James W. Marshall

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James W. Marshall Biography

The following biography is from Wikipedia.org “The Free Encyclopedia.”


James Wilson Marshall (October 8, 1810 - August 10, 1885) was an American carpenter and sawmill operator, whose discovery of gold in the American River in California in January 1848 set the stage for the California Gold Rush.



James Marshall was born in Lambertville, New Jersey on October 8, 1810. He left New Jersey at age twenty-four (after the death of his father) and headed west. He settled in Missouri after the Platte Purchase, and began farming along the Missouri River. It was there that he contracted malaria, a common affliction in the area. On the advice of his doctor, Marshall left Missouri in the hopes of improving his health. He joined an emigrant train heading west and arrived in Oregon's Willamette Valley in the spring of 1845. He left Oregon in June 1845 and headed south, eventually reaching Sutter's Fort, California in mid-July.


It was here Marshall met John Sutter, the founder of the Sutter's Fort, an agricultural settlement. Sutter was also the alcalde of the area, as California was still a Mexican possession in 1845. Sutter hired Marshall to assist with work around the fort (carpentry, primarily). He also helped Marshall buy land near the Sacramento River and provided him with cattle.


Not long after Marshall began his second stint as a farmer, the Mexican-American War began in 1846. Marshall volunteered and served under Captain John Fremont during the Bear Flag Revolt. When he returned to his ranch in early 1847 he discovered that all his cattle had either strayed or been stolen. With his sole source of income gone, Marshall lost his land and was forced to go back to work for Sutter.


His first job was to scout the area for a suitable location for a sawmill. He eventually decided upon Coloma, located roughly 40 miles upstream of the fort. He proposed his plan to Sutter, who contracted Marshall on August 27 to supervise construction at the site. His crew consisted mainly of local Native Americans and Mormons on their way to Salt Lake City.


Construction continued into January 1848, when it was discovered that the tailrace portion of the mill was too narrow and shallow for the volume of water needed to operate the saw. Marshall decided to use the natural force of the river to excavate the tailrace. This could only be done at night, so as not to endanger the lives of the men working on the mill during the day. Every morning Marshall examined the results of the previous night's excavation.


On the morning of January 24 (although different dates have been given), Marshall was examining the channel below the mill when he noticed some shiny flecks in the channel bed. As later recounted by Marshall:


I picked up one or two pieces and examined them attentively; and having some general knowledge of minerals, I could not call to mind more than two which in any way resembled this --sulphuret of iron, very bright and brittle; and gold, bright, yet malleable. I then tried it between two rocks, and found that it could be beaten into a different shape, but not broken. I then collected four or five pieces and went up to Mr. Scott (who was working at the carpenters bench making the mill wheel) with the pieces in my hand and said, "I have found it."

"What is it?" inquired Scott.

"Gold," I answered.

"Oh! no," returned Scott, "that can't be."

I replied positively,--"I know it to be nothing else."


The metal was confirmed to be gold after members of Marshall's crew performed tests on the metal; boiling it in a lye solution and hammering it to test its maleability. Marshall, still primarily concerned with the completion of the sawmill, permitted his crew to search for gold in their free time.


By the time Marshall returned to Sutter's Fort, four days later, the war had ended and California was about to become an American possession. Marshall shared his discovery with Sutter, who performed further tests on the gold and told Marshall that it was "of the finest quality, of at least 23 carats."


News of the discovery soon reached around the world. The immediate impact for Marshall was negative. His sawmill failed when the all able-bodied men in the area abandoned everything to search for gold. Before long, arriving hordes of prospectors forced him off his land. Marshall soon left the area.


Marshall returned to Coloma in 1857 and found some success in the 1860s with a vineyard he started. That venture ended in failure towards the end of the decade, due mostly to higher taxes and increased competition. He returned to prospecting in the hopes of finding success.


He became a partner in a gold mine near Kelsey, California but the mine yielded nothing and left Marshall practically bankrupt. The California State Legislature awarded him a two-year pension in 1872 in recognition of his role in an important era in California history. It was renewed in 1874 and 1876 but lapsed in 1878. Marshall, penniless, eventually ended up in a small cabin, earning money from a small subsistence garden.


James Wilson Marshall died in Kelsey on August 10, 1885. His body was brought to Coloma and buried on the property where he had owned his vineyard. The grave was in a hill that overlooked the south fork of the American River. In May 1890 a monument was erected over his gravesite. A statue of Marshall stands on top of the monument, pointing to the spot where he made his discovery in 1848.


In 1927, California's government named the one-acre parcel where Marshall's vineyard stood the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. In 1967, Marshall's boyhood home in Lambertville was saved from demolition and has been restored. The Marshall House now houses an extensive collection of archived items and documents pertaining not only to the Marshall family, but also to the history of Lambertville.





The above biography has been copied in part or in whole from an article on Wikipedia.org "The Free Encyclopedia."  It has been modified under the NGU Free Document License Section 5 in the following manner: (1) All links within the article have been removed, including text links such as "[#]"; (2) The "[Edit]" text and link have been removed [if you would like to update the article, you may do so from the original page]; (3) the table of Contents links and text have been removed; and (4) all of the sections of the original article have not been copied. All of the above text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Document License.

URL of Original Article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Marshall_%28gold_rush%29

Date Article Copied: March 17, 2006

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