John Sutter was born on February 15 of 1803 in Kandern, Baden, a few miles from the Swiss border. As an apprentice to a firm of printers and booksellers, Sutter soon found the paper business was not for him.
He met his future wife, Annette D'beld, while clerking in a draper's shop, and the two were married in Burgdorf on October 24 of 1826.
A series of business failures propmted Sutter's decision to seek his fortune in America. At the age of thirty-one, he left his wife and four children, a step ahead of his creditors.
After arriving in America Sutter headed west for Missouri where he worked as a merchant and innkeeper for several years. All the while dreaming of establishing his own agricultural empire somewhere out west. In April of 1838 he joined a trapping party on their way to the Pacific Coast. The traders reached Fort Vancouver, the Pacific headquarters of the Hudson's Bay Company, in October. Unable to leave for California immediately, Sutter sailed on the Hudsonís Bay ship Columbia for the Sandwich Islands, where he landed at Honolulu on December 9 of 1838. From there he sailed to the Russian colony at Sitka, Alaska, and thence to Yerba Buena, where he arrived on July 1 of 1839. He had finally reached California.
Sutter met with Governor Alvarado at Monterey to discuss establishing himself in the country. In search of his dream, Sutter chartered the schooner Isabella from the firm of Spear & Hinckley, and two smaller vessels. Loaded with provisions he led his fleet up the Sacramento River on August 1 of 1839. Two weeks later they landed near where the American River joins the Sacramento and established camp. A tent and some brush huts provided the first shelter for the small party; later, a more substantial adobe building was erected with Indian labor.
In order to qualify for a land grant, Sutter became a naturalized Mexican citizen on August 29 of 1840. The following year, on June 18, he received title to eleven leagues of land... some 48,827 acres from Governor Alvarado. He named the grant New Helvetia after his homeland and began building his empire.
In 1841 Sutter established the Hock farm on the West bank of the Feather River a few miles south of what would become Yuba City. This farm supplied the settlement at Sutter's Fort on the Sacramento River.
Sutter's Fort was pretty well completed by 1844. The Fort was also a trading post and as it occupied one of the most strategic positions in Northern California. Because of the overland trails, it became the natural objective for parties crossing the Sierras.
Sutter's dreams of an agricultural empire were soon fulfilled as he branched out into many pursuits. local Indians employed were to sow and harvest his wheat fields; large herds of cattle and horses grazed in fields about the fort. Hunters were sent into the mountains for furs and elk skins. A distillery was built. A blacksmith shop furnished tools and a launch carrying freight and passengers ran regularly between the Fort and San Francisco Bay.
Unfortunately for Sutter, James Marshall discovered gold at Sutter's Sawmill at Coloma.
As the news of the discovery spread, more and more people began traveling through the region and Sutter saw his settlement overrun with goldseekers. They trampled his crops, stole his animals, tools, and supplies, and infected his workers with gold fever. Sutter saw his empire crumbling away and there was nothing he could do about it. ,p> John Sutter helped frame the California State Constitution in 1849 as a member of the Monterey Convention.
In 1850, he was joined by his wife, daughter Eliza, and sons Emil Victor and William Alphonse, whom he hadn't seen for sixteen years. As life at the Fort had become intolerable, he took his family north to Hock Farm. The family enjoyed a few years peace in their beautiful redwood home, surrounded by vineyards, orchards and gardens of rare plants, before misfortune struck once again. Rustlers stole his livestock and squatters overran his land. The sauatters eventually took Sutter to court over the legality of his titles. The U.S. Land Commission decided in Sutter's favor in 1857, but a year later the Supreme Court declared portions of his title invalid. The final blow came on June 7 of 1865, when a small band of men set fire to the house, completely destroying the structure.
Sutter and his wife went to Washington D.C. seeking restitution from Congress, but were unsuccessful. He and his wife settled down in the Moravian town of Lititz, Pennsylvania, around 1871, but he never gave up the fight.
On June 16 of 1880, Congress adjourned before passing a bill which would have given him $50,000. Two days later, John Augustus Sutter died. He was returned to Lititz and buried in the Moravian Brotherhood's Cemetery. Mrs. Sutter died the following January.