Definitions

John Sutter

John Sutter

[suht-er, soo-ter]
Johann Augustus Sutter (February 28 1803June 18 1880) was a Swiss pioneer of California known for his association with the California Gold Rush by the discovery of gold by James W. Marshall and the mill making team at Sutter's Mill, and for establishing Sutter's Fort in the area that would eventually become Sacramento, the state's capital. Although famous throughout California for his association with the Gold Rush, Sutter ironically died almost poor, having seen his business ventures fail while those of his elder son, John Augustus Sutter Jr., prospered.

Biography

Early years

Johann Augustus Sutter was born on February 28 1803 in Kandern, Baden, Germany, when his father came from the nearby town of Rünenberg in Switzerland. He went to school in Neuchâtel, Switzerland and later joined the Swiss army, eventually becoming captain of the artillery. Debts incurred in business dealings, however, compelled Sutter to leave Europe for the United States. In May 1834, he left his wife and seven-year-old child in Burgdorf, Switzerland, and with a French passport he came on board the ship Sully which travelled from Le Havre, France, to New York City where it arrived on July 14 1834.

The New World

In North America, Sutter undertook extensive travels. Before he went to U.S., he learned Spanish and English. Together with 35 Germans he moved from the St. Louis area to Santa Fe, then moving to the town of Westport. On April 1, 1838, he joined a group of missionaries, led by the fur trapper Andrew Dripps, and went along the Oregon Trail to Fort Vancouver in Oregon Territory, which he reached in October. With a few companions, he went on board the British bark Columbia which left Fort Vancouver on 11 November and laid at anchor in Honolulu on 9 December. Sutter wanted to settle in California, but the only vessel riding at anchor in the harbor was the brig Clementine — Sutter managed to be signed on as unpaid supercargo of this brig freighted with a cargo of provisions and general merchandise for the Russian colony of New Archangel, now known as Sitka, Alaska. The Clementine hoisted anchor on April 20 1839, with Sutter together with 10 Kanakas, two of them women, a few companions, and a Hawaiian bulldog. From the Russian colony at Sitka, where he stayed one month, Sutter traveled by sail to Yerba Buena, now San Francisco, at that time a tiny poor mission station. The Clementine arrived in Yerba Buena on July 1 1839.

New Helvetia

At the time of Sutter's arrival in California, the territory had a population of only 1,000 Europeans, in contrast with 30,000 Native Americans. It was at that point a part of Mexico and the governor, Juan Bautista Alvarado, granted him permission to settle; in order to qualify for a land grant, Sutter became a Mexican citizen on August 29 1840 - the following year, on 18 June, he received title to 48,827 acres (198 km²). Sutter named his settlement New Helvetia, or "New Switzerland," after the homeland of his father. Sutter employed various Native Americans of the Miwok and Maidu tribes, Kanakas and Europeans at his compound, which he called Sutter's Fort; he envisioned creating an agricultural utopia, and for a time the settlement was in fact quite large and prosperous. It was for a period the destination for most California-bound immigrants, including the ill-fated Donner Party, whom Sutter attempted to rescue.

A Francophile, Sutter threatened to raise the French flag over California and place New Helvetia under French protection, but in 1847 the Mexican land was handed over to the United States. Sutter at first supported the establishment of an independent California Republic but when United States troops briefly seized control of his fort, Sutter did not resist because he was outnumbered.

In 1848 gold was discovered near his sawmill in Coloma, along the American River. Sutter's attempt at keeping this quiet failed when merchant and newspaper publisher Samuel Brannan returned from Sutter's Mill to San Francisco with gold he had acquired there and began publicizing the find. Masses of people overran the land and destroyed nearly everything Sutter had worked for. In order to keep from losing everything, however, Sutter deeded his remaining land to his son, John Augustus Sutter Jr.. The younger Sutter, who had come from Switzerland and joined his father in September 1848, saw the commercial possibilities of the land and promptly started plans for building a new city he named Sacramento, after the Sacramento River. The elder Sutter deeply resented this because he had wanted the city to be named Sutterville and be built near his New Helvetia domain.

Land grant challenge

Sutter's El Sobrante land grant was challenged by the Squatter's Association, and in 1858 the U.S. Supreme Court denied its validity. Sutter sought reimbursement of his losses associated with the Gold Rush. He received a pension of US$250 a month not as a reimbursement of taxes paid on the Sobrante grant at the time Sutter considered it his own. He and wife Nanette moved to Lititz, Pennsylvania. The proximity to Washington, D.C. along with the reputed healing qualities of Lititz Springs appealed to the aging Sutter. He also wanted his three grandchildren to have the benefits of the fine private and Moravian Schools. Sutter built his home across from the Lititz Springs Hotel; the present day General Sutter Inn. For more than fifteen years, John Sutter petitioned Congress for restitution but little was done. On June 16 1880, Congress adjourned, once again, without action on a bill which would have given Sutter US$50,000. Two days later on June 18, 1880 John Augustus Sutter died in a Washington D.C. hotel. He was returned to Lititz and is buried in the Moravian Cemetery. Mrs. Sutter died the following January and is buried with him.

Legacy

In addition to the links found below, Sutter Street in downtown San Francisco, California is named after him. Sutter's Landing, Sutterville Rd., Sutter Middle School, and Sutterville Elementary School in Sacramento are all named after him. The Sutterville Bend of the Sacramento River is also named after him. Sutter Medical Foundation, a non-profit medical system in Northern California also takes its name in honor of Sutter. The City Sutter Creek, California is also named after him.

In literature

Scholarly studies

  • Albert L. Hurtado, John Sutter: A Life on the North American Frontier (2006) University of Oklahoma Press, 416 pp. ISBN 0-8061-3772-X.

Fiction

Films

Music

See also

References

External links

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