A lonely South Asian in 1850 San Francisco

Credit: OpenSFHistory and Daily Alta California

Was he the first South Asian in Northern California?

South Asians started slowly trickling into Northern California during the Gold Rush. We recently found evidence of a South Asian man who lived and died in 1850 San Francisco. In my research, this is the earliest evidence I’ve seen of South Asians in Northern California.

In May 1850, a San Francisco newspaper reported the death of a 
“Hindostan” (i.e. South Asian):

“Coroner Gallagher was yesterday called to hold an inquest upon the body of an Hindostan, who died in Happy Valley on Saturday night of general debility, verdict agreeable to the above statement.”

He died in “Happy Valley,” a Gold Rush settlement located in present-day South of Market San Francisco. By 1849–1850, residents were facing cholera and dysentery, so the anonymous Hindostan’s death doesn’t come as much of a surprise.

It’s frustrating that we don’t know more about him—not even his name. But in his death, we get an intriguing glimpse of the early journeys that he and others like him were making to to the American west.

Source: “Coroner Inquest.” Daily Alta California (San Francisco), May 20, 1850. https://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=DAC18500520