding his position. Scorning deceit, condemning vanity, abhorring egotism, frank and sincere, with a religious faith not hampered by the sectarian limits of favorite dogmas, but broad and extended as the pleasing fields of charity, love, and truth. The old, the little children, the young man, as well as the damsel just blushing into womanhood, were fond of enjoying his society. He never spoke ill of any one, nor did ever charity appeal to him in vain. His desire to assist others doubtless injured him in a pecuniary point of view, but it demonstrated the good impulses of nature which marked his course through life.



Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.

Source: Shuck, Oscar T., “Representative & Leading Men of the Pacific”, Bacon & Co., Printers & Publishers, San Francisco, 1870. Pages 461-472.

© 2008 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.












San Francisco County