This collection contains
personal and business correspondence of Southern California businessman and politician
Abel Stearns (1798-1871) from Stearns' early years in California. The collection
primarily deals with the history of Spanish California, as well as early commerce
and trading in the region.
Abel Stearns was a pioneer ranch owner and businessman of Los Angeles, California. Orphaned in
1810, he left his native Massachusetts and went to sea, making trips to China, the
East Indies, and Latin America. By the early 1820s he was back in the United States
trying to establish himself as a businessman, dealing mainly in shoes. In 1826 he
left for Mexico, settling in Mexico City. As partner in a colonization enterprise
for Upper California, he became a naturalized citizen and moved to Monterey in 1829.
While awaiting approval of a land grant, he turned to merchandising. In about 1833
Stearns settled in Los Angeles, joined Juan Bandini in the trading business, and
married Bandini's daughter Arcadia. Stearns became involved in almost every type of
business, held minor political offices, and was sent as a representative of the Los
Angeles district to the state constitutional convention in Monterey in 1849. He
began acquiring rancho property and by 1858 was the owner of vast landholdings and
cattle herds and the wealthiest man in Los Angeles county. As a member of the state
assembly in 1861, he took an active part in promoting the Los Angeles and San Pedro
Railroad. Stearns was forced to sell a great deal of his property when he became
bankrupt after the drought of 1863-1864, which caused the decline of the cattle
industry in California. He died in San Francisco in 1871.
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