Sutter Fort

Sutter Fort

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Johann Sutter made trading trips to Sante Fe (1835 and 1836) before deciding to join a group of missionaries who wanted to move to Oregon in 1838. His journey took him along the Oregon Trail to Fort Vancouver. In 1839 he moved to Yerba Buena (San Francisco), that was under the control of Mexico.

The following year Sutter established the colony of Nueva Helvetia (New Switzerland), which became a centre for trappers, traders and settlers in the region. The venture was a great success and within a couple of years Sutter was a wealthy businessman. Sutter had tremendous power over the area and admitted: "I was everything, patriarch, priest, father and judge." The historian, Josiah Royce, has commented: "In character, Sutter was an affable and hospitable visionary, of hazy ideas, with a great liking for popularity, and with a mania for undertaking too much."

Johann Sutter purchasing 49,000 acres at the junction of the Feather and Sacramento rivers in 1841. This site dominated three important routes: the inland waterways from San Francisco, the trail to California across the Sierra Nevada and the Oregon-California road. John Bidwell was the head of a wagon train from Missouri when he arrived in California in October 1841: "Sutter received us with open arms and in a princely fashion, for he was a man of the most polite address and the most courteous manners, a man who could shine in any society. Moreover, our coming was not unexpected to him. It will be remembered that in the Sierra Nevada one of our men named Jimmy John became separated from the main party. It seems that he came on into California, and, diverging into the north, found his way down to Sutter’s settlement... Through this man Sutter heard that our company of thirty men were already somewhere in California. He immediately loaded two mules with provisions taken out of his private stores, and sent two men with them in search of us."

Sutter now decided to build a frontier trading post at modern day Sacramento. Completed in 1843 Sutter's Fort had adobe walls eighteen feet high. Described as a "European-style fort - thick walls, gun towers, a great gate, the most ambitious fortification in California to that time". The fort had shops, houses, mills and warehouses. He also had blacksmiths, millers, bakers, carpenters, gunsmiths and blanket-makers.

William Sherman was another visitor to Sutter's Fort: "At that time there was not the sign of a habitation there or thereabouts, except the fort, and an old adobe-house, east of the fort, known as the hospital. The fort itself was one of adobe-walls, about twenty feet high, rectangular in form, with two-story block-houses at diagonal corners. The entrance was by a large gate, open by day and closed at night, with two iron ship’s guns near at hand. Inside there was a large house, with a good shingle-roof, used as a storehouse, and all round the walls were ranged rooms, the fort-wall being the outer wall of the house. The inner wall also was of adobe. These rooms were used by Captain Sutter and by his people. He had a blacksmith’s shop, carpenter’s shop, etc., and other rooms where the women made blankets. Sutter was monarch of all he surveyed, and authority to inflict punishment even unto death, a power he did not fail to use. He had horses, cattle, and sheep, and of these he gave liberally and without price to all in need. He caused to be driven into our camp a beef and some sheep, which were slaughtered for our use."

Lansford Hastings wrote in 1845: "Captain Sutter's fort, on the Sacramento, and the other, at a farm about forty miles above that place, about the same time, that the main body of the party, arrived at the Sacramento, opposite New Helvetia, the whole company, received every possible attention, from all the foreigners in California, and especially, from Captain Sutter, who rendered every one of the party, every assistance in his power; and it really appeared, to afford him the greatest delight, to be thus enabled, to render important aid, to citizens of his former, adopted country."

In 1847 Johann Sutter and James Marshall went into partnership in the building of a sawmill at Coloma, on the South Fork of the American River, upstream from Sutter's Fort, about 115 miles northeast of San Francisco. Another man who worked for Sutter, John Bidwell, commented that "rafting sawed lumber down the cañons of the American river was a such a wild scheme... that no other man than Sutter would have been confiding and credulous to believe it practical."

On 24th January, 1848, Marshall noticed some sparkling pebbles in the gravel bed of the tailrace his men had dug alongside the river to move the water as quickly as possible beneath the mill. He later recalled: "While we were in the habit at night of turning the water through the tail race we had dug for the purpose of widening and deepening the race, I used to go down in the morning to see what had been done by the water through the night...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, 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."

That night Johann Sutter recorded in his diary: "Marshall arrived in the evening, it was raining very heavy, but he told me he came on important business. After we was alone in a private room he showed me the first specimens of gold, that is he was not certain if it was gold or not, but he thought it might be; immediately I made the proof and found that it was gold. I told him even that most of all is 23 carat gold. He wished that I should come up with him immediately, but I told him that I have to give first my orders to the people in all my factories and shops."

The gold was then showed to William Sherman: "I touched it and examined one or two of the larger pieces... In 1844, I was in Upper Georgia, and there saw some native gold, but it was much finer than this, and it was in phials, or in transparent quills; but I said that, if this were gold, it could be easily tested, first, by its malleability, and next by acids. I took a piece in my teeth, and the metallic lustre was perfect. I then called to the clerk, Baden, to bring an axe and hatchet from the backyard. When these were brought I took the largest piece and beat it out flat, and beyond doubt it was metal, and a pure metal. Still, we attached little importance to the fact, for gold was known to exist at San Fernando, at the south, and yet was not considered of much value."

James Marshall continued with building the saw-mill: "About the middle of April the mill commenced operation, and, after cutting a few thousand feet of lumber was abandoned; as all hands were intent upon gold digging." John Sutter later recalled: "Soon as the secret was out my laborers began to leave me, in small parties first, but then all left, from the clerk to the cook, and I was in great distress... What a great misfortune was this sudden gold discovery for me! It has just broken up and ruined my hard, restless, and industrious labors, connected with many dangers of life, as I had many narrow escapes before I became properly established."

This started the Californian Gold Rush and by the end of 1849 over 100,000 people from all over America had arrived in search of gold. William Sherman reported: "Already the gold-mines were beginning to be felt. Many people were then encamped, some going and some coming, all full of gold-stories, and each surpassing the other." Sutter's men also joined the Gold Rush and he was now unable to protect his property. His sheep and cattle were stolen and his land was occupied by squatters. In 1852 Sutter went bankrupt and it was not until 1864 that he received compensation from the state of California.

Captain Sutter's fort, on the Sacramento, and the other, at a farm about forty miles above that place, about the same time, that the main body of the party, arrived at the Sacramento, opposite New Helvetia, the whole company, received every possible attention, from all the foreigners in California, and especially, from Captain Sutter, who rendered every one of the party, every assistance in his power; and it really appeared, to afford him the greatest delight, to be thus enabled, to render important aid, to citizens of his former, adopted country. All those who went with me to California, as well as all other foreigners, who are residing there, are extremely delighted with the country; and determined to remain there, and make California the future home, not only of themselves, but also, of all their friends, and relatives, upon whom, they can possibly prevail, to exchange the sterile hills, bleak mountains, chilling winds, and piercing cold, of their native lands, for the deep, rich and productive soil, and uniform, mild and delightful climate, of this unparalleled region. This delightful country, will form the subject of several successive chapters, which it is believed, will fully show, that the casual allusions, heretofore made to this country, are, by no means, mere, gratuitous exaggerations.

At that time there was not the sign of a habitation there or thereabouts, except the fort, and an old adobe-house, east of the fort, known as the hospital. He caused to be driven into our camp a beef and some sheep, which were slaughtered for our use.

Already the gold-mines were beginning to be felt. Many people were then encamped, some going and some coming, all full of gold-stories, and each surpassing the other. We found preparations in progress for celebrating the Fourth of July, then close at hand, and we agreed to remain over to assist on the occasion; of course, being the high officials, we were the honored guests. People came from a great distance to attend this celebration of the Fourth of July, and the tables were laid in a large room inside the storehouse of the fort. A man of some note, named Sinclair, presided, and after a substantial meal and a reasonable supply of brandy we then began the toasts. All that I remember is that Folsom and I spoke for our party; others, Captain Sutter included, made speeches, and before the celebration was over Sutter was enthusiastic, and many others showed the effects of the brandy.

Sutter’s Fort

John Augustus Sutter was born in Europe to Swiss-German parents in 1803. Sutter immigrated to America. In 1839 he received a 48,000-acre land grant in the Sacramento Valley from the Mexican government. It was here he built an empire known as New Helvetia (New Switzerland.) The walls were 2 1/2 feet thick and 15 to 18 feet high, and he developed flourishing crops, such as grapes and wheat. Sutter aligned himself with the Mexican authorities, at one point, with his various land grants Sutter owned more than 150,000 acres of the Central Valley. He was known as a generous host that word traveled quickly and his fort became a destination to people immigrating to California. He hosted such colorful and historically important characters as John C. Fremont and Kit Carson as well. In 1848, a carpenter working for Sutter, discovered gold at the sawmill Sutter was having built in Coloma, on the American River. Before the mill could be finished, word of the discovery was out. Less than a decade after they were established, Sutter’s properties were overrun by gold seekers and the fort is all that remains of New Helvetia. The Native Sons of the Golden West were influential in the restoration of the Fort which began in 1891 and was completed in 1893. With the Fort being donated to the State of California, it became a part of the California State Park System in 1947. Sutter's Fort stands as the oldest restored Fort in the United States. Today, the Fort is furnished and reconstructed to reflect its 1846 appearance, and is open for self guided tours.

Gold discovered at Sutter’s Creek

A millwright discovers gold along the banks of Sutter’s Creek in California, forever changing the course of history in the American West.

A tributary to the South Fork of the American River in the Sacramento Valley east of San Francisco, Sutter’s Creek was named for a Swiss immigrant who came to Mexican California in 1839. John Augustus Sutter became a citizen of Mexico and won a grant of nearly 50,000 acres in the lush Sacramento Valley, where he hoped to create a thriving colony. He built a sturdy fort that became the center of his first town, New Helvetia, and purchased farming implements, livestock, and a cannon to defend his tiny empire. Copying the methods of the Spanish missions, Sutter induced the local Indians to do all the work on his farms and ranches. Workers who dared leave his empire without permission were often brought back by armed posses to face brutal whippings or even execution.

In the 1840s, Sutter’s Fort became the first stopping-off point for overland Anglo-American emigrants coming to California to build farms and ranches. Though sworn to protect the Mexican province from falling under the control of the growing number of Americans, Sutter recognized that his future wealth and influence lay with these Anglo settlers. With the outbreak of the Mexican War in 1846, he threw his support to the Americans, who emerged victorious in the fall of 1847.

With the war over and California securely in the hands of the United States, Sutter hired the millwright James Marshall to build a sawmill along the South Fork of the American River in January 1848. In order to redirect the flow of water to the mill’s waterwheel, Marshall supervised the excavation of a shallow millrace. On the morning of January 24, 1848, Marshall was looking over the freshly cut millrace when a sparkle of light in the dark earth caught his eye. Looking more closely, Marshall found that much of the millrace was speckled with what appeared to be small flakes of gold, and he rushed to tell Sutter. After an assayer confirmed that the flakes were indeed gold, Sutter quietly set about gathering up as much of the gold as he could, hoping to keep the discovery a secret. However, word soon leaked out and, within months, the largest gold rush in the world had begun.

Legends of America

Sutter’s Fort, California by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Arriving in California in 1839, John A. Sutter applied for a land grant from the Mexican government and two years later received almost 50,000 acres in what is now present-day Sacramento. Envisioning an agricultural utopia, Sutter began to build a settlement, which he called New Helvetia, or “New Switzerland.” And to protect his new property, he built what became known as Sutter’s Fort.

Employing members of the Miwok, Maidu, and Kanakas tribes, the fort included 18-foot walls that surrounded shops, houses, mills, and craftsmen.

Surrounding the fort the land was filled with crops such as grapes and wheat, along with vast herds of cattle. Completed about 1843 and strategically situated on the Oregon-California Trail and near the inland waterways from San Francisco, it soon became the primary destination for most California-bound immigrants, including the ill-fated Donner Party who Sutter attempted to rescue.

Sutter’s settlement rapidly grew and prospered as immigrants trappers and traders traveled through or settled in the area. Within just a few years, Sutter was the wealthiest and most influential man in the region and even he would later admit: “I was everything, patriarch, priest, father, and judge.”

But, for John Sutter, his life was to come crashing down around him when James Marshall discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill in January 1848. As word quickly spread, some 80,000 miners flooded the area, extending up and down the length of the Sacramento Valley and overrunning Sutter’s domain. Sutter’s employees also joined the Gold Rush and he was unable to protect his property. In no time, his sheep and cattle were stolen, his land was occupied by squatters and he lost possession of the fort.

By the 1850s, all that was left of Sutter’s Fort was the central building and by 1860, its outer walls and rooms lay in ruin. Ironically, neither John Sutter nor James Marshall ever profited from the discovery that should have made them independently wealthy.

In 1890, the State of California acquired the site and began restoration, which was completed in 1893. Sutter’s Fort became a part of the California State Park System in 1947 and today stands as the oldest restored Fort in the United States. Of the original buildings, the two-story central structure, made of adobe and oak, remains preserved and provides exhibits and living history interpretive services.

Sutter’s Fort Entrance in Sacramento, California by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Historic Northern California Sutters Fort

John Sutter was born in 1803 at Kandern, Baden, Germany. A flat forested land a few miles from the Swiss border where his father managed a paper mill. Sutter became an apprentice in a book publishing house as a teenager in Basel on the Rhine.

By the age of 23 he was working as a clerk and married Annette Dubeld. His subsequent ventures as owner of a dry goods and drapery shop proved to be financial failures.

In 1834, at the age of 31, Sutter sailed for New York, leaving his wife, five children, and his debts behind. Sutter would not be reunited with his family for 16 years.

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Settling in Missouri, Sutter in 1835 and 1836 is believed to have joined trading caravans headed for Santa Fe. In 1838 he traveled with the American Fur Co. and eventually journeyed to the Hudson's Bay Co. Pacific headquarters at Fort Vancouver in Washington State.

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During his stay at the fort, Sutter observed how a fort was run. He also set out to acquire letters of recommendation which he would later use to establish credit.

From Canada, Sutter sailed to Honolulu on the Hudson's Bay Co. ship Columbia. Stranded there for four months waiting for further passage, he used his letters of recommendations to impress leaders on Hawaii, in turn collecting even more influential endorsements.

He finally boarded the trading ship Clementine for Sitka, Alaska. With him were eight working class Hawaiians. Sutter sailed to Yerba Buena's harbor (San Francisco) on July 1, 1839, but heeded Mexican orders to put in at Monterey, the official port of entry.

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In mid-August of 1839, Sutter and his laborers sailed on the schooner Isabella and two smaller boats up the Sacramento River and eventually up the American River, landing at the intersection of 28th and C Streets in present day Sacramento. His laborers promptly built the first buildings of the Colony which were grass structures.

Sutter considered himself Swiss. He was a registered citizen of Ruenberg, Republic of Basel, as had been his father and grandfather. He was skilled in Indian affairs and overly generous to settlers. A polished gentleman, he valued books and kept his vision of settling the new frontier uppermost.

In the summer of 1840, Sutter, using both his growing work force and local Indians, began building what would become an adobe fort. The walls were 2.5 feet thick and 15-18 feet high. The compound was 320 feet long.

Sutters Fort was larger than Fort Laramie and half the size of Fort Vancouver. His headquarters was the Central Building, a three floored structure located in the middle of the Fort compound.

He had quarters for some of his workers, a bakery, blanket factory, blacksmith shop, carpenter shop and other workshops within the fort. He located a tannery on the American River. .

Dwellings for guests and his vaqueros were also outside the fort. Probably no more than 50 people stayed inside at any one time prior to 1845. A maximum of 30 people could have used the fort during daylight hours.

Wheat farming, barley, peas and beans, cotton, for trading, a successful whiskey and brandy distillery provided Sutter, his Indians and staff, with food and provisions. He exported wheat to Russian Alaska. He issued passports to the American immigrants who were first his guests, later his customers.

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The "New Helvetia" (New Switzerland) land grant was given to Sutter in 1841 by Governor Juan Alvarado. Sutter had become a Mexican citizen in 1840 to qualify for his grant which contained approximately 11 leagues of land or 47,827 acres. He was expected to maintain order among the Indians and to secure the land for Mexico in return. By 1845, Sutter had 1,700 horses and mules, 4,000 cattle, and 3,000 sheep at New Helvetica. In February 1845, Gov. Meiceltorena needed military assistance against a revolt and so he appointed Sutter "Captain of Sacramento Troops" and gave his the "Sobrante" land grant of 33 leagues. The U.S. Supreme Court declared this land grant invalid in 1858.

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In 1841 Sutter bought Fort Ross near present day Bodega Bay, the only Russian settlement in Alta, California, for $30,000 on credit. He was to pay off this debt in four years with produce and coin. The purchase of Fort Ross brought Sutter many needed supplies such as sawn lumber, cannon, hardware, and numerous livestock.

Sutter's Fort, of course, flew the Mexican flag as we do today. However, the 1840's were times of political turmoil in California and as more Americans arrived, Sutter maintained a friendly relationship with Americans and Mexicans alike. In 1846, the Bear Flag Revolt in Sonoma caused a new flag, a lone star to be raised briefly over Sutter's Fort.

On July 11, 1846, Sutter and his U.S. Naval Officers replaced the Lone Star flag with the 28 star American Flag. Capt. John C. Fremont took over command of the Fort for a short period because of Sutter's relationship with the Mexican government. Sutter was given back his command of the fort in March of 1847.

Sutter's Fort became famous as a temporary refuge for pioneers between 1841 and 1849. Undoubtedly inspired by his warm hosts at other forts in earlier days, Sutter provided free shelter and supplies to weary settlers. He recruited immigrants for his settlement not only in the U.S., but also in Switzerland and Germany.

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One such group helped was the Donner Party. During the winter of 1846-1847, eighty-nine of the party were trapped in high snows at Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains after taking an alleged shortcut.

They were taken by surprise by early snows that halted the party's advance down the mountains just west of present-day Truckee. Sutter sent several rescue parties, who brought back forth-seven survivors. The last of which weren't reached until Spring.

They survived by eating the flesh of the dead. The rest, forty-two members of the Donner Party, perished. Patty Reed's Doll, an artifact from the Donner Party encampment was donated to the Fort for exhibit and has been a highlight especially for children who visit the Fort. The Donner Party soon became a rally cry of just how arduous the journey could be and the dangers that faced early settlers.

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Sutter contracted James W. Marshall in 1847 to build a sawmill on the south fork of the American River about 50 miles east of the fort, now present-day Coloma.

On January 24, 1848 Marshall was trying to deepen the tailrace of the mill and accidentally discovered gold. Sutter tried to keep the discovery a secret and swore his men to secrecy until the mill was finished. To support the mill, Sutter built a 50 mile long road to the mill along the banks of the American River.

On a supply run to the fort, one of the children exclaimed they had found gold. The news was leaked and soon thousands seeking gold came to California to search for their fortune.

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Many began using the fort as a wayside station for transient miners and as a trading post for miners supplies. Unscrupulous men began swindling Sutter out of his holding and squatters took over much of his land.

Sutter's debts began piling up so he transferred his holdings to his eldest son, John A. Sutter, Jr. who had emigrated during the summer of 1848. The fort was sold for the meager sum of $7,000 at the end of 1849 and was no longer in Sutter's control.

Anna, Sutter's wife, came to California with the remaining children in 1850. Sutter retired to his ranch, the Hock Farm, on the Feather River near Marysville with his family. Sutter was long known for his immense generosity and poor business sense. When one of his daughters was married, he threw an elaborate wedding complete with a rented steamer.

Unfortunately, a year later, the daughter was divorced. Sutter lived at the Hock Ranch until June 1865 when his home was burned down in an act of vengeful arson by a former employee. It destroyed many of Sutter's historical accounts, journals, and objects.

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Sutter then decided to go to Washington, D.C. and along with his wife tried to obtain reimbursement from Congress for his aid to emigrants his help in colonizing the State of California (he was a member of the Monterey Convention the drew up the California State Constitution in 1849) and his losses from having his Sobrante Land Grant declared invalid by the courts.

The family settled in Lititz, Pennsylvania in 1871 while trying to get Congress to pass a bill for his reimbursement. On June 16th, 1880 Congress adjourned without passing a bill that would have given him $50,000 in reimbursement.

John Sutter died two days later and was buried at the Moravian Brotherhood's Cemetery in Lititz, PA. Hi wife was buried alongside him six month later.

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Reconstruction of the Fort

By 1860, all that remained was his house, known today as the Central Building. The walls and bastions were gone, much of it even pilfered. The Native Sons of the Golden West purchased it in 1890 and donated it to the State in 1891. Reconstruction began in 1891 based on Civil Engineer Grunsky's reconstruction plan. The current ongoing rehabilitation is based on the Kunzul Map published in Darmstadt, Germany in 1847 to encourage German immigration to California. This map was discovered by accident during the 1950's in San Francisco. In 1947, Sutter Fort became a unit of the California State Park System.

Sutter's Fort stands as the oldest restored Fort in the United States.

Today, the Fort is furnished and reconstructed to reflect its 1846 appearance.

Sutter's Fort is located at 26th & K street in midtown Sacramento. It is also surrounded by freeways. Interstate 5 to the west. Interstate 99 to the east. Interstate 50 & Interstate 80 headed off to the Sierra Nevada. And due west is Interstate 80 headed in from the Bay Area. The entrance (parking is available anywhere along the block, bring quarters for the meters, free on Sundays). is located at 2701 L Street. Sutters Fort is open daily 10-5. The best time to visit is during Living History Days, look up these dates on the Sutters Fort State Parks website.


SUTTER'S FORT. In 1841 John Sutter (1803–1880) established a fort in California's Sacramento Valley as the trade and commercial center of his New Helvetia colony. It contained a central building constructed of adobe bricks,

surrounded by a high wall with bastions on opposite corners to guard against attack. Built around the interior of the wall were the workshops and stores that produced all goods necessary for New Helvetia to function as a selfsupporting community. Sutter's Fort housed a kitchen, able to serve up to two hundred workers and visitors a day carpenter and blacksmith shops a bakery and blanket factory a general store and jail and rooms that Sutter provided free to the region's new immigrants. Sutter's Fort is most often associated with James Marshall's discovery of gold in 1849, but the ensuing gold rush resulted in the destruction of the fort and its resources by miners and fortune hunters, and in the financial ruin of John Sutter. Sutter left New Helvetia in 1850, and Sutter's Fort fell into disrepair. When restoration efforts began in 1890, the central building was all that remained. The fort has been reconstructed and restored and is now maintained and administered as a California State Park.

Fort Sumter: The Civil War Begins

On the afternoon of April 11, 1861, a small open boat flying a white flag pushed off from the tip of the narrow peninsula surrounding the city of Charleston. The vessel carried three envoys representing the Confederate States government, established in Montgomery, Alabama, two months before. Slaves rowed the passengers the nearly three and a half miles across the harbor to the looming hulk of Fort Sumter, where Lt. Jefferson C. Davis of the U.S. Army—no relation to the newly installed president of the Confederacy—met the arriving delegation. Davis led the envoys to the fort’s commander, Maj. Robert Anderson, who had been holed up there since just after Christmas with a tiny garrison of 87 officers and enlisted men—the last precarious symbol of federal power in passionately secessionist South Carolina.

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The Confederates demanded immediate evacuation of the fort. However, they promised safe transport out of Charleston for Anderson and his men, who would be permitted to carry their weapons and personal property and to salute the Stars and Stripes, which, the Confederates acknowledged, “You have upheld so long. under the most trying circumstances.” Anderson thanked them for such “fair, manly, and courteous terms.” Yet he stated, “It is a demand with which I regret that my sense of honor, and of my obligation to my Government, prevent my compliance.” Anderson added grimly that he would be starved out in a few days—if the Confederate cannonthat ringed the harbor didn’t batter him to pieces first. As the envoys departed and the sound of their oars faded away across the gunmetal-gray water, Anderson knew that civil war was probably only hours away.

One hundred and fifty years later, that war’s profound implications still reverberate within American hearts, heads and politics, from the lingering consequences of slavery for African-Americans to renewed debates over states’ rights and calls for the “nullification” of federal laws. Many in the South have viewed secession a matter of honor and the desire to protect a cherished way of life.

But the war was unarguably about the survival of the United States as a nation. Many believed that if secession succeeded, it would enable other sections of the country to break from the Union for any reason. “The Civil War proved that a republic could survive,” says historian Allen Guelzo of Gettysburg College. “Europe’s despots had long asserted that republics were automatically fated either to succumb to external attack or to disintegrate from within. The Revolution had proved that we could defend ourselves against outside attack. Then we proved, in the creation of the Constitution, that we could write rules for ourselves. Now the third test had come: whether a republic could defend itself against internal collapse.”

Generations of historians have argued over the cause of the war. “Everyone knew at the time that the war was ultimately about slavery,” says Orville Vernon Burton, a native South Carolinian and author of The Age of Lincoln. “After the war, some began saying that it was really about states’ rights, or a clash of two different cultures, or about the tariff, or about the industrializing North versus the agrarian South. All these interpretations came together to portray the Civil War as a collision of two noble civilizations from which black slaves had been airbrushed out.” African-American historians from W.E.B. Du Bois to John Hope Franklin begged to differ with the revisionist view, but they were overwhelmed by white historians, both Southern and Northern, who, during the long era of Jim Crow, largely ignored the importance of slavery in shaping the politics of secession.

Fifty years ago, the question of slavery was so loaded, says Harold Holzer, author of Lincoln President-Elect and other works on the 16th president, that the issue virtually paralyzed the federal commission charged with organizing events commemorating the war’s centennial in 1961, from which African-Americans were virtually excluded. (Arrangements for the sesquicentennial have been left to individual states.) At the time, some Southern members reacted with hostility to any emphasis on slavery, for fear that it would embolden the then-burgeoning civil rights movement. Only later were African-American views of the war and its origins finally heard, and scholarly opinion began to shift. Says Holzer, “Only in recent years have we returned to the obvious—that it was about slavery.”

As Emory Thomas, author of The Confederate Nation 1861-1865 and a retired professor of history at the University of Georgia, puts it, “The heart and soul of the secession argument was slavery and race. Most white Southerners favored racial subordination, and they wanted to protect the status quo. They were concerned that the Lincoln administration would restrict slavery, and they were right.”

Of course, in the spring of 1861, no one could foresee either the four-year-long war’s numbing human cost, or its outcome. Many Southerners assumed that secession could be accomplished peacefully, while many Northerners thought that a little saber rattling would be sufficient to bring the rebels to their senses. Both sides, of course, were fatally wrong. “The war would produce a new nation, very different in 1865 from what it had been in 1860,” says Thomas. The war was a conflict of epic dimensions that cost 620,000 American lives, and brought about a racial and economic revolution, fundamentally altering the South’s cotton economy and transforming four million slaves from chattel into soldiers, citizens and eventually national leaders.

The road to secession had begun with the nation’s founding, at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, which attempted to square the libertarian ideals of the American Revolution with the fact that human beings were held in bondage. Over time, the Southern states would grow increasingly determined to protect their slave-based economies. The founding fathers agreed to accommodate slavery by granting slave states additional representation in Congress, based on a formula that counted three-fifths of their enslaved population. Optimists believed that slavery, a practice that was becoming increasingly costly, would disappear naturally, and with it electoral distortion. Instead, the invention of the cotton gin in 1793 spurred production of the crop and with it, slavery. There were nearly 900,000 enslaved Americans in 1800. By 1860, there were four million—and the number of slave states increased accordingly, fueling a sense of impending national crisis over the South’s “peculiar institution.”

A crisis had occurred in 1819, when Southerners had threatened secession to protect slavery. The Missouri Compromise the next year, however, calmed the waters. Under its provisions, Missouri would be admitted to the Union as a slave state, while Maine would be admitted as a free state. And, it was agreed, future territories north of a boundary line within land acquired by the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 would be free of slavery. The South was guaranteed parity in the U.S. Senate—even as population growth in the free states had eroded the South’s advantages in the House of Representatives. In 1850, when the admission of gold-rich California finally tipped the balance of free states in the Senate in the North’s favor, Congress, as a concession to the South, passed the Fugitive Slave Law, which required citizens of Northern states to collaborate with slave hunters in capturing fugitive slaves. But it had already become clear to many Southern leaders that secession in defense of slavery was only a matter of time.

Sectional strife accelerated through the 1850s. In the North, the Fugitive Slave Law radicalized even apathetic Yankees. “Northerners didn’t want anything to do with slavery,” says historian Bernard Powers of the College of Charleston. “The law shocked them when they realized that they could be compelled to arrest fugitive slaves in their own states, that they were being dragged kicking and screaming into entanglement with slavery.” In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act further jolted Northerners by opening to slavery western territories that they had expected would remain forever free.

By late the next year, the Kansas Territory erupted into guerrilla warfare between pro-slavery and antislavery forces the violence would leave more than 50 dead. The Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision of 1857 further inflamed Northerners by declaring, in effect, that free-state laws barring slavery from their own soil were essentially superseded. The decision threatened to make slavery a national institution. John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, in October 1859, seemed to vindicate slave owners’ long-standing fear that abolitionists intended to invade the South and liberate their slaves by force. In 1858, Abraham Lincoln, declaring his candidacy for the Senate, succinctly characterized the dilemma: “I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.”

For the South, the last straw was Lincoln’s election to the presidency in 1860, with only 39.8 percent of the vote. In a four-way contest against Northern Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, Constitutional Unionist John Bell and the South’s favorite son, Kentucky Democrat John Breckenridge, Lincoln received not a single electoral vote south of the Mason-Dixon line. In her diary, Charleston socialite Mary Boykin Chesnut recounted the reaction she had overheard on a train when news of Lincoln’s election was announced. One passenger, she recalled, had exclaimed: “Now that. radical Republicans have the power I suppose they will [John] Brown us all.”Although Lincoln hated slavery, he was far from an abolitionist he believed freed blacks should be sent to Africa or Central America, and declared explicitly that he would not tamper with slavery where it already existed. (He did make clear that he would oppose the expansion of slavery into new territories.)

However, the so-called Fire-eaters, the most radical Southern nationalists who dominated Southern politics, were no longer interested in compromise. “South Carolina will secede from the Union as surely as that night succeeds the day, and nothing can now prevent or delay it but a revolution at the North,” South Carolinian William Trenholm wrote to a friend. “The. Republican party, inflamed by fanaticism and blinded by arrogance, have leapt into the pit which a just Providence prepared for them.” In Charleston, cannon were fired, martial music was played, flags were waved in every street. Men young and old flocked to join militia companies. Even children delivered “resistance speeches” to their playmates and strutted the lanes with homemade banners.

In December 1860, a little more than a month after Lincoln’s election, South Carolina’s secession convention, held in Charleston, called on the South to join “a great Slaveholding Confederacy, stretching its arms over a territory larger than any power in Europe possesses.” While most Southerners did not own slaves, slave owners wielded power far beyond their numbers: more than 90 percent of the secessionist conventioneers were slaveholders. In breaking up the Union, the South Carolinians claimed, they were but following the founding fathers, who had established the United States as a “union of slaveholding States.” They added that a government dominated by the North must sooner or later lead to emancipation, no matter what the North claimed. Delegates flooded into the streets, shouting, “We are afloat!” as church bells rang, bonfires roared and fireworks shot through the sky.

By 1861, Charleston had witnessed economic decline for decades. Renowned for its residents’ genteel manners and its gracious architecture, the city was rather like a “distressed elderly gentlewoman. a little gone down in the world, yet remembering still its former dignity,” as one visitor put it. It was a cosmopolitan city, with significant minorities of French, Jews, Irish, Germans—and some 17,000 blacks (82 percent of them slaves), who made up 43 percent of the total population. Charleston had been a center of the slave trade since colonial times, and some 40 slave traders operated within a two-square-block area. Even as white Charlestonians boasted publicly of their slaves’ loyalty, they lived in fear of an uprising that would slaughter them in their beds. “People talk before [slaves] as if they were chairs and tables,” Mary Chesnut wrote in her diary. “They make no sign. Are they stolidly stupid? or wiser than we are silent and strong, biding their time?”

According to historian Douglas R. Egerton, author of Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election that Brought on the Civil War, “To win over the yeoman farmers—who would wind up doing nearly all the fighting—the Fire-eaters relentlessly played on race, warning them that, unless they supported secession, within ten years or less their children would be the slaves of Negroes.”

Despite its decline, Charleston remained the Confederacy’s most important port on the Southeast coast. The spectacular harbor was defended by three federal forts: Sumter tiny Castle Pinckney, one mile off the city’s Battery and heavily armed Fort Moultrie, on Sullivan’s Island, where Major Anderson’s command was based but where its guns pointed out to sea, making it defenseless from land.

On December 27, a week after South Carolina’s declaration of secession, Charlestonians awoke to discover that Anderson and his men had slipped away from Fort Moultrie to the more defensible Fort Sumter. For secessionists, Anderson’s move “was like casting a spark into a magazine,” wrote one Charlestonian, T. W. Moore, to a friend. Although a military setback for Confederates, who had expected to muscle the federal troops out of Moultrie, Anderson’s move enabled the Fire-eaters to blame Washington for “defying” South Carolina’s peaceable efforts to secede.

Fort Sumter had been planned in the 1820s as a bastion of coastal defense, with its five sides, an interior large enough to house 650 defenders and 135 guns command­ing the shipping channels to Charleston Harbor. Con­struction, however, had never been completed. Only 15 cannon had been mounted the interior of the fort was a construction site, with guns, carriages, stone and other materials stacked about. Its five-foot-thick brick walls had been designed to withstand any cannonballs that might be hurled—by the navies of the 1820s, according to Rick Hatcher, the National Park Service historian at the fort. Although no one knew it at the time, Fort Sumter was already obsolete. Even conventional guns pointed at the fort could lob cannonballs that would destroy brick and mortar with repeated pounding.

Anderson’s men hailed from Ireland, Germany, England, Denmark and Sweden. His force included native-born Americans as well. The garrison was secure against infantry attack but almost totally isolated from the outside world. Conditions were bleak. Food, mattresses and blankets were in short supply. From their thick-walled casements, the gunners could see Charleston’s steeples and the ring of islands where gangs of slaves and soldiers were already erecting bastions to protect the Southern artillery.

Militiamen itching for a fight flooded into Charleston from the surrounding countryside. There would soon be more than 3,000 of them facing Fort Sumter, commanded by the preening and punctilious Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, who had resigned his position as West Point’s superintendent to offer his services to the Confederacy.

“To prove it was a country, the South had to prove that it had sovereignty over its territory,” says historian Allen Guelzo. “Otherwise no one, especially the Europeans, would take them seriously. Sumter was like a huge flag in the middle of Charleston Harbor that declared, in effect, ‘You don’t have the sovereignty that you claim.’ ”

With communications from his superiors reaching him only sporadically, Anderson was entrusted with heavy responsibilities. Although Kentucky born and bred, his loyalty to the Union was unshakeable. In the months to come, his second-in-command, Capt. Abner Doubleday—a New York abolitionist, and the man who was long credited, incorrectly, with inventing baseball—would express frustration at Anderson’s “inaction.” “I have no doubt he thought he was rendering a real service to the country,” Doubleday later wrote. “He knew the first shot fired by us would light the flames of a civil war that would convulse the world, and tried to put off the evil day as long as possible. Yet a better analysis of the situation might have taught him that the contest had already commenced and could no longer be avoided.” But Anderson was a good choice for the role that befell him. “He was both a seasoned soldier and a diplomat,” says Hatcher. “He would do just about anything he could to avoid war. He showed tremendous restraint.”

Anderson’s distant commander in chief was the lame-duck president, Democrat James Buchanan, who passively maintained that while he believed secession to be illegal, there was nothing he could do about it. A Northerner with Southern sympathies, Buchanan had spent his long career accommodating the South, even to the point of allowing South Carolina to seize all the other federal properties in the state. For months, as the crisis deepened, Buchanan had vacillated. Finally, in January, he dispatched a paddle wheel steamer, Star of the West, carrying a cargo of provisions and 200 reinforcements for the Sumter garrison. But when Confederate batteries fired on her at the entrance to Charleston Harbor, the ship’s skipper turned the ship around and fled north, leaving Anderson’s men to their fate. This ignominious expedition represented Buchanan’s only attempt to assert federal power in the waters off Charleston.

Some were convinced the Union was finished. The British vice-consul in Charleston, H. Pinckney Walker, saw the government’s failure to resupply Fort Sumter as proof of its impotence. He predicted the North would splinter into two or three more republics, putting an end to the United States forever. The Confederacy, he wrote, formed what he called “a very nice little plantation” that could look forward to “a career of prosperity such as the world has not before known.” Popular sentiment in Charleston was reflected in the ardently secessionist Charleston Mercury, which scoffed that federal power was “a wretched humbug—a scarecrow—a dirty bundle of red rags and old clothes” and Yankee soldiers just “poor hirelings” who would never fight. The paper dismissed Lincoln as a “vain, ignorant, low fellow.”

While Buchanan dithered, six more states seceded: Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. On February 4, the Confederate States of America declared its independence in Montgomery, Alabama, and named Mexican War hero, former Secretary of War and senator from Mississippi Jefferson Davis, its president. “The radicals felt they were making a revolution, like Tom Paine and Samuel Adams,” says Emory Thomas. Although Davis had long argued for the right of secession, when it finally came he was one of few Confederate leaders who recognized that it would probably mean a long and bloody war. Southern senators and congressmen resigned and headed south.

Secessionists occupied federal forts, arsenals and customhouses from Charleston to Galveston, while in Texas, David Twiggs, commander of federal forces there, surrendered his troops to the state militia and joined the Confederate Army. Soon the only significant Southern posts that remained in federal hands were Fort Sumter and Florida’s Fort Pickens, at the entrance to Pensacola Harbor. “The tide of secession was overpowering,” says Thomas. “It was like the moment after Pearl Harbor—people were ready to go to war.” Buchanan now wanted nothing more than to dump the whole mess in Lincoln’s lap and retire to the quietude of his estate in Pennsylvania. But Lincoln would not take office until March 4. (Not until 1933 was Inauguration Day moved up to January 20.)

The new president who slipped quietly into Washington on February 23, forced to keep a low profile because of credible death threats, was convinced that war could still be avoided. “Lincoln had been a compromiser his whole life,” says Orville Vernon Burton. “He was naturally flexible: as a lawyer, he had always invited people to settle out of court. He was willing to live with slavery where it already was. But when it came to the honor of the United States, there was a point beyond which he wouldn’t go.”

Once in office, Lincoln entered into a high-stakes strategic gamble that was all but invisible to the isolated garrison at Fort Sumter. It was in the Confederacy’s interest to provoke a confrontation that made Lincoln appear the aggressor. Lincoln and his advisers believed, however, that secessionist sentiment, red-hot in the Deep South, was only lukewarm in the Upper South states of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas, and weaker yet in the four slaveholding border states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri. Conservatives, including Secretary of State William H. Seward, urged the president to appease the Deep South and evacuate the fort, in hopes of keeping the remaining slave states in the Union. But Lincoln knew that if he did so, he would lose the confidence of both the Republican Party and most of the North.

“He had such faith in the idea of Union that he hoped that [moderates] in the Upper South would never let their states secede,” says Harold Holzer. “He was also one of the great brinksmen of all time.” Although Lincoln was committed to retaking federal forts occupied by the rebels and to defending those still in government hands, he indicated to a delegation from Richmond that if they kept Virginia in the Union, he would consider relinquishing Sumter to South Carolina. At the same time, he reasoned that the longer the standoff over Fort Sumter continued, the weaker the secessionists—and the stronger the federal government—would look.

Lincoln initially “believed that if he didn’t allow the South to provoke him, war could be avoided,” says Burton. “He also thought they wouldn’t really fire on Fort Sumter.” Because negotiating directly with Jefferson Davis would have implied recognition of the Confederacy, Lincoln communicated only with South Carolina’s secessionist—but nonetheless duly elected—governor, Francis Pickens. Lincoln made clear that he intended to dispatch vessels carrying supplies and reinforcements to Fort Sumter: if the rebels fired on them, he warned, he was prepared to land troops to enforce the federal government’s authority.

Rumors flew in every direction: a federal army was set to invade Texas. the British and French would intervene. Northern businessmen would come out en masse against war. In Charleston, the mood fluctuated between overwrought excitement and dread. By the end of March, after three cold, damp months camped on the sand dunes and snake-infested islands around Charleston Harbor, Fort Sumter’s attackers were growing feverishly impatient. “It requires all the wisdom of their superiors to keep them cool,” wrote Caroline Gilman, a transplanted Northerner who had embraced the secessionist cause.

For a month after his inauguration, Lincoln weighed the political cost of relieving Fort Sumter. On April 4, he came to a decision. He ordered a small flotilla of vessels, led by Navy Capt. Gustavus Vasa Fox, to sail from New York, carrying supplies and 200 reinforcements to the fort. He refrained from sending a full-scale fleet of warships. Lincoln may have concluded that war was inevitable, and it would serve the federal government’s interest to cause the rebels to fire the first shot.

The South Carolinians had made clear that any attempt to reinforce Sumter would mean war. “Now the issue of battle is to be forced upon us,” declared the Charleston Mercury. “We will meet the invader, and the God of Battles must decide the issue between the hostile hirelings of Abolition hate and Northern tyranny.”

“How can one settle down to anything? One’s heart is in one’s mouth all the time,” Mary Chesnut wrote in her diary. “The air is red-hot with rumors.” To break the tension on occasion, Chesnut crept to her room and wept. Her friend Charlotte Wigfall warned, “The slave-owners must expect a servile insurrection.”

In the early hours of April 12, approximately nine hours after the Confederates had first asked Anderson to evacuate Fort Sumter, the envoys were again rowed out to the garrison. They made an offer: if Anderson would state when he and his men intended to quit the fort, the Confederates would hold their fire. Anderson called a council of his officers: How long could they hold out? Five days at most, he was told, which meant three days with virtually no food. Although the men had managed to mount about 45 cannon, in addition to the original 15, not all of those could be trained on Confederate positions. Even so, every man at the table voted to reject immediate surrender to the Confederates.

Anderson sent back a message to the Confederate authorities, informing them that he would evacuate the fort, but not until noon on the 15th, adding, “I will not in the meantime open my fire upon your forces unless compelled to do so by some hostile act against this fort or the flag of my Government.”

But the Confederacy would tolerate no further delay. The envoys immediately handed Anderson a statement: “Sir: By authority of Brigadier-General Beauregard, commanding the provisional forces of the Confederate States, we have the honor to notify you that he will open the fire of his batteries on Fort Sumter in one hour from this time.”

Anderson roused his men, informing them an attack was imminent. At 4:30 a.m., the heavy thud of a mortar broke the stillness. A single shell from Fort Johnson on James Island rose high into the still-starry sky, curved downward and burst directly over Fort Sumter. Confederate batteries on Morris Island opened up, then others from Sullivan’s Island, until Sumter was surrounded by a ring of fire. As geysers of brick and mortar spumed up where balls hit the ramparts, shouts of triumph rang from the rebel emplacements. In Charleston, families by the thousands rushed to rooftops, balconies and down to the waterfront to witness what the Charleston Mercury would describe as a “Splendid Pyrotechnic Exhibition.”

To conserve powder cartridges, the garrison endured the bombardment without reply for two and a half hours. At 7 a.m., Anderson directed Doubleday to return fire from about 20 guns, roughly one half as many as the Confederates. The Union volley sent vast flocks of water birds rocketing skyward from the surrounding marsh.

At about 10 a.m., Capt. Truman Seymour replaced Doubleday’s exhausted crew with a fresh detachment.

“Doubleday, what in the world is the matter here, and what is all this uproar about?” Seymour inquired dryly.

“There is a trifling difference of opinion between us and our neighbors opposite, and we are trying to settle it,” the New Yorker replied.

“Very well,” said Seymour, with mock graciousness. “Do you wish me to take a hand?”

“Yes,” Doubleday responded. “I would like to have you go in.”

At Fort Moultrie, now occupied by the Confederates, federal shots hit bales of cotton that rebel gunners were using as bulwarks. At each detonation, the rebels gleefully shouted, “Cotton is falling!” And when a shot exploded the kitchen, blowing loaves of bread into the air, they cried, “Breadstuffs are rising!”

Humor was less on display in the aristocratic homes of Charleston, where the roar of artillery began to rattle even the most devout secessionists. “Some of the anxious hearts lie on their beds and moan in solitary misery,” trying to reassure themselves that God was really on the Confederate side, recorded Chesnut.

At the height of the bombardment, Fox’s relief flotilla at last hove into sight from the north. To the federals’ dismay, however, Fox’s ships continued to wait off the coast, beyond range of rebel guns: their captains hadn’t bargained on finding themselves in the middle of an artillery duel. The sight of reinforcements so tantalizingly close was maddening to those on Sumter. But even Doubleday admitted that had the ships tried to enter the harbor, “this course would probably have resulted in the sinking of every vessel.”

The bombardment slackened during the rainy night but kept on at 15-minute intervals, and began again in earnest at 4 a.m. on the 13th. Roaring flames, dense masses of swirling smoke, exploding shells and the sound of falling masonry “made the fort a pandemonium,” recalled Doubleday. Wind drove smoke into the already claustrophobic casements, where Anderson’s gunners nearly suffocated. “Some lay down close to the ground, with handkerchiefs over their mouths, and others posted themselves near the embrasures, where the smoke was somewhat lessened by the draught of air,” recalled Doubleday. “Everyone suffered severely.”

At 1:30 p.m., the fort’s flagstaff was shot away, although the flag itself was soon reattached to a short spar and raised on the parapet, much to the disappointment of rebel marksmen. As fires crept toward the powder magazine, soldiers raced to remove hundreds of barrels of powder that threatened to blow the garrison into the cloudless sky. As the supply of cartridges steadily shrank, Sumter’s guns fell silent one by one.

Soon after the flagpole fell, Louis Wigfall, husband of Charlotte Wigfall and a former U.S. senator from Texas now serving under Beauregard, had himself rowed to the fort under a white flag to call again for Anderson’s surrender. The grandstanding Wigfall had no formal authority to negotiate, but he offered Anderson the same terms that Beauregard had offered a few days earlier: Anderson would be allowed to evacuate his command with dignity, arms in hand, and be given unimpeded transport to the North and permission to salute the Stars and Stripes.

“Instead of noon on the 15th, I will go now,” Anderson quietly replied. He had made his stand. He had virtually no powder cartridges left. His brave, hopelessly outgunned band of men had defended the national honor with their lives without respite for 34 hours. The outcome was not in question.

“Then the fort is to be ours?” Wig-fall eagerly inquired.

Anderson ordered a white flag to be raised. Firing from rebel batteries ceased.

The agreement nearly collapsed when three Confederate officers showed up to request a surrender. Anderson was so furious at having capitulated to the freelancing Wigfall that he was about to run up the flag yet again. However, he was persuaded to wait until confirmation of the terms of surrender, which arrived soon afterward from Beauregard.

When news of the surrender at last reached the besieging rebels, they vaulted onto the sand hills and cheered wildly a horseman galloped at full speed along the beach at Morris Island, waving his cap and exulting at the tidings.

Fort Sumter lay in ruins. Flames smoldered amid the shot-pocked battlements, dismounted cannon and charred gun carriages. Astoundingly, despite an estimated 3,000 cannon shots fired at the fort, not a single soldier had been killed on either side. Only a handful of the fort’s defenders had even been injured by fragments of concrete and mortar.

Beauregard had agreed to permit the defenders to salute the U.S. flag before they departed. The next afternoon, Sunday, April 14, Fort Sumter’s remaining artillery began a rolling cannonade of what was meant to total 100 guns. Tragically, however, one cannon fired prematurely and blew off the right arm of a gunner, Pvt. Daniel Hough, killing him almost instantly and fatally wounding another Union soldier. The two men thus became the first fatalities of the Civil War.

At 4:30 p.m., Anderson handed over control of the fort to the South Carolina militia. The exhausted, blue-clad Union soldiers stood in formation on what remained of the parade ground, with flags flying and drums beating out the tune of “Yankee Doodle.” Within minutes, the flags of the Confederacy and South Carolina were snapping over the blasted ramparts. “Wonderful, miraculous, unheard of in history, a bloodless victory!” exclaimed Caroline Gilman in a letter to one of her daughters.

A steamboat lent by a local businessman carried Anderson’s battle-weary band out to the federal fleet, past hordes of joyful Charlestonians gathered on steamers, sailboats bobbing rowboats and dinghies, under the eyes of rebel soldiers poised silently on the shore, their heads bared in an unexpected gesture of respect. Physically and emotionally drained, and halfway starved, Anderson and his men gazed back toward the fort where they had made grim history. In their future lay the slaughter pens of Bull Run, Shiloh, Antie-tam, Gettysburg, Chickamauga and hundreds more still unimaginable battlefields from Virginia to Missouri. The Civil War had begun.

Fergus Bordewich’s most recent book is Washington: The Making of the American Capital. Photographer Vincent Musi is based in Charleston, South Carolina.

Sutter Fort - History

John A. Sutter.
Sutter's Fort, named after Swiss immigrant John Augustus Sutter, is on 27th and L streets in Sacramento. Designed by Sutter and constructed by Mewuk and Maidu Indians, the reconstructed fort is now a California State Historic Park and a state historical landmark. It stands on part of its original land, and houses exhibits which include items from the Reed-Donner immigrant party, pioneer firearms, stagecoaches, mining tools, and objects associated with Sutter. Built in 1841, the fort has 18-foot-high, three-foot-thick adobe walls, and encloses a space approximately 500 feet long by 150 feet wide. The bastions, or towers, that rise above the walls in the southeast and northwest corners once housed cannons that commanded all of the fort's gateways except the one on the west. A number of rooms line the inner wall. Detached buildings of wood and adobe brick stand in the inner yard. Some of the wooden buildings were brought from Fort Ross by John Sutter.

Prior to Sutter's arrival, many different tribes lived in the great valley formed by the Sierra Nevada, the Coast Range, and the Tehachapis. The Indians of the Central Valley were hunters, gatherers, fishermen, and basketmakers. The acorn was the staple food in the diet, which also included a wide variety of plants, fish, and small game. Most Indians in the area maintained well-marked territories, which they defended when necessary. In the Sacramento Valley, Indians lived in semi-subterranean conical houses made of logs, bark, or grass. Villages contained from 30 to 50 dwellings, with populations varying between 50 and 150 individuals.

John Augustus Sutter, for whom Fort Sutter is named, was born in Kandern, Switzerland in 1803. He remained there until 1834 when he immigrated to the United States. After much travel and many business ventures, he arrived in California in 1839, and proceeded to secure a land grant of about 49,000 acres in the Sacramento Valley from the Mexican Government.

When Sutter first came to the valley, he encountered about 200 Plains Mewuk Indians about 12 miles below the present site of the city of Sacramento. Five miles north, he entered into the territory of the Plains Nisenan Maidu Indians. (Hurtado, 1981:70) Sutter went on to establish his fort at the confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers, on Mewuk and Maidu lands. He obtained Indian labor through trade and by appointment of chiefs or men whom he designated as chiefs. He honored the headmen with the title of "capitanos" or captains, and paid them after they supplied him with workers. (Hurtado, 1981:70)

Sutter also seized Indian children in order to maintain an adequate labor supply: "From the first, he was in the habit of seizing Indian children, who were retained as servants or slaves at his establishment, or sent to his friends in different parts of the country. But he always took care to capture for this purpose only children from distant or hostile tribes (Bancroft, 1969:138) Sutter's Mewuk and Maidu laborers built the fort, plowed the rancho fields, tended the livestock, worked in the tannery, and served as soldiers in his army. Indian soldiers helped maintain Sutter's power by protecting his establishment from attack by other Indians, Mexican Americans, or others who wanted to interfere with his various frontier enterprises. Later on, many of these same Indian soldiers served with the United States forces during the Mexican War, and helped secure California for the United States. Sutter regularly supplied Indian laborers to other ranchos while he controlled the fort.

Portrayed as an important frontier outpost, the fort was a goal for overland immigrants — a place where they could replenish their supplies and possibly find work. The contribution of Mewuk and Maidu Indians was not recognized although Indians built the fort, protected it, and worked in all its enterprises. In fact, without their labor and support, it would not have been established or maintained. One Indian remembers an ancestor's efforts at Fort Sutter in the following way: "My grandfather was enslaved by Sutter to help in building the Fort. While he was kept there, Sutter worked him hard and then fed him in troughs. As soon as he could, he escaped and with his family hid in the mountains." (Queenie Miller, 1976)

Sutter maintained the fort and its business enterprises until October 1848. Unable to pay his debts, and in order to avoid foreclosure, he transferred his property to his eldest son. His son then surveyed and laid out what was to become the town of Sacramento. He offered lots for sale, and by November 1849, the town of Sacramento had a growing population of 10,000. In order to meet a debt of $40,000, Sutter's son sold the fort, and Sutter moved to Hock Ranch on the Feather River. He lived there until 1865 when he went East. Sutter's Fort deteriorated until 1890, when the Native Sons of the Golden West purchased it. The State of California restored the fort, and in 1937, it became part of the California State Park System.

Grimshaw Origins and History

William Robinson Grimshaw was born in New York City in 1826 to John and Emma (Robinson) Grimshaw. John Grimshaw was most likely the brother of Caleb and Sarah (Thompson) Grimshaw (see companion webpage) and the twin brother of William Grimshaw. William Robinson Grimshaw is therefore a descendant of the prominent Edward and Dorothy (Raner) Grimshaw line in Yorkshire (see companion webpage).

William Grimshaw had a very interesting and adventurous life, including participation in the events of the 1848-50 gold rush at Sutter’s Fort in California. While there he met and married Sarah (Rhoads) Daylor in 1851, and they had 12 children, eight of whom survived into adulthood. Much of what is known of William’s life is contained in an autobiography entitled Grimshaw’s Narrative (Kantor, 1964 1 ), which is presented in detail in a companion webpage. William and Sarah are buried with several of their children in the Sloughhouse cemetery southeast of Sacramento.


Webpage Credit

Thanks go to JoAnne Grimshaw for obtaining the photocopies that were used to prepare the images of manuscripts that appear on this webpage. JoAnne made the copies at the Bancroft Library on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley in January 2003. Thanks also to Fran Newbold for granting access to the Sloughhouse cemetery in December 2007.

Photographs of William Robinson and Sarah (Rhoads) Grimshaw

A photo of William was included in Grimshaw’s Narrative and is shown below. A photo of Mary (Rhoads) Daylor before she was married to William is provided.

Photo of William Robinson Grimshaw (from frontispiece of Grimshaw’s Narrative 1 ).

Photo of Sarah Rhoads before her marriage to William Robinson Grimshaw (from Historic Cosumnew, by Ricketts 2 ).

Introduction to Grimshaw’s Narrative

As noted above, the main source of information on William Robinson Grimshaw’s life is a biography which was published by Kantor 1 as Grimshaw’s Narrative. The primary emphasis is on the California Gold Rush days in which William participated, but it also includes his experiences on sailing ships and his journey to the gold fields. As noted, Grimshaw’s Narrative is described in detail in a companion webpage. An image ofthe attractive title page of Kantor’s book is shown below.

Title Page from Kantor’s Grimshaw’s Narrative.

William Grimshaw’s Family Origins

William provided a brief description of his origins in Grimshaw’s Narrative an excerpt from the book is shown below.

My name is William Robinson Grimshaw. I was born November 14th, 1826 in a two-story brick house, then a country seat, on the corner of 14th St., & 3rd Avenue in the City of New York. The house is still standing & is immediately opposite the N.Y. Academy of Music.”

My father’s name was John Grimshaw. He was a younger son of a man belonging to a class called in England “gentlemen farmers,” and was born in 1800 near Leids (sic) in the West Riding of Yorkshire. He came to N.Y. at an early age and became clerk for Jeremiah Thompson of that city. Shortly after coming of age he went into business for himself & engaged in cotton speculations so successfully that he soon acquired what was for those days a fortune. He built the house above named and married in the year 1825. Of course having made a fortune so easily he could not discontinue his speculations & (equally of course) before the year 1830 he became bankrupt & had to surrender all his property to his creditors.

My mother’s maiden name was Emma Robinson. She is the daughter of Wm. T. Robinson of the mercantile firm of Franklin, Robinson & Co. well known to New Yorkers of the latter part of the last century & was born Sept. 9th, 1803. One of her sisters married Jonas Minturn of N.Y. another, John B. Toulmin of Mobile (Ala) another became the wife of Wm. Hunter, U.S. Senator from Rhode Island & minister to Brazil in President Jackson’s administration. My mother is now living in N.Y. City.

The fact that William’s father, John Grimshaw, came to New York to become a clerk for Jeremiah Thompson gives clear evidence on his family origins. As noted on a companion webpage on Caleb Grimshaw, the Grimshaws and Thompsons were Quakers from Leeds who were closely connected in the transatlantic shipping business in Liverpool and New York. Caleb Grimshaw was married to Sarah Thompson, who was probably a sister of Jeremiah Thompson for whom William’s father, John, was a clerk in New York.

A descendant chart for the Quaker Grimshaws in Yorkshire, with Edward and Dorothy Grimshaw (see companion webpage) as progenitors is shown below. Four of the five unknown children, as well as the seventh unidentified child, have been identified on John Grimshaw, believed to be William Robinson Grimshaw’s father is shown in italics. The children of John and Emma (Robinson) Grimshaw are also shown.

Edward Grimshaw (About 1559 – 22 Jun 1635) & Dorotye Raner

|–Abraham Grimshaw (1603 – 1670) & Sarah ( – 21 Sep 1695)

|–|–JeremyJeremiah Grimshaw* (21 Jul 1653 – 12 Aug 1721) & Mary Stockton ( – 6 Jan 1692/1693)

|–|–|–Joshua Grimshaw (12 Apr 1687 – 8 Jan 1764) & Jane Oddy (1686 – 1771)

|–|–|–Caleb Grimshaw (20 May 1688 – 1751) & Esther Hudson

|–|–|–|–William Grimshaw (24 Nov 1713 – 6 Oct 1714)

|–|–|–|–Mercy Grimshaw (28 Sep 1715 – )

|–|–|–|–Caleb Grimshaw (3 Aug 1718 – 3 Jun 1794) & Ruth

|–|–|–|–|–Betty Grimshaw (4 Sep 1754 – )

|–|–|–|–|–John Grimshaw (29 Mar 1756 – )

|–|–|–|–|–Jeremiah Grimshaw (6 Nov 1759 – )

|–|–|–|–|–Leonard Grimshaw (1767 – 1819) & Elizabeth Hall. Married 4 Jun 1795.

|–|–|–|–|–|–Five unknown children

|–|–|–|–|–|–Elizabeth Grimshaw (14 Apr 1796 – ?)

|–|–|–|–|–|–Mary Grimshaw (18 Nov 1797, Millhouse or Pickering, York – ?)

|–|–|–|–|–|–William Grimshaw (4 Sep 1800, Bossall, York – ?)

|–|–|–|–|–|–John Grimshaw (4 Sep 1800, Bossall, York – ?) & Emma Robinson. Married 19 Nov 1825, Trinity Church Parish, New York City.

|–|–|–|–|–|–|–William Robinson Grimshaw (4 Nov 1826 – 14 Sep 1881) & Sarah Pierce (Rhoads) Daylor (28 Jan 1830 – 10 Jan 1898)


Married 22 Apr 1851 , California.

|–|–|–|–|–|–|–Emma Robinson Grimshaw (ca 1828, Nova Scotia – 9 Mar 1888, Brooklyn, NY) & Benjamin S Haviland (1822, Chappaqua, NY – 19 Jan 1880, Brooklyn, NY). Married 11 Jun 1852, New York, NY


|–|–|–|–|–|–Caleb Grimshaw (19 or 22 Aug 1801, Bossall, York – 1 Feb 1847) & Sarah Thompson (? – 2 Feb 1833). Married 10 Mar 1824, Knaresborough, Yorkshire.

|–|–|–|–|–|–|–Elizabeth Grimshaw (14 Mar or May 1825 – ) & Henry Wilson (24 Aug 1822 – ?). Married 16 May 1849.

|–|–|–|–|–|–|–George Grimshaw (12 Aug 1827 – 26 Mar 1863) & Isabella

|–|–|–|–|–|–|–Edward Grimshaw (22 May 1828 – 25 Oct 1828 or 26 Oct 1826?)

|–|–|–|–|–|–|–Charles Thompson Grimshaw (1 May 1830 – ?) & Hannah Walker. Married 7 Nov 1855.

|–|–|–|–|–|–|–Ann Grimshaw (26 Oct 1831 – 6 Apr 1834)

|–|–|–|–|–|–Caleb Grimshaw (19 Aug 1801 – 1 Feb 1847) & Hannah Ellis (15 Oct 1803 – 18/19 Feb 1887). Married 4 Feb 1841.

|–|–|–|–|–|–|–Sarah Hanna Grimshaw (7 Dec 1842 – ?)

|–|–|–|–|–|–Seventh unknown child

|–|–|–|–|–|–George Grimshaw (23 Nov 1805, Bossall, York – ?)

|–|–|–|–|–Jonathan Grimshaw (1770 – 20 Jun 1798) & Hannah Burley

It is postulated here that William’s father is the John Grimshaw who was born on September 4, 1800 (a twin to William Grimshaw) and who came to New York to work for Jeremiah Thompson. He is one of the previous “Five unknown children” of Leonard and Elizabeth (Hall) Grimshaw. It therefore seems that John named his son William after his twin brother.

Leonard Grimshaw and Elizabeth Hall, William Grimshaw’s grandparents, were married at Bossall, York on July 4, 1795, as indicated on

“England, Marriages, 1538-1973 ,” Leonard Grimshaw, 1795
groom’s name: Leonard Grimshaw
bride’s name: Eliz. Hall
marriage date: 04 Jul 1795
marriage place: Bossall,York,England
indexing project (batch) number: M10572-2
system origin: England-ODM
source film number: 918414
Source Citation: “England, Marriages, 1538-1973 ,” index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 13 May 2012), Leonard Grimshaw, 1795.

William and Sarah Grimshaw’s Descendants

William Robinson Grimshaw and Sarah (Rhoads) Daylor were married in April 1851, about six months after Sarah’s first husband, Jared Daylor, died of cholera. William and Sarah’s descendant chart, showing their 12 children and several of their grandchildren, is shown below.

Descendant Chart for William and Sarah (Rhoads) Daylor Grimshaw. Compiled from several sources, including Kantor 1 , Ricketts 2 , Ricketts 3 and family history websites.

John Grimshaw (1800 – ) & Emma Robinson

|—–William Robinson Grimshaw (4 Nov 1826 – 14 Sep 1881) & Sarah Pierce (Rhoads) Daylor (28 Jan 1830 – 10 Jan 1898) Married 22 Apr 1851.

|—–|—–William R. Grimshaw (31 Mar 1852 – ) & Alice Bean

|—–|—–|—–Robert Grimshaw (died 18 years old)

|—–|—–|—–Sadie Grimshaw & Dr. F.H. Metcalf

|—–|—–|—–Agnes Grimshaw & LeRoy Miller

|—–|—–|—–|—–Robert LeRoy Miller (died in infancy)

|—–|—–Emma Grimshaw (26 Nov 1853 – ) & W.D. Lawton

|—–|—–Thomas Minturn Grimshaw (15 Aug 1856 – ) & ? Byron

|—–|—–George Grimshaw (8 Oct 1858 – ) & Anna Maria Gaffney

|—–|—–|—–Rhoads Grimshaw

|—–|—–John Henry Grimshaw (18 Jul 1860 – 1861)

|—–|—–John Francis Grimshaw (1 Jun 1862 – About 1908) & Edythe C. Tibbitts (1870 – 25 Jan 1951)


|—–|—–|—–Roland F. Grimshaw (7 May 1892 – 29 Dec 1947) & May (or Mary) Gertrude Jackson (22 Sep 1898 – 10 Mar 1986)

|—–|—–|—–|—–Roland Melvin Grimshaw (21 Mar 1919 – 18 Dec 1972) & Frances Maribel Ruman (4 Dec 1921 – )

|—–|—–|—–|—–Raymond Francis Grimshaw (7 Oct 1920 – 16 Nov 1972)

|—–|—–|—–|—–Edith Gertrude Grimshaw (1 Apr 1922 – 4 Feb 1997) & Joseph Michael Eaton (8 Dec 1919 – 21 Dec 1974)

|—–|—–|—–Bessie Blanche Grimshaw (6 Nov 1896 – 30 Oct 1973) & Vernon Douglas Bagley (22 Feb 1899 – )

|—–|—–|—–|—–Doris Adeline Grimshaw (1 Jan 1919 – 6 Feb 1976) & ? Gebhardt?

|—–|—–|—–|—–Doris Adeline Grimshaw (1 Jan 1919 – 6 Feb 1976) & John Leslie Waters?

|—–|—–Selim Woodworth Grimshaw (3 Jun 1864 – 26 Jun 1865)

|—–|—–Frederick Morse Grimshaw (9 May 1866 – 24 Jun 1850) & Jessie Cornelia (Polly?) Sheldon. Married 4 Jan 1911

|—–|—–Walter Scott Grimshaw (15 Jan 1868 – 8 Nov 1944) Never married.

|—–|—–Sarah Pierce Grimshaw (17 Jan 1868 – 7 Dec 1871)

|—–|—–Charles Edward Grimshaw (9 Mar 1870 – 9 Mar 1870)

|—–|—–Catherine Foster Grimshaw (9 Mar 1870 – 4 Jul 1870)

Sarah Rhoads was the daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Rhoades, who lived in Illinois and converted to Mormonism in 1834 and 1835. Sarah was a 5th generation descendant of Heinrich Roesch, who was born in Germany in 1712 and immigrated to Pennsylvania. The descendants of Heinrich Roesch are described on the following website:

After the murder of Joseph Smith, during the troubled period of Mormon history before their emigration westward to what is now Salt Lake City, Thomas Rhoades obtained permission from Brigham Young to migrate to California. The family arrived in the Sacramento area in 1846, the first Mormon family to migrate overland to California. The family’s history is documented by Ricketts 3 as follows:


When Thomas Foster Rhoades and Elizabeth Forster were married in 1813, little did they realize they were to become connecting links between historical events, which touched America from coast to coast.

Thomas was born at Boone’s Fort in Kentucky and grew up in all the excitement that surrounded that early period of America when adventure was an every‑day occurrence.Elizabeth was fromPennsylvania. He was 21 years old and Elizabethwas 16 — their life together began inMuhlenberg, Kentucky, where they lived until 1820. At that time he moved his family into Edgar County, Illinois, and with a half brother, Jacob, Thomas constructed two crude log cabins to shelter their families, but life was not easy. Settlers were isolated from each other and trading posts were far away. However, wildlife abounded as a welcome source of food.

Thomas’ father, Daniel, and his grandfather, Henry, were surveyors and he followed in their footsteps. Thomas was appointed with two other men by the State ofIllinois to survey and lay out roads forShelby andCole Counties. He continued in this capacity for ten years.

The family lived inEdgarCounty for 24 years. By 1844, after thirty one years of marriage the couple had nineteen children, including one set of triplets and four sets of twins. During this period inEdgarCounty, an event occurred which changed the course of their lives: the conversion of the family to Mormonism in 1834 and 1835 by an early missionary, Caleb Baldwin.

By 1844 mobs, riots, and persecution against the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints (Mormon) reached a breaking point’ when the Mormon Prophet, Joseph Smith, and his brother, Hyrum, were murdered in the Carthage Jail on June 27, 1844. Brigham Young, the newly‑chosen leader, was a close friend of Thomas. One day when Thomas and his family were attending church in a nearby community, violent mobs burned their home and the homes of their friends, ruining the crops and contaminating their drinking water. While the Rhoades had not suffered death, a close friend was killed and it was a shocking experience for Thomas to witness the killing. He started thinking seriously about migrating to the West‑ Brigham Young had already begun planning a large migration.

Since Edgar County was near Nauvoo, Thomas and his family sadly watched the abandonment of the city during 1844 and 1845. Finally Thomas determined to leave and rode throughout the county telling his Mormon friends of his plans and recommending that they do likewise. Brigham Young had gathered the church members along the Mississippi River and it was here that Thomas, his family, and others from Edgar County joined them. They were welcomed by Young who placed Thomas over the newly‑arrived group as captain.

But conditions on the Mississippi were very bad ‑‑ food was scarce, shelters were non-existent, sickness was prevalent. Thomas looked around and felt great despair at the suffering he saw. He talked to Brigham Young about the pitiful condition of the Saints and asked about moving on where shelters could be built and crops could be planted. The Mormon leader explained much had to be done before such a large migration could take place. Thomas then asked to take his small group and go ahead. 1

A general council was called by Brigham Young onThursday, April 21, 1846, for the purpose of discussing the western migration. One matter discussed was the request of Thomas Rhoades to serve as an exploration party to California. The Council granted Thomas permission to set out as soon as he could make arrangements to do so.

It didn’t take the family very many days to be on their way since they had already left all unnecessary belongings behind inEdgar County!


Thomas and his little band consisted of the following:

John Pierce Rhoads and wife, Matilda Fanning, and six children: 1 wagon

Daniel Rhoads and wife, Amanda Esrey: 1 wagon, 3 yoke of oxen, 3 horses, 1 cow

Turner Elder and wife, Polly Rhoads, and one son: 1 wagon

Joseph and Isaac House: I wagon

John Patterson and wife, Christine Forster, and baby: 1 wagon

(Christine was a sister to Elizabeth, Thomas’ wife, and an aunt to Amanda Esrey, Daniel’s wife.)

Fannon boys: 1 wagon

Esrey boys: 1 wagon (Amanda’s brothers)

Whitman: 1 wagon

Rhoads and wife, Elizabeth Forster, and 11 children and two grandchildren (Son
Forster remained in Illinois, but sent two of his children west with Thomas
and Elizabeth. Three of Thomas’ children had their own families and wagons —
John, Daniel, and Polly above– which, when added to the 11 in Thomas’ wagons,
make the 14 children who came to California) Thomas had: 3 wagons, 8 yoke of oxen, 18
cattle, 3 horses.

After several weeks of travel, they arrived at the Missouri River where they stopped temporarily to make repairs and final preparations for the long journey. Other small groups were gathered there, waiting to band together for the western trek. It was here Thomas was approached by George Donner and James Reed, who asked to join his outfit and travel to California. By the time the Rhoades left the Missouri, there were some 200-300 persons in the train — some bound for Oregon, some for California. It took 10 days to cross Nebraska to the Platte River, where they encountered their first Indians. After Fort Laramie., the Indians became a little more menacing. On the whole, however, the journey was relatively uneventful except for the usual hardships of pioneer travel. At Fort Bridger on July 20th, the Rhoades, party continued on under the leadership of Caleb Greenwood, following the middle route northwest, passing through Salt Lake Valley and then proceeding southwest, while the Donner-Reed Party took the Hastings Cut-off.

The Rhoades entered the Sacramento Valley on October 5, 1846, making them the first Mormon family to migrate overland to California. They were not the first Mormons in California since Samuel Brannan had landed with the Ship Brooklyn and 238 Mormons in Yerba Buena in July, 1846, only a few months before.


Thomas and his family located at Dry Creek and he and all of the older boys went to work for Captain John Sutter, except Daniel, who worked for John Sinclair, leaving only 10-year old Caleb at home with his mother and sisters. One of the first matters of business for Thomas was to dispatch a letter to Brigham Young with the first rider east to describe their trip and in California.

That first winter in California was a cold, wet one with heavy snows in the nearby Sierra NevadaMountains. Then came news of the stranded Donner Party. Finally, after much preparation fourteen men left Johnson’s Ranch on February 4, 1847. Each man carried a blanket, shovel, and 50 pounds of meet. John Sutter and John Sinclair provided the supplies and horses. By the 13th of February the number of rescuers had dropped to seven and these men were the ones to reach the stranded emigrants after great hardships: Aquilla Glover, Riley S. Moultry, Joseph Sels, Reasin “Dan” Tucker, Ned Coffeemeyer, and the two Rhoads’ brothers — John and Daniel. Of these seven not one was an experienced mountaineer.

Just at sundown February 18th, the seven men worked their way across the frozen lake and found the trees which W. H. Eddy, one of the Donner Party who had managed to go for help, had described. Seeing no living movements, the men called out and a shaken woman’s voice inquired weakly: “Are you men from California, or do you come from heaven?

By Sunday, February 21st, they had gathered 24 from the stranded group to return with them: 3 men, four women, and 17 children. Three children were 3 years old, one five, one eight, and the rest were 9 years and older. John Rhoads was to carry Naomi Pike. Finally on February 22nd, they left for Sutter’s Fort. Unbelievable hardships were encountered, but they finally arrived at the Fort on March 4th with 18 refugees. With 26 of the Donner Party safely across the mountains (18 -plus 8 others who had come out by themselves) 28 were dead, 31 still starved in the mountains. Other rescue parties were formed and John Rhoads went in again with the 4th rescue group.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth had been unwell for sometime and in the fall of 1847 she became very ill. Thomas and their sons, except Caleb, were away working so it was Caleb who took his mother in a wagon to Sutter’s launch, which was leaving for San Francisco where it was felt she might obtain medical assistance. The ship’s crew placed Mrs. Rhoades on a bin of wheat in the hold to make her as comfortable as possible. As the launch sailed along near Benicia, Elizabeth died and the captain buried her on shore in an unmarked grave. Thomas returned home two weeks later and, grief stricken, tried to find her grave but never was able to do so.

Thomas Rhoades wrote another letter to Brigham Young in July, 1847, telling more about California, but the Mormons were at that time arriving inSaltLake Valley. While they were traveling west, the United States government had asked for 500 men to go to California

to help in the War withMexico. These 500 Plus volunteers were known as the Mormon Battalion and they left Council Bluffs, Iowa, in July, 1646, for their long march to California, arriving in San Diego in January, 1847. The year-long enlistment was up in July, 1847, and a large group of discharged Battalion members stopped at Sutter’s Fort in August for supplies before continuing east to meet the body of the church although they did not know at that time just where it was. While most continued on after a few days, some of the Battalion men remained at Sutter’s to “work a season” for needed supplies before going on. Sutter, of course, was delighted to hire experienced workmen to help with the growth of his empire. Thus it was that seven discharged Battalion men were working with James Marshall when Marshall discovered gold at Sutter’s Sawmill in

Coloma. The Mormons were acquainted with Thomas Rhoades as he is mentioned in at least one of their diaries. When news of the gold discovery became known, Thomas and his sons also mined for gold, both at Coloma and other places. Thomas’ sons in law, William Daylor and Jared Sheldon and their friend Perry McCoon as well as Thomas, John, and Daniel Rhoads were very successful in gold mining. Although James Marshall claims to have discovered gold at Dry Diggings (later Hangtown, now Placerville) it is an established fact that those just named above mined extensively at Dry Diggings and Rhoades Diggings near Folsom.


8. Sarah Pierce Rhoads married William Daylor, a native of England, who arrived in California in 1835. He worked for Sutter in 1840. During 1641 he was searching for some of Sutter’s cattle, rode up over a hill and saw a green valley dotted with oaks along the Cosumnes River. He thus discovered the land his family and the Sheldon family, Rhoads, and others were to occupy. Jared Sheldon, William Daylor and Perry McCoon were very successful in the gold fields. From the dry diggings near Placerville they took out $17,000 in one week. In 1850
he rode to Sutter’s Fort and, upon arriving there, noticed a man‑writing in pain nearby on a pile of hay. He tried to assist the man, contracted the cholera from him and died a few days later on his ranch at Cosumnes. His widow buried him on a rolling, shaded hill between her home and her sister Catherine’s home. Thus Daylor was not only the first to find the valley, but he was the first to be buried there. Sarah then married William Robinson Grimshaw and their children were:

William R. (md Alice Bean)

Emma (md W. D. Lawton )

Thomas Minturn (md ? Byron)

George (md Anna Maria Gaffney) — Rhoads Grimshaw is son.

John Henry (died in infancy)

John Francis (died when 3 years old)

Selim Woodworth (died at 1 year)

Frederick Morse (md Polly Sheldon, 2nd cousin)

Twins — Walter Scott (never married)

— Sarah Pierce (died when 3 years old)

Twins — Charles Edward (lived only a few hours)

— Catherine Foster (lived only 4 months)

Daylor and his 16 year old bride began their married life in the small adobe ranch which he had built on the Cosumnes several years before. A short distance away his partner, Jared Sheldon, built a crossroads store which served the miners and the settlers in the valley. Sarah and her sister, Catherine, probably spent many days together performing household duties and helping their husbands in the mines and the store.

Grimshaw, Sarah’s second husband., was a native of New York. In 1848 Grimshaw became the bookkeeper for Samuel Brannan’s stores for the sum of $400.00 per month. In 1849 he became a partner with Daylor and managed his ranch and store. After his marriage to Sarah Daylor, he became a law clerk with Winans and Hyer in Sacramento., being admitted to the bar in 1868.He was a justice of the peace for 14 years and served the district court for 6 years. He made several trips to the Orient and a business trip 18 into Mexico with Samuel Brannan where he contracted a tropical fever.

Family Photos from Historic Cosumnes 2

Ricketts’ 2 Historic Cosumnes includes the photo of William below that also appears in Grimshaw’s Narrative.

William Robinson Grimshaw as depicted in Ricketts 2 . Same photo of William as above.

Rickets book also includes photos of William and Sarah Grimshaw in their later years (shown below).

Watch the video: Tour of Sutters Fort