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Indybay Feature
Discover the Hawaiian Seamen who built Sutter's Fort and settled the Sacramento Region
by Edited from Peter T Young
Wednesday Dec 23rd, 2020 3:50 PM
Eight experienced Hawaiian seamen, whom King Kamehameha selected escorted Johan Sutter from the Sandwich Islands to establish a colony inland Northern California. The agreement to pay them ten dollars a month and return them back to the Hawaiian Islands after three years if they wished to leave. The "hidden figures of authentic Sacramento History comes alive for 2020 Sacramento County Kwanzaa
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After a brief stay in the Hawaiian Islands, in 1839, John Augustus Sutter, a Swiss seeking his fortune in America, had a “crew consisted of the two German carpenters I had brought with me from the Islands, and a number of sailors and mechanics I had picked up at 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.” (Sutter) He also brought two Hawaiian women – one was Manuiki. (“It’s Kanaka. It means ‘little bird.” (Sutter; Houston))

Manuiki was Sutter’s favorite companion for several years, although she was not the only one. They had several children together. (Herrmann) He jealously guarded his exclusive relationship with her. (Hurtado)

“Manuiki keeps the garden here. The vegetables we eat have come from her garden, thogh 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-complexed, 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.”

When they landed and set up New Helvetia on 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 by white men and covered with grass by the Kanakas.”

In order to qualify for a land grant, Sutter became 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.”

“My hospitality attracted men to me whom I put in charge of various endeavors. The next year we built the fort with walls 18-feet high and three feet thick bought more cannons.”

“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 Native Americans 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 came with him in 1839; 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 Martial, 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, who had come from Switzerland and 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, after the Sacramento River.
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