3/2/1844 – 3/1/1913

Sylvester Confuscious Simpson was born on March 21, 1844, in Elm Grove, Platte County, Missouri.  He was three years old when his family crossed the plains in covered wagons to settle in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.  Sylvester Confucius Simpson married Mary Francis McFarland (1848 – 1905), daughter of Walter McFarland, in Salem, Oregon, on October 11, 1866.  Both Sylvester and Mary attended Willamette University.  After obtaining a law degree, was, for a period of time,  a professor of Latin and Greek, earning $900.00 per year.  Sylvester worked as a lawyer and later was the first Superintendent of Public Instruction in Oregon (see below).  In 1879, Sylvester,  Mary and family moved to moved to San Francisco to work as a lawyer and legal editor.  Mary and Sylvester had 5 sons and 4 daughters.  All but Dessie were born in Salem.  The fourth child and first daughter, Myrtle Una, born in 1873 in Salem, Oregon, married Clarence Cicero Wilson.  


Sylvester as a young man.

Jane Hildebrand recalls:  Part of Dad’s father’s (Sylvester) work in S.F. other than his lawyering was helping Bancroft write “The History of California”.   Perhaps it was Aunt Dessie as well as Mom who talked about this (check with C & G). He never got any credit for this and my impression was that he did a lot of the writing.

Per Carol Enid (Simpson) Beedle, Sylvester’s employment with Bancroft, involved work on “American Decisions”.  Aunt Myrtle and Aunt Dessie alphabetized and arranged the pages.  Mary Frances did copying and was paid for her efforts.  Sylvester made $125.00 a month.  A real family effort.

Appointment as Oregon State Librarian, May 18, 1871.
Admitted to the Bar in the State of California, December 5, 1879.

Lynn Beedle found this entry in the Simpson Family Bible:

“We solemnly and unreservedly promise to God and to each other that we will never, while life lasts, drink intoxicating liquors in any form as a beverage. May God help each of us to keep this pledge.

San Francisco, California
September 20, 1884
Signed by:

Sylvester C. Simpson
Ernest S. Simpson
Lynn C. Simpson
F. M. Simpson


The Story of the Cottage

Sylvester & Mary Simpson purchased a piece of property in Mill Valley at the very upper end of Cascade Drive in 1898.  Shortly thereafter a summer residence was built upon the property and became known to the family as “The Cottage”, although Mary and Sylvester had named the residence “Burnbrae”.  The following two letters provide an interesting history of “Burnbrae”. 

May 11, 1984 

Dear Lynn:

       We dug out the old Guest Book which we had rescued when we sold the cottage and found the
enclosed history of the cottage which Aunt Dessie told my wife one summer when we were all there for
a few days.  She didn't put down the date when the history was recorded, but it was toward the
end of Dessie's visits to the cottage.  When we were there for several weeks in the summer we used to
bring over Dessie, Vera and my father and mother to spend a few days with us.  After my mother died,
and father was in the convalescent hospital we still took the aunts over as long as they could go.  The
time came when they couldn't walk to the cottage, even though I always drove up the upper road so the
path was more level.  We also usually had your father and mother, and Carol and Don up for dinner
when we were at the cottage, and often were guests at Carol's place also.  We visited Don and Carol in
Seattle a couple of years ago; I think it was the first summer they were in Seattle.  
I rather miss the cottage; especially since it became the place where all my family got together each summer, Keith would come down from Santa Rosa, and Ralph would drop in from Sacramento, and when Earl was able he would come over also. . Keith died about two years aero, and Earl is not able to get around now so he sticks rather close to home. He will be 80 this summer and considering the polio he had about 35 years ago, he has done rather well about getting around. We had most of the family at our home in Hanford for our 5Oth anniversary last Memorial Day. Even Myrtle and Dick were there as they had moved from Vancouver to Los Angeles area a few months before. We visited them at their home in Fullerton last Christmas, and saw all three of the boys and their wives and children also.
The last three or four years we have taken rather long vacation trips to Alaska, Australia, the Balkans, Scandinavia, realizing that we soon won't be able to go. This summer we have a trip planned to Europe, England, Belgium and Spain and Portugal during the last of July and August. I like to take 35 mm slides of my trips so I have quite a collection now.
Love, Clarence Wilson
Date unknown.
Probably in the 1950's or 1960's.
Received from Clarence Wilson, 11 May 1984.
 A History of the Cottage as told to Dorothy 0. Wilsonby Aunt Dessie.
        Grandmother and Grandfather Simpson, who lived in San Francisco, were interested in finding a place to build a
summer cottage.  A friend of Grandmother Simpson, by the name of Mrs. Barnard, came over from San Francisco 
every summer and rented a place.
In 1890 real estate was opened around Mill Valley for building. In 1898 Grandmother Simpson with her friend, Mrs. Barnard, walked up Cascade Canyon looking for a site to build a cottage. Grandmother saw a spot back of "two large redwoods" that she liked and thought suitable for a summer cottage. Upon investigation, she found that she could buy an acre of this land for $500.00.
Grandfather, Grandmother and Aunt Vera camped at the bottom of the hill near the creek, between 2 and 3 weeks, to test out the site and decide if this "was the spot".
In the spring of 1899, the cottage was built. It was finished by May 30, 1899, and the family were able to move in.
Mary and Sylvester Simpson sitting in front of the fireplace at "Burnbrae".
Mary Frances and Sylvester Simpson, taken at The Cottage (Burnbrae) in Mill Valley in the mid 1890s.
The cottage was named "Burnbrae" from the story "Beside the Bonnie Brair Bush" by Ian MacLaren. 
This was a Scottish story in which a character in the book was called "Burnbrae", because that was
the name of the place where he lived.
Burn means brook and Brae is a hillside. When the house
was built it cost $500.00. The sink added $30.00. An outside privy was built in back of the
Originally, the front bedroom was the kitchen, and the kitchen was a bedroom. Porches
were small and consisted of only front and back porches. Running water was obtained. The porch,
all around the front side and back, were added later, about 1913.
A zinc bathtub was the first bathtub
and was kept in a back woodshed.. It was brought into the kitchen for bathing. Myrtle Simpson Wilson
was practicing with a pistol and shot into the woodshed and a bullet went though the bathtub. The woodshed
was torn down to build a bathroom on to the backof the cottage, about 1912. A tin tub, toilet and wash bowl
were installed.
A wood stove was first used for cooking. Kerosene lamps were used for lighting.
Grandmother Simpson died July 13, 1905. The ownership of the cottage passed to Dessie Rathbone, who
was then not married. After her marriage, it was her wish that all the members of the family use the cottage.
This they did, and the family gatherings were many and joyful. When Aunt Dessie became a widow, Aunt Vera
invited Aunt Dessie to make her home with her. The two sisters came often from Berkeley, their home at
26 Crystal Way, to enjoy their favorite spot in the woods. They shared their beloved cottage with many friends.
This book tells the story of the cottage from 1947 on. Many of the family and friends, who enjoyed this
cottage so much, are now gone and a different generation are carrying on. When the time came when Aunt Vera
and Aunt Dessie could not physically make the trip to Burnbrae, Aunt Dessie sent the deed to Burnbrae to
Clarence, her nephew, and said, "Your aged Aunt is no longer able to look after Burnbrae, it is my wish that I
give it to you", Another new generation, who never knew their grandparents or great-grandparents, are learning
to love Burnbrae too.

Comments by Gin & Lynn regarding the acquisition of “The Cottage” by Sylvester Simpson.


Will send it on.

And we should add your note to the document.

I had another take on it. I heard that Sylvester’s wife was so shook up by the
earthquake that she had to get out of the City.  Do you remember anything
about that?


Douglas wrote:

> Dear Lynn,
>     I would very much like a copy as my recollection is that great grandpa
> Simpson acquired the acre lot in return for some work he did ( I guess) for
> the water district. It will be interesting to learn the facts ala Clarence.
>                                     Love,
>                                       Gin

Kirke Wilson wrote:

> Lynn…thank you for unearthing the “story of the cottage”.  It was not as
> old as I had thought.  I had forgotten the story of my grandmother shooting
> the bath tub.  Do you have any idea who has the guest book for the cottage?
> My memory is that there may have been two guest books and that the one with
> the leather cover only went back to 1947  or 48 when the cottage got
> electricity and indoor plumbing.  I remember spending rainy afternoons
> reading who had visited in times past.  A story I may have never told is
> that I was living in the cottage during the winter and spring of 1968 and
> used the cottage briefly as a place to house and train volunteers coming
> into California from other states to work on the Kennedy campaign during the
> 1968 primary.  I had done some staff work for Robert Kennedy in 1967 and was
> asked by Steve Smith–a RFK brother-in-law–to do some welcome to California
> orientations.  Needless to say, the high hopes of that campaign came
> crashing down  on election night.  And the story was not recorded in the
> guest book at the cottage.    Kirke


From notes of Kirke Wilson, May, 1991:

Sylvester Confucius Simpson (1844-1913)
m. Mary Francis McFarland (1848-1905)daughter of Walter
McFarland, Salem, Oregon 1866
both attended Willamette University, Sylvester lawyer and
first Superintendent of Public Instruction in Oregon
to San Francisco as lawyer and legal editor
5 sons/4 daughters, 4th child/lst daughter, Myrtle Una
b.1873, Salem, Oregon

From the Oregon Blue Book:


The first school in Oregon was established in 1834 in French Prairie (Wheatland), some fifteen years before the Territorial Legislature would establish a free public school system in 1849.

When Congress created the Oregon Territory in 1849, it gave two sections from each township to the territory to use for public education. In 1850, the territorial legislature established a system of free public schools. An educated population was thought to be essential for the practice of self-government.

Between 1849 and 1854 the functions of school oversight were carried out by the county commissioners or by officials variously called the school commissioner or the superintendent of common schools. The superintendent was required to keep records showing the boundaries and numbers of all school districts in the county, accounts of the school districts, teachers’ certification records and contracts, and student records.

1854 brought legislative action about schools as the territorial legislature provided for the election of a county superintendent of schools. The first attempt at coordinating the county school districts occurred in 1859 when the state system for common schools was established.

In 1872 the Legislative Assembly created the State Board of Education (Oregon Law 1872, p. 146). The Board was given authority over the granting of life diplomas and certificates to teachers and the revocation of diplomas for “immoral or other unprofessional conduct”. (Oregon Law 1872, Chapter 38) The 1872 legislation also provided for the Superintendent of Public Instruction to be detached from the Governor’s Office. The first Superintendent of Public Instruction, Sylvester Simpson, was appointed in 1873.

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