Hubert Howe Bancroft

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Hubert Howe Bancroft
Hubert Howe Bancroft.jpg
Born (1832-05-05)May 5, 1832
Granville, Ohio
Died March 2, 1918
San Francisco, CA
Occupation Historian
Known for Early histories of California and the Pacific west coast
Parent(s) Azariah Ashley Bancroft
Lucy Howe Bancroft

Hubert Howe Bancroft ((1832-05-05)May 5, 1832 – March 2, 1918) was an American historian and ethnologist who wrote, published and collected works concerning the western United States, Texas, California, Alaska, Mexico, Central America and British Columbia.


Bancroft was born in Granville, Ohio to Azariah Ashley Bancroft and Lucy Howe Bancroft. His parents were staunch abolitionists. The family home was a station on the Underground Railroad, and is now a dormitory on the campus of Denison University.[1] He attended the Doane Academy in Granville for a year, and he then became a clerk in his brother-in-law's bookstore in Buffalo, New York.[2] In March 1852, he was sent to San Francisco, California, where he initiated and managed a regional office of the business. He also began his own publishing house. In 1868, he resigned from his business in favor of his brother, A. L. Bancroft. He had accumulated a great library of historical material, and abandoned business to devote himself entirely to writing and publishing history.[3]

Bancroft's library consisted of books, maps, and printed and manuscript documents, including a large number of narratives dictated to Bancroft or his assistants by pioneers, settlers, and statesmen. The indexing of this vast collection employed six persons for ten years. The library was moved in 1881 to a fireproof building, and in 1900 numbered about 45,000 volumes.[3]

He developed a plan to publish a history in 39 volumes of the entire Pacific coast region of North America, from Central America to Alaska. He employed collaborators for the preliminary work, and then revised it all, and wrote the most important chapters himself. In 1886 the publishing establishment of A. L. Bancroft & Company burned, and the sheets of seven volumes of the history he had written were destroyed.[3] Bancroft’s Works is Number 3 on the Zamorano list of 80 distinguished California books.

Bancroft's first marriage was to Emily Ketchum in 1859. They had one daughter, Kate. Emily died in 1869. Bancroft married again in 1879. His second wife was Matilda Coley Griffing. They had four children, Paul, Griffing, Philip and Lucy. Bancroft died in 1918 in Walnut Creek, California, two days after being struck by a street car. He is interred in the Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, California.

Critique of production methods[edit]

Bancroft published a well-known group of local histories. Having formed a large collection of materials concerning the history of the Pacific coast, he then employed research and writing assistants to organize and produce statements of facts for large sections of a proposed general history. Originally he seems to have intended to use these statements of facts as the basis of a narrative which he himself would write; but as the work progressed he came to use the statements as they were, with only slight changes. He said his assistants were capable investigators, and there is evidence that some of them deserved his confidence; Frances Fuller Victor, in particular, was a well-known author. However, his failure to acknowledge each contribution created doubt about the quality of the work. Overall, although Bancroft considered himself the author, it is more accurate to consider him as editor and compiler.[4]

Neither Bancroft, nor most of his assistants, had enough training to avoid stating their personal opinions and enthusiasms, but their works were generally well received in their time. Historian Francis Parkman praised Bancroft's The Native Races in The North American Review, but Lewis H. Morgan was more critical, based on his newly published theory of Indian culture, in an article named Montezuma's Dinner. Bancroft's response to Morgan's criticism suggests that he did not understand Morgan's theory, which is now generally accepted by scholars.


The Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley, named in his honor, was founded when the University of California purchased his book collection in 1905. Part of a property Bancroft bought (c.1880) in Contra Costa County, California, is now the Ruth Bancroft Garden. An archive of Bancroft family correspondence, collected by his daughter Kate, is held in the Mandeville Special Collections Library in the Geisel Library at the University of California, San Diego.

In 1885 Bancroft purchased a ranch with an adobe cottage located in Spring Valley, in San Diego County, as a retirement home. The Hubert H. Bancroft Ranch House is now a National Historic Landmark.

Several schools are named for Bancroft, including Bancroft Middle School (Long Beach, California), Bancroft Middle School (Los Angeles, California) and Hubert H. Bancroft Elementary School in Sacramento.

Published works[edit]

Bancroft's written works include the following:[5]

  • Native Races of the Pacific States (vols. 1–5, 1874)
  • History of Central America (vols. 6–8, 1882–87)
  • History of Mexico (vols. 9–14, 1883–87)
  • History of Texas, and the North Mexican States (vols. 15–16, 1884–89)
  • History of Arizona and New Mexico (vol. 17, 1889)
  • History of California (vols. 18–24, 1884–90)
  • History of Nevada, Colorado, and Wyoming (vol. 25, 1890)
  • History of Utah (vol. 26, 1889)
  • History of the Northwest Coast (vols. 27–28, 1884)
  • History of Oregon (vols. 29–30, 1886–88)
  • History of Washington, Idaho, and Montana (vol. 31, 1890)
  • History of British Columbia (vol. 32, 1887)
  • History of Alaska (vol. 33, 1886)
  • California Pastoral (vol. 34, 1888)
  • California inter Pocula (vol. 35, 1888)
  • Popular Tribunals (vols. 36–37, 1887)
  • Essays and Miscellany (vol. 38, 1890)
  • Literary Industries (vol. 39, 1890)[6] This volume gives an account of his methods of work.[7]
  • The Early American Chroniclers (1883)
  • Chronicles of the Builders of the Commonwealth: Historical Character Study (1891–1892)
  • Book of the Fair (1893)
  • Resources and Development of Mexico (1893)
  • The Book of Wealth (1896)
  • The New Pacific (1912)
  • Retrospection, Political and Personal (1912, 1915)
  • Why a World Centre of Industry at San Francisco Bay (1916)
  • In These Latter Days (1917)


  • Caughey, John Walton, Hubert Howe Bancroft, Historian of the West (1946)


  1. ^ "Bancroft House". Denison University. Retrieved July 17, 2011. 
  2. ^ Hubert Howe Bancroft: Historian of the West. The Historical Times, Newsletter of the Granville, Ohio, Historical Society Vol. 9, no 4. (Fall 1997). Download PDF
  3. ^ a b c Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Bancroft, Hubert Howe". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton. 
  4. ^ "Hubert Howe Bancroft – Author or Editor?", 12 March 2011. Retrieved on 10 November 2013.
  5. ^ Historical Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft. Internet Archive (retrieved September 24, 2012)
  6. ^ Library of Congress online text (retrieved 29 October 2010)
  7. ^  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bancroft, Hubert Howe". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

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