New York businessman & former mayor of San Francisco
Cornelius Kingsland Garrison (b. March 1, 1809) is a shipbuilder, capitalist, and the fifth Mayor of San Francisco (1853–1854). He was born in Fort Montgomery, near West Point, New York. During his childhood, he studied architecture and civil engineering while working on his father’s schooner.
After moving to Buffalo in 1830, he worked as a builder, then moving to Canada in 1834 where he built bridges and other marine building projects. He moved to St. Louis in 1839, where he made a fortune from owning, building, and commanding boats. He later moved to Panama, where he worked as an agent for the Nicaraguan steamship company and also established the banking firm of Garrison, Fritz, and Ralston.
The business partnership of Morgan & Garrison, which Garrison formed with Charles Morgan, was reportedly once the recipient of a brief and very famous letter: “Gentlemen: You have undertaken to cheat me. I won’t sue you, for the law is too slow. I’ll ruin you. Yours truly, Cornelius Vanderbilt.”
After he moved to San Francisco, he was elected mayor of that city in 1853. While he was mayor, he served without pay and donated his salary to the city’s orphanages.
When the annual state and city elections came up in September 1854, Garrison felt confident enough to run for re-election. The city had done well under his administration, many new civic projects had begun and the economic slump of that spring and summer had eased. He probably wouldn’t have been so confident concerning his re-election had he realized the strength of the newly formed “Know Nothing Party” whose membership was restricted to native-born Americans, who were non-Catholics. They, by sheer force of numbers, and by proper organization, were able to sweep party members into nearly every city office. The only office in doubt was that of mayor. The counting of the ballots continued for five days during which time there was much talk of ballot-stuffing and fraudulent counting. On September 11, it was announced the city had a new mayor. Stephen P. Webb had won by 539 votes.
During his time as mayor he became a leading figure in the Pacific Mail Steamship Company. Since his retirement from politics, he now serves as its officer and general manager in San Francisco.
The butterfly’s wings
In 1855, Garrison stepped in to take over as president of the SVRR and saved it from bankruptcy. In RESOLUTE, he is “merely” director and lead representative of the New York (East Coast) investors.
After his term as mayor, he returned to New York, where he became a speculator.