Robert Ridley was one of the most colorful characters in Yerba Buena, the village that grew to become San Francisco. An English sailor who’d jumped ship to enjoy this sunny clime, Ridley became widely known in upper California. A boisterous Cockney and teller of tall tales, he had worked with John Sutter in starting New Helvetia in the Sacramento Valley in 1839 and had been a player in Sutter’s purchase of the remains of Ft. Ross when the Russians decided to abandon it.
In the early 1840s, he made his way to Yerba Buena. He married into a Californio family well known for supplying a variety of services to the increasing number of seaman visiting the newly established port on San Francisco Bay, and thus became a Mexican citizen, eligible for a land grant. His new bride, Presentacion, was the daughter of Juana Briones, well-liked medicine woman and herbalist who gardened the area now known as Washington Square in San Franciso; the area now known as North Beach was then known as Juana Briones Beach.
Ridley was proud of his ability to imbibe hard liquor, once bragging of having downed 20-plus drinks before breakfast. That probably explains why his bio lists a series of brief endeavors: owner of a store and saloon (with the first flower garden in town), candidate for first mayor of San Francisco, master of the port, and more. Ridley was among the local officials arrested by the Bear Flag rebels.
Ridley was granted the three-league Rancho Callayomi by Mexican Governor Manuel Micheltoreno in 1844 or 1845, conflicting dates are listed in various historical papers.
History does not explain why Robert Ridley would choose to seek ownership of a large hunk of land in the unknown, uninhabited, hard-to-access hinterlands of the district of Sonoma. Probably because of tales of Salvador Vallejo's cattle ranch thereabouts. Perhaps because of his friendship with Jacob Leese? It seems far less surprising that Ridley and his socially savvy wife would be interested in a sizable rancho in the outback of Yerba Buena, and that they eagerly traded for the 6,000-acre grant Leese held there.
Ridley and his wife, or his wife's family, did nothing with the massive grant that included San Bruno mountain and what would become Brisbane and Visitacion Valley. It was sold at auction after Ridley's death.
At the time of his death in 1851, he was caretaker of the decaying buildings of the Mission Dolores, 32 years old.
However it happened, all of the prime valley land in what would become south Lake County came under the ownership of one man, Jacob Primer Leese.
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