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William Alexander Leidesdorff –
First Black Millionaire

William was born out of wedlock in 1810 in St. Croix, Danish West Indies to a Jewish Danish sailor and a black woman who worked on his father’s plantation. He was educated in Flensburg, Denmark and then migrated to New Orleans, Louisiana in 1822.
 
William was naturalized in 1824 in New Orleans and inherited money from his foster father’s business there. He fell in love with a woman who abandoned him days before their wedding when she found out he was mulatto. William liquidated his holdings and piloted the 106-ton schooner Julia Ann to California, settling in Yerba Buena, which, in 1847, became San Francisco.
 
Leidesdorff took out Mexican citizenship in 1844 and was granted 35,000 acres of land in the Sacramento Valley. He served as Vice Consul of Mexico from 1845 to 1846. Being fluent in several languages, in 1846 he translated the proclamation that California was part of the United States. He served as a member of the city’s first town council, was instrumental in creating San Francisco’s first school, was the city’s first treasurer, opened the city’s first hotel, and owned and mastered the first steamboat on San Francisco Bay.
 
He died suddenly in 1848 and was buried in San Francisco’s oldest building, Mission Delores. Leidesdorf Street was named after him. Because of gold discoveries just before his death, his land had increased in value and made his estate worth over $1,500,000.

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