When the Earth was born, so were many of today’s most treasured resources. It may be tough to place a firm date on its discovery, but history tells us that our ancestors welcomed gold into their cultures as early as 4,000 B.C.
Since then, gold has continued to be a popular, highly sought-after precious metal. Used in many different arts and trades, it plays a role in our economy. Because it comes from Mother Earth herself, gold is also a rarity with intrinsic value.
Fast forward in time, gold continued to be found worldwide. The one most spoken of in history is the Gold Rush of 1848.
Who is James Wilson Marshall?
James Wilson Marshall was born on October 8, 1810. He grew up in New Jersey on the homestead in Hopewell Township. The family’s homestead was originally known as Round Mountain Farm and is known today as Marshall’s Corner.
James was a tradesman, thanks to his father. His father taught him carpentry and how to repair wooden wheels (known as a wheelwright). His great-grandfather, General James Wilson, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
James never married. Instead, he decided to pack up his belongings and head west. He settled in Missouri in the 1830s, farming along the Missouri River.
Then, headed to Oregon in the 1840s after becoming ill with malaria. But, he didn’t stay there long, traveling out to Sutter’s Fort in California, where he would become employed as a carpenter and sawmill worker.
That’s when the Mexican-American War arose.
The Mexican-American War
In May of 1846, a war arose between the United States Army and Mexico. The reason for the conflict dialed back to the Republic of Texas, which decided to join the United States.
The U.S. Army was not large, requiring volunteers to build its ranks. James Wilson became one of those volunteers.
Serving under Captain John C. Fremont, James became a part of the Bear Flag Revolt and announced California as an independent republic until it later joined the union in 1850. The Bear Flag was adopted as the state flag of California in 1911.
The war ended a few years later, in May of 1848. The result? A border was established between Texas and Mexico, plus the acquisition of what we know today as California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Wyoming!
New territory only calls for exploration, welcoming the gold rush with open arms.
The Search for a New Sawmill
When James Marshall returned to his ranch after the war, his parcel of land was lost. All of his cattle were lost or stolen, so he had no income. He returned to work with Sutter, only this time, he was tasked with finding a new location to build a sawmill. He convinced Sutter that the location he would seek would turn out to be full of riches.
In 1847, the construction began at the Colima Valley on the American River's South Fork. Local Indians from the Maidu Indian village (Collumah) and veterans from the Mexican-American war were enlisted.
The Discovery of Gold
James used erosion to deepen the channels, a process known as downcutting. It also allowed for materials and debris to be swept away from a hard day's work building the sawmill. Each night he would perform an inspection. And on January 24, 1848, he would hit the jackpot.
During a regular, routine inspection, James’ discovery changed the course of history for California and America. He caught a glimpse of what is known as the “tears of the Sun” by the Incas, gold flakes!
At first, it was one; then there were more. The flakes were sent off to be tested; you never know when Fool’s Gold may debut. But the tests proved that the gold was approximately 96% pure at its finest.
That’s when he excitedly proclaimed his discovery.
Word of mouth spread like wildfire as over 50,000 people left their jobs for the sawmill to dig along the river. Remember, cell phones and iPads were just a myth back in the day.
Information had to sail the seas, literally! As word got out, though, gold-seekers flooded the territory, anxious to strike it rich. This included those from within the state, to Native Americans, Europeans, and more.
The Unluckiest Man
Some call James Wilson Marshall the unluckiest man of the period. Sure, he discovered gold in California, launching the California Gold Rush. But for him, it may have felt like a failure.
As swarms of people searching for gold rushed to the location of his new sawmill, the sawmill failed and was later abandoned.
James became successful for a short time with a vineyard during the 1860s, but that didn’t last long either. He even became a partner for a gold mine near Kelsey, California, leading to bankruptcy as the mine did not produce expectations.
Needless to say, after making such a grand discovery, James Wilson Marshall remained destitute. He was out of money, even with a pension from the California Legislature awarded to him for his unearthing of the gold. It was a two-year pension in 1872, later extended but discontinued in 1878.
James lived the remainder of his life in a small cabin, making his keep from his garden and occasionally seeking work in saloons. He passed away on August 10, 1885. A statue was placed with James pointing to where he first discovered the gold to commemorate him.
The Impact of the California Gold Rush
The gold rush ended in 1855, and it made an enormous impact on the United States.
The gold rush:
Evoked the largest migration recorded in U.S. history. It was a revolving door in the state of California, except no one left; people just kept coming. By the 1850s, more than 300,000 non-natives arrived in the state.
Sparked rapid economic growth. The need for banks, railroads, churches, and more grew as more people flooded the state.
Qualified California for statehood in 1850.
Expanded both manufacturing and service industries. There was an increased demand in mining supplies and materials, clothing, lumber, transportation, etc.
Launched big name brands still active today. This includes financial institutions such as Wells Fargo and retailers such as Levi Strauss.
Fun Facts About the California Gold Rush
The California Gold Rush was not the first time gold was discovered in American history. Although it isn’t spoken of as large as California’s find, the award goes to North Carolina.
The gold rush inspired immigration. As the news traveled, people from South America and Asia knocked on the door first, followed by China. By 1850, 25% or more of the population was attributed to people born outside of the United States.
Women didn’t play a huge role; the majority who ran to the state for riches were men. Some women did set forth to work in the growing towns, while others headed to the East.
Miners weren’t the ones becoming affluent; it was the merchants. The trade was becoming overpopulated, so many sought to open their businesses instead.
Inflation took a toll during the gold rush. People migrating to the state didn’t carry much with them, so supply and demand took a toll. It was surely a sticker shock as they dished their hard-earned money towards necessities. For example, one egg costs the equivalent of $25!
Early San Francisco settlements were actually built out of abandoned ships. People traveled in wagons and by the sea to participate in the gold rush. In fact, the port was flooded with ships. As more and more people came, construction supplies boomed, making them expensive and hard to find. Thus, people broke down the ships and used the materials to build.
John Sutter never became rich. Even though the gold was found on his land, he left behind unpaid debt in Europe before coming to America.
The Bottom Line
Next time you visit California or any location with a nearby creek, stream, or riverbed, explore the area. Who knows, you may strike it rich, discovering gold as James Marshall had.
Or, you may just find water and other sediments (at least you tried). Or, you can purchase your own lot of gold through stocks, mutual funds, contracts, or tangibly in the form of bars or coins.
Are you interested in owning your own slice of gold history? There are many ways you can invest in gold today that won’t make a dent in your wallet. In fact, for the same price of that cup of coffee from the coffee shop (or less), you can be on your way to building financial growth with gold.
Visit AcreGold to learn more about the monthly subscription options offered for 2.5G gold bars or the larger 5G gold bar. Once enrolled, let your money do the work for you. You never need to leave your home as it is discreetly shipped to your door! Now that’s a passive income worth investing in!
Historical Impact of the California Gold Rush | Norwich University Online