Our Sonoma Valley holds an extraordinary place in California history— much of which took place right here, where several contrasting cultures converged and intermixed throughout the 19th Century. It was here that Spain had reached farthest north from Mexico, in an attempt to protect Alta California from the southward advance of Russia; and it was here that the Bear Flag Revolt declared the Republic of California to be a sovereign nation, independent of Mexico, four years before it became the 31st state in the United States of America.
Several privately held collections of memorabilia and ephemera in our immediate area date from those times. They remain largely undocumented, and therefore unprotected from further deterioration and eventual loss. For this reason we are concerned that an unknown amount of our heritage is being overlooked, and that the information these collections contain is in danger of becoming extinct.
In response to this situation, we established the Legacy Project. The focus of this program is to conserve emerging historic artifacts as they are brought to our attention. We have begun consulting with families in this region that have historically significant and sensitive, fragile materials, helping them to identify and preserve their collections while making them available for research and public display by means of digital duplication and storage.
A current example of the Legacy Project is the work being done on the Serres/Roberts Collection. Four reports on this collection are currently available as PDFs, which may be downloaded by clicking on these links:
The first report reproduces and translates the Micheltorena and Guerrero documents, proclamations from the Mexican government of Alta California as it struggled with foreign influences during the early 1840’s.
The second report reproduces five of the more than one hundred letters written by members of the Watriss family during their stay in San Francisco, from George Watriss’ first arrival in 1851 until the purchase of their ranch in Sonoma in 1858.
The third report reproduces the first 47 pages of a journal kept by George Watriss during his first few years in Sonoma. A broad scope of daily life is documented, providing a fascinating view of farm life in the early years of the Valley of the Moon.
The fourth report describes the discovery of five royal Spanish documents dating between 1659 and 1725, bearing five signatures of Spanish monarchs complete with their rúbrica— flourishes that prove their authenticity.
Here is the transcription of a talk given by Jim Shere on the Serres/Roberts collection. This talk was delivered on March 25th, 2012, at the annual luncheon of the Sonoma County Historical Society.
A grant from the Institute for Historical Study has funded research towards publication of Letters from San Francisco: Correspondence within an Inchoate & Upstart Society. These letters, found in the Serres/Roberts Collection, provide a fascinating firsthand account by members of the Watriss family— before their move to the Valley of the Moon— of daily life in San Francisco during the heady, tumultuous decade following the Gold Rush and the statehood of California.
Other examples of the Legacy Project in the works are studies of Sobre Vista, Waldrühe Heights, and downtown Glen Ellen. We are interested in hearing from residents of other locales who would like to initiate similar studies.