James W. Marshall Discovers Gold In California

On January 24, 1848, James W. Marshall discovered gold on the property of Johann A. Sutter near Coloma, California.

A builder, Marshall was overseeing construction of a sawmill on the American River.

Previous claims of gold in California had proven disappointing, and Marshall's find was met with skepticism at first. The Gold Rush began in earnest only after President James Polk endorsed the discovery in December 1848. Prospectors heading to California the following year were dubbed "forty-niners."

James Wilson Marshall (October 8, 1810 - August 10, 1885) was an American carpenter and sawmill operator, whose discovery of gold in the American River in California on January 24, 1848 set the stage for the California Gold Rush. Marshall was forced from his own land by the resulting wave of gold seekers, and never profited from his discovery.

I…jumped from the pit and stepped to him, and on looking in his hat discovered say ten or twelve pieces of small scales of what proved to be gold. I picked up the largest piece, worth about fifty cents, and tested it with my teeth, and as it did not give, I held it aloft and exclaimed, "gold, boys, gold!" At that they all dropped their tools and gathered around.”

— James Stephens Brown, California Gold; An Authentic History of the First Find,