“’You have no wheat here, your share was destroyed by elk, antelope, and other wild animals….’ So we got nothing for our labor. Thus ended my first year’s farming in California.” (Horner)
Whoa, let’s look back …
John Meirs Horner was born on a New Jersey farm June 15, 1821. He attended the public schools and later worked on farms in the summers and taught school in the winters.
“I had been wrought up over the subject of religion. The Methodists were the most persistent in my neighborhood and my preference was for them. In these days came ministers of a new sect calling themselves Latter-day Saints, with a new revelation preaching the gospel of the New Testament with its gifts and blessings.”
“It attracted much attention, people listened and some obeyed thereby enjoying the promised blessing. Members of the Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian faith as well as non-professors began to join them. Among the latter class were my father, mother and sisters”
“I was the first of the family to obey being baptized by Erastus Snow in the Layawa Creek on the second day of August 1840. In the spring of 1843, … I was introduced to and shook hands with the Prophet Joseph Smith.” (Horner) In 1846 he married a neighbor’s daughter, Elizabeth Imlay.
They headed west.
“The day finally arrived for the Brooklyn to set sail. The wharf was crowded with friends and relatives bidding their good-byes.”
“The Brooklyn set sail and left the New York harbor with 238 passengers including 70 men, 68 women and 100 children. … They took with them agricultural and mechanical tools for ‘eight hundred men,’ a printing press, two milk cows, forty pigs and a number of fowls. Also brought onboard were school books, histories, slates, and other school materials.” (Horner)
Yerba Buena (now known as San Francisco) was their destination, and they arrived there by way of New York, Cape Horn, Juan Fernandez Island and the Hawaiian Islands. It took 6-months and they covered 18,000-miles. The population of Yerba Buena was said to be forty; their company of 268 made an addition to their number of over 600%.
War was raging between Mexico and the US when they arrived in California. The upper part of the territory was already in possession of the US forces. After about 30-days, Horner moved to farm 40-acres of wheat on the lower San Joaquin.
Despite the early quote related to his farming experience, he turned that failure into future success. “Although I got no dollars out of it, I did get experience, which I profited by in after years. I had tested the soil in different places, with several different kinds of farm products and learned the most suitable season for sowing and planting.”
As a pioneer in agriculture, he furnished fresh vegetables and grain to the gold-crazed miners and the people of the growing city of San Francisco, as early as 1849. He fenced and brought under production many hundreds of acres, established a commission house in San Francisco for the sale of produce in 1850, imported agricultural implements from the east and iron fencing from England and built a flour mill.
He became known as “The Pioneer Farmer of California,” “California’s First Farmer” and, due to a speculative real estate venture, “Father of Union City.”
He also acquired part of Rancho San Miguel; it’s now known as Noe Valley in San Francisco. Horner’s Addition still carries some of the streets and names he laid out (among others, Elizabeth is for his wife and Jersey is for the place he was born.)
In the course of his operations, he opened sixteen miles of public road, operated a steamer and a stagecoach line, laid out no fewer than eight towns, built a public schoolhouse, and paid for the services of a teacher.
Missionaries and other brethren traveling through the area always received kind and ready assistance from his hands. Although he never visited Utah, he sent numerous cuttings of fruit trees, vines, and berries to aid the Mormons in establishing themselves there.
Then the Panic of 1857 caused him considerable loss, he sold his land holdings and moved to Maui (arriving on Christmas day 1879.)
At the time, his oldest son was growing sugar cane there; they contracted with Claus Spreckels for shares, with five hundred acres of land allotted to them and farmed under the name JM Horner & Sons.
“Our crop did well. It exceeded our expectations, in both yield and the price for which it sold. … Our crop yielded two thousand pounds of sugar more per acre than the land cultivated by the plantation, which fact fired its manager with jealousy”.
They “left Mr. Spreckels and contracted with the owners of the Pacific Sugar Mill Co. to do one-half of the cultivation for their mill … Here we made considerable sugar, increasing the yield on our half of the plantation from five hundred tons per year to two thousand.” (Horner)
They then “rented in the district of Hawaiʻi-Hāmākua, twelve hundred and fifty acres since increased to twenty four hundred of good, wild cane land with a view to starting a new plantation”.
“Not wishing to carry all our eggs in one basket, we established a stock ranch where we raised all the horses and mules required on the plantation, and some for sale. We have over four hundred head of horses and mules on the ranch, and one hundred and twenty on the plantation.”
“The ranch has some three thousand four hundred head of beef and dairy stock, the plantation and neighborhood are supplied with butter and beef from the ranch, and the surplus is disposed of elsewhere.” (Horner)
“Horner, a man of broad vision and accurate foresight, was quick to appreciate the possibilities of the sugar industry and was a big factor in its development.”
“At a meeting of the Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association in the early 80’s he declared that Hawaii eventually would produce 600,000 tons of sugar a year. His prediction was ridiculed then, but in 1924 the Territory’s output was more than 700,000 tons.”
Hawaiian planters were heavily interested in a refinery at San Francisco, operated in competition with the then powerful sugar trust dominated by the Havermeyers. Under pressure, the Hawaiian planters decided to dispose of their refinery to the trust.
Horner fought this move at every stage, asserting that Hawaii should refine its own produce and remain independent, and was the last man to transfer his holdings in the California enterprise. (Nellist)
Public duties also called and he served at two sessions as a Noble in the Hawaiian legislature. Horner died at his home on Hawaiʻi in 1907, at the age of 86 years. (Nellist) (Lots of information here from Nellist and Horner autobiography.) The image shows John Meirs Horner.