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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Early History of Sacramento, California

The history of Sacramento, California, began with its founding by Samuel Brannan  and John Augustus Sutter, Jr. in 1848 around an embarcadero constructed by Sutter’s father, John A. Sutter, Sr., at the confluence of the American and Sacramento Rivers few years prior.

John A. Sutter, Sr. had developed New Helvetia as part of a Spanish Land Grant. However, after the conclusion of the Mexican-American War in 1848, Sutter's New Helvetia fell under U.S. control. A short eight years later, New Helvetia possessed a new name, Sacramento, named after the river that ran on the west side of the community, and it rose in prominence to become the capitol of the state of California.

When news of the gold discovery in Coloma reached San Francisco, a rush of hopeful prospectors began to move northwards to the Sacramento Valley, and by the middle of the year, so-called "Argonauts" flooded Sutter's holdings in search of gold. The arrival of Argonauts in the region decimated the economical integrity of Sutter's New Helvetia, as the prospectors slaughtered his herds of livestock, drove out local Native Americans loyal to Sutter, and divided New Helvetia amongst each other without Sutter's consent. Disappointed with what had become of his holdings, Sutter placed his son as head of fort business operations and retired to a different location. The real city of Sacramento was developed around a wharf, called the Embarcadero, on the confluence of the American River and Sacramento River that Sutter had developed prior to his retirement in 1849.

The junior Sutter worked to organize the city in its growth. Seeing what he considered a viable commercial opportunity in the Embarcadero, Sutter, Jr. invited military officials William H. Warner and his assistant, William Tecumseh Sherman, to survey his father's holdings for a location where he could establish a new city and create the city over a grid of numbered and lettered streets for organizational purposes. A number of businessmen, including millionaire-to-be Samuel Brannan, future California governor Peter Burnett, and George McDougall, brother of future California governor John McDougall, were attracted to the waterfront location. However, Sutter, Jr. and George McDougall disagreed over the terms of the lease of the location, and a trade war erupted between Sutter's Sacramento City and McDougall's new base of operations at Sutterville. Sutter, Sr., who had opposed many of his son's decisions, resumed control of his business affairs after Sutter, Jr. ended the competition between the two cities; trade in the area was biased toward Sacramento City as a result of Sutter, Jr.'s efforts.

Sacramento City did not have a formal government during early and mid-1849, and gambling institutions in the region sought to keep only the loose alcalde government. Unlike other settlements of its time and type, during the first few months of existence, Sacramento City did not have gambling houses and saloons until the summer of 1849. However, many city residents were swayed in favor of the gambling houses; by the fall of that year, the entire legal structure of Sacramento City was established by a large 296-vote margin on a second proposal. 

The government of California had only just reorganized itself into county units; days after the overhaul, the California State Legislature verified that Sacramento was officially recognized by means of charter in February 1850. Sacramento City later petitioned the Legislature to drop the "City" from the settlement's name, which was also granted. Sacramento City was serviced by organized public transportation via the rivers and upheld regular street maintenance by 1850.
Early Catholic Church, Sacramento
Churches also appeared early on when the Methodist Episcopalian pastor W. Grove Deal established the first church with regular services in May 1849. Catholic reverend Augustine Anderson arrived in 1850 and constructed a church in 1854, while Jews founded a synagogue called Congregation B'Nai Israel in 1852. In 1849, Edward C. Kemble moved north from San Francisco and established the city's first newspaper, The Placer Times. Kemble's newspaper disassembled three months later when Kemble was stricken with sickness. The first Sacramento theatrical stage, located in the Eagle Theatre (Sacramento, California), was founded in October 1849. The first school was organized in 1853.

However, its location caused the city to periodically fill with water. In January 1850, a major flood devastated the city. Rain from heavy storms had saturated the grounds upon which Sacramento was built, and the American and Sacramento rivers crested simultaneously.

The economic impact was significant because merchandise stationed at the Embarcadero was not secured and washed away in the flood. To resolve the problems, the city sought to resolve these problems by raising the sidewalks and buildings. Sacramento rallied behind Hardin Bigelow, who led efforts to implement emergency measures to protect the city from another disaster of that nature. Responsibility for construction of protective levees and dams won him support, and he was elected first mayor of the city. A second major flood in March 1850 was averted by Bigelow's efforts.

Fires also plagued the city. In April of the same year, the city experienced its first major fire. A second fire in November destroyed a number of commercial establishments in the city. In response to growing fear of a potential catastrophe, citizen volunteers founded California's first fire protection organization, named the "Mutual Hook and Ladder Company."
1852 Sacramento Fire-Hugo Wilhelm Arthur Nahl
October 1850 brought the arrival of the New World, a riverboat that carried news of California's admittance to the Union. It also brought the cholera epidemic that killed between 800 and 1,000 people within three weeks including between a quarter to half of the city's physicians. Nearly eighty percent of the population fled. Bodies were buried in mass graves at cemeteries across the city.

By 1852, Sutter's New Helvetia had collapsed completely, and Sutter's Fort had been abandoned. Sacramento's commerce had become reliant on coins, and the city had outgrown its unstable Gold Rush boomtown status and established itself as a full-fledged community. The Embarcadero, which had driven the growth of Sacramento from the start, no longer solely determined if the city would survive or be abandoned.

The year 1852 saw a diversification in Sacramento’s economy; pharmacies, attorney firms, brass foundries, and lingerie shops, among others, lined the streets of the city during this era. Additionally, companies were beginning to take advantage of the fish populations in the American and Sacramento Rivers, a resource that Sutter had discovered and utilized during the era of New Helvetia. The Central Valley's capacity for agriculture was also noted, and wheat surpluses that had originated in the Sacramento area were often shipped to foreign countries.

However, the city suffered a major fire the night of November 4, 1852, and nearly 85% of the city was destroyed in the fire. Like many gold field towns in the state, they also began to replace wooden structures with more fire-resistant materials like brick, stone and iron. The city adapted by implementing iron window shutters to reduce wind draft and make fires harder to spread. A second fire in 1854 destroyed twelve newly reconstructed downtown city blocks, including the city courthouse.

Sacramento Fire Department
California State Capitol

The American state of California's government met in Monterey in late 1849, the capital of the former Alta California, to conduct the first State Constitutional Convention; the seat of government was set in San Jose, although the government disliked the locale. Former Mexican general Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo promised a viable capital city at Vallejo in 1852. Vallejo was unable to sufficiently construct the city of Vallejo, and the government was moved to the city of Sacramento temporarily; after Vallejo failed again, he released himself from his contract to the state, and the government moved to Benicia until Sacramento made a bid for the capital that the Legislature accepted completely in 1854. The same year, the state legislature voted to make Sacramento the permanent state capital. Construction on the California State Capitol commenced in 1860; the structure would take fourteen years to complete.


November weddings can inspire feelings of thankfulness, but sometimes the parties and their families must work out a few kinks first. If you have not already ready read Bridgeport Holiday Brides, you may enjoy learning how two sweet romances end, and how a wedding almost didn't happen. Please CLICK HERE to learn more about the book and for the purchase link.

Zina Abbott is thankful she may enjoy her Thanksgiving holiday with her family near the Gateway to Yosemite.


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