Early San Rafael History captured in the recently-discovered Ledgers of Elisha DuBois
by Laurie Thompson
Our knowledge of local history has been greatly enriched thanks to the generosity of Jeff Craemer who recently discovered and donated to us a collection of business ledgers belonging to San Rafael pioneer Elisha DuBois (1832–1905).
These ledgers provide a compelling snapshot of commercial life in San Rafael from 1861 through 1881, via the prism of Mr. DuBois’ many business enterprises.
According to his May 11, 1905 obituary in the Marin Journal, Elisha DuBois was an Ohio native who settled in San Rafael in 1853. Over the next 50 years he would acquire substantial real estate holdings and build a small business empire, while becoming a respected community leader and trustee of the city of San Rafael. In 1864 he married Miss Mary D. Whitney with whom he had two sons, Charles Hall (who later became a prominent dentist in San Rafael) and Ernest W. (a San Rafael businessman who died unexpectedly in 1911). Elisha’s wife -Mrs. Mary DuBois- was remembered in her 1913 obituary as the president of the “first woman’s suffrage league founded [in Marin] in 1870” and also as a teacher “at the first public school in San Rafael.”
Among Elisha DuBois’ early business endeavors was a butcher business and market, whose activities are reflected in the earliest ledger, dated 1861–1862. DuBois’ customers included well-known Marin pioneers such as Daniel Taylor, William Murray, John Bickerstaff, Jerome Barney, and the “Shorts.” I was also intrigued by two lesser-known customers, one denoted as “Texas Jack” and the other as “Frank the Boatman.”
The ledger accounts for merchandise DuBois purchased for his market and slaughter house including items such as eggs, butter, barley, salt, coffee, bread, cheese, apples, pears, peaches, potatoes, vegetables, candles, hides, muslin, hay, sheep, chicken, heifers, cows and hogs. Other expenses incurred by DuBois were $7.50 paid to P. Sais for “branding” and $3. paid to J. Reynolds for a buggy.
By the time we page through the last ledger in the collection (c.1873–1881) we can see the extent to which Elisha DuBois’ business “empire” has grown. He and his younger brother Elijah (who sometimes acted as his agent) collected rent from numerous tenants including several Chinese businessmen running stores and laundry operations as well as tenants leasing chicken and dairy ranches. The ledger also records operations at the DuBois’ “Milk ranch” and on their “San Francisco Milk Route.”
Towards the end of the ledger is a very detailed genealogy of the DuBois family dating back to the 1700s and including updates through 1903.
We will continue to study this fascinating archive and look forward to sharing it with researchers interested in San Rafael’s early days as well as the history of the DuBois family.
Originally published at https://annetkent.kontribune.com.