Gold: Being the Marvellous History of General John Augustus Sutter


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This is the story of this bankrupt Swiss paper maker who abandoned his family and made his way to America to seek his fortune. From New York he pushed westward, eventually acquiring a huge tract of land of which he was virtually an independent ruler and which was on the point of making him "the richest man in the world" when the Gold Rush brought disaster. For the last 30 years of his life, Sutter tried vainly to get compensation from the U.

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He had earlier been granted a pension from California, and to the end he hoped that the U. Congress would reimburse him for his losses. Ottley, ; see also biographies by J. Zollinger , repr. Dillon All Sacramento was once mine. John Augustus Sutter has been heralded as one of the heroes of America's westward expansion. According to popular history, Sutter left Europe for the American frontier, where he realized his dream of creating an empire in the Sacramento Valley of the Mexican territory of California.

At his California colony—named New Helvetia—Sutter welcomed the immigrants who streamed into the territory, especially after gold was discovered at his mill on the American River. However, Sutter claimed that miners ignored his claim to the land and deprived him of the wealth that should have come his way. Today he is remembered as one of the founding fathers of the state of California. However, recent historians have established that Sutter was no saint: He built his reputation in America on a foundation of lies and borrowed money.

He enslaved and mistreated the Native Americans who helped build New Helvetia. His mismanagement of his California empire was so complete that it led to financial failure. Despite all his faults, Sutter did play a pivotal role in opening California for American settlement.

Sutter's story, then, is like many Western stories—it combines myth with reality, and it helps us understand that the settlement of the West was often based on luck, corruption, and lies. His father, Johann Jakob Suter, served as a foreman in a paper mill. His mother, Christina Wilhelmina Stober, was the daughter of a pastor. He loved the romance and pageantry of the military, although he was never made an officer in the Swiss army as he later claimed in America. He also began an apprenticeship a period of learning under an experienced tradesman as a publisher, printer, and bookseller.

After leaving school, Sutter became a clerk in a draper's shop in the Swiss town of Aarburg. He worked at several jobs, including grocery clerk.


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On October 24, , he and Anna were married; the next day, Anna gave birth to their first child. Backed by Anna's family, Sutter opened a dry goods firm in Burgdorf. Like almost every venture Sutter ever engaged in, the business was a failure. Indeed, he piled up such an enormous debt by that it was clear he would be imprisoned for bankruptcy. In mid-May of that year he liquidated his assets, abandoned his family he now had five children , and set out for the United States. According to historian Iris H.


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When Sutter arrived in July , the United States included twenty-six states, the Midwest beyond the Missouri River was free territory, and Texas had just become an independent republic. Mexico controlled most of the Southwest—including the territory of California—and Britain, Russia, and the United States were vying for control of the Oregon Territory. To an immigrant fresh from Europe, the country seemed full of opportunity. Sutter quickly learned English, Americanized his name to John Sutter—adding the title "Captain" for good measure—and set out to build a new life.

Sutter soon headed west, spending the winter of in St. He tried farming but soon was drawn by the promise of riches to be had from trading goods on the Santa Fe Trail, which connected Missouri with the then Mexican city of Santa Fe. Sutter profited from his Santa Fe trade, though there were charges that he made money in part by cheating his trading partners. An observer of Sutter's actions in Westport claimed that Sutter exploited his Native American workers' weakness for hard liquor and showed a distinct fondness for young Shawnee women.

With his business dealings once again falling apart, Sutter escaped his debtors and set out for Oregon in April His dream, he told his fellow travelers, was to create a new community in California, a land fabled for its abundance. There were few ships sailing in this part of the world at the time, and Sutter learned that his best chance for reaching the main California port town of Yerba Buena present-day San Francisco would mean first traveling to Honolulu, Oahu, in the Hawaiian Islands which were then called the Sandwich Islands.

John Augustus Sutter

Sutter told Kamehameha and others of his plans for building a community and trading post in California. Always a good storyteller, Sutter won the confidence of the king, who then offered to send eight men Kanakas, or native Hawaiians to help in this venture. In addition, most of the merchants traveling with him eagerly vowed their support. When Sutter and his followers finally obtained passage on the ship Clementine, he felt that his dreams were within reach. Land was not free for the taking in California; first Sutter had to present his idea to Governor Juan Bautista de Alvarado at the territorial capital of Monterey, south of Yerba Buena.

Sutter told Alvarado that he wanted to build a vast fort and trading post at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, inland from present-day San Francisco. The Mexican governor, believing that Mexico would benefit from a thriving community in the midst of the undeveloped valley, was enthusiastic about Sutter's plans. He proposed that Sutter could become a Mexican citizen—and the legal owner of a vast tract of land—if he developed the land within a year.

Sutter was thus granted fifty thousand acres near the Sacramento River. Before claiming his land, Sutter traveled to various Mexican, Russian, and American outposts throughout northern California, establishing relationships that would be necessary for the trading post. Sutter, his eight Kanaka laborers, and a handful of white settlers reached the juncture of the American and Sacramento Rivers in August of What they found was not quite a wilderness—several American Indian tribes had lived off the land for hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of years—but by white standards it was an "uncivilized" land, heavily forested and home to grizzly bear , deer, and elk.

To Sutter, it seemed the ideal place to farm, graze livestock, and build a community.

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Sutter first had to make peace with the Native American groups in the area. At first, he told the Miwok, Nisenan, and other Indians that he came in peace, and he offered them employment; later, he showed the Indians the three cannons that King Kamehameha had given the pioneers, thus warning the Indians that he would not hesitate to use force if necessary. With the help of the Native Americans , Sutter constructed a massive military-style structure, known as Sutter's Fort. The fort's eighteen-foot-high and three-foot-thick walls enclosed a trading post that included shops, small "factories," and personal dwellings.

Outside the fort, farmland was cultivated, vine-yards planted, and livestock grazed. Sutter called his community New Helvetia, which means "New Switzerland. Sutter presided over his empire of New Helvetia with a mix of hospitality and despotism absolute power and authority.

To settlers—Mexican or American—who moved into the valley Sutter offered a warm welcome, a variety of goods, and cheerful assistance in getting established. He recognized that his business would profit from every settler who ventured into the region, and he did all he could to welcome newcomers. To the American Indians who performed the majority of the labor in New Helvetia, however, Sutter was neither kind nor generous. He paid his Indian laborers in coins that could only be exchanged for goods in his stores, and he never paid them well.

Worse, he was not above enslaving Indians when he needed extra labor during harvest season. Sutter even gave Indian girls to his white trading partners, a practice that most historians stop just short of calling a slave trade. In New Helvetia, however, Sutter was king and could do as he liked. In the s Sutter's empire expanded in size and power.

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Gold: Being the Marvelous History of General John Augustus Sutter by Blaise Cendrars

He tripled the size of his land holdings in when he purchased Fort Ross and the accompanying lands from the Russians. He exercised control over his holdings with the help of an Indian army of about two hundred men. This army—dressed in gaudy blue-and-green Russian uniforms—helped Sutter protect his land from Indian raids; they also coerced unwilling Indians into laboring in the fields during harvest season. In , when the growing number of American settlers in California began to revolt against Mexican rule, Sutter switched his allegiance away from the Mexicans and used his army in service of the American cause.

ISBN 13: 9780720605976

For his services Sutter was made an American citizen when California became a U. In , at the height of his influence in the region, Sutter and his workers built several mills powered by the many streams that flowed out of the mountains surrounding the valley. Sutter appointed a carpenter named James Marshall — to oversee the construction of a sawmill in the Coloma Valley, about forty-five miles from Sutter's Fort on the south fork of the American River. On the morning of January 24, , Marshall was surveying work on the mill when he spotted something sparkling in the river.

Mill construction had disturbed the earth around the riverbed, and the moving water had washed away the gravel and sand to reveal what appeared to be gold. Picking out a few small nuggets, he ran back to the mill workers and shouted, "Boys, I believe I have found a gold mine," according to Rodman W. Paul's The California Gold Discovery. The men discovered more of the gleaming, soft metal, and Marshall decided that he must present his find to Sutter. Together the two men tested the mineral. Amazingly, it was gold.

Sutter hoped that he could keep Marshall's discovery secret. But word soon spread: there was gold on the American River.

John Augustus Sutter

A group of Mormons working on a flour mill on the same river discovered a second gold mine, which became known as Mormon Island. With this discovery, gold fever spread through New Helvetia. According to J. The flour mill stood unfinished, hides rotted in the warehouse. All his plans depended on a staff of assistants, field workers, carpenters, and tanners. Suddenly they were gone, with plans of their own.

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Within a year after the initial discovery of gold, Sutter's Fort lay at the center of the greatest gold rush in American history. However, Sutter saw no profit from the boom: to him it must have seemed that the black cloud that had hovered over his previous business dealings had found him again, for gold-diggers from all over the world flocked to Sutter's property and "squatted" on his land claimed the land with no legal basis for the next three years.

Ignoring Sutter's property claims and destroying his farm and ranch land, the squatters even took Sutter to court to challenge his property claims. Since the land was granted to Sutter under Mexican authority, those rights were now under question. Forced into lengthy and expensive court battles, Sutter had to sell much of his property and mortgage borrow against the rest. By John Sutter, once one of the most powerful men in California, was bankrupt. Along with his family who had finally rejoined him in Sutter moved to a small piece of property known as Hock Farm, on the Feather River near Marysville, California.

Gold: Being the Marvellous History of General John Augustus Sutter Gold: Being the Marvellous History of General John Augustus Sutter
Gold: Being the Marvellous History of General John Augustus Sutter Gold: Being the Marvellous History of General John Augustus Sutter
Gold: Being the Marvellous History of General John Augustus Sutter Gold: Being the Marvellous History of General John Augustus Sutter
Gold: Being the Marvellous History of General John Augustus Sutter Gold: Being the Marvellous History of General John Augustus Sutter
Gold: Being the Marvellous History of General John Augustus Sutter Gold: Being the Marvellous History of General John Augustus Sutter
Gold: Being the Marvellous History of General John Augustus Sutter Gold: Being the Marvellous History of General John Augustus Sutter
Gold: Being the Marvellous History of General John Augustus Sutter Gold: Being the Marvellous History of General John Augustus Sutter

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