Jacob Primer Leese was born in St. Clairsville, Ohio, on August 19, 1809, became active in the Santa Fe trade, went into partnership with Hugo Reid in Monterey in 1834, and with Hinckley and Spear in Yerba Buena (San Francisco) in 1836. He built the first substantial structure in San Francisco.
He married Rosalia Vallejo, a sister of General Vallejo, in April, 1837, then moved to Sonoma in 1841, where he was elected alcalde. He is listed as a resident of Monterey County in the 1850 census.
He purchased the Rancho Sausal in 1852. Leese subsequently claimed 10,242 acres, and it was patented to him in 1859. Leese built a prefabricated house on the rancho--the two-story building was first built in Massachusetts, shipped around the Horn, set up in Peru, and then torn down and shipped to the rancho. This is probably the first frame house built in Salinas; it was located on the road between Salinas and Natividad.
Leese was one of the founders of Salinas, but indirectly as he actually left the area in 1865 and did not return until 1885. Leese sold 80 acres along the southern edge of his ranch to Deacon Elias Howe. (Howe reportedly received the name "Deacon" when he presided at a funeral in the absence of a clergyman.) He had performed odd carpentry jobs on the ranch for Castros and later for Leese, and in 1856, perhaps as part of his pay, he acquired the land inside the "big bend" in the Alisal Slough. In that same year, Howe built a house at the intersection of the two stage routes--between Monterey and San Juan Bautista and between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Lying half way between Monterey and San Juan, it soon became known as the Half Way House. This was the first structure built in the area which would eventually become downtown Salinas. Augusta Fink reports that Howe was able to attract customers by setting up bets on which stage would arrive first. Drivers soon were whipping their horses into a lather in an effort to reach the stage stop first. Howe's business boomed, and the rival establishment at Natividad eventually closed.
His son, Jacob R. Leese, was born in 1839, served as Monterey County Clerk and as a deputy sheriff. He was also postmaster of Salinas, and later, postmaster of Monterey.
Jacob P. Leese died on February 1, 1892.
- Clark, Donald T., Monterey County Place Names (Kestrel Press, Carmel Valley, 1991).