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Farmers and Merchants Bank of Los Angeles with G.D. Compton (City of Compton Founder) & Downey (City of Downey Founder) Autographs - 1872  

Farmers and Merchants Bank of Los Angeles with G.D. Compton (City of Compton Founder) & Downey (City of Downey Founder) Autographs - 1872

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RARE Certificate of Deposit

Los Angeles, California, 1872, $4500, issued and spindle cancelled, young woman on top right, ornate title, S/N 334, Issued to and signed by Griffith Dickenson Compton and signed by John G. Downey as President. Griffith Dickenson Compton led a group of thirty pioneers to the Los Angeles area in 1867. They traveled by wagon train from Stockton, California. They named the area Comptonville which was shortened to Compton. In 1888 the city of Compton was incorporated. John Gately Downey was an Irish-American politician and the seventh Governor of California from January 14, 1860 to January 10, 1862. Downey, California is named in Downey's honor. His land company owned the land that was subdivided to create the town in the 1870s.

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G.D. Compton signature on verso


n 1784, the Spanish Crown deeded a tract of over 75,000 acres (300 km2) to Juan Jose Dominguez in this area. The tract was named Rancho San Pedro. Dominguez's name was later applied to the Dominguez Hills community south of Compton. The tree that marked the original northern boundary of the rancho still stands at the corner of Poppy and Short streets.[citation needed] The rancho was subdivided and parcels were sold within the Californios of Alta California until the lands were ceded after the Mexican-American war in 1848. American immigrants acquired most of the rancho lands after 1848.

In 1867, Griffith Dickenson Compton led a group of 30 pioneers to the area. These families had traveled by wagon train south from Stockton, California in search of ways to earn a living other than in the rapid exhaustion of gold fields. Originally named Gibsonville, after one of the tract owners, it was later called Comptonville. However, to avoid confusion with the Comptonville located in Yuba County, the name was shortened to Compton.[10] Compton's earliest settlers were faced with terrible hardships as they farmed the land in bleak weather to get by with just the barest subsistence. The weather continued to be harsh, rainy and cold, and fuel was difficult to find. To gather firewood it was necessary to travel to mountains close to Pasadena. The round trip took almost a week. Many in the Compton party wanted to relocate to a friendlier climate and settle down, but as there were two general stores within traveling distance—one in the pueblo of Los Angeles, the other in Wilmington—they eventually decided to stay put.[10]

By 1887, the settlers realized it was time to make improvements to the local government. A series of town meetings were held to discuss incorporation of their little town. Griffith D. Compton donated his land to incorporate and create the city of Compton in 1889, but he did stipulate that a certain acreage be zoned solely for agriculture and named Richland Farms.[12] In January 1888, a petition supporting the incorporation of Compton was forwarded to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, who in turn forwarded the petition to the State Legislature. On May 11, 1888 the city of Compton was incorporated with a population of 500 people. The first City Council meeting was held on May 14, 1888.[10]

The ample residential lots of Richland Farms gave residents enough space to raise a family, and food to feed them, along with building a barn, and caring for livestock. The farms attracted the black families who had begun migrating from the rural South in the 1950s, and there they found their 'home away from home' in this small community. Compton couldn't support large-scale agricultural business, but it did give the residents the opportunity to work the land for their families and for the welfare of the new community.[12]

The 1920s saw the opening of the Compton Airport. Compton Junior College was founded and city officials moved to a new City Hall on Alameda Street.[10] On March 10, 1933, a destructive earthquake caused many casualties: schools were destroyed and there was major damage to the central business district.[10] While it would eventually be home to a large black population, in 1930 there was only one black resident.[13] In the late 1940s, middle class blacks began moving into the area, mostly on the west side. Compton grew quickly in the 1950s. One reason for this was Compton was close to Watts, where there was an established black community. The eastern side of the city was predominately white until the 1970s. Despite being located in the middle of a major metropolitan area, thanks to the legacy of Griffith D. Compton, there still remains one small pocket of agriculture from its earliest years.[12]

During the 1950s and 1960s, after the Supreme Court declared all racially exclusive housing covenants (title deeds) unconstitutional in the case Shelley v. Kraemer, the first black families moved to the area.[14] Compton's growing black population was still largely ignored and neglected by the city's elected officials. Centennial High School was finally built to accommodate a burgeoning student population.[14] At one time, the City Council even discussed dismantling the Compton Police Department in favor of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in an attempt to exclude blacks from law enforcement jobs. A black man first ran for City Council in 1958, and the first black councilman was elected in 1961.[14] Aerial view of Compton, 1920

In 1969, Douglas Dollarhide became the mayor, the first black man elected mayor of any metropolitan city in California.[14] Two blacks and one Mexican-American were also elected to the local school board.[14] Four years later, in 1973, Doris A. Davis defeated Dollarhide's bid for re-election to become the first female black mayor of a metropolitan American city. By the early 1970s, the city had one of the largest concentrations of blacks in the country with over ninety percent.[citation needed] In 2013, Aja Brown, age 31, became the city's youngest mayor to date.

For many years, Compton was a much sought-after suburb for the black middle class of Los Angeles. This past affluence is reflected in the area's appearance—Compton's streets are lined with relatively spacious and attractive single family houses. However, several factors have contributed to Compton's gradual decline. One of the most significant factors was a steady erosion of its tax base, something that was already sparse due to limited commercial properties. In later years, there were middle-class whites who fled to the newly incorporated cities of Artesia, Bellflower, Cerritos, Paramount and Norwalk in the late 1950s. These nearby communities remained largely white early on despite integration.[15] This white middle class flight accelerated following the 1965 Watts Riots and the 1992 Los Angeles riots.[16]

By the late 1960s, middle-class and upper-middle-class blacks found other areas more attractive to them. Some were unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County such as Ladera Heights, View Park and Windsor Hills, and others were cities such as Inglewood and, particularly, Carson. Carson was significant because it had successfully thwarted attempts at annexation by neighboring Compton. The city opted instead for incorporation in 1968, which is notable because its black population was actually more affluent than its white population. As a newer city, it also offered more favorable tax rates and lower crime.[17]




John Gately Downey (June 24, 1827 – March 1, 1894) was an Irish-American politician and the seventh governor of California from January 14, 1860 to January 10, 1862. Until the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003, Downey was the only governor of California to be born outside the United States. Downey was also the first man from Southern California to be elected as governor.

Downey was born on June 24, 1827 in the townland of Castlesampson, Taughmaconnell parish, County Roscommon, in central Ireland, to Denis Downey and Bridget Gately. Castlesampson is 12 kilometres west of the town of Athlone. He emigrated with his family at the age of 14 to the United States in 1842, before the famine years. Settling in Charles County, Maryland, the Downeys joined two stepsisters who had already settled in the U.S. Dwindling family finances forced Downey to halt his education at age 16 and start working to become independent. He apprenticed at an apothecary in Washington, D.C. until 1846.

Downey relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he worked as a druggist. Like many who heard about the California Gold Rush, Downey decided to go West. He stopped along the way at Vicksburg, Mississippi; then Havana, Cuba and finally New Orleans, Louisiana. By 1849, Downey had arrived in California, briefly prospecting in Grass Valley before finding a job at a drug store in San Francisco.[1]

He soon moved to Los Angeles, and he was elected for a one-year term to the Los Angeles Common Council in May 1852 and again in May 1856. He resigned from the council in December 1856.[2]

A Lecompton Democrat who favored slavery in the Kansas Territory, Downey was elected as a member of the lower house California State Assembly for the 1st District, serving from 1856 to 1857. In the 1859 general elections, Downey was elected Lieutenant Governor, overcoming the party split within the Democratic Party between Lecompton and Anti-Lecompton Democrats, as well as seeing off a challenge from the infant Republican Party. Governorship

Five days after Downey was sworn in as Lieutenant Governor, Governor Milton Latham resigned after being elected (by the State Legislature) to fill the federal Senate vacancy left by the death of David C. Broderick, killed in a duel in 1859.[3] Downey assumed the governorship on January 14, 1860. Governor Downey by William F. Cogswell

During Downey's governorship, the Assembly and Senate passed the "Bulkhead Bill," a highly controversial bill heavily supported by San Francisco capitalists. It would have placed the city's waterfront in the hands of private companies within monopolies. Despite support for the bill among San Francisco's wealthy, local merchants and the public alike were in staunch opposition. In a move that stunned many former wealthy supporters, Downey vetoed the Bulkhead Bill. He said,

"[I]ts provisions are not only in conflict with the constitution and the principles of natural justice, but that the measure as a whole is calculated to work irreparable injury to our commerce, internal and external, of which San Francisco is and must forever remain a metropolis."[4]

Downey's veto was widely popular both in San Francisco and throughout California, and it marked the peak of his popularity. Visiting the city shortly afterward, Downey was greeted as a hero.[4] But, supporters of the Bulkhead Bill never forgave the governor. During a later visit to San Francisco, Downey described a protester as a "bulkheader." The man responded with a fist fight, broken up only when Downey supporters physically restrained his opponent.[1]

At the 1860 presidential election, the Democratic Party again splintered. Anti-Lecomptons favored Stephen A. Douglas, while Lecomptons supported John C. Breckinridge. Previously part of the Lecompton faction, Downey sided with Anti-Lecomptons, supporting Douglas in his failed bid against Abraham Lincoln.[4] American Civil War

By the outbreak of the American Civil War, Downey pledged support to the Union, responding to requests by U.S. Secretary of War Simon Cameron for California troop assistance. But Downey's support for the Unionist cause remained vague. According to Victorian historian Theodore H. Hittell,

"Downey's unionism, it was very plain, was not of the kind by which the Union could be preserved. It meant continued submission and subserviency to slavery and the slave power, which had hitherto dominated the country while the advance of the age had outgrown it...It cannot be said that Downey had any special love for slavery or the slave power; on the contrary, he had to a very considerable extent broken loose of the chivalry and what was called an Anti-Lecompton Democrat; but unfortunately for himself, he was still hampered with old-time doctrines when slavery ruled unquestioned..."[4]

With the Civil War in its first stages by the 1861 general elections, Downey's earlier support generated by his veto of the Bulkhead Bill had all but evaporated. Downey's Democratic Party again splintered violently over slavery and the Union. Despite turning away from the Lecompton "Breckinridge" faction, Downey failed to gain the nomination of the Anti-Lecompton "Unionist" Democrats during the state Democratic convention. This effectively ended his political career. During the election, the Republican Party capitalized on the Democratic split and won the elections. Californians voted for Leland Stanford over Breckinridge Democrat John R. McConnell and Unionist Democrat John Conness.[5] Post governorship

After his term as governor expired in 1862, Downey returned to Southern California. In 1871, he helped co-found Farmers and Merchants Bank, the first successful bank in Los Angeles, with Isaias W. Hellman, a banker, philanthropist and future president of Wells Fargo.

In 1879, Downey joined some public-spirited citizens led by Judge Robert Maclay Widney, in laying the groundwork for the University of Southern California, the first university in the region. When Widney formed a board of trustees, he secured a donation of 308 lots of land from three prominent members of the community: Ozro W. Childs, a Protestant horticulturist; Hellman, a German-Jew; and Downey. The gift provided land for a campus as well as a source of endowment, the seeds of financial support for the nascent institution. Downey Street on the USC campus is named after him. Later years Downey's Los Angeles home, 1888.

In 1883, Downey, along with his wife, Maria Jesus Guirado, the daughter of a prominent Mexican gentleman of Sonora, were involved in a train accident at Tehachapi Pass, when their train plunged into a ravine. A porter pulled Governor Downey out of the burning wreckage, but Mrs. Downey's body was never found. The event plagued Downey for the remainder of his life, as he suffered from what was described as "nervous shock." Today it would likely be called Post-traumatic stress disorder.[6]

Following the accident and the death of Downey's wife, his friend Frank M. Pixley introduced him to the twenty-year-old Yda Hillis Addis, a new writer at Pixley's San Francisco journal The Argonaut. Downey was 32 years older than Addis, and they became engaged to marry. When Downey's two sisters discovered the betrothal, they were not pleased. Downey was a wealthy man; if he should pass away, his wealth would shift to Addis. The sisters took Downey and put him on a boat to Ireland. Addis sued for breach of promise, but left San Francisco before the trial. Some time after returning to the U.S., Downey married Rosa V. Kelly, of Los Angeles. Downey's grave at Holy Cross

In 1880, Downey had acquired the nearly 45,000-acre (18,000 ha) Warner's Ranch in San Diego County, which was then still used for cattle ranching. In 1892 he moved to evict Cupeño American Indians who occupied some of the land as their traditional historic territory, especially near the hot springs (Agua Caliente.) The Cupeño challenged the eviction in a case that reached the US Supreme Court,[7] but by the time it was decided in 1901, Downey had died. While the court ruled the Cupeño did have a right to land, it said they had waited too long to press their case, according to a law about the issue when California entered the Union. In 1903 they were relocated to the Pala Indian Reservation about 75 miles (121 km) away.

Downey died in 1894 at his home in Los Angeles. He was originally interred at Old Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles. After the cemetery was removed, Downey's remains were relocated to Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma. Legacy

Downey, California was named after Downey. His land company owned the land that was subdivided to create the town in the 1870s.

During Downey's governorship, construction began on the California State Capitol in Sacramento. Also, during his governorship, the Pony Express began service to San Francisco, and the Central Pacific Railroad was formed.

History from Wikipedia and OldCompany.com (old stock certificate research service).

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