A big day in history: A speck of glitter triggers the California Gold Rush
Dominic Sandbrook explores the events of 24 January 1848
John Sutter had a dream. As a young man he had left his native Switzerland, abandoning his wife and a string of creditors, to seek his fortune in the New World. Crossing the North American continent, he fell in with a group of missionaries, and ended up in the Mexican territory of Alta California, one of the most fertile areas on Earth. There, not far from what is now Sacramento, Sutter began work on the project he hoped would make him a rich man: New Helvetia (‘New Switzerland’) – a fort with stores and workshops, designed as the centrepiece of a thriving new agricultural community.