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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Anne Stapp

Sacramento's First Settler

Swiss 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 a grant were that the applicant must be a Mexican citizen and a member of the Catholic Church, occupy the desired property for a specified time, and erect minimal improvements. 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 his grant for one year. Sutter became a Mexican citizen in 1840 when his written application was approved by the province’s governor Juan Alvarado. As required he converted to the faith, at least on paper—there was no church and no priests in the Sacramento Valley wilderness. He built a three-room adobe shelter, acquired some livestock, and launched a fur trapping venture to support himself and his little settlement. 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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