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Gold Rush

1769 - 1849 | 1850 - 1903  


Henry Clay January 29: U.S. Senator Henry Clay presents a compromise to prevent the Union from dissolving over the issue of slavery. Congress debates Clay's proposal for eight months before passing the Compromise of 1850, which includes allowing California to enter the union as a free state.

Gold miners April 13: The state legislature levies a $20 per month tax on non-American born miners. The tax primarily targets Latin Americans. Resistance to the Foreign Miners Tax comes from French, Mexican, Chilean and German miners as well as from merchants who faced tremendous business loss as a direct result of the tax. The passage of the tax bill will lead to a rise in banditry in the mines; the tax will be repealed in March 1851.

April 22: The California legislature passes an Act for the Government and Protection of Indians that essentially forces Native Americans into servitude. The law provides for the forced labor of loitering or orphaned Native Americans, regulates their employment, and defines a special class of Indian crimes with punishments.

May 1:The Panama sails from San Francisco for the East Coast carrying $1,500,156 in gold dust.

San Francisco Fire Brigade May 4: In San Francisco, a second Great Fire breaks out in the United States Exchange, a saloon and gambling house, and soon engulfs the entire block bounded by Kearny, Clay, Montgomery and Washington Street. The fire jumps Washington Street across from the Plaza. There was one death, 300 buildings burned and $4,000,000 in damage.

May 11: Methodist missionary Israel Lord expressed his feeling that people should have equal rights to dig gold. "It is strange that Americans are not willing to give foreigners an equal chance, when there is so much labor required to secure uncertain gains which fall to the lot of the laborer here....I, for one, contend that they have the same right to dig for gold here as in the older States for iron, or wheat, or potatoes," Lord wrote in his journal. Since the fall of 1849, Americans have been making efforts to oust foreigners from the gold fields.

June 14: Another fire in San Francisco destroys the area between Clay, California and Kearny all the way down to the Bay. Three hundred more buildings are lost, and the damages cost $5,000,000.

June 15: The Mayor presides over a mass meeting at Merchants' Exchange to raise money for a water supply for fire protection. $7000 is raised.

June 22: A 500-pound grizzly bear is caught near the Mission Dolores in San Francisco.

Map of California and surrounding states, 1849 September 9: California is admitted to the Union as the 31st state.

September 17: A fourth Great Fire destroys 150 buildings in the area bounded by Dupont, Montgomery, Washington and Pacific streets. The loss is estimated at $500,000.

October 2: Hiram Pierce decides to give up mining and go back to his family in Troy, New York. His journey home is difficult and he contracts Chagres fever. Pierce reunites with his family on January 8, 1851.

October 18: The news that California has been admitted to the Union reaches San Francisco. The entire city bursts into spontaneous celebration.

An estimated 50,000 people are mining in California by the end of 1850. The estimated Chinese population in California is 660.


After 1850, the potential for making a big fortune diminished as the surface gold disappeared. As more miners showed up, claims shrank in size and mining techniques grew more complex.

March 14: Foreign Miners Tax is repealed.

May 4: A fifth Great Fire nearly destroys San Francisco. In less than 10 hours, 18 blocks, with 2000 buildings, burn. Fire loss is estimated $12,000,000.

Summer: As the surface gold plays out, miners invent new ways to reach the gold that lies underground, including a method called quartz mining. Grass Valley and Nevada City have more than 20 quartz mills in operation by the summer of 1851. Investors from Boston and New York get in on the action by purchasing stakes in quartz mining operations. Mining companies offer wages of $100 per month and find plenty of takers.

June 22: The sixth Great Fire destroys 14 blocks within four hours. This one starts in a house on the north side of Pacific near Powell and destroys City Hall at Kearny and Pacific and the Jenny Lind Theatre. Ten entire blocks are destroyed at an estimated $3,000,000 in damage.

July 5: A Mexican woman named Juanita is hanged by a mob of miners at Downieville.

July 7: San Francisco's population is estimated at 30,000.

July 24: On this day there are 465 vessels lying in San Francisco's port.

November 15: Sam Brannan and party land in the Kingdom of Hawaii and ask King Kamehameha III to give them land. Brannan is forced by the king to return to San Francisco.


In 1852, 20,026 Chinese enter the U.S. through the San Francisco customs house. The previous year only 2,716 had done so. In 1853 the number dropped to 4,270, but it bounced back up to 16,084 in 1854.

Frederick Douglass April 1: Frederick Douglass writes about the spread of gold fever among blacks.

May 4: A second Foreign Miners Tax is imposed, this one aimed at the Chinese. The tax lasted through the 1860s and became a key source of revenue for the new American state of California.

Gold exports for the year 1852 amount to $45,587,803.

By the end of the year, the entire non-native population of California is estimated to be 223,586.


A miner tends to three hydraulic hoses In 1853 a new technique called hydraulic mining spreads through the gold camps. Miners shoot water through hoses at hillsides and turn them to gravel heaps. They then separate the gold. This continued industrializing of the mining process forces more men into wage labor. Hydraulic mining also devastates the landscape.

Banditry continues to be a problem in the mining region. In 1853, a bandit identified as a Mexican named Joaquin Murieta is blamed for a series of crimes. Whether Murieta was just one man or even a real person is still debated. Finally, the state hires a bounty hunter, who kills a Mexican man he claims was Murieta.

August 19: The head said to be that of the bandit Joaquin Murieta is displayed at a saloon and draw big crowds.

Gold exports for the year 1853 amount to $56,390,812.


Joaquin Murieta September 24: The preserved head of Joaquin Murieta is sold at auction for $36.

In People v. Hall, the California Supreme Court reverse the conviction of George Hall and two other white men who murdered a Chinese man. Hall and his companions had been convicted based on testimony by Chinese witnesses. The court bases its decision on a California law stating that African Americans, Native Americans and all other people of color may not testify in court. The judges rules that the Chinese should be considered Native Americans and are "a race of people whom nature has marked as inferior and who are incapable of progress or intellectual development beyond a certain point."

July 15: A dispute over a gambling table between a man from Hong Kong and a man from Canton escalates into the Weaverville War. At three o'clock in the afternoon in Weaverville, before 1,000 white spectators, 140 Hong Kong men charge 400 men from the other Chinese associations, drive their opponents away and capture their flag. Eight Canton men and two Hong Kong men are killed and a dozen on each side severely wounded. One white spectator shoots at one of the Chinese parties and another spectator shoots the white man dead.


Alfred Doten September 7: Alfred Doten is partially paralyzed when an overhanging bank under which he was mining caved in on him. Doten is tended by friends over the next month and makes a full recovery, but he gives up mining to pursue newspaper writing and speculation.


The search for gold continued unabated throughout the 1850s. Gold production stabilized in 1857 at about 45 million dollars a year.

Rapid technological advances in the 1850s, most notably the rise of river, quartz, and hydraulic mining, require far greater capital resources. To meet the growing need for capital, large-scale corporations become the dominant form of economic organization, and speculation in mining securities becomes a regional obsession.


An influx of women brings their numbers up to nearly 19% -- 9,000 women in an enumerated immigrant population of almost 50,000.

By 1860, California's population was 380,000 compared to 54,415 in Oregon.

Abraham Lincoln November 6: Abraham Lincoln is elected president.


Civil War begins.


January 7: Judge Lorenzo Sawyer issues a perpetual injunction that brings an end to hydraulic mining in California.


July 11: Luzena Stanley Wilson dies of thyroid cancer in San Francisco.


November 12: Alfred Doten dies in Carson City, Nevada.

1769 - 1849 | 1850 - 1903  

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Gold Rush American Experience

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