John M. Hamilton moved his family to Coyote Valley in 1865, and they lived in the historic Stone House for several years. He served as the last postmaster at Guenoc, from March 31, 1876, to December 31, 1879, although the official closing of the post office was August 31,1880. He also aided Capt. Waterman in settling Ritchie's estate, selling the Ritchie properties in both Lake and Solano counties.
Hamilton, Captain Ritchie's brother-in-law, was born in Philadelphia in December 1820; his parents died when he was young, and he was raised in New Castle, Delaware. He studied law, and in 1850 was appointed Assistant United States Marshal for Delaware.
In 1851, at Ritchie's invitation, Hamilton decided to move to California and engage in farming on Ritchie's Suisun ranch. He and his wife and two children sailed around Cape Horn to San Francisco, arriving on August 22,1851. Because of violent squatter difficulties at Ritchie's rancho in Solano County, he chose to locate near Napa.
In 1852, Hamilton was elected to the Napa Board of Supervisors, and in 1858 became Superintendent of Schools for several years. In 1862, he was foreman of the grand jury, and the next year he ran for County Clerk, but was defeated.
In the 1860s Hamilton, along with J.H. Bostwick and John Lawley, bought Berryessa Valley and surveyed a town site to be known as Berryessa; however it was never developed and is now covered by the waters of Lake Berryessa. Along with that venture, Hamilton became interested in quicksilver mining.
He leased the Phoenix Mining Co. in Pope Valley; it had been discovered in 1854, opened in 1861 and a year later leased to Hamilton. He was in charge for about a year, but failed to make it pay. The mine was reopened under new management in 1867 and again in 1870 with some success. In 1888 it became the Aetna Mine.
Also in 1862, Hamilton was one of the original trustees of the Washington Mining Co., which adjoined the Phoenix-Aetna, and, with several associates, organized the Hamilton Quicksilver Co., likewise unsuccessfully. C.A. Menefee wrote that his mining failures were due to "lack of experience and bad management."
In both Lake and Napa counties, Hamilton was active in developing agricultural groups. He was elected Overseer of the State Grange Patrons of Husbandry in 1873. Two years later, he was voted Worthy Master of the State Grange. He was one of the founders of the Lake County Agricultural Society in 1878.
Hamilton's last years were spent in Coyote Valley, Middletown, and Lakeport. He was a Supervisor of Lake County, 1883-84, and a Lakeport Trustee, 1888-89.
J.M. Hamilton died in 1893 and is buried in the Middletown Cemetery. His wife and all of their eight children had died earlier.
A.A. Ritchie, California Pioneer, by Dr. Albert Shumate. Society of California Pioneers, 1991
History of Napa and Lake Counties, California.. .and Biographical Sketches San Francisco, 1881
Historical and Description Sketch Book of Napa, Sonoma, Lake, and Mendocino C.A. Menefee,1873
BACK TO TIMELINE