George W. Stilwell, a veteran of the Mexican war, inscribed his name deeply upon the pioneer annals of the state of California and figured prominently in public life and business circles, thus contributing to the material upbuilding and substantial progress of the state. His recognition and utilization of opportunity were salient features in his career and his laudable ambition and unfaltering determination led him out of humble surroundings to large worldly success. At the same time he manifested a public-spirited interest in the welfare of the state that made him the champion of many measures of direct benefit to the commonwealth and thus his death was largely regarded as a public calamity in California.
George Washington Stilwell was born in Montgomery county, Pennsylvania, December 9, 1823, and he arrived at young manhood with a good education, a strong physique, a high character and a patriotic and adventurous spirit. At the time of the outbreak of the Mexican war, his patriotic spirit aroused, he responded to the call of his country for troops and went to Texas where he was drilled for the stern realities of the battle-field under General Zachary Taylor. Under the intrepid commander he crossed the Rio Grande river into Mexico and served throughout the war. He took part in a brilliant campaign and not many soldiers had a more difficult, eventful and picturesque experience than did First Sergeant Stilwell of the Texas Rangers Spy Company.
When the war was over Mr. Stilwell returned to Pennsylvania, but started westward soon after the discovery of gold joining the Gordon expedition which reached California after a long and arduous journey of nine months. The party had trouble with the ship but reached Nicaragua on the route planned, endured many privations while crossing to the Pacific coast, but at length re-embarked at Realejo, on the brig Laura Ann. Seventy-seven days had passed ere the voyage on the Pacific was terminated and during that time the supply of food and water was largely exhausted, and it was with a feeling of intense relief and gladness that the passengers landed at San Francisco, on the 5th of October, 1849.
Like the other settlers from the east Mr. Stilwell went to the mines, but not meeting with the success he had anticipated in his search for gold he turned his attention to merchandising, forming the firm of Stilwell, Prentiss and Evans at Stockton, California. As opportunity offered and his financial resources increased, he also extended his efforts to other fields of business activity and in addition to merchandising he engaged in banking and assaying at Alleghany, California where his business interests proved very profitable, making him one of the most prosperous men of that section of the state. His methods, too, commended him to the confidence of all, for while progressive and energetic he was ever strictly honorable and reliable in all trade transactions and based his success upon close application, unfaltering energy and capable management. Having accumulated a very desirable competence, he retired from active business life and returned to San Francisco, where he erected a fine residence at the corner of Eleventh and Folsom streets, but failing health caused him to leave that city and in 1867 he took up his abode in San Rafael, where he remained until 1884, when he again went to San Francisco, spending his remaining days there and in Oakland.
While living in Marin county Mr. Stilwell was prominent, influential and active in public affairs affecting the welfare of the community. He served in several municipal positions in San Rafael and was also supervisor of the county, in which office he discharged his duties so acceptably that upon his retirement he was presented with a set of congratulatory resolutions from a large body of appreciative constituents and friends. In 1852 he was a member of the Sansome Hook and Ladder Company, the first organization of the kind in San Francisco, and he was also a member of the Society of California Pioneers and of the Veterans of the Mexican war.
Soon after entering upon his mercantile career in Stockton, California, Mr. Stilwell was united in marriage to Miss Louisa Boyter Aitkin, whom he wedded in the east and then returned to his California home with his bride. His wife died, and in his later years he lived with his children, a daughter and two sons, the latter now representatives of the business interests of San Francisco.
Mr. Stilwell's death occurred in Oakland, November 17, 1899, and came as a bereavement to his many friends throughout the state. From the pioneer epoch in the history of the commonwealth he has figured in its development, in the utilization of the natural resources of the state and in the promotion of the business activity, which is the real basis of the growth and prosperity of every community. Building an untarnished reputation and character, he was a man whom to know was to respect and honor.
Source: History of the New California Its Resources and People, Volume II
The Lewis Publishing Company - 1905
Edited by Leigh H. Irvine
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