BELL, Thomas Frederick

BELL, Thomas Frederick (Scotland 1822-1892), controversial Scotsman (both parents Scottish) [born in England — 1860 census; born in Scotland 1870 census] and illegitimate son of Marguerite Bell and Alexander Hill. Bell worked briefly as an agent in Mazatlan, Mexico for the Chilean mercantile firm of Kelly & Company until Barron, Forbes and Company made him an offer he couldn't refuse. Bell traveled between Tepic, Mexico and San Francisco where he moved in 1850 and where he lived with William Eustace Barron, nephew to Eustace Barron, the company’s owner.

The 1860 census lists Thomas Bell living with William Barron, 35, merchant born in Spain; Joseph Barron, 25, born in Spain and a merchant; a Swiss steward (Adolph Muller, 31); a Mexican servant (Fernando Navaretto, 36); and a French cook, Eugene Chrigara [?], 38.

The 1870 census lists Thomas Bell, 48, capitalist, living with William Eustace Barron, age 45 and a merchant, living with: a Swiss valet, Louis Bressert, 18; a Swiss kitchen man, Gasper Boret, 35; a French cook, Louis Murrok, 60; and a Swiss steward, Charles Gahret, 29.

Bell traveled to Santa Cruz Island often on behalf of Barron, Forbes and Company, where he became close friends with island manager, James Barron Shaw. According to Helen Holdredge [Mammy Pleasant's Partner, 1954], “Thomas Bell had deplored the [1869] sale [of Santa Cruz Island] because he had always enjoyed his trips to the island.” GET QUOTE p. 222


In San Francisco, Bell had a relationship (the nature of which is subject to speculation) with Mary Ellen “Mammy” Pleasant (1814-1904, Tulocay Cemetery, Napa), well-known African-American madame. Through their business ties in the 1860s, Bell’s fortunes are said to have increased ten-fold, to upwards of $30 million. Bell was a four term Director of Nevada's Virginia & Truckee Railroad Company; he was elected Mar 5, 1868 and replaced June 12, 1872. His office was in San Francisco. He was a good friend of William E. Barron. He was an Agent for the London Oriental Bank in San Francisco, Trustee for the Bank of California's Union Mill & Mining Company, a Director and major stockholder in the Bank of California 1864-1879, and a Director of the Eureka & Palisade Railroad in which D. O. Mills was interested. (Some reports indicate that Pleasant may have been involved with the Underground Railroad that transported slaves from the South to their freedom in the North and Canada.)

In 1879, seven years after the death of William Eustace Barron with whom Bell had lived, Bell married Mammy’s protégé, Massachussetts-born Teresa [Terressa] Clingan [Percy] (c. 1856-1922), 34-years-younger than Bell, and they raised six children. (In the 1880 census he is 58 and she is 24.) In her will, Teresa claimed the children were not hers and left them but $5. It was Mammy Pleasant who built and furnished the 30-room Italianate mansion the Bells occupied with the six children and numerous servants at 1661 Octavia Street in San Francisco. She lived there with them, running the household with an iron hand.

In 1867, Thomas Bell and James Barron Shaw had invested in Los Alamos land grant lands. Sheep from Santa Cruz Island were brought to the ranch, but eventually both men turned to raising more profitable cattle. Bell’s holdings went to his nephew, John Stewart Bell, said by some to be his illegitimate son.

In June 1891, Mrs. Pleasant purchased a 985-acre spread in Glen Ellen that included the 150-acre Drummond vineyard and surrounding homesteads. She named her new property Beltane Ranch, and it became a weekend home for herself and the Bells. The following year, she built on the ranch a two-story, Southern-style house with wraparound balconies. Thomas Bell died in 1891, and Teresa and the children spent much of their time here. But country living wasn’t cheap, and Mammy Pleasant was forced to sell some 200 acres and eventually signed the deed over to Mrs. Bell.

Bell had died October 16, 1892 at age 70 from a controversial fall down a flight of stairs, and Bell’s son, Thomas Frederick ‘Fred’ Bell, Jr. accused Mammy Pleasant of his father’s murder. (Before he died, Tom S. Burns, who was Teresa Bell’s old notary public, swore he knew Mammy had killed Thomas Bell by giving him drugged port wine and pushing him over the banister.) If Pleasant had murdered him for gain, it was fruitless, for when his wife inherited Bell’s money, she eventually forced Pleasant out of the house and into a small flat in the city’s African-American district. Living in poverty, Pleasant was taken in by the Sherwood family, to whom she had rendered assistance at one time.

Bell was buried in the now defunct Lone Mountain Cemetery, atop a hill in western San Francisco. His headstone was inscribed: “Thomas Bell Native of Scotland Died October 16, 1892 Aged 70 years.” His wife, Teresa, was buried next to him when she died thirty years later: “Teresa Bell, widow of Thomas Bell Died August 11, 1922.” They are now buried in Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery, Colma, established in 1887. (Approximately 47,000 of the completely removed Lone Mountain Cemetery remains were moved here over a span of many years.) Original headstones were used by the city as fill when cemeteries were voted as illegal within the city.

1880 Census: Thomas Bell (Scotland 1822-1891) = Teresa Clingan (Mass. c. 1856-August 11, 1922) Lone Mountain Cemetery, SF/defunct & moved to Colma

1. Viola S. (1874-1966, Napa)[SS#556-16-2726][1830 US census 56, single, in S.F. renting; buried St. Helena Public Cemetery, Napa]

2. Frederick Thomas [aka Thomas Frederick] (c. 1875- ) [SS#566-36-0291 is this he????]=

A. wife 1-Elizabeth (Bessie) Johnston ( - July 7, 1912 of alcoholism)

B. wife 2-Alvilde H. Thurston (January 30, 1885- 1929) [1920 census = “G. Frederick Bell”]

3. Mary “Marie” Teresa (c. 1876- )

4. William Eustace Bell (1885-1922 Oakland)=Dorothy Christensen (Alameda 1897-1978 Oakland)

1. Thomas Bell (Oakland Feb. 28, Feb. 16, 1920-1939 Alameda)

NOTE: In Orosi, Tulare County 1916-1924 A Regiald T. and Eustace Bell are registered voters, listed as farmers. Brothers?



In the News~

Google News/Milwaukee Sentinal July 30, 1950: “…Fred Bell called a meeting, attended by his brothers Reginald and Eustace; his sisters Marie, Robina and Muriel… I have four children Teresa Bell answered firmly, They are Robina, Reginald, Muriel and Eustace. Fred and Marie are not my children…”


June 6, 1885 [SFDEB]: “A Princely Commission. Judge Rearden has approved and settled the account of Thomas Bell as trustee of Mary Barron, William E. Barron, Eustace Barron, Robert Barron, Joseph Barron and Roberta Barron, under the terms of the will of the late William E. Barron. Mr. Bell was allowed $46,007.26 as commission for his services, while his attorney’s, Wilson & Wilson, received $1500 as their fee. The remainder of the estate, amounting to $113,579.74, was ordered paid to beneficiaries, share and share alike. Henry Fischoir, who was appointed expert and referee by Judge Rearden, testified to the correctness of the accounts of the trustee, as also did other witnesses.”


September 9, 1897 [NYT]: “San Francisco. The Bell family, known as the ‘Family of Mystery,’ has again made clear its title today in court. Mrs. Bell, widow of the millionaire, Thomas Bell, denied that she was the mother of the eldest son and daughter of six children who were always supposed to be hers. The sensational announcement was made in a suit brought by Frederick Bell, the eldest son, to oust his mother from the guardianship of the children and compel her to give him a portion of his father’s estate. Mrs. Bell, on taking the stand, was asked how many children she had. She replied ‘four,’ and the surprised Judge exclaimed: ‘What about the other children; are not Frederick Bell and Martha Teresa Bell yours?’ ‘No,’ replied Mrs. Bell. When questioned further, she said: ‘I first saw these two as babies at Mr. Bell’s Sutter Street residence. I have always brought them up as my children, but they are not mine.’ Attempts to question Mrs. Bell further were frustrated for the time being, and the court adjourned. The attorney for Frederick Bell said the statement was false.”


August 17, 1922 [NYT]: “San Francisco, August 16. When the last will and testament of the widow of Thomas Bell, California pioneer and millionaire, was read following her funeral, the five men and women present who had believed her their mother were astounded to learn from the documentthat she denied them to be her own flesh and blood. She bequeathed them $5 each. The will did not divulge the true parentage. A third of the estate was left to charity and the rest was bequeathed to her cousins, “if she had any,” and if not to the state.”


September 9, 1922 [NYT]: “San Francisco, September 8. Cousin claims her estate. Controversy over the estate of the late Teresa Bell, widow of a San Francisco millionaire, whose will cut off her five supposed children, was further complicated today by the filing of an apprearance by a local firm of attorneys as counsel in the contest for two purported cousins of Mrs. Bell. The new figures in the will tangle are named as R. J. Irving McNair and his sister, Mrs. Ada Wickham, both of Michigan. Proof that they legally are cousins would entitle the two, under provisions of the will, to share in the estate, estimated at close to $1,000,000. Mrs. Bell, in a peculiar will, left $5 to each of the five Bell children, asserting that they were not her offspring, and bequeathed the bulk of her estate to any cousins who might be found or, failing that, to the State of California. The claimants’ cousel here declines to disclose the Michigan addresses of the two. They attorneys announced they would seek to uphold the will and to produce a new family history showing that Mrs. Bell was a child of Mrs. Sarah Wilcox Gleason Austin, sister of the mother of the new claimants. According to the story made public in connection with the appearance of the claimants, Mrs. Austin died when her daughter, Teresa, was a small child. Teresa was then taken into the home of Thomas Bell. When a young woman she married, and when her first husband died she became the wife of her foster father, Thomas Bell, who had two children by a former marriage. The Michigan claimants have told the attorneys they believe there are other cousins, whose whereabouts is not known.”