In the early 1840s, California was a distant outpost that few Americans had seen. John Sutter (right) was a Swiss emigrant who had come to California in 1839 with the idea of building a vast empire. At the end of 1847, Sutter sent a group of men, including James Marshall, to build a new saw mill near the river. On January 24th, 1848 the saw mill was nearly complete when Marshall spotted something shining in the river.
The metal was tested and confirmed as gold. However, Sutter wanted the area to be his empire and did not want to attract others to the area so it was decided to keep the discovery secret. But it was not long before news of the discovery leaked out. After a brief period in the East America the California Gold Rush of 1848–49 in the Sierra Nevada, captured the popular imagination. The California gold rush led directly to the settlement of California by Americans and the rapid entry of that state into the union in 1850. The gold rush that followed was to make California the richest state in America.
The gold rush in 1849 stimulated worldwide interest in prospecting for gold, and led to new rushes in Australia, South Africa, Wales and Scotland. Successive gold rushes occurred in western North America, gradually moving north: Fraser Canyon, the Cariboo district and other parts of British Columbia, and the Rocky Mountains.
Resurrection Creek, near Hope, Alaska was the site of Alaska's first gold rush more than a century ago, and placer mining continues today.
Other notable Alaska Gold Rushes were Nome and the Forty Mile River. One of the last "great gold rushes" was the Klondike Gold Rush in Canada's Yukon Territory (1898–99).
Sailing to California at the beginning of the Gold Rush
One place which saw a great deal of Cornish immigration was Grass Valley, home to one of California’s richest mines (the Empire Mine). In 1894 over 60% of the 6,000 population of Grass Valley was thought to be from Cornwall. It is now twinned with the Cornish town of Bodmin. In the 1830s lead mining opportunities in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, started to attract Cornish immigrants and their families. By 1845, roughly half the town’s population had Cornish ancestry. Today, Mineral Point remains proud of its Cornish heritage and is twinned with the Cornish town of Redruth. There are estimated to be close to 2 million people of Cornish descent in the USA.