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Image of second floor interior of main building at Sutter's Fort in Sacramento

Captain John Sutter, an immigrant from Switzerland, arrived in California in 1839. He became a Mexican citizen in 1840 and was given the “New Helvetia” land grant of approximately 48,000 acres, approved by the Mexican government in 1841. Sutter started building his fort in 1840 to protect his settlement which he called New Helvetia. Sutter went about his vision of settling the new frontier. He learned how to farm in California and recruited immigrants for his settlement from the United States, Switzerland and Germany. In 1847 Sutter contracted with James Marshall to build a sawmill on the south fork of the American river approximately 50 miles east of Sutter’s Fort. The sawmill was almost completed when, on January 24, 1848, James Marshall discovered gold in the tailrace.

This image is of the second floor in the Central building. The Central building, a two story adobe building constructed between 1841 and 1843, is the only surviving “Sutter period” structure remaining at the reconstructed Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park in Sacramento. In this building on July 4, 1848, Sutter entertained Col. Richard B. Mason, military governor of California, and his aide, Lt. William Tecumsah Sherman (of Civil War fame), at a dinner in celebration of the Fourth of July. Mason and Sherman were on route to the newly discovered gold mines of the American River to gather information for a report to the United States government. Based on Mason's report, President Polk confirmed the California gold discovery in a December 1848 message to congress. The President's confirmation triggered the 1849 gold rush.

The gold discovery and ensuing gold rush did not bring wealth to Captain Sutter. Sutter’s empire was destroyed by the onslaught of 49ers. In late 1849 Sutter sold his fort for $7,000 and moved to his ranch near Marysville, California with his wife and children. In 1865 his home at the ranch burned down. He then decided to try to obtain reimbursement from the United States Congress for his help in colonizing the State of California; his aid to emigrants; and his losses from having his Sobrante Land Grant declared invalid by the courts. He and his family moved to Lititz, Pennsylvania in 1871 and he lobbied Congress for several years. On June 16, 1880 Congress adjourned without passing a bill that would have given Captain Sutter $50,000 as reimbursement. Two days later John Sutter died.

Link to Wikipedia page on Sutter's Fort.

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