Whilst queuing for a sandwich in McNees deli the other day I noticed a sign which piqued my interest, it simply said ‘Monterey Jack Cheese, named after Crieff born David Jack who was an infamous businessman in Monterey.’ Crieff does have a few famous sons and daughters but this wasn’t a name I was familiar with, so I decided to find out some more.
David Jacks was born in Crieff in 1822 and was the sixth of nine children. Very little is known of his early life, although he may have worked as a weaver. In 1841 he migrated to America, presumably hoping to make his fortune in the New World and to join two older brothers who had already made this journey.
Jacks worked as an army contractor in Brooklyn for several years and is reputed to have met Captain Robert E. Lee, Commander of the Confederate States Army. During this time, he read about finding gold in the Sierra Nevada and so in 1848 he sailed to San Fransisco in the hope of making his fortune. Jack’s proved to be a canny Scot and took with him a consignment of revolvers which he sold for a profit of $4000.
In 1850 Jacks moved to Monterey, where he initially worked in a shop owned by a fellow Scotsman, James McKinlay. Again, demonstrating considerable business acumen, within two short years he was elected as Treasurer of Monterey County and began purchasing land in the area.
He became involved in the settlement of Mexican land claims in the newly created State of California (the state was created in September 1850). In 1853 the Pueblo of Monterey contracted the lawyer Delos Rodeyn Ashley to help legalize its title to 30,000 acres of land on the Monterey Peninsula. Ashley was successful in doing this and billed the city nearly $1000 for his services which it could not afford to pay. Ashley suggested that the city auction off some of the land to raise the money. The auction was poorly advertised, many would say intentionally so, and attracted only two bidders, one of whom was David Jack and the other being Ashley. Between them they bought the majority of the 30,000 acres of land for only $1002.50!
Unsurprisingly this sale was hugely controversial, and the city of Monterey filed a lawsuit against Jacks claiming that the sale was illegitimate. The case eventually reached the US Supreme Court which ruled in favour of Jack. Jack had also acquired Ashley’s tract of land from him in 1869 and so now owned all of it.
Jack was now an incredibly wealthy man and he continued to build on this by lending money and mortgages to those living on his land. He had a reputation for ruthlessness and was quick to foreclose on those who couldn’t keep up with their payments. As a result of this he was feared and hated by many, so much so that it’s been claimed that he had to travel with bodyguards at all times.
Jacks was also involved in land development, he donated land on the Monterey Peninsula to a Methodist retreat group, which founded the town of Pacific Grove, helped found the Monterey and Salinas Railroad and even owned a dairy.
The dairy produced a cheese originally known as Queso Blanco (which translates as white cheese). As the dairy expanded and went into partnership with other regional dairies the cheese was mass marketed and came to be known as ‘Jacks Cheese’ and eventually as ‘Monterey Jack’, the name which it is known by to this very day. So that’s the not so cheerful tale of how the cheese links to our wee town.