Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Sutter, John Augustus

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SUTTER, John Augustus, pioneer, b. in Kandern, Baden, 15 Feb., 1803; d. in Washington, D. C., 17 June, 1880. He was of Swiss parentage, and his family name was originally Suter. He was graduated at the military college at Berne in 1823, entered the French service as an officer of the Swiss guard, and served in 1823-'4 through the Spanish campaign. In 1834 he emigrated to this country and settled in St. Louis. Afterward he carried on at Santa Fé a profitable trade with Indians and trappers, whose accounts of California induced him in 1838 to cross the Rocky mountains. He first went to Oregon, descended Columbia river to Fort Vancouver, and thence sailed to the Sandwich islands, where he purchased a vessel and went to Sitka, Alaska. After disposing of his cargo to advantage there, he sailed along the Pacific coast, and on 2 July, 1839, was stranded in the Bay of Yerba Buena (now San Francisco). Penetrating into the interior amid great difficulties, he founded in the same year the earliest white settlement on the site of Sacramento, received a considerable grant of land from the Mexican government, and in 1841 built a fort, calling it New Helvetia, which was afterward the first settlement that was reached by overland emigrants to California. The Mexican government appointed him governor of the northern frontier country, but, as he favored the annexation of California to the United States, the Mexicans regarded him with suspicion. When Capt. Charles Wilkes's exploring expedition reached San Francisco, Sutter gave him aid and information, and he extended a similar welcome to John C. Frémont and his party. When California was ceded to the United States in February, 1848, Sutter was the owner of a large tract of land, many thousands of cattle, and other property, but the discovery of gold on his estate near Coloma, El Dorado co., at the same time (see Marshall, James Wilson), proved his financial ruin. His laborers deserted him, his lands were overrun by gold-diggers, and the claim he had filed for thirty-three square leagues, which had been allowed by the commissioners, was decided against him on appeal to the supreme court. Despoiled of his property and reduced to want, he was granted by the California legislature a pension of $250 a month. In 1864 his homestead was burned, and in 1873 he removed to Litiz, Lancaster co., Pa. After California had been annexed to this country Sutter was elected first alcalde of his district, and a delegate to the convention to form a state constitution, and he was also an Indian commissioner. The illustration shows the mill on Sutter's property, near which gold was first discovered.


Appletons' Sutter John Augustus - mill.jpg