The Sensational Saga of Talbot H. Green


San Francisco in 1851, showing a commercial district near Portsmouth Square. Image from the Library of Congress.

San Francisco in 1851 was a booming, bustling place. Fortunes were made and lost daily. Men who had come to California with hardly a penny in their pockets rose to prominence, while others who had struck it rich in the mines and spent freely sank into poverty.

Talbot H. Green had seen nothing but success ever since he came to California in 1841. He had begun by clerking for Thomas O. Larkin in Monterey and gone on to become his trusted business partner. Moving to San Francisco, he cashed in on the gold rush demand for all kinds of goods. By 1849 he was a partner in the foremost mercantile firm of Mellus, Howard & Company. He was a founding member of the Society of California Pioneers and a member of San Francisco’s first city council. In 1849, he married the widow Sarah Montgomery. In 1850, he decided to run for mayor of the city. It would be the pinnacle of his successful 10-year career in California.

Then the scandal broke.

When San Francisco celebrated its admission to the Union in October 1850, Green took a prominent place in the parade. According to W. F. White, a friend of Green’s and the author of A Picture of Pioneer Times in California:

As the procession was breaking up and dispersing on the Plaza, a lady walked forward to Green, and in an excited, astonished way, reached out her hand, saying, “Oh! Mr. Geddes, can it be possible that you are here in California?” Green, in apparent surprise, took her hand and said with perfect coolness: “You must be mistaken, madam, in the person. My name is Green—Talbot H. Green.”

The lady drew back, abashed, but said: “Why, certainly I am not mistaken. I cannot be mistaken. I knew you all my life. I know your wife, your sister, and your children.” A gentleman who stood by said that Green turned pale, and that a tremor shook his frame, but with a forced smile he again denied his identity with Geddes.

But he was Geddes, Paul Geddes, of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. And Paul Geddes was a store owner who had absconded with the bank’s money and disappeared, leaving behind a wife and four children.

What was his story? How had he come to California? How did he deal with his sudden unmasking?

Stay tuned for more in the Sensational Saga of Talbot H. Green.


About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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