Sutter's Fort

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Sutter's Fort (1839-1849) - Also known as Fort New Helvetia and Fort Sacramento. Built by ex-Swiss Army artillery Captain John Sutter starting in 1839. Abandoned in 1849 after the discovery of gold in 1848 at Sutter's nearby sawmill.

Sutter's Fort Front View in 2009.
Sutter's Fort Color Engraving 1849.
Main Building in 2009.


The Sutter's Fort was constructed over a number of years beginning in 1839 to protect the many interests of Captain John Sutter. He built the fort with adobe walls 2.5 feet thick and 15 to 18 feet high with two bastions on opposing corners of the enclosing walls. The whole enclosure was approximately 425 feet by 175 feet. The fort was armed with 12 pieces of artillery from Fort Ross, Sutter had purchased that fort from the Russians 12 Dec 1841 and moved the arms, equipment, and livestock to Sacramento. The result was that Sutter's Fort could garrison 1000 men and was one of the most significant forts in California at that time.

John August Sutter 1832

Sutter's empire began in 1839 but expanded in 1841 when he accepted a 50,000-acre land grant from the Mexican Government in return for a loyalty pledge and Mexican citizenship. The Sacramento Valley was fertile land and he prospered, employing several hundred men and raising up to 12,000 head of cattle and 2,000 head of horses. On 11 Jul 1846, the U.S. Army took possession of the fort and garrisoned it intermittently from 1846 to 1851. Sutter himself raised the U.S. flag over the fort ending his allegiance to Mexico.

The only surviving original structure is the main building, a two-story adobe building built between 1841 and 1843.

Sutter's Fort played a prominent role in the early development of the area around Sacramento as a waystation near the end of the California Trail and the Siskiyou Trail. The fort also played a part in the Donner Party search and rescue and the California Gold Rush of 1848.

Gold was discovered at Sutter's Sawmill on 24 Jan 1848 by an employee of Sutter's named James Marshall. Sutter's sawmill was located on the American River not far from the fort. Four days later Marshall met privately with Sutter in the main building to show him the gold, word leaked out and the gold rush began.

The fort was abandoned sometime in 1849 when Sutter could no longer find anyone to work there because everyone was in the gold fields. It was almost deserted by 1851 and was in ruins by 1891 when the first restoration efforts began. It was transferred to the California State Parks system in 1947.

Sutter himself was overrun by the gold miners and they took over or destroyed most of his holdings. His original land grant was voided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1858 and little compensation was awarded. He died on 18 Jun 1880 in Washington D.C. and is buried in Lititz, Pennsylvania.

Current Status

Now Sutter's Fort State Historic Park in downtown Sacramento, California. Reconstructed.

Location: 2701 L St., Sacramento, California

Maps & Images

Lat: 38.57226 Long: -121.471174



Visited: 6 Aug 2009

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