California Digital Newspaper Collection

The short life of California’s first newspaper

California’s first newspaper was published in Monterey in August of 1846. Shortly after American forces seized the port city, the weekly Californian was founded by Walter Colton, the administrative leader of Monterey, and Robert Semple, a frontiersman from Kentucky.

The local population didn’t exceed 1,000 souls at the time, and the newspapermen had to rely on whatever materials they could find. They discovered an old press in a government building and sourced the paper from sheets of cigarette wrapping. The type was of a Spanish alphabet, containing no “w.” When needed, two “v’s” were substituted.

Newspaper pioneers Walter Colton, left, and Robert Semple.
Bancroft Library/U.C. Berkeley

Much of the first issue, printed in both Spanish and English, was devoted to a sort of pledge of allegiance to California, including promises to encourage immigration, to “go for California,” and to remain “unawed by power and untrammeled by party.”

The project hummed along until history took a sharp turn two years later. In San Francisco, where the newspaper had relocated, workers quit their posts en masse and scattered into the hills.

In a final, and bitter, editorial on May 24, 1848, the Californian wrote: “The whole country, from San Francisco to Los Angeles and from the sea shore to the base of the Sierra Nevada, resounds with the sordid cry of ‘gold! GOLD!! GOLD!!!’ while the field is left half planted, the house half built, and everything neglected but the manufacture of shovels and pickaxes.” Monterey County Weekly | SFGate.com

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