Old Colony History Museum

Philip French and the Gold Fever

William F. Hanna

Beginning in January 1848, when gold was discovered in California’s Sacramento Valley, hundreds of thousands of farmers, merchants, laborers, sailors and rogues decided to become treasure-seekers. The effects were dramatic. In 1847, for example, the non-native population of California had numbered under 1,000, but in less than two years it increased to more than 100 times that figure. The Gold Rush drew people — mostly men, known as ‘49ers — not only from the eastern United States, but also from Central and South America, Europe, the Hawaiian Islands and…