Deceased Was Grandson of Don Given Mexican Grant Here in 1839

Transcribed by Sheila Mahoney from the San Francisco Chronicle, November 8, 1926, page 6.

Another chapter of the early history of San Francisco is closed with the death of Jose Cornelio Bernal, whose grandfather, Jose Cornelio de Bernal, in 1839 was granted a great rancho covering one-quarter of the present area of San Francisco. Bernal died on Friday [1] in Oakland at the age of 69. While there are several other descendants of Jose Cornelio de Bernal still living, the grandson was the last surviving link with the ancient regime in San Francisco, he being the only one of the family who knew the grandfather, and last holder of lands under the original grant. [2]

Back in 1839, when the Mission Dolores and the little adobe military post now known as the Presidio were the only settlements within the present limits of San Francisco, with here and there a few scattered squatters, three-quarters of the present area of the city was in possession of holders of land grants, some dating from the original Spanish government and others from the Mexican authorities. Because of services to the authorities, Jose Cornelio de Bernal was granted a square league of land under date of October 10, 1839, this being officially confirmed by Governor Jimeno at Monterey in May, 1840.


The Bernal grant was known as the Rancho Rincon de las Salinas y Potrero Viejo, and included all of what is now known as the lower Mission, the Butchertown area, all of the homesteads and South San Francisco. The tract was so large that if the proprietor of the rancho wished to inspect his domain it took him all day to ride around the boundaries. What is now known as Bernal Heights was but a small part of the great holdings.

In the early days of the Bernal grant, the family of the original grantee made its home in a mansion on the present site of St. Luke's Hospital. After the property passed to the son of the grantee, Geronimo Ruffina de Bernal [3], a new home was erected near what is now the intersection of Seventeenth and Church streets, where the family remained until a few years ago.


The history of the passing of the Bernal grant was similar to that of nearly every one of the great Spanish and Mexican families who once held a huge portion of the best agricultural and grazing lands of Alta California. The dons and their descendants lived a feudal life, giving little care to business and leaving their vast herds of cattle and horses and great flocks of sheep largely to the supervision of the vaqueros and herdsmen. The homes of the owners were centers of hospitality

The Bernal family was no exception to the deep seated tradition of extending hospitality. The best road from the little Mission Dolores and the Presidio to the southern missions ran at the foot of the hill where the Bernal hacienda stood. The latch string was always out, and day or night weary travelers were welcomed by the Bernal overlord.

It was this carefree life and lavish hospitality, coupled with the lack of good business instincts that led to the gradual breaking up of the grants. When the owners needed money, especially when the country began to attract Americans following the Mexican war, they borrowed. They never seemed to get ahead, and little by little the vast ranchos were whittled down through foreclosure of the mortgages.

SOLD FOR $1500

The first portion of the Bernal grant to pass to other hands was in 1859, when a foreclosure of a mortgage held by General William T. Sherman, resulted in the sale of a large tract from Butchertown to the San Bruno road by the Sheriff for $1500. General Sherman had loaned old Bernal $4298 in the early fifties.

Later, the tract containing Hunters Point and South San Francisco was also sold for $1500. Other portions were sold from time to time, until in 1908 the last owner under the grant, the late Jose Cornelio Bernal, found himself in possession of only about twenty-five acres located west of Mission road in the little valley crossed by the Ocean House road, now Onondaga avenue, and used for vegetable gardens. This last tract was lost through foreclosure in 1917, and it marked the passing of the final bit of San Francisco real estate from the families of the original grantees.

The late Jose Cornelio Bernal died Friday after a lingering illness, which was aggravated by the recent death of his wife, Mrs. Julia M. Bernal. He is survived by twin sons, Cornelius and Alfred, both of 530 Funston avenue.

The funeral services will be held this morning from the parlors of the California Undertaking Company, following which mass will be celebrated at Mission Dolores where the Bernals worshipped for three generations. The internment will be at Holy Cross Cemetery.


[1] November 5, 1926.

[2] This seems impossible since he was born in 1857 and his grandfather died between 1840 and 1852 (accounts vary).

[3] Probably a son of Jose de Jesus Bernal (1829-1870), who married Geronima Rufino.