HARTNELL FAMILY HISTORY: WILLIAM EDWARD PETTY HARTNELL (1798-1854)

Portrait of William Edward Petty Hartnell.

Portrait of William Edward Petty Hartnell.

William Edward Petty Hartnell was born on April 24, 1798, to a middle-class family in Backbarrow, England. He attended the College of Commerce in Bremen, Germany. After graduation, he worked for John Begg & Co. in Chile, where his uncle helped him get a job. During this time, Hartnell met a Scottish merchant, who convinced him to enter the rawhide and tallow trade in California.

The new trading company began in 1822 in the states, and during this time, Hartnell adopted the name Don Guillermo Arnel because of the Spanish-speaking population in California. Hartnell successfully convinced the governor to allow the business to trade in the state, although many other foreigners were prohibited. His partner eventually returned to South America, but Hartnell stayed in charge of the company and also began tutoring prominent families in California.

When he learned that his uncle, who served as a mentor for Hartnell in his early years, suffered from business failings, Hartnell became depressed and started drinking heavily. He met a Catholic priest during this time who helped him during this period, and as a result, Hartnell was baptized into the Catholic Church in 1824.

A year later, Hartnell married Maria Teresa de la Guerra, the 16-year-old daughter of the richest and most influential man in Santa Barbara. They remained married for 25 years and raised 19 biological children and five adopted ones.

By 1826, the hide and tallow business went bankrupt, and Hartnell’s wealthy father-in-law helped his pay all the resulting debt. Four years later, Hartnell became a Mexican citizen and could therefore own land. He began a partnership with another individual and took control of a ranch in 1833. This home was the first in the area to sport glass windows. In addition, Hartnell’s property had the first silver mine in the area.

Although he was reasonably successful during this time, Hartnell decided to open a school in 1833, which worked to prepare students for the university-level study. By 1836, the Mexican government forced all Spaniards to leave the state, thereby shutting down the successful school. Hartnell then held many government roles over the following years.

He died on February 2, 1854, following an extended illness. William’s role in Hartnell History was in the naming of Hartnell College and its school district after him in Salinas.

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