The Search for Napa area land owned by Jacob Anderson Family

This map shows a portion of current southern Napa County with the Napa Airport prominently between the Napa River on the left and the Napa-Vallejo Highway (State Rt. 29) on the right.  Yellow highlighted portions with blue circled numbers indicate areas now believed to have been owned by members of the Jacob Anderson family in the period from 1854 to 1869.



NOTE 1: In reading this material, it will become apparent that the name of this area is spelled in different ways, namely "Soscol" and "Suscol."  Gardner's "Historic Report" points out that "Suscol" is "An error in spelling.   'Soscol', the Spanish spelling of the Indian name, appears in various land grants from 1835."  Gardner further states, "Early historical reference is made to the fact that there were many errors in the drafting of the first U.S. Geological Surveys of the early 1850's"1

 NOTE 2: New information on Anderson land ownership was recently received from Floyd Stone of the Napa County Historical Society.  These changes, additions & map modifications are being added. (see below*)


            This Norwegian immigrant pioneer family moved west to California in 1854.  Jacob’s pattern, as indicated by prior land purchases in Illinois and Iowa, was to buy farm land soon after arriving.  However, as of this date (2003) we have not been able to find any records of California land purchase prior to 1857.  Maybe they did purchase land soon upon arriving, but surviving land records might not show this.  It must be remembered that not too many years prior to their arrival, this land was part of Mexico; California had only been a state for 4 years.  The area where Jacob and his family settled was in the northern portion of the infamous and controversial Suscol Grant, an 80,000 acre Mexican land grant.  This land was deeded over in 1844 to the prominent early California historical figure, General Mariano G. Vallejo.  It has been said that, “Land grants were only casually surveyed, and this was a situation that was to cause huge disputes in later years…”2   After California became part of the United States, Vallejo’s son-in-law John B. Frisbie was instrumental in selling portions of the “Soscol Rancho,” a component of the original Suscol Grant.  However, it would take many years of litigation, an actual act of Congress, and the involvement of the US Supreme Court before clear title to some of this land could be obtained. 


            And it was in this area and time that the Jacob Anderson family was settling in southern Napa County.  The earliest land transaction found for this family was a purchase of 50 acres from John Frisbie.  This land apparently was in the northern part of this problematic Suscol Rancho. Its legal description was in distance of “statute chains” from the “Northern boundary” without reference to currently recognized monuments or land descriptions.  The "northern boundary" was Soscol Creek.


            To further complicate understanding early land purchases in this area, the southern boundary of Napa County was moved in these early days.  Suscol Creek was the 1840's boundary line between Cyetano Jarez's Rancho Tulocay and Mariano Vallejo's Rancho Suscol.  The Senate County committee of the First Legislature meeting in San Jose 1849/50, established Suscol Creek as the boundary between Napa and Solano counties.  Senator Mariano Vallejo was Chairman of the committee.  In 1855 the legislature moved the county line several miles south of Suscol Creek to an east-west line just south of the current Napa Airport.  The Napa-Solano county line was moved further south in the 1860's to about six miles south of Soscol Creek where it exists today (marking the south city limits of the town of American Canyon).


            It is now believed that the Anderson family first bought land east or south east of the Soscol House which was later determined to be in Section 36 of Township 5 North, Range 4 West (#1 on map & table on separate page).  Apparently some early settlers bought Suscol Grant land only later to find that it fell within the 36th section of a township.  Such a Section 36 is often called a “School Section” with rights transferred from Federal to State government for public or school uses.  This complicated the already complex title questions in this general area, especially Section 36 which was found to lie just east of the early community of Soscol. Litigation over title of land in this area continued well past the time of Jacob’s death and even after the family had left Napa County.3


               * Recent material unearthed (Dec. '03) by Floyd Stone of the Napa County Historical Society gives conclusive evidence that the Anderson family had "been in possession and occupation" of land in this Section 36 "since about the year 1857..."  In a continuing process of settling the estate of Jacob Anderson in 1866, legal title was established for 20 acres in the south part of the southeast quarter of Sections 36.  This is shown by the blue circled #1 in the map above.  The red "X" is currently conjectured to be the location of the Anderson home from 1857 to 1867.  This finding does not explain the location of the other 30 acres of the original 50 purchased from Frisbie.  Those 30 acres could have been farther north in to Section 36 or to the south and became part of the 160 acres of the northeast quarter of Section 1 (circled #6 on the above map).


            The second record of land purchase for Jacob was the 80 acres obtained from Jacob's son-in-law David Oaks recorded in the spring of 1861.  This was low land to the south west of the Soscol House bounded by the Napa River on its west side.  This was called “swamp” land as most of it was of low elevation and subject to flooding during high water.  However, within this 80 acres there is a piece of high ground that has been called “Green Island” (#2 on map & table).  This would literally be an island during flood stage and would be the natural place to have buildings that would be “high and dry” when the surrounding land was inundated.  It was initially believed that this was where the Anderson family lived, at least for part of the residency in the Soscol area.  It was in three areas around Green Island that Jacob had over 900 acres surveyed in the fall of 1861 (#3, #4, #5 on map & table).  County records indicate that Jacob purchased at least the most southern portion (#3) of these surveyed lands from the County in 1863. It is possible that either Jacob or his sons owned other parts of this land that was referred to as “Swamp and Overflowed Lands.”  At Jacob’s death, it is clear from the probate records that he then owned the Green Island (#2) and the southern portion (#3) of these lands for the total of 555 71/100 acres.  Much of this low land adjacent to the lower Napa River was “diked off … during the 1850s for hay production and cattle grazing.” 4  This is consistent with Slooper historian Rosdail’s statement that, “Jacob prospered at raising grain and live-stock” and was successful in farming this land in spite of its “unsavory” description. 5


            Green Island is located near the end of the Green Island Road which runs west from Highway 29 south of the Napa Airport.  There are reports of a very old house that stood on the north edge of this island for many years.  Two additional houses were moved to the “island” in the 1950’s.  The large old house was reportedly torn down many years ago, probably in the 1960's, but the other two houses still stand with one occupied by the present caretaker of the property. The area around Green Island has been used for salt evaporation for many years, first by the Leslie Salt Company starting in the early 1950’s and later by Cargill Salt.  Cargill stopped salt production in this general area in the early 1990’s and sold the land to the State.  The State Department of Fish and Game is currently taking over management of this area. Looking at this land today, after decades of being used for salt production, it is difficult to imagine how it looked in full farm production in the 1860’s.  One must remember that just a little to the north of this “tule” area, the noted agriculturist, Simpson Thompson, in the 1850’s turned similar land “into a verdant meadow and the surrounding 800 acres into a showplace of fruit trees, ornamental trees, vineyards, flowers and vegetable gardens.” 6 


            Little is known about the “quarter section” or 160 acre square block of land in the northeast portion of Section 1  (#6 on map & table) other than its location and that it was deeded by Jacob and Serena to their son Andrew J. in May of 1862.  Today this parcel holds a prominent and visible location adjacent to two busy area roads, State Highway 12 between highways 29 and 80, and North Kelly Road (old highway).  Highway 12 runs closely along this parcel’s southern edge, and N. Kelly Rd. lies just inside the western edge.  Floyd Stone believes this could be a "homesteaded" piece of land.  It could also be that it was in this area that the "other 30 acres" purchased from Frisbie was located.


            Even less is known about the 320 acres (#7 on attached table) that were transferred from Andrew J. to Jacob on the same date as #6 above.  It is possible that this could be the northern portion of “Swamp & Overflowed Lands” surveyed in 1861, Survey No. 98 (#5 on map & table).


             Many questions remain about these land transactions and the lives of the Anderson family during these early years.  Did this family actually settle in this Soscol area when they first came to California or could they have lived elsewhere first?  There has always been unclear connections between this family and the area of Jackson in the gold country's Amador County.  Some have suggested that the family might have first been "squatters" in the Soscol area before purchasing property.  This apparently was a common practice in this area at that time, but this does not seem to have been the pattern with this family, at least in the past.


                The question remains regarding the location of the "Mountain House near Suscol" where Martha Anderson's husband, Augustus Wheeler, died in 1862.  Could this have been on the low mountain in Section 36 just east of the Soscol House?  Could that have been on land belonging to the Andersons?


                And why did this family leave this area with most members moving back to their Iowa farm land?  Hopefully, future research might shed some light on these questions.








  1. Gardner, David.  "Suscol in Napa County An Historic Report 1835-1977." Feb. 1977.
  2. Delaplane, Kristin.  Vallejo: Dignified in face of adversity,” Echoes of Solano’s Past; TheReporter.Com, Sept. 24, 1995.
  3. “Judge Wallace’s Opinion,” Napa County Reporter, Saturday, April 9, 1870 (copy furnished by Floyd Stone, Nov. 2003).
  4. “S.1 Project Background; [PDF] Summary.” Napa River Salt Marsh Restoration Project, Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement, April 2003, p. S-1; as found online at: DEIR/text/Summary_DT.pdf
  5. Rosdail, J. Hart.  The Sloopers; Their Ancestry and Posterity; The Story of the People on the Norwegian Mayflower, The Sloop, "Restoration."Broadview, IL: Norwegian Slooper Society of America, 1961, p. 425.
  6. Laurence, Bee. “Thompson Turned Land Into Showplace,” The Napa Register Vintage 200, date unknown, pp. 28-29 (copy furnished by Floyd Stone.)


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