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Henry Dutton was born in Bangor, Maine, in 1810. He came from a long line of distinguished ancestors, including a number of Revolutionary War heroes and Supreme Court Chief Justice Cushing, who swore in George Washington as president of the United States. Dutton joined the family business when he came of age, succeeding his grandfather and father as owner of a lumber mill on the Penobscot River. In September 1849 the lumber mill burned without insurance, and Dutton decided to join a party traveling from Boston to California via the Southern overland route.

In New Orleans he joined a band starting for California by way of Texas. While in route they were driven south into Mexico by bands of hostile Apache Indians. Then, in Mexico, they encountered a gang of Santa Anna’s scattered army and were robbed of their supplies and driven back to the east coast of Mexico. Never deterred, Henry Dutton booked passage on a schooner to Havana, Cuba, where he found a ship to take him to Changres on the eastern end of what is now the Panama Canal. After an overland journey through Panama, he sailed west on the steamer Columbus, and arrived in San Francisco on August 6, 1850.

Once in San Francisco, Henry Dutton set himself up in the hay and grain business, later called Henry Dutton and Sons. In 1855, his family joined him in San Francisco, including his son, William Dutton, who would become president of Fireman’s Fund.

On a summer evening in 1862, half a dozen San Francisco businessmen gathered inside Dutton’s home to listen to retired sea captain William Holdredge outline a money-making proposition. He suggested they form an insurance company, which, in addition to indemnifying property owners against the peril of fire, would reward the volunteer fire companies of San Francisco with 10 per cent of the profits each year. This was the beginning of the Fireman's Fund Insurance Company.

Henry Dutton took an active role in the company from its inception, serving as a director from 1863 to 1879. He was also appointed vice president of Fireman’s Fund and served in that capacity for a number of years. Henry Dutton died on July 23, 1879.

From Fireman’s Fund Archives [01-03-00-001-0013-0127] and
Alta California July 25, 1879


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