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Indybay Feature
Hawaiians helped establish Sutter's Fort in Alta California, Republic of Mexico
by adapted from Peter T. Young
Thursday May 7th, 2020 8:28 PM
The essential Hawaiian connection with the City of Sacramento remains an open secret. California State Parks could share an inclusive and honest story of early California and the California Gold Rush. Asian Pacific Islanders, Pan Africans and Native Indigenous populations have a story to share...
In 1839, John Augustus Sutter, a German born - Swiss pioneer left Europe under questionable circumstances and found his way throughout the known world ending up in today's Hawaii.

Sutter was encouraged by Russian fur traders he met in Hawaii to relocate to the pristine waters of Alta California. Seeking his fortune in California, then part of the Mexican Republic, "my crew consisted of the two German carpenters I had brought with me from the Sandwich Islands, and a number of sailors and mechanics I acquired from Yerba Buena.”

“I also had eight Kanakas, all experienced seamen, whom King Kamehameha had given me when I left the Sandwich Islands. I had undertaken to pay them ten dollars a month and to send them back to the Islands after three years at my own expense if they wished to leave me.”

“These men were very glad to go with me, and at the expiration of their time, they showed no inclination to return to their people.” He also brought two Hawaiian women – one was Manuiki.

Manuiki was Sutter’s favorite companion for several years, although she was not the only one. His wife in Europe would rejoin him much later and he reportedly had several children with Manuiki. He jealously guarded his exclusive relationship with her. “Manuiki keeps the garden here. The vegetables we eat have come from her garden, though I of course taught her to make the soup. Potatoes are not common fare among the Kanakas in their native land.”

The Hawaiians worked for him and eventually intermarried with local native American families. They settled in the area of Vernon, which is now called Verona, where the Feather River flows into the Sacramento River in South Sutter County.

“They’re tattooed, they’re pierced, they’re half naked, they’re dark-complected, and they don’t look a whole lot different from the Indians in the Central Valley.”

That resemblance helped the Hawaiians on Sutter’s payroll convince 35-local Indian villagers to join Sutter, as paid workers, not slaves.

In his memoirs, Sutter recalled the Hawaiians, “I could not have settled the country without the aid of these Kanakas. They were always faithful and loyal to me.”

At the time of Sutter’s arrival in California, the territory had a population of only 1,000-Europeans, in contrast with a vast Native population, part of Mexican claim to the region.

When they landed and set up New Helvetia (August 13, 1839,) “I selected the highest ground I could find. The Kanakas first erected two grass houses after the manner of the houses on the Sandwich Islands; the frames were made and covered with grass by the Kanakas.”

In order to qualify for a land grant, Sutter became Catholic and a Mexican citizen on August 29, 1840 after a year in the provincial settlement; the following year, on June 18, he received title to 48,827-acres and named his settlement New Helvetia, or “New Switzerland.”

“Built a large private residence for me within the fort and a room for Manuiki with a good strong lock on her door; I worried about her when I was away.”

Sutter employed Indigenous Native populations mainly of the Miwok and Maidu tribes, Kanakas, Pan Africans and Europeans at his compound, which he called Sutter’s Fort.

In the following years many Sandwich Islanders followed these few to California. John Sutter brought them there to work at Sutter’s Fort and at Hock Farm.”

“A colony of more than 100-native Hawaiians formed a colony in Sutter County called Verona, the first non-native American settlement in the Central California Valley.”

“These Hawaiians fished for bass, trout, and catfish and sold them at the Fort and in Sacramento. They learned to raise alfalfa and raised hogs and cattle. The Hawaiians rowed their boats, assembled their tents and played their Ukulele and Guitar. When a visiting Hawaiian brought poi, ti leaves, kukui and other items from home the Hawaiians held barbecues and luau and danced hula.”

Eventually Sutter allowed Manuiki to marry Kanaka Harry, another Hawaiian who originally came with him ; Sutter set aside property for them on the American River, near the place where they first landed.

On January 24, 1848, a young Virginian named Henry William Bigler recorded in his diary: “This day some kind of mettle was found in the tail race that looks like gold first discovered by James Marshall, the boss of the Mill.”

Marshall and Sutter tried their best to keep the discovery of gold quiet until the construction of Sutter’s mill was completed; the news leaked out, and the stampede began. Some 300,000-people came to California from the rest of the United States and abroad.

“Forty-Niner” has become the collective label for those who participated in the famous California Gold Rush. Quite a few people arrived in 1848, and many came after 1849; however, it was the year 1849 which witnessed the large wave of gold-seekers.

“What a great misfortune was this sudden gold discovery for me! It has just broken up and ruined my hard, restless, and industrious labors. … From my mill buildings I reaped no benefit whatever, the mill stones even have been stolen and sold.”

Sutter fled California in 1870, after losing portions of his land title in a court decision. To avoid losing everything, Sutter deeded his remaining land to his son, John Augustus Sutter, Jr.

The younger Sutter, and extended family who had come from Switzerland joined his father in September 1848, saw the commercial possibilities of the land and promptly started plans for building a new town he named Sacramento.
by Michael Okey
Monday May 11th, 2020 11:55 AM
Site your sources, some information is not quite right and a bit incomplete. That is why citations are so important. I have no idea if you have better source material that I do or not, so I cannot make specific comments..
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