Fred Hutchinson, a long-ago Napa County resident, paid tribute to his paternal grandmother, Amanda Brannan Hutchinson Chapman, in his family biography. With March being Women’s History Month, it is an appropriate time to feature his fond memories of Amanda.
Fred began his recollections with a childhood curiosity regarding his father’s mother. “As a boy I never could figure out why her name was Chapman and her son’s was Hutchinson. There were two subjects that Grandma Chapman would never talk about. One was her marriage to Hutchinson and the other was her marriage to Chapman. I never did find out until I began digging into the past.”
The following story is what Fred was able to unearth regarding his Grandma Chapman and her life.
Born in 1834, Amanda was a native of Maine and the niece of Sammuel Brannan, the founder of Calistoga Hot Springs Resort.
Her life appeared to be filled with men who abandoned her in some fashion. By the time Amanda was 3 years old, her father, Thomas, had died suddenly. Fortunately, her mother, Mary, was able to provide support for both herself and her daughter by returning to her prenuptial trade of dressmaking, which also became Amanda’s eventual trade.
Approaching her 31st birthday, Amanda married a John M. Hutchinson on April 16, 1865. Another three years passed before their only child was born on June 13, 1868.
Their son was originally named after his father, but by 1870, Amanda and her son were living alone in Maine. Then sometime between late 1870 and early 1871, they arrived in Calistoga. Amanda divorced her husband and legally renamed her son Thomas Brannan Hutchinson, in honor of her father.
Fred added, “It is logical to believe that her uncle, Sam Brannan, heard of her plight and financed her trip to California, for she arrived in Calistoga some time in 1871 and was probably put up at the Saratoga of the Pacific, the wonderful resort owned by Uncle Sam.”
Amanda had other relatives in Calistoga. Her Aunt Mary Ann Brannan Badlum, Sam’s older sister, also lived in Calistoga with her family. She and her husband had two grown sons, Ezra and Alexander, Jr. The latter had married Mary Burgess. They had three children, Alex T., Edgar and Maude.
Fred wrote, “The children were Tom Hutchinson’s age. So you see, Amanda and her son were not strangers in a strange town, but were amongst relatives in the town that Uncle Sam Brannan had built and was still helping to grow.”
To assist his niece in settling more comfortably in his community, Sam Brannan gave Amanda a parcel of land in the Calistoga vicinity in January 1872. Fred added, “I believe this was the lot on Main Street just about one-half mile below town, where Grandma Chapman and father lived later on.”
A month later on Feb. 7, 1872, Amanda married her second husband, Sam Chapman, a carpenter by trade. The newly formed Chapman family, Amanda, Tom and Sam, resided at Chapman’s ranch, located on the outskirts of town. Chapman raised horses and Amanda managed the homestead while Chapman attempted numerous ventures, including a livery stable and wagonwright shop. His attempt at boarding-house keeper also required Amanda’s participation in the business.
Shortly after her first anniversary, Amanda lost another man she had grown to depend upon. By 1873, Sam Brannan was facing financial and personal ruin. He was forced to abandon his dream, town and family.
Amanda’s story will continue, and conclude, next Sunday. The day before on March 11 at 2 p.m., I will be sharing historical accounts of “The Diversity of Napa County’s Founding Mothers,” their lives, lifestyles and cultures, at the Napa Library. Please join me for this free Women’s History Month program. For more information, visit www.napalibrary.org or call 707-253-4235.