James Serventi, the Concord Historical Society treasurer, received a phone call from Barbara Kidd in Carmichael, California. She had found, in a used book sale at the Sacramento SPCA, three small books that appeared to be very old diaries. The place name Pacheco was on one of the diaries so she contacted the Concord Historical Society.
What she had stumbled on was a fascinating original source material about ordinary life in early 1860's Contra Costa. The three small books are farm journals kept by Thomas C. Finney for the years 1860, 1863 and 1866. For local historians the journals offer insights into the life of a typical American family seeking a better life in the then remote and thinly populated Contra Costa County.
Thomas C. Finney was born in Virginia on April 29, 1808. His primary occupation was that of a carpenter. He moved to Mississippi where four of his six children were born. Census records prove that he lived in Mississippi between 1840 and 1850. His growing family consisted of William H., born in 1836, Francis Lee (or Frank as he was known), born in 1838, Elizabeth, born in 1840, Mary C. (or Mitty), born in 1842, Caroline F. (Cally), born in 1844, and John W., born in 1847.
The 1830 census of Natchez County also lists a George Finney family. It may be that Thomas Finney was related to George which helps explain his move to Natchez County, Mississippi. Like to many others, it is probable that Thomas Finney first came to California during the Gold Rush. Whenever Finney arrived, he first appears in the Contra Costa County Assessor’s records as early as 1853. Slocum’s History of Contra Costa County lists a T. C. Finney as settling in the county in 1855.
In any case, Finney writes in his farm journal that he left Natchez, Mississippi on the 31st, of March, 1854. It appears that Thomas returned to Mississippi to get his family and bring them back to California.
When the 1860 "memorandum book" begins, the Finney family along with Samuel Bacon, a close friend and son-in-law, is apparently living at the so called Government Ranch near Walnut Creek. Bacon later became a prominent merchant in nearby Concord. The ranch had been purchased the previous year from Widow Loring by Paul Shirley and Judge Serranus C. Hastings (namesake of the Hasting law school at U.C. Berkeley). Shirley may have had financial oversight of the ranch. When Finney left in January, Shirley told him he had charged him no rent. Official records indicate that by 1860, Finney had acquired personal property worth $1,170.
Although the journal is silent about Finney’s role on the ranch, his carpentry skill may provide a clue to what he was doing. Finney notes that a number of others were living at Government Ranch in 1860. In particular, Robert Gift, ranch foreman, from Kentucky and Tennessee whose family became friends and eventual neighbors of the Finney family.
In January 1860, Finney went to Pacheco to talk to Captain Andrews about renting Andrews’ house. He also went to see Mr. Hawxhurst for the same reason. He ended up renting Ralph Hawxhurst’s ranch near Pacheco. Hawxhurst took 1/4 of Finney’s crop for rent. Thomas was also allowed two acres for a garden.
William Scanlon helped Finney to build his house and the family moved in on the 30th of January 1860. In March, Finney leased William Mahoney’s ranch. He got possession and 1/2 the hay. Finney notes that William Mahoney lived rent-free until September.
His daily journal entries provide brief, factual information about what he and his family did, primarily in relation to farming. But he also records everything he bought, sold and traded each week. The whole fabric of the community is evident in the daily notes he made. He mentions by name over a hundred of his neighbors and associates and also the names of his rooster, his milk cow and his horses.
Thomas’ daughter Elizabeth had married Samuel Bacon in 1855, at the age of fifteen, and the couple is mentioned regularly in the journal. Mitty and Cally very likely married in the county after 1860. His children had all left the family home by 12th of February, 1867. Thomas finished out his years in Pacheco and died on Christmas day, 1872.
According to the city directories, Finney's oldest son, William H, settled in Oakland and was a carpenter there in the 1880’s and 1890’s. The second son, Frank, appears to have been heavily depended on by his father for the ranching chores. He eventually moved to Calistoga in Napa Valley. In April of 1881, Frank L. Finney paid $11.50 for the burial of Mrs. Gardner. The receipt is marked Calistoga, California. On the back of the receipt is a handwritten note: "Will you please send this to your aunt Mitty. I found this a few days ago with papers. -C. Gift. The Gift family lived near the Finney's and are mentioned in the 1860 journal.
Aunt Mitty was Frank Finney’s sister, Mary C. Finney. Frank Finney died in Calistoga in May of 1897. Thomas Finney’s wife, Mary, moved to Calistoga to be with Frank after her husband died and lived there another sixteen years. She died on December 19th, 1888.
Thomas’ son, John W., chose a life other than farming. He moved to Oakland, like his older brother, William and went into the newspaper trade. He must have become highly skilled in English spelling and grammar, because in the 1870’s and 1880’s he was a compositor for the Transcript and the Oakland Tribune. He married late in life to Susan who was half his age. By 1880, he had two children, Frederick and Mabel. He died in Calistoga in July of 1885.
More work is needed to illuminate the history of the descendants of Thomas C. Finney. One of his descendants may have been a John M. Finney who served on the Concord City Council during the years 1918 to 1924 and was Mayor of Concord in 1920-21. [1920 census, Concord Transcript, CC times, CC History Society indexes.]