Title: Halleck, Peachy & Billings Collection,
Date (inclusive): 1837-1861
Halleck, Peachy & Billings
Extent: 80 pieces
The Huntington Library
San Marino, California 91108
Purchased from the Argonaut Book Shop, December, 1946
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[Identification of item], Halleck, Peachy & Billings Collection, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
Halleck, Peachy & Billings was one of the most prestigious law firms on the Pacific Coast, headquartered in San Francisco
and specializing in land cases. It was organized by Frederick Billings and Alexander Carey Peachy in 1849, who were joined
soon after by Henry Wager Halleck. In 1853 Halleck built the Montgomery Black in San Francisco, and the partnership became
permanently located there. The firm handled over half of the land claim cases in California immediately following the enaction
of the Land Act of 1851. Although Halleck wrote the land title report that helped draft the Land Act of 1851, he did not support
the Land Commission, and the firm of Halleck, Peachy & Billings defended many land titles against the Commission. It has been
said that Halleck handled the preparation of the briefs for the cases, Peachy the oratory, and that Billings brought in the
business. The firm was dissolved in 1861.
Henry Wager Halleck (1815-1872) was a West Point graduate (1839) and a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He
was sent to California at the beginning of the Mexican War, and was involved in military operations in Lower California and
for a brief time was Lt.-Governor of Mazatlan. In 1847 he was made a captain and sent to Monterey where he became Secretary
of State and Auditor of Revenues to the military governor of California, Colonel Richard B. Mason. In 1848 Halleck wrote a
report on land titles which was based on land grant settlements made by the United States in Florida. After the termination
of the law firm, Halleck became a general in the Civil War. He was a top aide to Abraham Lincoln and was present with those
in the room at the time of Lincoln's death.
Frederick Billings (1823-1890) is supposed to have been the first lawyer to begin practice in San Francisco. He was graduated
from the University of Vermont in 1844, admitted to the bar in 1849, and appointed legal advisor of California Territory under
Governor Mason. At this time he became acquainted with Henry W. Halleck. In 1863 Billings was an important political figure
and was credited by some with saving the state of California for the Union. After returning to Vermont in 1866, Billings reorganized
the troubled Northern Pacific Railroad and was elected its president in 1879.
The third member of the firm, Archibald Carey Peachy (1820-1883) was a native of Virginia who came to California in 1849,
became a member of the California Assembly in 1852 and of the state senate in 1860. It is said that his sympathy with the
cause of the South in the Civil War was a contributing factor in the dissolution of the firm of Halleck, Peachy & Billings.
The major part of the collection consists of legal documents written chiefly by Henry W. Halleck relating to the California
Land Cases-copies of land titles, drafts of briefs, and opinions used in establishing the legal titles of some 36 different
land grants. There are also notes on Spanish land laws and a few papers relating to other legal cases in California.