California: Russian and U.S. Settlement

Russian and U.S. Settlement

Russian fur traders had penetrated south to the California coast and established Fort Ross, north of San Francisco, in 1812. Jedediah Strong Smith and other trappers made the first U.S. overland trip to the area in 1826, but U.S. settlement did not become significant until the 1840s. In 1839, Swiss-born John Augustus Sutter arrived and established his “kingdom” of New Helvetia on a vast tract in the Sacramento valley. He did much for the overland American immigrants, who began to arrive in large numbers in 1841. Some newcomers met with tragedy, including the Donner Party, which was stranded in the Sierra Nevada after a heavy snowstorm.

Political events in the territory moved swiftly in the next few years. After having briefly asserted the independence of California in 1836, the Californios drove out the last Mexican governor in 1845. Under the influence of the American explorer John C. Frémont, U.S. settlers set up (1846) a republic at Sonoma under their unique Bear Flag. The news of war between the United States and Mexico (1846–48) reached California soon afterward. On July 7, 1846, Commodore John D. Sloat captured Monterey, the capital, and claimed California for the United States. The Californios in the north worked with U.S. soldiers, but those in the south resisted U.S. martial law. In 1847, however, U.S. Gen. Stephen W. Kearny defeated the southern Californios. By the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), Mexico formally ceded the territory to the United States.

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