John Sutter

1803–1880

Gold Rush
CALIFORNIA GOLD RUSH
John Sutter was born in Germany and educated at a Swiss military academy, after which he settled down and married Annette Dubold. He owned a small shop in Switzerland, but he was a known spendthrift, and soon accrued debt forced him to leave his wife and children in Europe and move to America. He arrived in New York in 1834, and within a few years he had made peace with the local natives and established Sutterís Fort in the region he termed New Helvetia (present-day Sacramento). He relied primarily on Indian labor to build the fort, often enslaving those from tribes with whom he did not have peace agreements. He attempted to claim the area for France, but when the U.S. purchased the land, he was forced to concede. Then in 1848, one of Sutterís most trusted workers, James Marshall, discovered gold near the fortís mill. The two men tried to keep it a secret, but soon word of their findings was released and thousands rushed to California in the Gold Rush. Sutter himself tried to mine, but he was unsuccessful, and those he employed to do the work instead often cheated him out of his fair share.

Defeated, John returned to Sutterís Fort, but his financial difficulties only increased; mobs of gold seekers tore out his fences in their hurry, letting loose his livestock. Without any other means of support, Sutter attempted to set up and sell the town of Sutterville, but the venture was unsuccessful. Deeply in debt, Sutter gave the land to his son, who had recently arrived from Switzerland and immediately began making plans for a new city called Sacramento. Meanwhile, John received a letter of introduction to Congress from the governor of California, and he moved to Washington, D.C. After Lincoln was assassinated, Sutter and his wife, who had also come to America, left for Lilitz, Pennsylvania. John, however, continued to visit Washington, and he died in a hotel room in the city in 1880.


Key events during the life of John Sutter:


Year
Event
1803
Born.
1834
Moved to America.
1839
Established Sutter's Fort.
1848
James Marshall discovered gold at Sutter's Mill.
  Start of the California Gold Rush.
1865
Moved to Lilitz, Pennsylvania.
1880
Died in Washington, D.C.

Other Resources


Story Links
Book Links
Finding Gold in California  in  Stories of American Life and Adventure  by  Edward Eggleston
Gold in California  in  America First—100 Stories from Our History  by  Lawton B. Evans
Polk—The Finding of Gold  in  This Country of Ours  by  H. E. Marshall


Image Links


Weighing the First Gold
 in Stories of American Life and Adventure

Forty-niners panning for gold in California
 in History of the United States


Contemporary
Short Biography
Abraham Lincoln President of the United States during the American Civil War.
Kit Carson Famed Frontiersman who guided Fremont on his expedition to Colorado, and served during the Mexican-American war.
John C. Fremont American explorer who, along with Kit Carson, led an expedition to California by way of Wyoming and Nevada.
James K. Polk U.S. President who followed the policies of Andrew Jackson. President during the Mexican-American War.