The Emperor's Bridge Campaign

TO HONOR THE LIFE + ADVANCE THE LEGACY OF EMPEROR NORTON

RESEARCH • EDUCATION • ADVOCACY

Filtering by Tag: Robert Ernest Cowan

OPEN QUESTION No. 2: Did Joshua Norton Really Arrive in San Francisco With a $40,000 Inheritance That He Built Into a Quarter-Million-Dollar Fortune in 3 Years?

According to the "received" version of the Emperor Norton story: Joshua Norton inherited $40,000 from his father's estate. At around the same time, news of the Gold Rush reached South Africa. Joshua sailed west to seek his fortune in San Francisco, where he arrived in November 1849 with the $40,000 — a nest egg that he parlayed into $250,000 within three years.

But is this how it really went down? Not likely, according to the available evidence.

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OPEN QUESTION No. 1: How and When Did Joshua Norton Get to San Francisco?

The familiar version of Joshua Norton's San Francisco immigration story — a narrative developed primarily between 1879 and 1939 by that period's leading writers about Emperor Norton — holds that the future Emperor made his way from Cape Town to Rio de Janeiro, where he booked passage on the Hamburg ship Franzeska and arrived in San Francisco on 23 November 1849.

The "story of the story" — of how this narrative came together and was canonized — is interesting on its own. What has yet to surface, however, is any primary-source documentation verifying Joshua's passage on any particular ship or his arrival in San Francisco in November 1849.

Absent such evidence, what we really have in the "received version" of this story — as with a number of details about the Emperor's pre-imperial life, in particular — is more a work of "collaborative intuition," a theory in search of documentation.

This is the first in an occasional series of articles on aspects of the Emperor Norton biography that should be regarded as "open questions" — and opportunities for research.

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Joshua Abraham Norton, b. 4 February 1818

The following illustrated remarks were presented by Emperor's Bridge Campaign founder and president John Lumea at The Emperor's 197th Birthday, the Campaign's "party and presentation of recent findings" held on 3 February 2015 at the Eric Quezada Center for Culture and Politics in San Francisco.

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Did Influential Norton Biographer Robert Ernest Cowan Fudge the Emperor's Birth Date?

Building on Campaign board member Joseph Amster's recent "rediscovery" of am 1865 newspaper item pointing to an 1818 birth date for Emperor Norton, Campaign founder John Lumea examines Robert Ernest Cowan's influential 1923 essay about the Emperor and finds that Cowan manipulated the same news item to make it appear to support his own theory that Emperor Norton was born in 1819.

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