Hubert Howe Bancroft (May 5, 1832–1918), an American historian and ethnologist, was born in Granville, Ohio. He attended the Granville Academy until he was sixteen, and he then became a clerk in a bookstore in Buffalo, New York. Relocating to San Francisco, California, he managed a bookstore there from March 1852 to 1868, and he began his own publishing house. He also accumulated a great library of historical material, and eventually he gave up business to devote himself entirely to writing and publishing history.
Bancroft is interred in the Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, California. The Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley is named in his honor.
Bancroft published a well-known group of local histories. Having formed a large collection of materials on the history of the Pacific coast, he then employed research and writing assistants to organize and produce statements of facts for large sections of a proposed general history. Originally he seems to have intended to use these statements of facts as the basis of a narrative which he himself would write; but as the work progressed he came to use the statements as they stood, with only slight changes. He said his assistants were capable investigators, and there is independent evidence to show that some of them deserved his confidence. However, his failure to acknowledge each contribution created doubt concerning the value of any particular section. Overall, although Bancroft considered himself the author of the work, it is more accurate to consider him an editor and compiler.
Neither Bancroft, nor most of his assistants, had preparatory training sufficient to save them from pitfalls common to historical works of this period. Their writing reflected personal opinions and enthusiasms, and their often-good books consequently have some serious defects. However, they were generally very well-received in their time. Historian Francis Parkman gave The Native Races high credit in The North American Review. Andrew Carnegie related in his autobiography that Bancroft's "History of the United States" was a book he had "studied with more care than any other book I had then read." Lewis H. Morgan, however, was more critical. Based on his newly-published theory of Indian culture, in an article called Montezuma's Dinner, Morgan completely reversed Parkman's verdict and raised doubt in the minds of the public about this and other volumes of the series. Bancroft's response to Morgan's criticism suggests that he did not understand Morgan's theory, which now is generally accepted by scholars.
In 1885 Bancroft purchased a ranch with an adobe home on it located in Spring Valley, in San Diego County, as a retirement home. It now is a National Historic Landmark.