The San Diego Herald newspaper was started by John Judson Ames (1821-1861). Wanting to make a trip back to Boston during the winter of 1852-53, Ames closed his printing office in August and handed over the keys to his friend Judge Robinson for safekeeping.
A few weeks later, the man who wrote this letter — William N. Walton — came to San Diego and told the inhabitants of the fledgling town that he had been authorized by Ames to resume the publication of the newspaper. Since Judge Robinson and others did not question the validity of this story, Walton was given the keys to the printing shop and the Herald was soon back in publication.
Walton addressed the letter to William Heath Davis (1822-1909) — a San Francisco resident who grew wealthy as a successful merchant and ship-owner. Being flush with money in 1850, Davis partnered with Andrew Belcher Gray to purchase a large tract of land on the waterfront of San Diego Bay that struggled to develop due to the lack of fresh water and, consequently, became known as “Davis’s Folly.”
When Ames returned to San Diego in April, 1853, Walton beat a hasty retreat from the area. By August, 1853, Ames got the Herald Office back in shape and started to republish the paper, reserving ample space in that issue to lambast the fraudulent attempt by Walton to take over his newspaper.
With this information as background, the content and the timing of the letter strongly suggests that Walton never expected to invest Davis’ money into the newspaper. Rather, it was an elaborate ruse to shake down one of San Francisco’s wealthy venture capitalists and abscond with his money. Six years later, Walton was arrested in Oregon on a robbery charge.
Addressed to William H. Davis, Esq., San Francisco [California]
Per Gregory’s Express
San Diego Herald Office
San Diego [California]
Monday, November 29th 1852
Wm H. Davis, Esq., San Francisco
I have been endeavoring to continue the Herald here for some time since the Election but find there is so little patronage, I fear I must shortly abandon it. Mr. Johns, prior to his leaving for the States, kindly assigned me the office as far as his and your interest is concerned in the type &c. for the purposes of carrying on the paper, which I have done to the best of my abilities. I have now not only expended my time but also what little means I had for Paper, Ink, & Boarding & finding no support, I take the liberty of addressing you to inform me if in your power, how it was that Mr. Ames managed to succeed and pay a journeyman printer besides, whilst I, who without flattering myself produce equally as creditable a sheet as to reading matter &c., do all the work myself, both editorial & mechanical, & cannot dispose of enough papers to pay for the paper that I print them on. There are truly many advertisements in the paper, but from my agent I learn they are very few of them “bona fide.”
I am willing, however, to continue the paper if I can meet with some substantial support from the parties who are most interested in the prosperity of San Diego. Mr. J. J. Josephs of the Merchant’s Exchange, Sacramento to San Francisco, has copies of the papers I have issued and will hand you them if the copies I now send you do not come to hand.
This last week there have been a very large number of fish caught by net in the bay by a man who owns a schooner that is here. He is curing them for the San Francisco market. This subject, of course, I shall enlarge on & every topic that will induce parties to come down here shall be treated by me in the best light possible. There is a party who will leave this week for the neighborhood of Panesquita to prospect for gold, some having been lately brought in from there. If their report is favorable, and there is one or two on whose words I can rely, I shall let the facts be widely known throughout every section of the state.
There are many subjects here in this section of the state which if properly and judiciously handled by means of a public press, will materially tend to get this part of the country settled up next Spring, and I am willing to devote my time, energies, and talents to fully develop them provided I can meet with some pecuniary assistance from those whose immediate interests will be served, and as you have invested a large capital in this place, I take the liberty of asking from you — not as a gift, but as a loan — some $100 or $200 to help me carry out my views. If the place & paper succeeds, I will soon be able to repay you.
I have no further means of my own, otherwise I would risk them. But I must have means from some source to buy paper & pay immediate expenses. I am straining every effort to make a property of the paper as you may see by the enclosed, which I am having circulated in San Francisco. If I can continue the paper for two months longer, I have then a fear of its success, & having been connected with the press all my life, more especially in the editorial department in New Orleans, La., I flatter myself I can make this little sheet — the “San Diego Herald” — serve not only my own pecuniary interest, but shall be enabled to enhance the value of the property and interests of all those who are interested in the welfare and prosperity of San Diego.
Awaiting your reply, I beg to subscribe myself, respectfully yours, — William N. Walton