Faculty Publications

Molly McClain

David Lion Gardiner: A Yankee in Gold Rush CA


David Lion Gardiner: A Yankee in Gold rush California, 1849-1851

The Journal of San Diego History

San Diego History Center Quarterly

Summer Fall 2016, Volume 62, Number 3 & 4


Dr. Molly McClain Contributed a chapter in the journal.


In the 1840s, San Diego consisted of a few dozen small adobe houses in the area now known as Old Town. Ships anchored at the southwest end of Point Loma where large board houses had once housed great piles of cattle hides. The economic vitality of the region had largely disappeared by the time that Richard Henry Dana published his bestselling book, Two Years Before the Mast (1840), with its lively descriptions of the Mexican pueblo. Fewer than 150 people lived in San Diego by the middle of the decade, as many of the wealthy Californio ranching families had moved away.1

The U.S.-Mexican War (1846-48) transformed the San Diego region by drawing in new investors, among them David Lion Gardiner who came from New York to seek his fortune during the Gold Rush. Uncomfortable with the reckless pursuit of profit that he witnessed in San Francisco, Gardiner set up a mercantile business in San Diego. He built the first stone house on Point Loma and owned what later became a valuable property adjoining the Santa Fe Railroad Depot downtown. His surviving letters to family members tell the story of his experience in California between 1849 and 1851. They also reveal the capitalist origins of modern San Diego.2 (Full Chapter)



Molly McClain, PhD, is a native Californian who joined the faculty in 1995. She writes books and articles in the fields of British and U.S. history, and offers a wide range of undergraduate courses. Much of McClain’s recent work focuses on the history of Southern California. She published a biography of philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps (1836-1932), an immigrant who amassed a great fortune through hard work and business savvy. A progressive advocate of women and labor, Scripps endowed museums, parks, hospitals, colleges, and the world’s leading oceanographic institute.

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Melissa Olesen


619/260-4659 x4