David Jacks
(1822-1909)

by Cathleen A. Freeman

This essay was written as a class assignment in SBSC 326: History of the Monterey Bay Area, 10,000 B.C. to Steinbeck, California State University Monterey Bay, Spring Semester 1996.


David Jacks' story begins in Crieff, Scotland, located 40 miles northeast of Edinburgh, where he was born in 1822. Letters written to Jacks by his sister years later portray life in Crieff as bleak. It is no wonder David Jacks immigrated to America in 1841, at the age of 19, to join his two older brothers who had already established themselves as shopkeepers on Long Island.

He ventured out on his own in the mid 1840s, finding employment at Brooklyn's Fort Hamilton, overlooking New York Harbor. "Robert E. Lee, then a young captain of army engineers, was stationed at the Fort during those years, and David Jacks could remember Captain Lee's visits to the shop to inspect caisson wheels" (Bestor 1945:6). It was 1848, while a civilian employed by a wheelwright at Fort Hamilton, that David Jacks heard news of the discovery of gold in California.

Jacks joined the rush to California two months later. "As an accountant, he found employment with a sutler attached to the 3rd Regiment of Artillery, and he sailed with them around the Horn, leaving New York in November 1848 and reaching California in April 1849" (Bestor 1945:6). He spent the rest of the year aiding the 3rd Artillery in the collection of customs revenues. "On 3 December 1849 Jacks was legally naturalized in San Francisco" (Bestor 1945:6). Resisting the lure of gold, David Jacks traveled to Monterey by sea, arriving New Year's Day, 1850. "Monterey was his home for the rest of his life" (Bestor 1945:6).

There are no documented records, but the Jacks' family tradition tells us that David Jacks' first job in Monterey was as a clerk in Joseph Boston's store--the building known as Casa del Oro. The building was originally constructed by Thomas Larkin, who sold it to Jose Abrego, who in turn rented the building to Joseph Boston. The Boston Store served many purposes: it was first a general store and because one of Boston's partners was the deputy tax collector the store became the depository for county taxes. It was there too, that David Jacks, the clerk, dealt with miners who brought their gold dust into Boston's store in condor quills. Hence, the name Casa de Oro. The Boston Store was David Jacks' first Monterey home. After putting in his day's work, "...he pulled his bedding out from under the counter and slept in the shop" (Bestor 1945:7). The 1855, David Jacks bought Casa de Oro from Jose Abrego.

"By 1851 we find David Jacks in the employ of James McKinlay, a fellow Scotsman..." (Bestor 1945:7). McKinlay's place of business was in the Pacific Building, where he had a grocery and drygoods store. McKinlay also loaned money and sold real estate. "...David Jacks was entrusted with considerable responsibility in handling his employer's affairs" (Bestor 1945:7). Correspondence between McKinlay and Jacks shows Jacks to be an invaluable employee. Not only did he take care of all McKinlay's local business while he was away, sometimes for months at a time, but he took care of his personal business as well. In 1869, David Jacks bought the Pacific Building from D.R. Ashley. For reasons of security, he didn't put title to the Pacific Building in his own name until 1880.

Within his first two years in Monterey, David Jacks proved himself a talented and successful businessman. "As early as 1852 Jacks was chosen Treasurer of the County of Monterey" (Bestor 1945:10). His foremost interest, however, was in the acquisition of land. "As early as 1852 his name appeared in the register of deeds of Monterey County as the purchaser of half a league of land from an Indian, and there is evidence that his transactions in land began during his very first year in Monterey. The Official register of mortgages...shows that as early as 1851 Jacks was lending money on the security of land, and a number of his acquisitions were made through foreclosure. Jacks also followed tax sales carefully" (Bestor 1945:10).

The land acquisition that would give David Jacks a "black eye" for the rest of his life was his purchase of the pueblo lands of the City of Monterey. "...the confusion that occurred was largely due to the Mexican land titles that existed at the time of the transfer of California to American Sovereignty, by the Treaty of February 2, 1848" (Bestor 1945:11).

William C. Jones, a confidential agent of the United States Government, who was sent to California in 1849-1850 for the purpose of procuring information as to the circumstances of the land titles wrote:

There were not, as far as I could learn, any regular surveys made of grants in California up to the time of the cessation of the former government. There was no public or authorized surveyor in the country... Strictness of written law required that they should have been made by exact measurement, with written titles, and a record of them kept. In the rude and uncultivated state of the country that then existed, and lands possessing so little value, these formalities were no doubt to great extent disregarded and if not then altogether disregarded, the evidence of their observance in many cases now lost (Bestor 1945:2).
For this reason, "...the cost of defending a claim was great; many legitimate grants were forfeited; and others changed hands at bargain-sale prices" (Bestor 1945:12). David Jacks, a businessman, would take advantage of these opportunities.

The Monterey pueblo, by special concession from the Spanish crown, was entitled to more than the four square leagues [about 4,400 acres] of land generally allotted. The Monterey pueblo was approximately 30,000 acres, whereas most pueblos were approximately 20,000 acres.

In order for the trustees of Monterey to clear title to the 30,000 acre pueblo, they retained Delos Rodeyn (D.R.) Ashley, the city attorney. He petitioned the U.S. land commissioners and the U.S. courts for the board of trustees on March, 2, 1853, "...praying for a confirmation of the pueblo grant to the pueblo of Monterey, and a decree was made accordingly on January 22, 1856, confirming its title" (Bestor 1945:13). An appeal by the United States was taken and then dismissed on June 16, 1858.

"On January 24, 1859, said Ashley presented to the trustees of the city of Monterey a claim amounting to $991.50 for services as its attorney in presenting such pueblo claim to the commissioners. The claim was approved and allowed..." (Bestor 1945:14). However, there was no money in the coffers to pay Ashley. The city trustees, according to the act incorporating Monterey, passed a resolution dictating the sale of the pueblo lands to raise the necessary money to pay Ashley's claim. "Notice was given announcing the sale and the sale was held...in accordance with the notice" (Bestor 1945:14). The entire pueblo tract was bid on by D.R. Ashley and David Jacks successfully for $1,002.50, "...the amount of indebtedness and the necessary expenses of sale; no one offering to purchase less than the whole, or bid a higher amount" (Bestor 1945:14). On September 4, 1869, D.R. Ashley yielded his interest in the Monterey pueblo land to David Jacks for $500.00.

From the beginning the trustees were criticized for transferring ownership of the lands belonging to the city for the purpose of paying its debts. Suits were filed and the case was eventually taken to the California Supreme Court. "This question--whether the pueblo lands were held in trust by the City of Monterey in such a way as to render their sale to Ashley and Jacks illegal--constituted the principal issue before the courts" (Bestor 1945:6). The decision was handed down in favor of Jacks. "In the end, the case was carried to the Supreme Court of the United States" (Bestor 1945:16), which on July 11, 1903 handed down a decision in favor of Jacks. By this time, David Jacks had acquired another 30,000 acres of Monterey County, making the Monterey pueblo lands only half of his 60,000 acres.

"The bitterness of the land controversies of the day tended...to be directed against David Jacks" (Bestor 1945:17). The argument was not just a theoretical discussion, but a flaming economic battle. David Jacks' opponents considered him a "landshark" while he considered his opponents (ranchers and farmers, who had been living on the land in controversy) "Squatters."

Among Jacks' documents was a letter from "The Executive Committee of the Squatters League of Monterey County" (Bestor 1945:17) which threatened his life. Robert Lewis Stevenson, in Across the Plains, wrote:

Kearney is a man too well known in California, but a word of explanation is required for English readers. Originally an Irish drayman, he rose, by his command of bad language, to almost dictatorial authority in the State; throned it there for six months, his mouth full of oaths, gallowses, and conflagrations... It was while he was at the top of his fortune that Kearney visited Monterey with his battle-cry against Chinese labor, the railroad monopolists, and the land-thieves; and his one articulate counsel to the Montereyans was to "hang David Jacks" (Bestor 1945:18).
David Jacks could not travel anywhere in Monterey County without his bodyguards.

"As far as can be determined, he never broke any law" (Stone 1989). But he may not have been as ethical as he could have been either. Many believe he took advantage of the Spanish and Mexican rancheros. When their books were insolvent, Jacks was always willing to lend them money, but at the same time he was always ready to foreclose. He would post a foreclosure notice in the most inconspicuous place and "If the owners were Spanish-speaking, the notice was in English, and if English-speaking, in Spanish" (McGinty 1967). It was said that local rancheros who lost their lands to Jacks placed an "Indian curse" on him and his family, so "...the seeds of his greed would not spread beyond his children" (Costello 1963). The desire was that he leave no descendants to enjoy the harvestof his, so called, greed.

At the same time, Jacks was a benevolent contributor and benefactor. "David Jacks was deeply interested in higher education, as well as in religious and adult education" (Bestor 1945:31). He served on the University of the Pacific Board of Trustees. (University of the Pacific was then located between San Jose and Santa Clara.) "He was the joint donor of its observatory furnished with a telescope; he contributed $5,000 for the erection of a new building in the 1880s; and he was the man to whom the University frequently turned in times of stringency" (Bestor 1945:31). In 1875, Jacks donated the land and financially backed the Pacific Grove Methodist Retreat. The Pacific Grove Retreat was "not merely to hold a religious meeting, but to afford a summer resort for Christian people--a place of recreation as free as possible from the follies and vices of the fashionable watering places" (Bestor 1945:31). At the end of his life, "...he prided himself on being the oldest Sunday-school teacher in continuous service in the state, with fifty years to his credit" (Bestor 1945:29). He was generous to foreign missions in Asia and never forgot his family and friends back in Crieff, coming to their rescue financially on numerous occasions.

An enterprise that "...contributed directly to the prosperity of Monterey County and its agricultural interests" (Bestor 1945:24) was the Monterey & Salinas Valley Railroad, a narrow gauge railway. Of the total $375,000 cost, David Jacks "sank" $75,000 "borrowed on his ranchos in Chualar and Zanjones" (Stone 1989). He was also the--unpaid--treasurer of the railroad. The intent of the railroad was to "force the Southern Pacific to reduce freight rates on grain to San Francisco by offering an alternative outlet from Salinas--via rail to Monterey and then via steamship from Monterey" (Bestor 1945:19).

David Jacks was married to Maria Soledad de Romie, who was often seen giving food away to the needy. They had seven children, five daughters and two sons. "He gave his children the best, but drew only $150.00 a month salary for himself" (Costello 1963). His two sons and two of his daughters married. When Jacks died in 1909, his estate was passed on to his family.

David Jacks had no grandchildren, so "...when the last of the family, Miss Margaret Jacks, died in 1962 millions of dollars had been dispersed to California colleges and universities" (Stone 1989). Gifts to the City of Monterey were: the Pacific House, Casa del Oro, and Don Dahvee Park (Don Dahvee was the name David Jacks was called by the Mexicans who were in his employ and by his close friends). "The lands now part of Jacks Peak Park were also returned to the city a little over one-hundred years after Jacks bought them in February, 1858, on the steps of Colton Hall" (Stone 1989).

"Carmel Martin, a prominent attorney in Monterey once noted, 'The Jacks' land deal was a terrible thing, but it was the best thing that ever happened to Monterey and the Peninsula.' His point was that David Jacks held on to the land he purchased, ...selling it in large tracts rather than subdividing" (Stone 1989). In this way he encouraged planned growth, which was advantageous to the Monterey area in the long run.

Although the legacy of David Jacks and his land dealings are controversial, from that can be determined in researching the man, his real estate acquisitions, and the end result, one living or visiting here today would find it difficult to argue with Carmel Martin.

- - - - -

Most of the information on David Jacks came from the book David Jacks of Monterey, and Lee L. Jacks, His Daughter, by Arthur Eugene Bestor, Jr. This edition of only 105 copies was printed for private distribution in 1945. This thoroughly researched and documented biography can be found in the California Room of the Monterey Public Library. Other important information comes from the Noticias del Puerto de Monterey, a quarterly bulletin of historic Monterey issued by the Monterey History and Art Association, as well as from articles in the clippings files of the Pacific Grove and Monterey Public Libraries.


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