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Frederick Marriott was born July 16, 1805 in Enfield, England. He departed London in 1842 to seek his fortune in California where he founded the San Francisco News Letter and California Advertiser in 1856. His other publications included Pacific Coast Mining Journal; California China Mail; Flying Dragon; California Mail Bag; and California News Notes. (At least one letter that Mark Twain published in one of Marriott's paper has been found and is reprinted below.)

Marriott, an enthusiast for air transportation, held offices in the Mongtomery Block of San Francisco. According to one biography of Marriott written by Richard Hernandez:

A young reporter from Nevada with a noticeable drawl and a large red mustache often accompanied Mr. Marriott down to the basement of the building where he was working on the "Avitor." The reporter was astounded by the stamina and enthusiasm of the editor as he worked hour-after-hour with only the light of a row of candles stuck in beer bottles. The reporter was the young Mark Twain (Hernandez, p. 405-407).

Marriott eventually acquired the funds to raise the Flying Avitor, a twenty-eight foot model steam-driven airship before an enthusiastic crowd in the summer of 1869. On July 2, 1869, at a park across the bay from San Francisco, Frederick Marriott conducted a public test flight of his flying machine. According to reports from the scene the machine actually became airborne, and briefly flew, both with and against the wind. This event is generally considered the first powered flight of a lighter-than-air craft on this side of the Atlantic. Mark Twain mentioned the news event in his letter to the San Francisco Alta California published Aug. 1, 1869. After its first season, the model burned and was never rebuilt. Marriott died on December 16, 1884 at seventy-nine years of age.

For a comprehensive look at Marriott's life, see:
Richard Hernandez, "Frederick Marriott: A Forty-Niner Banker and Editor," Journal of the West, Oct. 1963, pp. 401-424.

Frederick Marriott

Frederick Marriott


Avitor flying machine

Photos of Frederick Marriott and the Avitor are courtesy of Dave Fowler and the San Francisco Museum.

While in San Francisco on business in the summer of 1868, Clemens contributed the following humorous letter to Marriott's newspaper:

News Letter and California Advertiser
June 13, 1868

Important to Whom it May Concern

MESSRS. EDITORS: I was expecting to sail for New York in the Pacific Mail Steamship Company's steamer of the 18th June, but unforeseen circumstances compel a delay of a few days. I cannot sail till the 30th of the month. It is therefore proper that I should give this notice to those friends who have entrusted articles to my care for delivery to their relatives in the Atlantic States, so that they can send by parties who sail on the 18th such of them as demand expedition. I will give a list of the things I am speaking of, and those which will admit of delay until the 30th, can remain in my possession: 1 violin; 1 double-barreled gun; 1 package books; 1 ditto sheet music - negro ballads; 1 set casters -- vinegar cruet missing; 2 scratch wigs for repair; 1 woman; 7 boxes and 1 barrel ore specimens; 1 amalgamating pan, for repair; 1 parrot; 1 pup; 1 cage canaries -- two dead; another woman; 18 mining company prospectuses, marked "Please circulate;" 1 valise -- appears to be nothing in it; 6 photographs, consigned to different parties; 1 volume Tennyson; 1 white woman; 1 box salve; 2 accordeons; 1 overcoat; 1 set chessmen; 1 cow; 1 sandalwood fan; 1 rosewood dressing case; 4 meerschaum pipes; 2 specimen pins; some grass widows; 1 hoe steam-press, for repairs; 1 Unabridged Dictionary; 9 bandboxes; 1 lunatic for asylum; 1 idiot for Paris; 1 gridiron; 1 baby; 68 letters; 1 package gold coin; 1 ditto greenbacks; 23 trunks; another woman.

Besides these articles I have to carry along a valise for myself, and a jug, and I may be discommoded unless some of the things go by the steamer of the 18th. The baby is not well, and appears to get worse all the time. I think maybe it has got the mumps, or the consumption, or something of that kind. Those are things I do not know anything about. It must be one of those, because I have doctored it for fits and measles, and all those things, but still she grows worse. She had better go by the steamer of the 18th. I do not think she will keep for the 30th. To tell the plain truth, I am sorry I agreed to take this baby along. A baby is too troublesome--altogether too troublesome. I have had a baby at sea, and I know. Once I had twins on a ship, and I never suffered so much in my life. Please come and get this one, and ship it per steamer of the 18th.

Most of the other articles had better go at the same time, especially the cow and the idiot. If I were relieved of those I could take some more women, and maybe another trunk or two.



For more information on Marriott and the Avitor, visit Hiller Aviation Museum.

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