James Wilson Marshall

James Wilson Marshall

Hopewell, Mercer County, New Jersey, USA
Death 10 Aug 1885 (aged 74)
Kelsey, El Dorado County, California, USA
Burial Coloma, El Dorado County, California, USA
Memorial ID 6649 · View Source
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Folk Figure, Gold Rush notable. James Marshall is forever linked to the California gold rush as the man who set the whole world heading westward with his discovery of gold along the American River in northern California. He was born in Lambertsville, New Jersey, leaving home at the age of twenty-four. He settled down along the banks of the Missouri River in the Missouri Territory and took to farming. After recovering from a fever, he surmised a healthier climate would be better and joined an emigrant train on its way to the Oregon Territory. Still not content, he set out once again, this time for California. Marshall arrived at the Sacramento River settlement and was given employment as a carpenter. He soon was a land owner landowner with a growing number of livestock. He became a stable settler and joined John C. Fremont in staging the Bear Flag Revolt trying to seize control of California which failed when American troops arrived to occupy the territory at the start of the Mexican-American War. He continued to serve with Fremont along with a few other loyal men, the remaining remnants from the revolt. He eventually returned to his farm only to find his cattle had been stolen and the house ransacked and looted. He was forced to sell the property but was able to form a partnership with John Sutter to construct a sawmill along the American River, agreeing to operate the mill in return for a portion of the lumber. While checking around the finished mill, Marshall looked down through the clear water and saw what appeared to be gold. The only knowledgeable gold person in the construction crew was Elizabeth Wimmer who as a young girl while working with her father, a gold prospector, learned to identify gold baring gold-bearing ore. The nugget was taken to her and she used the old folk method of letting the nugget sit overnight in lye soap water. In the morning the ore appeared shiny, indicating pure gold. The famous California Gold Rush had begun. The nugget weighed approximately one-third of an ounce with a value of $5.12. John Marshall, foreman of the mill, gave Jennie the gem while dubbing it the "Wimmer Nugget". She carried it around in a buckskin pouch. It was displayed at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. Ironically, the subsequent gold rush actually harmed the man who had begun it. His sawmill quickly failed when all the able-bodied men in the area turned all their efforts to the search for gold. He drifted from place to place in California, eventually settling in a spartan homesteader's cabin where he lived on a small subsistence gleaned from his garden. When James Wilson Marshall died in nearby Kelsey, penniless, he was taken back to Coloma and was buried on his former land, on a hill overlooking the town and the South Fork of the American River. Five years later the state erected a monument over his grave, atop which stands a bronze statue of Marshall, pointing to the spot where he made the discovery that electrified the world. Prologue: In 1927, the state of California declared the one-acre parcel where he grew grapes and attempted to sell wine with the centerpiece his grave, the “Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park“. In 1966, the boyhood home of Marshall in New Jersey was saved from demolition and has been restored and houses the Lambertville Historical Society. The historic house known as the “Marshal House“ had a storied past and it now houses an extensive collection of archived items and documents not only pertaining to the Marshall family but also to the history of the town of Lambertville.

Bio by: Donald Greyfield

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 13 Oct 1999
  • Find a Grave Memorial 6649
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for James Wilson Marshall (8 Oct 1810–10 Aug 1885), Find a Grave Memorial no. 6649, citing James Marshall Monument and Gravesite, Coloma, El Dorado County, California, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .