Charles Vaincoeur Stuart was born in 1819 in Pennsylvania, into a prosperous and prominent Pennsylvania family. That region was famous for an amazing variety of reform movements, included women’s rights, pacifism, temperance, prison reform, abolition of slavery, an end to capital punishment, improving the conditions of the working classes, and several utopian social experiments. He was deeply influenced by these movements. Later in life he punctuated his speeches not only with Biblical references, but with references to the works of Victor Hugo and Robert Burns as well, demonstrating a liberal education that proved fundamental to a pragmatic yet literary and even visionary attitude.
In 1849 Stuart joined fifty neighbors in establishing a mule pack train to go to California without the hindrance of the slower ox- drawn wagons. He was elected captain of the train, indicating his position in the community as a prominent and respected leader. In the diary he kept he wrote “our journey was one of extreme hardship both for men and animals… the valleys filled with sand and alkalie, the mountain and hills covered with piles of huge volcanic rocks, all the streams, springs and wells, bitter or salt, and no living reptile or insect but its bite or sting is poisonous…”
While the other men quickly went to the goldfields, Charles went instead to San Francisco where, as a pragmatic and practical man, he easily recognized the opportunity to merchandise vegetables in the quickly growing city, so he began farming 40 acres near the mission. He was elected to the City’s first Board of Aldermen in 1850, as the new city began settling down to govern itself, and built the first brick home in the city. His wife Ellen joined him, bringing their children with her.
Stuart’s business interests brought him to Sonoma County where he bought several parcels, including a large part of the Agua Caliente Land Grant in 1859. In fact, to ensure ownership during those uncertain times in real estate, he purchased the property several times from several people. Here he established a vineyard which he named Glen Ellen, after his wife. When the post office was established in 1872 and named Glen Ellen, he renamed his ranch Glen Oaks, to avoid confusion.
Stuart served as a delegate to the California Constitution Convention, which opened in 1878. A prominent citizen with a reputation as a shrewd businessman, he described himself as a Democrat who had changed parties to vote for Lincoln. His early education in social reform made him the only delegate to speak passionately in favor of the Chinese towards the end of the convention in 1879, and in favor of humane regulation of immigration. His eloquent words however fell on deaf ears. The constitution was signed, and the abhorrent Chinese Exclusion Act was established soon afterwards. Stuart died quietly the following year in the home he had built in Glen Ellen.