Worldwide Gold Rush to California Begins

My Gold Rush posts this year have traced the spread of the news, from the discovery of gold in January 1848 until the knowledge reached distant corners of the earth. Although Johann Sutter wanted to keep the discovery secret, he could not contain news of such import, as we have seen.

“The United States is on the brink of an Age of gold,” the New York Herald Tribune reported in November 1848. By the end of the month, newspapers on the East Coast were full of the story, but it still wasn’t accepted as a fact by the U.S. government.

In fact, Colonel Mason’s letter regarding the discovery of gold arrived in Washington, D.C., on November 22, 1848, but it took a couple of weeks for the letter to circulate to the highest levels of government.

Brigantine_copperEtchDespite lack of official confirmation of the gold finds, the first ship left the East Coast for California with gold seekers aboard in November 1848. From the East Coast, a sailing voyage around South America took five to eight months, depending on the exact route and the weather. These were the first American Forty-Niners, though as my posts have shown, many other miners reached California well before 1849 began.

New Zealanders received word of California gold in November 1848 when an American whaling ship brought newspapers from Hawaii. News also reached France in November 1848. The Courrier des États-Unis reported the gold find on November 30.

Gold seekers from foreign lands began their travels to California to join those from Mexico and South America who had already arrived.

At the same time travelers from around the world streamed toward California, the first shipments of gold left San Francisco bound for the mint. The first ship to leave port carried over $500,000 in gold.

The government’s San Francisco mint wouldn’t open until 1854. Until then, gold was made into coins by private mints or transported either via sea or overland to the Philadelphia mint.

How quickly would news spread if large quantities of gold were discovered today? What would keep miners from flocking to the site?

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