Today: How ex-slave Nancy Gooch became a successful businesswoman and the California Gold Rush landmark she later bought.
The day began like any other but by nightfall, it would make history. On January 24th, 1848 at Sutter’s Mill in Northern California, James Marshall, a foreman working for John Sutter found gold glistening in the sun in a water wheel he was building on the American River.
When Marshall showed him, Sutter, unaware of the massive amount of gold there, tried to keep it quiet because he wanted to build a lumber and farming empire.
By March however, rumors of gold at Sutter’s Mill were quickly spreading and were even reported in San Francisco newspapers.
But the Gold Rush didn’t begin in earnest until May when a Sutter’s Mill area store owner, Sam Brannan practically danced down a busy San Francisco street holding up a bottle filled with gold dust for all to see, proclaiming, “Gold, Gold, Gold from the American River!”
Brannan’s intent was probably to boost his store’s sales but once people saw the gold dust, the gold rush was on, as the first of hundreds of thousands of people converged on the site, about 135 miles northeast of San Francisco.
San Francisco at that time was a village of perhaps 1,000 people and it largely emptied out as its residents rushed with others to the gold site. But as thousands of people arrived in San Francisco by 1850, its population had mushroomed to upwards of 100,000.
Businesses grew fast to sell miners shovels and picks and pans, tents and food and clothing and other products and services. Saloons, gambling houses, hotels, brothels and banks popped up in San Francisco and in mining camps at a frantic pace.
Joining this flood of prospectors were slave owners, among them the Missouri family that owned Nancy Ross and Peter Gooch. In 1849 they took Nancy and Peter to California, leaving Nancy’s son Andrew behind.
There they worked Nancy long hours as a washerwoman and cook and Peter as a farmhand and cook. But in 1850, from the Gold Rush, California’s population was growing rapidly and California became a state, a free state, meaning no slavery allowed. Under the law, her owners were forced to free them.
Nancy and Peter could then sell their services to the miners and keep the money. They had been freed but they were broke. They both worked hard and Nancy did sewing, cooking and washing for the miners. She worked long hours, saving every penny she could.
For Nancy had another reason to work hard and save, one as important to her as life itself.
When she had saved enough money, she bought her son Andrew Monroe and the woman who would later become his wife Sara Ellen Collins from the Missouri slaveholders who owned them. Subsequently she brought them to California with their two sons, Perley and Ulysses S. Grant, to be with Peter and her.
During this time, she and Peter married, she becoming Nancy Gooch. In most slave jurisdictions, marriages had no legal standing because slaves were property and could be sold off at any time.
And until Nancy bought them, her son Andrew and his wife Sara Ellen Collins could be sold off as individuals and so could their children.
But there was another serious problem. Being a slave in a slave state often meant by law, you could not be taught to read and write for an educated slave was a threat to flee for freedom and encourage other slaves to do so.
So in California, Nancy and her family likely had to self-educate by hiring tutors to teach them. Meanwhile, the Gooch/Monroe family worked hard and they saved their money. Eventually they were substantial landholders in the Gold Rush town of Coloma and that included a very profitable 320 acre fruit farm.
But the most interesting part of their success relates to John Sutter.
He thought the Gold Rush would make him extremely rich. Instead, it broke him. Squatters seized his horses and cattle, burned down his house and claimed the gold they found on his property.
When Sutter couldn’t pay his bills, creditors went after him and as his fortunes declined, he drank heavily. His life fell apart.
With the Gold Rush however, California became a valuable part of the nation. Sutter appealed to Congress to compensate him for his losses and moved to Washington, DC to appeal directly. But his appeal languished for years and he died without ever seeing a penny.
Meanwhile, as the fortunes of ex-slaves the Gooch/Monroe family grew, they did something that is largely lost to history; they bought the saw mill at Sutter’s Mill, where the Gold Rush began.
Another interesting fact: When James Marshall, who discovered the gold at Sutter’s Mill that led to the Gold Rush, died in 1885, he was not rich. It was his friend and prosperous businessman Andrew Monroe who helped to dig his grave and provided his funeral service and burial.
Nancy and her family had succeeded financially. Slavery however continued among the slave states until the Civil War ended in 1865, and for another century afterward, everywhere in the U.S., African Americans were confronted by bigotry and by severe limitations placed on them.
But in California’s Gold Rush area the Gooch/Monroe family was well respected and held in high esteem, and known as people of stature who helped others in their Coloma community.
Success Tip of the Week:
However down you may be, if like Nancy Gooch you can work even a menial job and save your money, you too could pick yourself up and become prosperous.
To see a picture of the Gooch/Monroe Family and to learn more about them please see http://weeklypioneer.blogspot.com/2009/09/nancy-gooch.html
In the next KazanToday:
A man who built a very successful company from an unusual but simple business idea.