Thursday, February 26, 2009

General James Madison Estill/Estell (1811-1859)

James Madison7 Estill (James6 - James5 - Wallace4 - John3 - Thomas2 - Henry1)

James Madison Estill is an ongoing research topic for me. He is my 3rd Great Grandfather on my Jones side. He was feared and respected but none the less appeared to be quite self absorbed, elitist, and ethically questionable. Below are some of the better resources I have pulled together so far.

The short of it is that James Madison Estill was born in 1811 in Madison, Kentucky to James Jr and Mary Eddings (Rodes) Estill. He was the grandson of the famous Captain James Estill that died in 1782 at the hands of Wyandotte indians in the Battle of Little Mountain (also called Estill's Defeat). JME married Martha Ann Woods, had 2 children in Kentucky and in 1842 moved to Missouri where he built a grain mill and also worked with the U.S. Government in building Leavenworth prison (still looking for data on this as Leavenworth did not open until the 1890s). He had 4 more children in Missouri but his business was eventually considered unsuccessful and he sold his properties and moved to San Francisco about 1849/50 with his family soon to follow. In California he befriended General Vallejo and went into contract with the young state's government providing beef to the native indians and developing the states first prison, San Quentin. He was elected as a state senator. Had dealings with trying to establish the state capitol in Vallejo and Benicia and had one more child in California. He died on Apr 26 1859 at the age of 48.

Individual Facts:

Name: James Madison Estill
Sex: Male

Father: Estill, James
Mother: Rodes, Mary Eddings

Birth: 1811 in Madison, Kentucky
Marriage: 22 Sep 1831 in Madison, Kentucky to Martha Ann Woods
Census: 1840 in Madison Kentucky
Census: 1850 in Solano California
Elected: 1852 in Solano and Napa, State Senator
Death: 26 Apr 1859 in San Francisco, San Francisco, California


Estill, James Rodes (died without issue and unmarried)
Estill, Mary Elizabeth (married William Re-Tallack Garrison, 4 children)
Estill, Josephine (believed to have died without issue and unmarried)
Estill, Martha (married Craig and was either widowed or divorced by 32)

Estill, Florence (believed to have died without issue and unmarried)
Estill, Maud (married James Dana Jones, 2 children)

Research Sources:

[1] 1840 Federal Census: Kentucky, Madison, Eastern Division

James M. Estill: one 5-10 Male (Robert), one 20-30 Male (James M.), one 50-60M (Archibald?), two 0-5 Females, one 5-10 Female, one 20-30 Female (Martha), and one 40-50 Female (Elizabeth?).

[2] 1850 Federal Census: California, Solano Co., No Township Listed, Pg. 7


[3] Obit. for General James M. ESTILL, The Daily Bee, Sacramento CA, 27 Apr 1859

General James M. Estill died at his residence in San Francisco at eleven o'clock last evening. He was ailing for some three months, and was confined to his bed for about two weeks previous to his death. He was a prominent public man in California, a politician by nature, and always managed to make his politics pay.
He emigrated in '49 or '50 from Missouri to this State, and became lessee for ten years of the State Prison, and, as such, was a source of great annoyance to the several State administrations that have held office from that time until this. We cannot now remember the mutations in his connection with the Penitentiary
[San Quentin],
so numerous have the changes been, but he was never wholly unconnected with it, save for a very short period, and it is safe to say, that in them all, he came out uppermost. No man has received one tenth the money from the State that General Estill did; and no man made greater profit on what he received.
In 1852 he was elected State Senator from Napa and Solano - his family then resided in Benicia - for the term of two years, and he worked wth a will to maintain the capital at Vallejo, where it then was. He was interested with McDougal, Green, Vallejo, Frisbee, and others in the lands in that vicinity; and was about that time engaged in the slaughtering business, having bargained with Vallejo for all his wild cattle, which he killed on the premises and shipped to San Francisco. He made much money at that. In fact he was a modern Midas, for almost every thing he touched turned, under his magic hand, into gold.
In 1857 he was elected to the Assembly from Marin county, although residing in San Francisco, and made himself conspicuous as the assumed leader of the what was known as the law and order forces. He was a shrewd polititian but an unsafe legislator. Untiring in energy, with a will that would conquer if it could, a plasticity of character which could smile in defeat and an insinnating manner with which, when he found it for his benefit, he could make friends of his bitter foes; he was hard to overcome in any of his public undertakings.
He quarreled in 1855 with Gov. Bigler
[John Bigler]
for voting one of his measures, a State prison bill, we believe, or an appropriations bill in which he was largely provided for, and in the campaign of that year, assumed the editorship of the State Tribune - Parker H. French's paper - then published in this city, and wrote some half dozen communications under the nom de plume of "Rube Roper." That was about the extent of his editorship, as both himself and French have informed us.
He succeeded in electing Johnson
[J. Neely Johnson]
having joined the Know Nothings for that purpose, and under his administration received one of the fattest State Prison contracts that he ever held. He was kind and patronizing to those he could control, and violently abusive of those who opposed him in any of his schemes. He was, however, a fearless man, and would as soon speak his thoughts before a man's face as behind his back, provided always that he might not thereby injure himself politically or pecuniarily. As a friend, he was acceptable; as a foe, to be feared. his disease was congestion of the bowels.

[4] Research Note from Mina M. Chittum to Sean Ryan 16 Feb 2002:

Hello, I have a bit of information on a James M Estill who went into Platte Co Mo with his father-in-law Archibald Woods, about 1843-44. The Annals of Platte Co Mo state that James M. sold out his businesses and went to California.
No children of this James M. is listed.
Can this be the family that you are researching?

[5] History of California, Vol. 6, by H. H. Bancroft, 1890, page 656:

"J. M. Estill was a native of Ky., and came to Cal. in 1849. He was fond of politics, and took a 10-year contract in 1851 to keep the state's prisoners,... abuses compelling the legislature to declare the lease forfeited. In 1856 the state again leased the prison to Estill, paying him $10,000 per annum. He soon sublet his contract for half the amount, and the legislature again declared the lease forfeited, and the government took forcible possession of the keys. The matter came up in the courts, which decided against the government. The affair was compromised by paying a bonus to the assignee, in 1860, and thereafter the prison management improved."

[6] History of California, Vol. 6, by H. H. Bancroft, 1890, page 623-624:
In 1851 James M. Estill was appointed a "lessee" of state prison convicts. The convicts at that time were confined in a brig moored near Angel Island and 35 prisoners were initially kept there; others were confined in San Francisco. The prison (San Quentin) was built thereafter and completed in January, 1854. The lessee rented the prisoners out as laborers and kept the money they earned. He abused his trust.

[7] History of California, Vol. 3, by Theodore H. Hittell, 1898, page 643-644

Deals with the Vigilance Committee of 1856 The Evening Bulletin, a San Francisco newspaper, charged Estell with corruption and the vigilance committee assembled evidence to support the charge. Estell was not arrested because the offenses were committed at San Quentin and the committee had confined itself to offenses which took place in San Francisco.

[8] California Blue book, 1909, page 612, 573

James M. Estell, Democrat: senator representing Napa and Solano counties in the 3rd and 4th sessions; assemblyman representing Marin county in the 8th session. He died in San Francisco, April 26,1859.

[9] California Department of Corrections On-line History:

In 1847 California was named a United States Territory. With the lack of real law in the territory that coincided with the numbers of immigrants who were arriving because of the Gold Rush, frontier justice became the code. As soon as California became a State, the first legislative act was to create enforceable laws. Six County Jails were declared State prisons in 1850. In 1851 the State passed the prison leasing system, awarding all rights to State convict labor to General Vallejo and General Estell for ten years. Temporary housing was provided for convicts on "Prison Ships." The State would build a permanent structure at a later date. Between 1851 and 1852 much discourse and activity took place regarding the prison/convict problem. A State Commissioners Report of February, 1853 stated the reasons that Point San Quentin was chosen as the site for the first prison:
"It was deemed important that the prison should be build on some point contiguous to the bay of San Francisco, and passing by the Islands beforementioned (Alcatraz and Angel Island), the most suitable locality was found at Point San Quentin..."
Using convict labor, and after much red-tape, a new, two-story prison building was finished in the winter of 1854.
A San Quentin Prison Log of April, 1856 stated:
April 30, 1856Rain all the day.No. of Convicts 455During the month of April,26 convicts have been received7 have been discharged2 have been pardoned2 have escaped1 has been killedIncrease in the month 15

***************(more from the CDC)****************
"Colorful," "turbulent," "controversial," are terms most often associated with the early era of the California state prison system. It was created during the chaos and lawlessness of California's gold rush and, like the energetic new state, evolved over time.
The first prison was a private enterprise. In 1851, the state legislature authorized the lease of all state prisoners to private business partners General M.G. Vallejo and J.M. Estell. A few months later, Estell, now sole lessee, loaded 83 convicts, including one woman, onto the two-masted ship, the Waban. Together, these inmates built the first state prison, San Quentin.
More than once during the first decade, the state stepped in following reports of corruption and brutality by private contractors running the prisons. In 1861, the state took permanent control, with nominal oversight from a non-salaried, three-man Board of Prison Directors.
***************(more from the CDC)****************
1852 San Quentin. Before the state's first prison was completed, inmates lived on a prison ship, the Waban. During the day, inmates worked to build the prison; at night they were locked on board ship. The first cell block, the "Stone Building," was completed in 1854.
1854 San Quentin escapes. Throughout its early history, San Quentin was plagued by escapes. A total of 83 inmates escaped in 1854.

****************(California State Archives.)******************
In 1860, after long, chaotic years of private leasing, San Quentin Prison came under State control. The prison contracted with vendors to establish factories on prison grounds. There was much abuse and corruption and the harshness of the work life within the factories led to several riots. Slowly over the years, prison reforms were made. The first school within the prison was started by Captain of the Yard, R.G. Gilchrist in 1868.

[10] Online Record of Early Californian Newspapers:

On June 8, 1855, the State Tribune reached the surface as a morning paper. It was edited and published by parker H. French and S. J. May. On August 1st, J. M. Estill became editor of the Tribune and opposed John Bigler and the Democracy with such vigor as to draw bitter opposition from many other journals. Subsequently the partners quarreled and soon thereafter two Tribunes appeared, each with the claim that it was the real and the only Tribune. The twins soon died, the last on June 1, 1856.

[11] Online record of Early Californian School Reform:

At the third session of the legislature, held in Vallejo and Sacramento, 1852, Hon. Frank Soule, chairman of the Senate Committee on Education, made an able report in favor of common schools, and introduced a revised school law much more complete than the law of 1851.
Hon. Paul K. Hubbs, of the senate, afterward superintendent of public instruction, State Superintendent Marvin and Mr. Pelton, assisted Mr. Soule in framing the bill.
A select committee of the assembly on the Senate bill (Mr. Boggs, chairman) reported strongly against many features of the bill; thought that parents could take care of their own children; that the senate and the counties were in debt; that taxation ought not to be increased--the standing argument of Mr. Corey--and therefore recommended that the bill be postponed one year, and yet had the unblushing impudence to wind up their report by declaring themselves faithful friends of common schools and loyal lovers of children!" Finally a committee of conference was appointed, on which appear the names of J. M. Estell, Henry A. Crabb and A. C. Peachy, who reported in favor of the bill with the sections relating to the sale of school lands stricken out, to be amended and passed as a separate bill. It was proposed by Mr. Soule and others who assisted in framing the bill, that the 500,000 acres of school lands should be located by the State Board of Education, and held until the land should sell for a reasonable price.
But there was a big land speculation in the eyes of some members of the legislature; and so the policy prevailed of disposing of these lands at $2.25 per acre, payable in depreciated state script. The total amount finally realized from the magnificent land grant was only about $600,000. It might have been made two or three millions.

[12] Online Dead Politician Database (

Estell, James M. of Marin County, Calif. Member of California state assembly 11th District, 1857-58. Burial location unknown.

[13] The Founding of a State Prison, by Willam J. Duffy, Jr.

Shortly after California became a state of the Union, San Quentin was established as a site for a State Prison. The Gold Rush to California in 1849 and 1850 attracted people of all types. Some were fortune seekers, people of an adventurous nature, many respectable individuals, but often some of low, unsavory character. Naturally conflicts developed, and the heavy influx of people of all races, types and character resulted in actions taken without regard to law and order, or respect for the rights of others. Law enforcement was haphazard and Jails' were inadequate or non-existent.

As the state became organized and divided into counties and political subdivisions, county jails were established. But these soon became crowded and inadequate.

An old sailing ship called the WABAN was converted into a prison ship and anchored in the northern part of San Francisco bay, not far from Point San Quentin. The ship soon became overcrowded, and its isolated position made it difficult to keep the prisoners employed at useful work. Supplies for the ship were also a problem, particularly food and water.

On July 14, 1852, this ship was towed to Point San Quentin. An old legend says that during a heavy wind storm the ship dragged anchor and was tossed on the rocks at San Quentin Point, but we have not been able to confirm that legend. But it did arrive at the Point on Bastille Day, July 14, 1852.

A few days earlier the State of California had purchased from Benjamin Buckelew, twenty acres of land for the purpose of establishing a State Prison.

The state adopted a policy of leasing the prison to private operators under franchise, and the contractor took full responsibility of caring for, feeding and clothing the prisoners.

The contractor would "let out" the prisoners to do private work, and would collect fees for their services. The first such lease was made to James Madison Estell and General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo in 1851 while the prisoners were still housed aboard the ship WABAN. The contract was for a ten year period. Early in the contract period General Vallejo sold his interest to Estell. This contract was in the most part unprofitable. The Contractor was primarily interested in a profit, and food, clothing and facilities cost money and were kept at a minimum. Escapes were many, and the contractors kept his staff of guards very low as he had to pay their salaries.
Estell's reputation as an administrator was a hectic one. He instigated cruel practices and did not provide adequate security. In 1857 he sold his contract to John F. McCauley.

For a while, prior to McCauley, John McDougal, who had previously been governor of California, was in charge under Estell. During McCauley's reign, there was much dissent and the prison troubles caused great concern among the legislators at Sacramento, as well as the nearby residents of Marin County whose security was threatened. For a time, the prison was placed under the jurisdiction of the Lieutenant Governor of the State.

[14] Historical Perspectives on Prisons, Slavery, and Imperialism, by Stephen Hartnett

It is important to recall that many of the first settlers of the "New World" were actually British, Scottish, Irish, French, German and Dutch convicts sold into indentured servitude. Selling "criminals" to the companies exploring the Americas lowered the cost of maintaining European prisons (since they could remain relatively small), enabled the traditional elite to rid themselves of potential political radicals, and provided cheap labor necessary for the first wave of colonization. Indeed, as detailed in both Peter Linebaughís The London Hanged and A.R. Ekirchís Bound for America, there is a strong historical relationship between the need for policing the unruly working classes, fueling the military and economic needs of the capitalistic class, and greasing the wheels of imperialism with both indentured servants and outright slavery.

An early US example of this three-pronged relationship occurred in Frankfurt, Kentucky in 1825. Joel Scott paid $1,000 for control of Kentuckyís prison labor to build roads and canals facilitating settler traffic westward into Indian lands. After winning this contract, Scott his own private 250-cell prison to house his new "workers." In a similar deal in 1844, Louisiana began leasing the labor of the prisoners in its Baton Rouge State Penitentiary to private contractors for $50,000 a year. Californiaís San Quentin prison illustrates this same historical link between prison labor and capitalism. In 1852, J.M. Estill and M.G. Vallejo swapped land that was to become the site of the state capital for the management of Californiaís prison laborers. These three antebellum examples are not typical of pre-Civil War labor arrangements, however. The institution of slavery in the South and the unprecedented migration of poor Europeans to America in the North provided the capitalist elite with ample labor at rock bottom prices. This left prison labor as a risky resource exploited by only the most adventurous capitalists.

Prison labor became a more significant part of modern capitalism during Reconstruction because the Civil War made immigration to America dangerous, left the U.S. economically devastated, and deprived capitalism of its lucrative slave labor. One of the responses to these crises was to build more prisons and then to lease the labor of prisoners, many of whom were ex-slaves, to labor-hungry capitalists.

Burdened with heavy taxes to meet the expenses of rebuilding the shattered economy, and committed to the traditional notion that convicts should, by their labor, reimburse the government for their maintenance and even create additional revenue, the master class, drawing on its past experience with penitentiary leases, reintroduced a system of penal servitude which would make public slaves of blacks and poor and friendless whites.
-- J.T. Sellin

[15] San Quentin Prison Museum, Website

California established a State Prison system in 1851 in response to increased criminal activity brought on by the sudden influx of men seeking their fortune in the gold fields. Originally a private enterprise, a temporary prison was set up on the Waban, a 268 ton bark (ship). As it quickly became overcrowded and escapes common, building began for a permanent facility on Pt. San Quentin in 1852.

[16] San Quentin History, San Jose Mercury News, 20 Aug 2001, by Dan Reed

The 19th-century fortress was built with forced labor during the gold rush, by men shipped over on the Waban, which had been docked at Treasure Island. Opened in 1852 with 68 inmates, the prison had a gallows for the condemned and a torture chamber for coercing prisoners to talk. ``Torture was an approved method of interrogation'' until it was banned in 1944, Crittendon said.

[17] Political Graveyard – James M. Estell

Estell, James M. — of Marin County, Calif. Member of California state assembly 11th District, 1857-58. Burial location unknown.

[18] The Tracy Family History, by James E. Tracy
(; Chapter 66 Commodore)

“...Martha, who married James M. Estill, of Madison Co, Kentucky, a grandson of the noted pioneer, (Capt.) James Estill. (Killed at the Battle of Estill's Defeat [chapter 23]). In 1850, Archibald (Woods) and his son-in-law James M. Estill went to California overland across the plains. Estill’s wife, Martha, and their children, followed him in 1851, going by way of the Isthmus of Panama. In this arduous journey they were safely conducted by their faithful slave, Jordan, (Remember, Kentucky slaves were family.) and the party crossed the Isthmus on mules. Estill rose to prominence in California, and was elected to the State Senate. A few years later both Archibald Woods and his son-in-law, Estill died in California. Mr. Estill was a gentleman of brilliant gifts, and took a position in the best ranks of society. James M. Estill and Martha Wood(s): left five daughters and a son, as follows: 1. Elizabeth, who married in California, William R. Garrison (son of Commodore Garrison, a millionaire of New York City)..."

[19] Broderick and Gwin, by O'Meara, San Francisco, 1881, Page 113-115.

The Know-Nothing movement had spread so mysteriously and so generally in the State, as to confound the leaders and managers of the Whig and Democratic parties. As it was practically an anti-Democratic movement, it virtually absorbed the Whig party; and a large number of the anti-Broderick Democrats, who had set their faces resolutely against the re-election of John Bigler as Governor, adopted this means to compass their purpose. The most formidable and the most adroit of these was Genreal James M. Estill, of Marin County, whose actual residence was in San Francisco. He had served in the Senate with Broderick, and had for years had been very close in his relations with Governor Bigler. A Kentuckian by birth, he had emigrated to California from Missouri, and early took his place as one of the leading spirits in the Democratic party. His sympathies were all Southern, and his political associations were mainly with men from that section. But he was too sagacious a party leader to neglect or ignore the very large Northern element of the party, and he therefore formed friendship and alliance with its most conspicuous chief, Broderick himself, and with Bigler as next in rank of importance. Of huge frame and powerful mold physically, he was also the peer of the ablest in party tactics, and an acknowledged leader of a strong numerical force. He was beyond comparison, the most fertile of expedients in manipulation party movements, and the most effective and one of the boldest in pressing these to a successful conclusion. His judgement was rarely at fault, and he possessed the faculty of winning to his side, in bried interview, the most violent of his personal adversaries.

The late Judge Daingerfield on one occasion left his home in Shasta to come to San Francisco, with the determination to make a personal assault upon General Estill the moment he should find him. He had bought a heavy cane purposely for that use. He nursed his wrath all the way, by stage and by steamboat, during the two days the journey occupied. In San Francisco he left the hotel, still resolute, on his angry mission. He unexpectedly met General Estill at the broad general entrance to Montgomery Block. But before he could raise his cane, General Estill's right arm was about his neck, in his accustomed manner of greeting old friends, while his left hand was grasping that of Judge Daingerfield, and instantly came the hearty salutation: "Why, Dainger, old boy, I'm delighted to see you! You must come and dine with me
this evening; all at the house will be glad to see you." And Judge Daingerfield did dine that evening with General Estill and his very interesting family; from whom he received, sure enough, the cordial welcome and hearty greeting for which they were distinguished. On another occasion-it was in the Know·Nothing State Convention, in Sacramento, 1855 - in order to accomplish the defeat of the late James W. Coffroth for the nomination of Governor, to make sure of the place for his bosom friend, J. Neely Johnson, he delivered the moat scathing philippic against Coffroth, who was present and unable to effectively defend himself, that was ever pronounced in the State; and yet, a few hours afterward, when Johnson had trinmphed, and a monster ratification meeting was going on in front of the Orleans Hotel, General Estill entered the parlor with his arm about Collfroth, and led him to a seat near his accomplished daughters, as Damon might have led Pythias. Such was Estill's extraordinary fascination, address, and power over men; and he never failed to exercise it when the occasion required him to do s0. He was the Ulysses of California politics in his time; as Broderick and Gwin might have been accounted, by their respective admirers, either as the Hector or the Achilles.
General Estill had had cause to turn from Broderick and Bigler during the winter of 1854-55, and was now in the front rank of their most formidable opponents.