VIPS in California during the 1800s


1803 - 1880

John Sutter arrived at Yerba Buena Cove (San Francisco) in 1839 on the Clementine from a Russian colony at Sitka.

John A. Sutter.

Sutter's travels started in 1834 when he left Burgdorf, Switzerland for New York City which was the first leg of years of travel to St. Louis, Missouri then to Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory.

By 1838 he was in Fort Vancouver in Oregon Territory, followed by sailing to Honolulu. There he boarded the Clementine and sailed for Sitka, Alaska and then to Yerba Buena, California -- also on the Clementine -- arriving in 1839.

Sutter, along with James W. Marshall, started a sawmill in Coloma on the American River. They accidentally found gold during construction and that led to California's gold rush when the Mormon newspaper publisher Samuel Brannan learned about the discovery and announced it to the world through his publications. The world overran Sutter's property, destroying much of what he had worked to build.

Marshall.s Cabin

Marshalls Cabin.

In the 1840s, Sutter had come into possession of Russian property on the coast at Fort Ross and Bodega. He purchased all the property which the Russians could not remove on leaving the country. The Russian settlement was a branch station of the Russian-American Fur Company of which the Czar of Russia was president.

This company held a charter from Old Spain authorizing it to establish stations for the purpose of taking furs along the coast near Fort Ross. Their charter having nearly expired, they sold to Sutter nearly everything, including a schooner of twenty tons burthen, forty pieces of cannon, and a old muskets, some or most of which were of those lost by Napoleon I in his retreat from Moscow. There were also about two thousand head of cattle, five hundred head of horses, and a few old buildings.

September 16, 1848, Californian

Sutter's Fort, Sacramento, California. 1847.

Sutter's Fort. Sacramento, California. 1847.

ARRIVALS. -- Our town is completely crowded with new comers, thirty five having arrived in one vessel, thirty in another and nineteen in another, while every vessel that comes bring more or less. Verily, gold is a powerful magnet. Among the passengers by the "Huntress," from New York, we notice Capt. Rufus Ingalls, of the Quarter Master's Department, Lieut. Norton, 1st Regt. N. Y. Volunteers, recently disbanded, and Mr. J. A. Sutter, Jr., son of the enterprising proprietor John Augustus Sutter of New Helvetia. The number of people in town renders all kind of lodging in great demand, and it is a moderate assertion to say that fifty persons are nightly without the comfort of a roof to sleep under.

November 15, 1849, Janesville Gazette, Janesville, Wisconsin

S. E. Heaton writes to his father. Patterson Heaton, Marcelline, under date of Coloma, California, August 18th:

Sutter's Mill. 1848.

We have surmounted our long journey of fatigue, and have reached the golden banks of California.

We arrived at Sutter's Mill on the South Fork of the Sacramento river, August 11th. The gold is here in abundance. Some curse the day they came here -- having worked a few days and not succeeding. We are the first company that has arrived with a wagon from our county. We had good luck all the way out, but the distress we witnessed is beyond my power to describe. Not more than half the emigrants can get through this trail; a good portion of the way the grass was dry enough to burn, and the last twenty miles the water was as salt as brine.

December 11, 1849, Huron Reflector, Norwalk, Ohio


We publish full details of the news brought by the Crescent City. The intelligence from the mines is very much the same as by previous arrivals -- an abundance of gold, but hard work to get it. Many have poor luck, and some good. A letter from San Francisco of November 1st to the Journal of Commerce, states that a party of ten from New York, turned the current of a small stream, and gathered the first day an average of $1500 in gold dust each. They continued their labors for five weeks longer, and the result was an average of $100 per day for each man!

The diggers on Trinity River seem to have been less successful than on other streams. The general business prospects are represented as being quite as encouraging as by any previous arrival; trade was brisk; some articles had advanced in prices; speculation in real estate continued, and prices were rising rather than falling. Vessels in great numbers were continuing to arrive, particularly from Asia and the east. Emigrants were arriving in vast numbers.

The Chinese were there in great numbers, brought by English vessels, and their services were sold on the Cooley system, to the highest bidder. It was said that some 3000 wagons had already arrived with overland emigrants from the States, and that 100 more were believed to be bound. Some authorities represent business matters to be settling down and assuming a healthy appearance, and express no apprehension of any crash, such-as has been feared by many of the business men this community. But, notwithstanding these encouraging accounts, we notice that the number of passengers awaiting a passage to the States is very great; enough, it is said, to fill two steamers, and several large sailing vessels, were seeking passages on the departure of the November steamer from San Francisco. The Oregonians, it is said, have found that lumbering at home is, at present at east, more promising than gold digging. They were returning from the mines, and giving their attention to lumbering in their own forests. The Constitution.

Sutter Deeds His Land

In 1848, Sutter deeded his land to John Augustus Sutter, Jr. who had arrived from Switzerland during that year. The younger Sutter had little interest in gold and moved to Mexico where he was named consul of the United States in Acapulco. (John Augustus Sutter, Jr. died in 1897 in Mexico; his remains were relocated to Sacramento in 1964.)

March 18, 1851, Sacramento Transcript, Sacramento, California

Sutter's Land Title Sustained

We learn that in a case decided yesterday in the District Court, wherein the title of John A. Sutter to the land upon which Sacramento City is located, his Honor, Judge Robinson, decided in favor of Sutter's title. The opinion, we understand, occupied two hours in its delivery, and is pronounced by the members of the Bar present to be the most erudite and able ever delivered from the bench in this community that it places Judge R. in the foremost rank of Judicial talent within the State. That it was delivered it an extemporaneous form, and not written, is a matter of extreme regret, for it is said to have investigated the subject of land titles, with a lucid analysis and a copious display of learning which would have been highly gratifying to the public for perusal, as well as have been invaluable to the Bar for future reference.

California Farmer and Journal of Useful Sciences, March 8, 1855, Volume 3, Number 10

John A. Sutter

"Oh shame, where is thy blush."

We have called California the Golden State, the bright and beautiful, the "Eureka" State, and have lauded her to the skies; and for her natural beauties, her agricultural and mineral resources, her bays and rivers, and for the ample means she possesses to make herself great for all these she deserves a bright and glorious name; but as the sun in all its brightness and glory is often obscured by clouds, and even when cloudless has spots upon its own clear face, so our own Golden State has dark stains made by her base "ingratitude" to her earliest Pioneer and her noblest friend. We believe there is no nation under heaven that would have permitted a benefactor to have suffered as John A. Sutter has suffered. When the discovery of the precious ore was made at Sutter's mill race, and thousands flocked hither, who fed the hungry and clothed the naked and sheltered the houseless? John A. Sutter.

The first discovery of gold was upon his own property, and yet instead of clutching it with the eager grasp of the miser, he rejoiced, believing good would come to the many; and while his own grounds were cut up and lost to him, and his own fields trod down and destroyed, he murmured not, but with a noble and disinterested benevolence, stood at his world-renowned "Fort," welcoming all who came; if money was wanting, he gave it; if clothing, they had it; if sick or destitute, they were made welcome and cared for. A great heart was beating for the good of his fellow man. The rush for gold and for city lots soon changed the scene. The wide fields of golden grain passed away, and a city appeared. That Fort, that should have been kept as sacred as the "Temple of Jerusalem," is a ruin, and the fair fields have passed into the hands of those whose idol is gold, and he who once swayed thousands in kindness yet in power has passed from his home and his Fort, and is now destitute and neglected. California forgets her duty. California is ungrateful. England loaded with wealth and honor the man who discovered the gold fields of Australia; and California permits John A. Sutter to pine in want, aye permits the sheriff to take away the very woodpile at his door, (for there are men in California that are heartless).

Shall such things be? Where is the humanity of our citizens? Where the gratitude? Is there no heart pulse? We would entreat, if not for humanity, for the honor and reputation of our. State.

Let it no longer be said that Republics are ungrateful. Let it not be said that monarchies have more heart than freedom. John A. Sutter's mill race revealed the gold that has changed the destinies of thousands and altered the current of trade of a world, and the author of the mill race should not be forgotten. His name should be remembered with gratitude, not for this only, but for his unbounded hospitality and his universal kindness to all who came within reach of his kindness.

California owes much to this noble Pioneer, and let her requite her obligations while life and hope are his; then shall her name and fame grow brighter, and she will deserve to be hailed as the Golden State.

Sacramento Daily Union, July 13, 1855, Sacramento, California

Sutter Claim Pamphlet -- The opinion and decree of the Board of United States Land Commissioners in the case of John A. Sutter vs. The United States, together with a correct map of the boundaries of the Sutter claim, have been published and are now ready for sale at the counter of this office. Price -- fifty cents.

Sacramento Daily Union, February 13, 1857, Sacramento, California

The Sutter Trustee Sale.

The letter of L. Sanders Jr., published yesterday, exhibits so much confidence in the legitimacy of the course he is pursuing as the Trustee of John A. Sutter, that we are induced to examine the question a little further. The interest felt by our fellow citizens in the result of the extraordinary claim set up by John A. Sutter through his Trustee, is our further justification for pursuing the subject. We referred yesterday to the fact that Sutter executed a deed to Schoolcraft, in which it was understood that he ratified and confirmed all the acts of his said agent. Those who had purchased of Schoolcraft, after this deed was made rested satisfied, as they supposed this act of the General's fully confirmed their titles. That this was the intention, is asserted by all those who were cognizant of the fact at the time. This intention also appears on the face of the instrument itself, as may be seen by reading the copy of the same which we give below. It is taken from the record.

JOHN A. SUTTER TO HENRY A. SCHOOLCRAFT. Confirmation in full. Know all men by these presents, that I, J. A. Sutter, of Hock, in the Territory of California, have this day made and concluded a final settlement with Henry A. Schoolcraft, my acknowledged agent and attorney in fact since the 28th of July, A.D. 1849, for all the business matters and things in anywise appertaining to my interest; and upon such final settlement, I do hereby acknowledge myself held and firmly bound by all his acts, as such agent and attorney in fact, for me, hereby ratifying and confirming by these presents, whatever he may have done in my name or under my seal, at any time heretofore; and also do I acknowledge the receipt in full of all sums of money, dues, obligations, and other things of the said Henry A. Schoolcraft, belonging to me on account of said agency and attorneyship in fact, and that on the part of the said Henry A. Schoolcraft there is nothing due or owing to me up to the date of these presents.

Witness my hand am! seal, at Sacramento, California, this 20th day of May, in the year of our Lord, 1850.

J.A. SUTTER (seal)

Signed, sealed and delivered in the presence of Meloches Minguet.

STATE OF CALIFORNIA, city and county of Sacramento, California On this 10th day of May, 1850, personally appeared before me John A. Sutter, to me known to be the person described in, and who executed the within instrument, and he acknowledged before me that he executed the same for the purposes therein mentioned.

I. B. MARSHALL, (seal)

Recorded in book C, page 230, May 20th, 1850.

It is understood that keen scented lawyers construe the above deed as only confirming and ratifying all such deeds and acts of Schoolcraft as were made and performed under his power of attorney, notwithstanding John A. Sutter declares, over his own hand and seal, that he ratifies and confirms all the acts of his said agent and attorney in fact, "whatsoever he may have done in my name or under my seal at any time heretofore." He also acknowledges that Schoolcraft paid him all that was his due by virtue of those sales, which is conclusive that John A. Sutter had received the compensation for which these lots were sold by Schoolcraft. Under what color, then, of right or justice can he now come forward and claim that Schoolcraft was not authorized to sell that property, and that, therefore, he disputes the title and avers through his Trustee that the property, for which he has once been paid, is still his? We reiterate, that independent of the language of the deed from Sutter to Schoolcraft, that the act itself shows conclusively that it was made expressly to ratify and confirm the acts of Schoolcraft wherein, it was then alleged, he had exceeded his powers.

His acts under and within his written power or attorney were legal without any subsequent ratification; no subsequent deed was necessary to confirm those sales, but as the legality of the sales of lots not specifically named in the original power of attorney had been doubted, John A. Sutter comes forward and voluntarily makes a deed to Schoolcraft, intended and believed to have confirmed and ratified every sale and deed made by said Schoolcraft, as the reputed agent of Sutter. Is it not, then, a matter of astonishment to find John A. Sutter now, by his Trustee, attacking his own deed to Schoolcraft, and assailing as illegal those very sales and deed made by said Schoolcraft, and which he (Sutter) intended finally to confirm in May, 1860! If these conveyances of Schoolcraft were assailed by the creditors of Sutter or by his heirs, it would produce no astonishment, but when an attempt is made by Sutter himself by his agent and attorney, people who have known mid respected the Old Pioneer for years, are amazed. The net is not in character with his past life and reputation. The General, we fear, has fallen into the hands of injudicious advisers.

And further: Whatever of interest John A. Sutter had in property in Sacramento has been sold under execution several limes by his creditors. It is not this class of creditors, we presume, who are to be benefitted by the Trusteeship of Col. Sanders. In fact, there is some curiosity manifested to see a list of the creditors who are urging John A. Sutter to acts for their benefit, which are well calculated to reflect upon his reputation as a man. They are certainly a very unreasonable class of men, or they would never ask anything of that character from a man who has been so much revered in this city as John A. Sutter.

In 1858, Sutter was still attempting to receive reimbursement for the overtaking of his property by gold seekers. He left California for Lititz, Pennsylvania, which is near Washington D.C.

Sacramento Daily Union, January 26, 1858, Sacramento, California

That Sutter Rumor

For some weeks past, rumors have been in circulation as to the mission of B. B. Redding to Washington. It has been stated that his trip was in some way connected with the Sutter case, and that General Sutter had taken some steps towards giving up his claim to the land in and around Sacramento City. But nothing definite could be learned, as those who were actors in the transaction held their consultations with doors closed.

The Bee of yesterday (whose editor is presumed to know what he says upon this question, as he is in the confidence of the Settlers) gives form and shape to previous rumors, as follows:

For some weeks past, many parties, particularly Settlers and anti-Settlers, have been on the fidget to learn what has been done in the Sutter case. It was boldly asserted that the General had made certain affidavits to the effect that he had no claim to any land in this city or vicinity, and that these had been sent on for submission to the Supreme Court. Any man of sense, however, knew that the case, so fur as the testimony is concerned, had been closed long ago, and that it could not be opened again without the consent of both parties, and probably not with their consent. So it was very properly concluded that all this amounted to nothing.

We have been at some pains to inquire into this matter, because it is a highly important one to the people of this city and many residents of the county, and learn that no depositions of the kind have been made. Other things have been done, however, which may prove to be of far greater moment.

B. B. Redding left for Washington on the steamer of the of the 5th of January, as the duly authenticated attorney in fact of General John A. Sutter, with full power to dismiss such counsel, and employ such others as he may deem proper, to argue the case before the Supreme Court, with special and peremptory commands not to ask for the confirmation of any land south of Feather River. General Sutter gives up none of his rights. He asks the confirmation to him of thirty-three leagues, as described in his patent, commencing at the Buttes, and running south to Feather river, but solemnly declares that he does not want any land confirmed to him in this city or vicinity, or in any portion of California south of that river, and instructs his attorney to ask the Court to comply with this request, and to have, if possible, an order issued to the United States Surveyor General, forbidding him to include in the survey any land south of that line. As Felch is thereon the part of the city, and Redding on the part of the claimant, both asking for the same thing, it is supposed that the Court will not confirm the land heretofore in dispute, but about which there is no longer any conflict.

If General Sutter has given the instructions to Redding detailed above after having sold the property in this city and around it, and after having contended for it before the Commissioners and the U. S. District Court, and after having testified under oath, over and over, that it was his property, and after having given his deed s for the same, in which he acknowledges the receipt of a full consideration for the same the public may well question his sanity. No man in his senses could possibly so stultify himself.

Sacramento Daily Union, August 16, 1859, Sacramento, California

The Sutter Russian Company Land Claim

Russian California. Kerry Tremain. Victor Vekselberg. Elizabeth Goldstein.

A few weeks since we stated that Colonel Muldrow, claiming under a title obtained from Captain J. A. Sutter, who claims to have derived his title from the Russian Fur Company, had laid claim to, and was offering in lots to suit, that entire tract of territory laying along the coast between Cape Mendocino and Punta Reyes, and running inland three Spanish leagues. At the time of making this statement, we announced our knowledge of the affair to rest solely upon mere rumor, and therefore asked for information in the premises. Since then several notices of this claim have met our eye principally in the Alta, which paper gave quite an interesting translation from Chamisso's narrative of the Russian exploring vessel Rurik, and which went to show the the Russians never owned this land. In a subsequent date of that paper appears the following extract from Fremont's Narrative, it being presumed that Colonel Fremont obtained his information from Captain Sutter himself:

A few years since, the Russian settlement of Ross being about to be withdrawn from the country, sold to him (Captain Sutter) a large number of stock, with agricultural and other stores, with a number of pieces of artillery and other munitions of war; for these a regular yearly payment is made in grain.

As an offset to the above, and as partial proof of Mr. Muldrow's right to the possession of the territory claimed, we will give the following documents, which have been sent us in compliance to the published request for information; merely premising that it is not for us to say in whom the real title to the land was and is invested. If originally in the Russian Fur Company, as their deed or bill of sale to to Captain Sutter claims, then it now probably rests with Muldrow, Moore, Welty and Sutter, to whom Captain Sutter by a deed bearing date of May 20th, 1859, "for and in consideration of the release of a mortgage on Hock Farm by said Muldrow, and six thousand seven hundred dollars," sold and conveyed six-eighths, the remainder of which he still holds. This deed is signed by John A. Sutter, Anna Sutter and A. Eliza English, and is recorded in book No. 8 of deeds of Sonoma county, pages 702 and 703. If, on the contrary, the Russian Fur Company had no just claim to the land, but set up and sold to Captain Sutter a claim to land really belonging to another party, receiving therefore the sum of $30,000 then Sutter, Muldrow, and their associates, have been nicely "sold" by these "barbarians of the north." Of the probable validity of this claim, it is quite possible our fellow-citizen, General M. G. Vallejo, may have certain knowledge. His long residence in this country, combined with his official position, would warrant such a conclusion indeed, it is said he was at one time contemplating the purchase from the company of Fort Ross, having offered the same amount paid by Captain Sutter.

As an injunction, restraining Muldrow from disposing of certain portions of the claim, has been granted, we shall probably "in the fullness of time," know who is and who is not the real owner. We will therefore close this notice with the following documents:

Translation of the Grant from
The Russian American Fur Company to
Captain J. A. Sutter

I, the undersigned, employee of the Government of the Russian Empire, and Commandant of Fort Ross, on the coast, do by these presents certify that the establishment embracing on the north the lands adjacent to Cape Mendocino, and on the south the lands adjacent to Punto de los Reyes or Cape Drake, and extending back from the shore three Spanish leagues, and of which property the Russian American Fur Company has had and held possession from the year A.D. 1812 to the year 1841, or twenty-nine years, has been ceded by said company for the consideration of $30,000 to Monsieur le Captain Sutter, and delivered into his indisputable possession, with all the lands personable, and other immovable property not herein enumerated. Said company relying for their power and right in the premises upon the institutions and spirit of the laws sanctified by Spain and Mexico. The said transfer of the said establishment of Ross was effected during the time that I occupied the position of Commandant of the establishment, and by my own free cooperation, this, the I2th day of December, A. D, 1841.

Commandant do le fortife.
A.R. Ross Leo' les Co. etcs de le California.

Know all men by these presents, that we, John A. Sutter and William Benitz, have this day entered into the following contract: John A. Sutter does grant to William Benitz the privilege of occupying the establishment of Ross for such a length of time as the said William Benitz may desire, together with all the profits arising from the produce, such as grain, fruits, vegetables, or anything which be may cultivate; also, the use of tools and farming utensils, such as there may be there; also, the profits and benefits arising from all tie crops now in the ground; and, also, to furnish him, should there not be already sufficient, provisions until the first of July next ensuing the date hereof. William Benitz does agree, in consideration of the above privilege, to be responsible for the property of the establishment, such as buildings, tools, farming utensils, and everything as delivered to him by Samuel Smith, formerly in charge of the establishment.

Said William Benitz does further agree to hold possession of the promises as agent for John A. Sutter, to whom said premises belong, and in no manner to permit any other person to interfere with the management or control of the affairs or business granted to him by this document.

Should the said John A. Sutter be able to send for, or get away from, Ross, a small portion of the fruit of the orchard, not exceeding one-third part, he reserves to himself the privilege thereof. Should the said William Benitz desire at any time to resign the charge of the establishment, he must notify said John A. Sutter at least four months previous to resigning the charge and occupancy of the establishment. In witness whereof we hereunto set our hands and seals, New Helvetia, Upper California, this 14th day of May 1845.


Signed, sealed and delivered in the presence of J. Bidwell.
The above lease is recorded in Book A, of Powers of Attorney of Sonoma county, page 22, Petaluma Journal.

San Francisco Call, September 20, 1890, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Last of His Name

Alphonse Sutter, grandson and only living descendant of General John A. Sutter, has filed a petition in insolvency. His indebtedness amounts to $2078.86. There are no assets.

The Annals of San FranciscoTales of Early San Francisco.Stories of Early San Francisco.
Frank Soule, John H. Gihon, Jim Nisbet. 1855
Written by three journalists who were witnesses to and participants in the extraordinary events they describe. The Annals of San Francisco is both an essential record for historians and a fascinating narrative for general readers. Over 100 historical engravings are included.
Partial Contents: Expeditions of Viscaino; Conduct of the Fathers towards the natives; Pious Fund of California; Colonel John C. Fremont; Insurrection of the Californians; Description of the Golden Gate; The Mission and Presidio of San Francisco; Removal of the Hudson's Bay Company; Resolutions concerning gambling; General Effects of the Gold Discoveries; Third Great Fire; Immigration diminished; The Chinese in California; Clipper Ships; Increase of population; and Commercial depression.

San Francisco, You're History!
A Chronicle of the Politicians, Proselytizers, Paramours, and Performers Who Helped Create California's Wildest City
San Francisco Artists.California Performers.
J. Kingston Pierce
Seattle-based writer Pierce presents a fascinating view of a variety of colorful people and events that molded the unique environment of San Francisco. He chronicles historical highlights: the Gold Rush, earthquakes, and fires and introduces the lives of politicians, millionaires, criminals, and eccentrics.

Click for a Selection of California History BooksCalifornia History.
including the "Historical Atlas of California," with nearly five hundred historical maps and other illustrations -- from sketches drawn in the field to commercial maps to beautifully rendered works of art. This lavishly illustrated volume tells the story of California's past from a unique visual perspective. It offers an informative look at the transformation of the state prior to European contact through the Gold Rush and up to the present. The maps are accompanied by a concise narrative and by extended captions that elucidate the stories and personalities behind their creation.

Artful Players: Artistic Life in Early San FranciscoArtistic Life in Early San Francisco.
Birgitta Hjalmarson
Artists in early California.With a handful of wealthy Gold Rush barons as indulgent patrons, an active community of artists appeared in nineteenth-century San Francisco almost overnight. A subculture of artistic brilliance and social experimentation was the result -- in essence, a decades-long revelry that purportedly ended with the 1906 earthquake. Witness Jules Tavernier, hungry and in debt, accepting a stuffed peacock and two old dueling pistols in payment for a Yosemite landscape; Mark Twain as reluctant art critic.

Publications About San Francisco, including Infinite City
What makes a place? Rebecca Solnit's reinvention of the traditional atlas, searches out the answer by examining the many layers of meaning in one place, the San Francisco Bay Area. Aided by artists, writers, cartographers, and twenty-two gorgeous color maps, each of which illuminates the city and its surroundings as experienced by different inhabitants, Solnit offers views that will change the way we think about place. She explores the area thematically -- connecting, for example, Eadweard Muybridge's foundation of motion-picture technology with Alfred Hitchcock's filming of Vertigo. She finds landmarks and treasures -- butterfly habitats, murders, blues clubs, Zen Buddhist centers. She details the cultural geographies of the Mission District, the culture wars of the Fillmore, South of Market . . . This atlas of the imagination invites us to search out the layers of San Francisco that carry meaning for us.


The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.






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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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