William Edward Petty Hartnell
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William Edward Petty Hartnell
William Edward Petty Hartnell

William Edward Petty Hartnell, a.k.a. Don Guillermo Arnel (April 24, 1798 - February 2, 1854) was a prominent early immigrant to Alta California who played a vital role in the history of Monterey County, California as well as the history of California.

Early life

William Hartnell was born to a middle-class family in Backbarrow, near Ulverston, England in 1798, and attended the College of Commerce in Bremen, Germany. He went to Chile in 1819 to work in the Santiago branch of John Begg & Co., a firm where his uncle, Edward Petty Hartnell, had helped him secure a job. With the waning of Spanish power in the region, the English trading company gradually expanded its commercial activities from Valparaiso (port of Santiago) to Callao (port of Lima, Peru) and other northern ports on the Pacific coast of South America. While in Lima, he met Hugh McCulloch, a Scottish merchant, who persuaded him to become partners in a rawhide and tallow trade in California. They established a new trading company in 1822 called McCulloch and Hartnell, commonly called Macala y Arnel. It was at this time that he adopted the named "Arnel," as it was easier for the Spanish-speaking residents to pronounce.

Arrival in Alta California

The pair arrived in Monterey in 1822 and, with funding from the company, proceeded to contract with the missions, as they had lots of cattle. Hartnell was personable and successfully persuaded Governor Pablo Vicente de Solá to permit the British subjects to do business and live in Alta California. Governor Luis Antonio Argüello granted them the right to do business in any port in Alta California, whereas other foreigners were restricted to Monterey and San Diego. Their business did well, but McCulloch soon returned to South America, leaving Hartnell in charge. During this time, he also served as a tutor to prominent families in the area, with Juan Bautista Alvarado and Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo as two of his more notable charges.

A letter from his sister informing him of uncle Edward's business failures caused him to become quite depressed, as his success would not have been possible without his uncle's help in the beginning, and he began drinking heavily. A Catholic priest, Father Luis Martinez, helped him through these times, and as a result, Hartnell converted to Catholicism. He was baptized on October 13, 1824, and at the same time he added his uncle's name to his own. On April 30, 1825, Hartnell married 16-year-old Maria Teresa de la Guerra. She was the daughter of Don José de la Guerra y Noriega, the richest and most influential man in the Santa Barbara area at the time. They moved to Monterey in June. During twenty-five years of marriage the Hartnells had 19 children and adopted five additional children.[]

The hide and tallow business continued to prosper, despite greater competition and Governor José María de Echeandía's revoking of his port usage rights. However, in 1826, John Begg & Co. went bankrupt and Hartnell had to pay off his portion of the company's debt as well as the expenses he had incurred while in Alta California, amounting to over $18,000. He was able to do this and save his business thanks to his father-in-law.

In 1830 Hartnell became a Mexican citizen and was now able to own land. By May 1833, his hide and tallow business had gone under and he was looking for a new venture. He entered into partnership with Feliciano and Mariano Soberanes, taking control of Rancho El Alisal in December, 1833. The adobe house he built was said to be the first house in the area to have glass windows. There was also a silver mine on Hartnell's property which was the first mine discovered in California.


He was moderately successful at ranching, but he preferred to do something else. On December 10, 1833, he announced he was opening a school named "El Seminario del Patrocinio de San Jose" or "Colegio de San Jose" (for short), hoping to make a living as a schoolmaster. This school was financially supported by the Governor of Alta California, José Figueroa. The focus of the school was to prepare students for university study, although pupils as young as eight were admitted. Classes were initially held in Hartnell's house, but later moved to other buildings on Rancho El Alisal. Although the school received praise, it was forced to shut down in 1836, after the death of Governor Figueroa and when the Mexican government forced all Spaniards to leave California, including the two Jesuit priests who taught the classes.

Following this, Hartnell was appointed to several county posts by his former pupil-turned-governor Alvarado, including tax collector, treasurer, and customs administrator. He also oversaw the secularization of the missions, but had to resign that post due to threats from the rancheros[] In 1841, he was granted Rancho Todos Santos y San Antonio by Alvarado. He sold Rancho El Alisal to Alvarado in 1841, and moved with his family to Santa Barbara. In 1844 he was also granted Rancho Cosumnes by Governor Manuel Micheltorena.

In February 1845, Governor Pío Pico ended all of Hartnell's government jobs, in retaliation for Hartnell's dismissing of him as administrator of Mission San Luis Rey. However, Hartnell's brother-in-law Pablo de la Guerra was able to secure him a job establishing a treasury in the city of San Francisco.


After the Mexican-American War, Hartnell served in various functions for the American government. Being one of the few people who could speak both English and Spanish fluently, he was able to play a major role in the transition from Mexican to American rule. He translated the important Mexican laws into English for John C. Frémont, and translated the first California Constitution, as well as all the laws drawn up in the Constitutional Convention of California, into Spanish.[] Hartnell died on February 2, 1854, after a long illness.


Hartnell College, as well as its school district, Hartnell Junior College District, in Salinas bears his name. Hartnell Gulch Park and Hartnell Street can be found in Monterey. Salinas also contains Hartnell Park, just three blocks away from the campus, and Hartnell Road (just south of the city).


  • "William Hartnell: The Hero and His Colleges". Monterey County Historical Society. Retrieved 2005.
  • The Lives of William Hartnell, Susanna Bryant Dakin, Stanford University Press, hardcover published in 1949, 308 pages, Index, with 11 black and white illustrations, including portraits of 'Don Guillermo' Hartnell and Dona Maria Teresa de la Guerra Hartnell painted in San Francisco by Leonardo Barbieri.

Research resources

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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