Mapping early San Francisco: a set of original maps reflecting urban development in the midst of dramatic change -- $30,000
Complete list (with links) of this never-before-assembled collection of maps:
In July, 1846, in the commotion of the California Bear Flag Revolt (centered in Sonoma), and earlier news of the U.S. government’s May 13 declaration of war on Mexico had reached the west coast, Captain John B. Montgomery of the U.S. Navy raised the U.S. flag over the town of Yerba Buena—a small town on a windswept California peninsula with a population of a few hundred. The town would soon be renamed San Francisco.
Its strategic importance was apparent: the vast bay, though mostly shallow, provided an excellent port sheltered from the storms of the Pacific, and it was fed by California’s largest river—the Sacramento—which provided a navigable route inland to the fertile Sacramento valley and Sierra Nevada foothills. The site itself, however, was lacking in good supplies of water, and, although the bay was ringed with timber, there was little immediately at the site.
In February, 1848, the signing of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War, and Mexico officially ceded California (and all lands north of the Rio Grande, including Texas) to the United States. The population of San Francisco was around a thousand, or perhaps less. But a crucial event that would transform San Francisco and California had already occurred, though news of it had not yet spread: Gold had been found!
Under the auspices of the Mexican government, John Sutter, an immigrant from Switzerland, had built a settlement—Sutter’s Fort—and then been granted about 50,000 acres to settle. Sutter dreamed of building a city on the banks of the Sacramento River. To supply lumber for this goal, he commissioned the construction of a water-powered sawmill. For the mill, a site was chosen on the South Fork of the American River about 50 miles east, in the foothills of the Sierra. It was there, in the bed of the stream where the millrace was to be built, that on January 24, 1848, the foreman, James W. Marshall, found shiny metal. Testing proved it to be gold, and although both Sutter and Marshall wanted to keep the find a secret, news got out. By March, San Francisco businessman and newspaper publisher Samuel Brannan was advertising the gold find, thus boosting his business selling prospecting tools and hardware.
Sutter had wanted to keep the gold find secret for fear of losing his workers, and his fears proved correct. His workers abandoned the mill in search of gold, as did the farmers on his vast estate. So, too, did many residents of San Francisco. For a short time, the town was nearly depopulated as its residents flocked inland in search of gold. Proprietors abandoned their businesses. Sailors arriving in port caught the gold fever and deserted in such numbers that many ships were abandoned, sunk and then buried under the expanding city as the bay-shore mudflats were filled and built upon.
In August, 1848, The New York Herald published news of the find. In December, President James Polk confirmed the gold find in an address to Congress. The California Gold Rush had begun.
From around the world, people came in droves to California in search of gold, with San Francisco the landing point for those coming by sea. The year was 1849, because of which the gold seekers became known as “Forty-Niners.” After being almost abandoned immediately following the initial announcement of the find at Sutter's Mill, San Francisco exploded in size. By 1850, it had grown from a town of about 1,000 to a city of about 25,000.
Although most of the Forty-Niners were European Americans coming down the Siskiyou Trail from Oregon, or taking the California Trail across the American continent, and thus not coming to San Francisco, those arriving by sea came first to the Bay. Many American Forty-Niners took one of the sailing routes from the east coast—either around the southern tip of South America, or to the coast of Panama, across Panama by land, and then up the west coast by ship. Other Forty-Niners included Mexicans and other Latin Americans from as far as Chile, as well as people from around the world, including Europeans fleeing the civil unrest of 1848, people from Hawai’i, Australia, New Zealand, and Asia. The Gold Rush sparked the beginnings of Chinese immigration to the U.S., which would soon lead to San Francisco having the largest population of Chinese of anywhere outside China.
Over the following several years, the gold rush drew over 300,000 to California, and San Francisco, on the strength of immigration as well as the mineral riches coming down the Sacramento River from Gold Country, and later from Nevada’s Comstock Lode, grew to become the largest city on the west coast of the U.S. The rapidly growing city entered its romanticized and turbulent Barbary Coast era, to be sometimes known as “Paris of the West.”