The Sensational Saga of Talbot H. Green — Part 2

No extant portrait of Talbot H. Green exists. In a day when forty-niners right and left were having their likenesses made, he avoided the camera. He is absent from a group photograph of Thomas O. Larkin and his business associates. Those who knew him described him as a short, square-built man, with plain but kindly features. He was well-known and well-liked.


Talbot H. Green, conspicuous by his absence. His business associates, left to right and top to bottom: Samuel J. Hensley, Samuel Brannan, Jacob Leese, Thomas O. Larkin, W.D.M. Howard.

White’s account of a woman recognizing Paul Geddes in the Admission Day parade was only one version of the unmasking of Talbot H. Green. Others said that it was a lawyer from Philadelphia who recognized him, or a woman at a ball. However it happened, Green steadily denied the accusation. At the same time, he withdrew his name from the mayoral race. His friends loyally stood beside him, but the rumors grew and spread. Green, once so prosperous and popular, was under suspicion.

His denials did nothing to allay the rumors, so Green offered to return to the East to clear his name. The day before his departure in April 1851 on the steamship Panama his friends gathered at a tavern and toasted his success. As reported in the Alta California, his old business partner and mentor, Thomas O. Larkin, climbed upon a table, lifted a glass, and proclaimed, “The health and prosperity of our friend and fellow citizen, Talbot H. Green; may the best among us be as worthy as we believe him to be.” In response Green thanked them for their faith in him and promised to return quickly with proof of his good reputation.

Still, the doubt lingered in his friends’ minds that perhaps Green really was Geddes. Their doubt only grew when he failed to return or to write. Two years went by before Larkin finally received a letter from Green that confirmed all their doubts.

Green had not returned to Pennsylvania as he had promised; he was somewhere in Tennessee, hiding out. He never would have written at all, except that he had lost $3200, (so he said) stolen out of his trunk, and he was now penniless. He asked Larkin to obtain his share of investments in San Francisco and send him a draft for the money as soon as possible. He was destitute and he wrote of “the bitter tears I have shed since I left you.” But he didn’t explain his misdeeds, not yet.

Talbot H. Green told his story to Larkin in one of his later letters. He said he was born Paul Geddes in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania in 1810. In 1832 he married Henrietta Frederick, and they had had four children. By 1840 he was a store owner and a trusted man of business. (The spelling in the following quotation is his own.)

In the Spring of 1840 I went on to Philadelphia to buy goods. I made my purchase and had a large quantity of wheat consigned to a house in Philadepha. When I was about to return home I went & drew 3,000$ on acct. and had it about my person and intended to start home next morn’g but was induced to go out with some acquaintances and drank to much and my money was taken from me, but on the same afternoon the cashir of the Farmers & Mechanics Bank of Philadelpa sent for me and asked me to carry money to the Northumberland bank. I told them I would do so. They got a carpet bag and put up 105,000$ in it in my presence and sent a porter with me to the Hotel. I put it in my trunk and went out.

On my return I found that I had been robbed of my money. I was under the excitement of liquor—no excuse—and was in fact not at myself. I opened the carpet bag and took out nearly 8,000$ and done the parcel up again. I then went to bed. In the morning I ten thought of what I had done—the first bad act I had ever done in money matters but it was done. I then took the carpet bag to a merchant & told him what it containd and wished him to keep it until the next day. Next day I went and paid a good many of my debts with the money and sent 3,000$ to my partner to pay notes we owed in bank and that night I left Philadelpia with 375$ determined that my people should never here of me again. I went west and fell in with the emigration for Californa. I joined it with 11$ and a gold watch which I gave for my passage out.

That was his story. Was it true? No doubt he spinned it to put himself in the best light possible. But $105,000 in 1840 dollars! In a carpetbag! The laxity is astonishing.

And as we shall see in the next episode, he had more with him on his journey west than $11.


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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