William Edward Petty Hartnell

William Edward Petty Hartnell

William Edward Petty Hartnell, a.k.a. Don Guillermo Arnel (b. April 24, 1798, Backbarrow, Lancashire, England; d. February 2, 1854) was a prominent Californio who played a vital role in the history of Monterey County, California as well as the history of California. He also founded the first junior college in California.

Early life

Born as William Hartnell, he was educated at Cambridge University and the College of Commerce in Bremen, Germany. He went to Peru in 1819 to work in the South American branch of John Begg & Co., a firm where his uncle, Edward Petty Hartnell, had helped him secure a job. While there, he met Hugh McCulloch, a fellow British merchant, who persuaded him to become partners in a rawhide and tallow trade in California. It was at this time that he adopted the named "Arnel," as it was easier for the Spanish-speaking residents to pronounce.

Arrival in California

The pair arrived in Monterey in 1822 and with funding from the company, proceeded to contract with the missions, as they had lots of cattle. Hartnell was personable and successfully persuaded Governor Pablo Vicente de Solá to permit the British subjects to do business and live in California. Governor Luis Antonio Argüello granted them the right to do business in any port in California, whereas other foreigners were restricted to Monterey and San Diego. Their business did well, but McCulloch soon returned to South America, leaving Hartnell in charge. During this time, he also served as a tutor to prominent families in the area, with Juan Bautista Alvarado and Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo as two of his more notable charges.

A letter from his sister informing him of uncle Edward's business failures caused him to become quite depressed, as his success would not have been possible without his uncle's help in the beginning, and he began drinking heavily. A Catholic priest, Father Luis Martinez, helped him through these times, and as a result, Hartnell converted to Catholicism. He was baptized on October 13, 1824, and at the same time he added his uncle's name to his own.

On April 30, 1825, Hartnell married 16-year-old Maria Teresa de la Guerra. She was the daughter of Don José de la Guerra y Noriega, the richest and most influential man in the Santa Barbara area at the time. They moved to Monterey in June. During twenty-five years of marriage the Hartnells had 19 children and adopted five additional children.

The hide and tallow business continued to prosper, despite Governor José María de Echeandía's revoking of his port usage rights and greater competition. However, in 1826, John Begg & Co. went bankrupt and Hartnell had to pay off his portion of the company's debt as well as the expenses he had incurred while in California, amounting to over $18,000. He was able to do this and save his business thanks to his father-in-law.

In 1830 Hartnell became a Mexican citizen and was now able to own land. By May 1833, his hide and tallow business had gone under, and he was looking for a new venture. He entered into partnership with Feliciano and Mariano Soberanes, taking control of Rancho El Alisal in December, 1833. The adobe house he built is said to be the first house in the country to have glass windows. There was also a silver mine on Hartnell's property which was the first mine discovered in California.

The first junior college

He was moderately successful at ranching, but he preferred to do something else. On December 10, 1833, he announced he was opening a school named "El Seminario del Patrocinio de San Jose" or "Colegio de San Jose" (for short), hoping to make a living as a schoolmaster. This school was financially supported by then Governor of Mexican California, José Figueroa. The focus of the school was to prepare students for university study, making it a junior college, although pupils as young as eight were admitted. Classes were initially held in Hartnell's house, but later moved to other buildings on the El Alisal rancho. Although the school received praise, it was forced to shut down in 1836, after the death of Governor Figueroa and when the Mexican government forced all Spaniards to leave California, and that included the two Jesuit priests who taught the classes. Note that the first officially recognized junior college is in Fresno and was the forerunner of California State University, Fresno.

Following this, Hartnell was appointed to several county posts by his former pupil-turned-governor Alvarado, including tax collector, treasurer, and customs administrator. He also oversaw the secularization of the missions, but had to resign that post due to threats from the rancheros. He ended up selling his rancho to Alvarado in 1841.

In February 1845, Governor Pío Pico ended all of Hartnell's government jobs, in retaliation for Hartnell's dismissing of him as administrator of Mission San Luis Rey. However, Hartnell's brother-in-law Don Pablo de la Guerra was able to secure him a job establishing a treasury in the city of San Francisco.


After the U.S. action against California, Hartnell served in various functions for the American government. Being one of the few people who could speak both English and Spanish fluently, he was able to play a major role in the transition from Mexican to American rule. He translated the important Mexican laws into English for John C. Frémont, and translated the first California Constitution, as well as all the laws drawn up in the Constitutional Convention of California, into Spanish.

Hartnell died February 2, 1854, after a long illness.


Hartnell College, as well as its school district, Hartnell Junior College District, in Salinas bears his name. Hartnell Gulch Park and Hartnell Street can be found in Monterey. Salinas also contains Hartnell Park, just three blocks away from the campus, and Hartnell Road (just south of the city).


*cite web | title=William Hartnell: The Hero and His Colleges | work=Monterey County Historical Society | url=http://www.mchsmuseum.com/hartnell2.html | accessmonthday=September 8 | accessyear=2005

NAME=Hartnell, William Edward Petty
ALTERNATIVE NAMES=Arnel, Guillermo (Spanish)
SHORT DESCRIPTION=California pioneer
DATE OF BIRTH=April 24, 1798
PLACE OF BIRTH=Lancashire, England
DATE OF DEATH=February 2, 1854
PLACE OF DEATH=Monterey, California

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