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Profile of the Day: James Wilson Marshall

On this day in 1848, carpenter James Wilson Marshall discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill near Coloma, California. His discovery would mark the beginning of the California Gold Rush.

Profile of the Day: James Wilson Marshall

Image: James Wilson Marshall / California Historical Society Collection, USC Digital Library

Marshall was born on October 18, 1810 at his family’s homestead in Hopewell Township, New Jersey. In 1834, he left home and headed west, spending time in Indiana and Illinois before settling in Missouri. After contracting malaria, he took his doctor’s advice to head west once again, eventually reaching Sutter’s Fort in California. He soon entered a partnership with John Sutter to construct a sawmill upstream of Sutter’s Fort.

On the morning of January 24, 1848, Marshall was checking the channel below the mill when his eye caught shiny flecks in the water. After testing the metal, he confirmed that they were in fact gold. Once news spread about Marshall’s discovery, thousands of people rushed to California in search for gold.

Despite his role in sparking the California Gold Rush, Marshall never profited from his discovery. He died on August 10, 1885 at the age of 74.

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