Biographical Notes
John August Sutter

John August Sutter was born in Kandern Village, Baden, Germany. His father, Johann Jakob Sutter, Jr. was the manager of a paper mill in Kandern. Although John was born in Germany, the family claimed Swiss citizenship. John attended school in Neuchatel and then went to work first as an apprentice in a printing shop in Basel, Switzerland, and then as a clerk in a grocery store in Burgdorf. He married Anette Dubeld in Burgdorf on October 24, 1826 and his wife gave birth to their first child on the day after their wedding. Eventually he was able to purchase a house and open a small dry-goods store of his own. In 1828 he enlisted in the reserve corps of the Canton of Berne, Switzerland as a second under lieutenant. In 1831 he was promoted to first under lieutenant.

The Sutters lived beyond their means and eventually the dry-goods store failed. In May 1834 John secretly left Burgdorf to escape debtors. Annette and their five children remained in Burgdorf. Swiss authorities issued a warrant for his arrest, but he managed to evade the police and arrived in New York in July 1834. He did not stay long on the East Coast, but moved on to St. Louis and St Charles, Missouri where he engaged briefly in the Santa Fe trade. Once again he appears to have spent more than he earned and creditors began demanding money that he did not have.

In April 1838 Sutter accompanied an American Fur Company expedition led by Andrew Dripps west out of St; Louis into the Rockies with the intention of going on to California after the summer rendevouz at Popo Agie. After leaving Dripps at rendevouz, Sutter and a small group of trappers and missionaries led by Francis Ermantinger of the Hudson Bay Company travelled on to Fort Hall. After Fort Hall, Sutter's small group moved on to Fort Boise, then to Fort Walla Walla, and eventually to Fort Vancouver where Sutter boarded the Columbia bound for London via Honolulu, Hawaii. Early in 1839 Sutter sailed to Sitka in the Russian colony of New Archangel, Alaska, aboard the Clementine. In Sitka he was a guest of the Russian governor, Admiral Kauprianoff and his wife, Princess Menchikoff.

After Sitka, the Clementine sailed to to Yerba Buena, arriving in San Francisco Bay on July 1, 1839. Lieutenant Juan Prado Mesa informed Sutter that he must go to Monterey to formally enter California in as much as Yerba Buena was not an official Port of Entry. On July 5, 1839, Sutter arrived in Monterey, met with Alcalde David Spence and Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado, and secured permission to remain in California. Sutter made it clear that he intended to settle on the Sacramento River and Alvarado promised that after a one year trial period he would grant land to Sutter. On July 7 he returned to Yerba Buena and went overland to Sonoma where he met with General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo. After meeting with Vallejo Sutter went on to Fort Ross where he met with Baron Alexander G. Rotcheff, the Russian Governor.

On August 9, 1839, Sutter and a small party left Yerba Buena in several small boats to work their way up the Sacramento River to locate the area that he wished to settle. A few days later he found a location that he liked close to where the American River joined the Sacramento. Sutter met with the local Native American tribes in his area and secured their neutrality with regard to his presence. He named the settlement New Helvetia (New Switzerland). On August 29, 1840, he became a naturalized Mexican citizen and was appointed Alcalde and official government representative for the Sacramento District of Alta California. In May 1841 he obtained an eleven square league land grant from Governor Alvarado for the lands around New Helvetia. In September 1841 he purchased Fort Ross from Rotcheff for $30,000. (Title to the land was clouded but he was able to obtain ownership of the livestock, improvements, equipment, and supplies.)

During the 1840s, New Helvetia, or Sutter's Fort as it was popularly called, became a meeting point for travelers moving through the Sacramento Valley. Sutter operated regular ferry service between his settlement and Yerba Buena and many visitors to California called on him. He also maintained an active correspondence with a wide variety of people in the United States and Europe. In May 1841 Lieutenant Commander Cadwalader Ringgold, a member of the Wilkes Expedition, explored up the Sacramento River and reported that Sutter seemed to be well established and in firm control of the Indians in the area. That same year the French explorer, Count Eugene Duflot de Mofras, visited and reported that Sutter was very pro-French. (Sutter claimed falsely that he had served France while in the Swiss Guards.) Another important visitor that year was James Douglas of the Hudson Bay Company. Douglas was concerned that Sutter might try to block Hudson Bay Company fur trappers that were operating along the Sacramento River.