Alfred Stebbins was born 4 Sep 1834 in Vernon, VT to John Stebbins and Harriet Houghton Stebbins of the Stebbins line descending from Rowland Stebbins.

ALFRED STEBBINS graduated at Amherst College August 9, 1860, and spent several years teaching in the South and West. In 1863 he went to California, where he was employed in the custom house, and was afterwards deputy collector of internal revenue. He was a mounted rifleman in the frontier service and traveled many thousand miles. While in California, he was also librarian of the Mercantile Library at San Francisco. He died in 1901 aged 67 years, 2 months.

Greenlee’s “The Stebbins’ Genealogy” 1904 reports Alfred’s Profession: Librarian. Politics: Republican. Religion: liberal.

Excerpts from his Father’s Journal

John Stebbins, Alfred’s Father, wrote much about Alfred.  Here are some excerpts from his journal:

Alfred Stebbins, born Thursday, Sept. 9 1834.  He was smaller in size, shorter in stature than either of his brothers, but more supple & limber jointed.  I have seen him raise his left leg, take hold of his great toe with his right hand, and holding on, jump over it forward & back and, with his right foot’s leg.  Also have seen him when standing on the floor throw his legs out at right angles & sit down flat on the floor. He attended school at Meriden N.H two terms, and did no work for me after Aug 30, 1852,__ 13 years and 4 days before he was 21 years of age, but had his own time & earnings.  He attended school at Meriden, one term at [Exeter] N.H. and a writing school at Boston. In the winter of 1852 & 53 he was anxious to be appointed a cadet at the Military Academy at West Point, Andrew Tracy, our Representative to Congress, did the same as promise it to him, then appointed Houghton for money, it is thought.  Nov 1855 he went 350 miles to Frankfort Mills [MI] to teach at a village of [170] scholars, but was soon taken sick and returned.

Journal: Alfred‘s Early Travels Education Experiences

June 1856 he went on fishing voyage to the coast of Labrador for his health, for 10 or $12 per month, caught cod fish principally and a few salmon.  Sept 10, 1856, he entered Amherst College for a four years study. At vacation he spent most of his time and considerable cash in gathering minerals, of which he had a large cabinet, several bushels of stones.  August 9, 1860, Alfred graduated and received his diploma from President Stearns, for which he paid him $5.–  

Journal: Southern Confederacy & Rebellion

Sept, 13, 1860, Alfred left home and went to St. Louis, New Orleans, and then to Mississippi City, MS, to see Ellen Gayles from Hinsdale, N.H, who was teaching there.  He taught a subscription school 5 months at Crystal Springs, MS and commenced the second term. Heard Jefferson Davis, president of the Southern Confederacy & Rebellion, make a speech there who said that all the blood that would be shed during the war, he could hold in the hollow of his hand. Alfred said he had heard such talk there, that he had to hold his breath and bite his lips to keep from speaking. They said one southern man would whip 4 or 5 yankees. Just point your gun at them and they would run, Major [Jonny’s?] son rode 8 miles to congratulate him on the capture of Fort Sumter. They trained every day and wanted he should enlist, and he thought it was time to leave. Dismissed his school as usual, hurried around, got $100 of his pay out of $400 due. He thought they would have prevented his leaving had they knew where he was from. He took the [cows? cars?]  to Vicksburg and left in the last boat the rebels allowed to go up the river. Landed at [Cairo?] and jumped with joy on to free soil. Went to Chicago, stopped at his cousins’ Galusha Stebbins’s at Bristol station, 47 miles west of Chicago, went to Dubuque to his cousins [Melody dia Barm?] his uncle Nehemiah Houghton’s daughter, then to his sister Calista’s at Iowa City.

Journal: Alfred Enlists in the Mounted Iowa Rifles

He enlisted 2 ½ months in the mounted Iowa rifles to protect the frontiers from indian depredations. He wanted to come to  Brattleboro to enlist a company of cavalry, but it was too late, a company was, or had enlisted. He was sent for to come to Dubuque and was examined 4 ½ days, in 24 different departments of learning, and had to give all his answers in writing. He was installed […??…] as Principal of the high graded school of 600 schoolers and 12 under teachers for $600 a year. Before the war, they paid $1000, but that broke up and [disarranged?] everything.

Journal: Alfred Addresses an Angry Father

He finished a scholar and his father came in to Alfred’s room when he was alone, turned the key determined to give him a whipping. Alfred stepped to the desk, and quickly slipped a razors trop in his pocket. The man’s courage failed him. He thought it was a pistol. He unlocked the door and marched off. The next day it was published in the paper how terrible frightened  the man was at seeing a razorstrop.

Journal: Alfred Goes to Chicago

In July 1862, he went to Chicago, went in a boat to Superior City at the head of Lake Superior, crossed over the water most of the way to the Mississippi, and down it to Dubuque and taught again. We send his [minerals] to him. He left Dubuque, passed a little month of Gettysburg two or three days after the terrible and bloody battle was fought there July 3 1863. They would not permit him or others then to visit the battle ground. He arrived at home July 11, 1863. After being absent 2 years, 10 months, and 8 days.

Journal: Alfred Loses His Fiance and Love of Eight Years

Ellen Taylor had returned to her fathers at Hinsdale N.H from Mississippi. She had the Diphtheria, was sick but 5 days and died Sept 25, 1863, aged 26. She was Alfred’s affianced bride. He had paid his [addresses] to her personally and by letter for 8 years at least, and he followed her remains to the grave as first [mourner]. She was an excellent teacher and first rate painter of nature’s scenery, in fact she was a public loss. Aug. 12 1864.

Alfred wrote from California, “After my severe and life [sundering] affliction, I can think of no one else as holding the sacred and sainted place of my departed.” And thought he would never be married, but he altered his mind in Dec. 1869.

Journal: Alfred Heads to California

Sept. 29, 1863, Alfred left home for San Francisco, Cal.  He crossed the Isthmus of Panama, 47 miles on the rail road.  He was on the Isthmus 7 days and supposed he stood on the spot, or near it, where Balboa from the summit of the mountain in 1513, who was the first white man that ever saw the Pacific Ocean.  He wrote me one or two very interesting letters of what he saw on the Isthmus, which are in my small [hair] trunk over the entry; among most all letters I have ever received. He arrived at San Francisco, Nov 9, 1863, and what is remarkable was never seasick.  He takes after his father in that respect. When it is noon in New York it wants 15 minutes of 9 O’Clock AM in San Francisco, there being a difference of 3 ¼ hours in time. In March 1894, Alfred was appointed one of the inspectors in the Customs House and in May or June was appointed Deputy Collector of Internal Revenue at $150 per month.  The Collector [favored] a [defaultes to] government, and when the new collector was appointed, he discharged all the old hands and appointed his friends in their stead.

Journal: Travel Adventures

Nov 6, 1865, Alfred & Mr. [Bushenburg], went to Wickenburg, Arizona Territory, through the hostile Apache country, and after they had [turned] out & encamped for the night, they heard the indians yell in 3 directions, and supposed they had discovered their whereabout.  Alfred sat about an hour with his 16 shooter across his knees, but discovered nothing. When he begged his partner to saddle the horses & they took a new route and traveled all night and escaped being massacred. Alfred was fond of hunting and was a good shot. He wrote several interesting letters viz. His visit to the Quick silver mines of New Almaden, Los Angeles, and Bull fight, a [tramp] to the Yosemite Valley, the waterfalls of 950 feet in one leap,– the geysers of California,–Geysers to Clear Lake, –[Rovant] Lake and Upper Valley.  The four last letters are published in the Vt. Record. Which is in my library.

Jan 1, 1867, Alfred was appointed Librarian of the Mercantile Library, San Francisco, at a salary of $1,800 a year in coin, where he still remains. Alfred aged 35 went to Dubuque Iowa and was married, Dec 13, 1869 to Miss Edith Large, aged 24, one of his pupils in 1862 & 63.

We forwarded to him his mineral and he wrote me in 1870, that his cabinet had been broken open and all of the gold, silver specimens stolen. Also that he had traveled 30,000 miles (beating his father’s 15,000 miles) and 9,000 since he had been in California.

—————end of excerpts from John Stebbins’ Journal————–


Like his father, John Stebbins, Alfred wrote many letters back to his father that were published in the Vermont newspaper(s).

Here is a letter Alfred wrote to his sister in 1864

Written of his work as the Librarian of the Mercantile Library, San Francisco : 

In the commodious, convenient and comfortably fitted-up Reading Room attached to the Library are to be found all the leading local, domestic and foreign newspapers and periodicals, magazines and reviews — neither pains nor expense being spared to render this department an attractive resort to members and visitors. The walls are adorned with a number of line paintings, portraits of distinguished individuals, and historical pieces. Adjoining this is the Chess Room, where members partial to this healthy and invigorating mental exercise meet for a trial of skill, and to indulge in their favorite pastime.
Although the rooms are thronged nightly with a crowd, everything is quiet, orderly, and decorous — all the affairs of the Association moving along like clock-work. The admirable niauagetueni [?] of the librarian’s department is due to the ability and attention of the Librarian, Mr. Alfred Stebbins, whose uniform urbanity, in connection with his assistants, renders a visit to the room of the institution both pleasant and agreeable.  — San Francisco directory for the year commencing April 1871 , General Directory of Residence and a Business Directory.

Husband & Father

Alfred married Edith Large Dec. 13, 1869,  daughter of William P. Large of Dubuque, Iowa,  We know Edith was one of his prior students and that she was alumni of Vassar College of New York.  We see a note in a publication, Vassar Miscellany, Volume XLIV, Number 21, 15 June 1915 mentioning that Edith attended a fundraiser for Vassar in San Francisco near that time.  [I have yet to substantiate it, but I recall that some story suggested that Alfred was indebted to, and later worked for William Large in San Francisco prior to his engagement to Edith. It was perhaps William that sent him money to get out of a difficult place while Alfred was in Arizona. Arguments against this include the records that show the William P. Large was a businessman in Dubuque and heavily involved in the community there until his death. -Michael Stebbins 2021]

Together they had the following children:


Alfred’s Comments on Judge Adams were published on page 61 of The Iowa Historical Record, Volumes 7-9.

Prof. Alfred Stebbins writes of his extemporaneous remarks at this time after this practice. “I recall with great pleasure an address made by Judge Adams before my pupils and teachers in 1862, while I was in charge of the Third Ward and High School of Dubuque. I had not before met him, and I was much impressed with his scholarly appearance, and his benevolent and warm interest in young people and their development. His address was carefully prepared, classical in diction, and profound in insight. It was not only logical but was interpenetrated with warmth, and was listened to with undivided attention by both pupils and teachers. I myself and all present were uplifted and stimulated in the work of education. Judge Adams through his various addresses and personal contact with educators has left an unbounded impress upon the mind and character of this generation, and has been a great force in the evolution of the time.” –The Iowa Historical Record, Volumes 7-9


From the following article we translate that a Portland company failed and distributed proceeds to creditors, one of which was Alfred.

1888 Daily Alta California, Volume 42, Number 14028, 27 January 1888  , Failure in Portland.  January 26th.— To-day Leonard Brothers, dealers in boots and shoes, made an assignment to George A. Steel ; liabilities,. $2212,’. divided as follows: Buckingham & Hecht, Portland. $807 ; Boston Rubber, Co.; Portland, $85 ; Kutz & Mairr. San Francisco, $952 ‘ 81; Win.’ Leonard, Sinithfield, Ind.; $208 ; Alfred Stebbins, Oakland, $63; E. P. Dodge & C0.,- Boston, $80 20. The assets aggregate $2550, consisting of stock of goods, fixtures and book accounts.


Alfred invested in property in Spokane which included the “Crescent Block” which provided for his family after his death.

1892 Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 83, Number 3, 24 February 1892
A Three-Story Lodging-House Completely Gutted.

Special to the Record-Union, Spokane, Feb. 23.—A fire started in the basement of the Crescent block at 3:30 this morning, and before it was extinguished the building was completely gutted. The building, which is a three story brick, adjoining the Review building, was filled with lodgers and roomers. In a short time all the avenues of escape were cut off, save the windows, and the people in the building appeared there and frantically appealed for help. Ladders were at once run up by tho firemen and half-clothed men and women were assisted to the street. Wild rumors were quickly afloat of men and women unable to escape, but at this writing it appears that all occupants were rescued in safety. The losses are heavy. Alfred Stebbins’ Crescent block, gutted, $15,000, insured, Mr. Bracht, music store, $17,000, insured for $5,000; Mrs. Ford, $10,000, insurance not known; Welch, $1ooo,covered by insurance. The building was the only brick structure left standing by the fire of August, 1880

June 29, 1892 Fitchburg Sentinel: Alfred Stebbins, who has relatives in  this city, is building another large block [unintelligible]  wholesale dry goods store. It will be remembered [] Crescent block owned by Mr. Stebbins, was the only building of any importance left in Spokane after the great fire

Sheep Farming

Printed in the 1873 Russian River Flag, Number 12, 30 January 1873 [From the Napa Register.]

Alfalfa for Sheep. We are in receipt of a letter from Alfred Stebbins, Librarian of the M. L. Association, of San Francisco, soliciting information as to the adaptation of alfalfa to sheep grazing. We have consulted authorities, and furnished such information as could be obtained, but, for the benefit of others, think best to publish it.

Mr. Stebbins asks, First—Can alfalfa be grown without irrigation? From actual and quite extensive experiments made in this and neighboring counties, the answer is, “ Yes.” True, moisture is indispensable, but land in the vicinity of water, or land that will produce other crops without irrigation, is sufficiently moist for alfalfa. Mr. J. B. Saul’s experience is to the effect that overflowed land is too moist, and that growth will be killed by water standing any length of time. The best results within our knowledge have been obtained on loamy laud. Mr. Trubody says that good corn land is good alfalfa laud.

Second—ls alfalfa suitable feed for sheep? Upon inquiry we hear of several who have made the experiment successful on a large scale. Following are the cases mentioned : Mr. Lloyd Tevis, of San Francisco, has a large tract of land near Sacramento sown in alfalfa, upon which ho keeps several thousand head of sheep. Mr. Dodge has 100 acres of alfalfa near Stockton, upon which he keeps 2,000 head of sheep, and realizes $33 net per acre. Charles W att & Co., of Sacramento, have a sheep ranch in the foothills near that place, jiart of which has been in alfalfa two years, and the remainder of which they are now sowing. They have kept lo sheep to the acre, by changing fields, and report them thriving well. Mr. Stebbins relates that Col. Hollister, of San Luis Obispo, had put sheep on alfalfa, and they would not eat if, “ They would smell of it, nibble at it, and turn away to eat grass.” No kind of stock appears to like it well at first, but soon take to it. Mr. G. N. Cornwell, of this city, suggi-sts the following as a possible explanation of the conduct of these sheep. It is known that under conditions specially favorable, alfalfa grows very rapidly—even as much as an inch per day. It is then sappy, yielding water if crushed in the hand, distasteful or tasteless, and without nutrition. Probably Mr. H. turned his sheep on it at such a time, or I probably they had access to grass with which they were familiar, and of which they could get enough, without cultivating a new taste. The time is at hand when it is necessary to economize space for grazing purposes, and to this end we believe that alfalfa has been demonstrated a success.


Daily Alta California, Volume 21, Number 7012, 31 May 1869  reports Alfred Stebbins as a consignee.  It is unclear if it is with the company preceding or following his name, so both are listed here in context: Kaindier, Sceilier & Co; M Grass; N Curry;  Alfred Stebbins; Pacific Stone Co;

1884 In Sacramento

Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 52, Number 96, 17 December 1884 reports: Arrivals at the Golden Eagle Hotel yesterday: Sol. Caro, Edw. Swadham, San Francisco: Miss Kate Mclntosh. Mrs.Win. Mitchell, Nelson; Miss Alice “White, Alfred Stebbins, San Francisco ;

Friend of John Muir

At least one letter has been found indicating that Alfred corresponded and shared friends and experiences with John Muir.

Friend of William Keith and other Artists

It is rumored that Alfred and his family spent time with William Keith. One story suggests the William Keith painted either Calista (Alfred’s sister) or perhaps Londa (Alfred’s daughter) or another woman close to Alfred, into William Keith’s paining of a landscape of Clear Lake, California.

Alfred is credited as one author of “Alfred Stebbins autograph collection, 1834-1872” which Consists of letters, autographs, and photographs of artists solicited by Stebbins and pasted in his copy of Henry T. Tuckerman’s BOOK OF THE ARTISTS (1867), extra illustrated edition. Among the artists are Christopher P. Cranch, F.O.C. Darley, Sanford R. Gifford, Eastman Johnson, Miner K. Kellogg, John F. Kensett, Jervis McEntee, Samuel F.B. Morse, Thomas Nast, Erastus D. Palmer, George H. Smillie, John Vanderlynand Worthington Whittredge.  


Died November 25 1901 at the sanitarium in Livermore, Cal.

One Obituary states: ALFRED STEBBINS, the son of John and Harriet (Houghton) Stebbins, was born in Vernon, Vt., Sept. 4, 1834, and was fitted for college at Phillips (Exeter) Academy, and Kimball Union Academy, N. H. After graduation he was a teacher in Crystal Springs, Miss., 1860 — 1861, and principal of a public school in Dubuque, Iowa, 1861 — 1862. He was an Inspector of Customs, San Francisco, Cal., 1863, Dep. Collector of Internal Revenue, 1864, and librarian of Mercantile Library, San Francisco, Cal., 1866 — 1873. Failing health compelled him to resign this very congenial occupation and he went into sheep farming at San Buenaventura in Southern California. In 1877 he entered mercantile life in Dubuque, Iowa, but retired in 1889, again because of broken health. A few years of travel in the East and South and in Europe were of temporary benefit.

For many years he resided in Oakland, Cal. During this period he had extensive business interests in Spokane, Wash., but met with serious reverses, resulting in mild insanity. He died at a sanitarium in Livermore, Cal., Nov. 25, 1901.

Mr. Stebbins was married, Dec. 13, 1869, to Edith, daughter of William P. Large of Dubuque, Iowa, who, with their two children, survives him.

Another obituary: STEBBINS— At the sanitarium. In Livermore, Cal., November 25, 1901. Alfred Stebbins, beloved husband of Edith L. Stebbins and • father of Elwyn W. and Londa L. Stebbins, a native of Vermont, aged 67 years (San Francisco Call, Volume 90, Number 180, 27 November 1901)