Days of “Old, of Gold, of ‘49”

October 28, 2015 | By | Reply More
 The Yankee clipper

The Yankee clipper

There is certainly no lack of literature about the discovery of gold in California in 1848.

This epochal and classical discovery (there had been other “preclassical,” i.e. not so well known finds of the precious metal before that of James Wilson Marshall on January 24, 1848) was destined to change San Francisco from relative obscurity to a bustling metropolis of the Gold Rush.

It is but a truism to state that the modern city developed most of all from this onrush of gold-seekers.

Indeed, a number of things distinctively San Franciscan claim their origin from these same years.

California Clipper

California Clipper

Before the Marshall discovery at Sutter’s Mill at Coloma on the American River, California could muster only 15,000 persons in the entire territory: In 1857, this figure had yielded to 500,000 with many more yet to come.

In the still newly named San Francisco, as nearly as one can come on substantially accurate figures, the population, in early 1848, was about 1,000; by the summer of 1848, several months after Marshall’s discovery, the peninsula was practically deserted, at least as far as able bodied males were concerned.

A local Gold Rush had set in that was to have its effects on San Francisco long before the more celebrated international rush.

Many of those who went to the gold country were back in the city by the fall of ’48, some with rheumatism and other ills contracted from the working conditions; soon San Francisco would have to brace itself for the anticipated increase as more and yet more gold seekers came by sea (around Horn and across the isthmus of Panama) from all parts of the world and over the plains and mountains from the eastern and middle western parts of the country.

By February 1849, the population of San Francisco was about 2,000 but, by July, this had risen to 5,000 while the end of the year saw it grow about 20,000.

1847-1850 Gold Rush

1847-1850 Gold Rush

Here, indeed, was the city’s first population explosion.

While absolute accuracy in this matter has long been conceded as impossible, some knowledgeable things have been written on the subject:

Various trail counts and harbor master reports provide a basis for reasonable guess.
Conservative figures place the 1849 movement at between 30,000 – 35,000 who arrived in California by land while approximately 20,000 – 35,000 came in through the Golden Gate.
For the entire Gold Rush years generally considered to be from 1848 – 1852, California’s population went from 15,000 to 250,000.

George Groh

The figure concerning the number of those who came by sea enjoy greater accuracy, than those for the arrivals by land, for harbor master reports were detailed and based upon the shipping lists of passengers abroad, whereas no such check was kept on land arrivals.

For example, from the middle of April 1849, to the end of January 1850, 805 vessels entered the Golden Gate; of these, 487 were American and 318 were of foreign registry.

On board were almost 30,000 American males and 919 females; foreigners numbered about 8,600 males and 502 females.

These interesting statistics say a number of things to those who enjoy examining their implications; for example, the preponderance of males “on their own” with regard to providing meals and the like, undoubtedly contributed much to the quick growth of the number of eating places in San Francisco – and this is one of the reasons why the city has always had a reputation in this regard.

Even today, one may dine in “almost any language and almost any price” in the epicurean City by the Golden Gate.


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Category: Fog City - City of Fog, History

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