Sacramento’s First Settler

GE DIGITAL CAMERASwiss immigrant John Augustus Sutter arrived in the Sacramento Valley in 1839, when California was still a province of Mexico.  As a foreigner, he was not eligible for the land grant he needed to fulfill his vision of empire. The requirements to secure land ownership were: the individual must become a Mexican citizen, convert to the Catholic Church, occupy the property for a specified time (either by the owner or his agent), and erect minimal improvements on the property. An additional caveat on Sutter’s New Helvetia (New Switzerland) grant was that he must attract twelve non-Indian settlers to join him and live on the land for one year.  Sutter became a Mexican citizen in 1840 when his written application was approved by the province governor Juan Alvarado; no doubt “joined” the faith, although there was no church nearby for him to worship in; certainly occupied his grant and definitely built improvements. In 1841 Sutter received formal transfer of title for eleven Spanish leagues of land—close to 50,000 acres—near the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers. His original settlers were trappers and sailors.


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