Gold Discovered at Sutter’s Mill, January 24, 1848
he disease began in California and spread eastward. It struck people in every state of the Union in 1848 and continued, gaining virulence, for several years. The population most susceptible to the malady tended to be men between the ages of 16 and 60. Quite a few died seeking a cure, which, when found, tended to cause an instant relapse. The sickness peaked in 1852 and eventually died down after several years, with many failures to find the cure. It exploded again with new vigor in the Klondike region of Western Canada from 1893-96; more than a hundred thousand, mostly men, were again infected. As previously occurred in California, a number of the afflicted wore masks, so they wouldn’t be identified when they relieved other people of the sickness. The disease became known as “gold fever.”
Johann Augustus Suter of Baden, Germany, a soldier in the Swiss army, fled to California in 1839, leaving his family behind, and escaping his creditors in Switzerland. He convinced the Mexican overlords of the region to grant him lands at the junction of the American and Sacramento Rivers, where he built a fort and lavishly entertained, supplied, and employed trappers, traders, and immigrants. He hired one James W. Marshall to build a sawmill on the American River in 1848 just before the end of the War with Mexico, which officially brought California into American possession. On January 24, Marshall found flecks of gold in the millrace. Suter, now known as John Sutter, tried to keep the find quiet.
Johann Augustus Sutter (1803-1880)
Sutter’s Mill in 1850
Rumors of the find leaked out and in March, a San Francisco newspaper publisher and businessman, Samuel Brannan trumpeted the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, and announced his mining supplies store open for business! By August, The New York Herald headlined the discovery of gold fields in California and the gold fever took hold of the United States. Even President James Polk announced to Congress the discovery of gold in California—the War with Mexico not only expanded United States territory, but now promised wealth beyond all that had been previously imagined.
Hired by Sutter to construct a sawmill, James W. Marshall (1810-1885) found flecks of gold
James Marshall’s Cabin in Coloma, California, near Sutter’s Mill
Sutter’s workers abandoned him—squatters consumed all his crops and stole all his cattle, utterly ruining his businesses and life. Thousands upon thousands of people were possessed by gold fever and lit out searching for the “mother lode” in California. In two years, San Francisco went from 1,000 full-time inhabitants to 25,000. For most of the “Forty-niners” of the gold rush, travel by sea offered the safest and fastest way to get there, but took four to five months sailing around the southern tip of South America and up the West Coast. Some travelers docked in Mexico or Panama and trekked across to the Pacific Ocean and then caught steamers north. Shipwreck, cholera, typhoid fever, yellow fever, and accidents plagued all the routes to California. Many lonely graves were scattered across South America or lay at the bottom of the oceans.
A satirical cartoon c. 1850 that reads “The independent gold hunter on his way to California”
Advertisement offering transport to gold-seekers, c. 1850
Travel companies offered tickets across the United States along the “California Trail,” the “Oregon Trail,” and other wagon routes opening up to accommodate the gold fever-ridden adventurers and greed-besotted gold bugs. People came from around the world to pan for gold. People came from Hawaii (Sandwich Islands), Peru, Chile, Mexico, Europe, the Philippines, Australia, Turkey, and China. The California legislature responded with tax laws designed to strip the profits from successful miners, especially foreigners. The native Americans were shoved out of the way and retaliation met with massacre. Traders made fortunes selling mining equipment, food, transportation, and “entertainments.” Several smaller gold fields were opened up in the Sierra Nevadas and elsewhere, spurring more immigration and its attending vices. Multitudes were driven to poverty and early graves.
San Francisco Harbor is filled with merchant ships, c. 1850-51
About 90,000 gold-seekers arrived in 1849, 60,000 of them Americans. By 1855, more than 300,000 settlers had arrived. Probably less than half the seekers found gold and made a modest profit. A few struck it rich. Thousands died in the basically lawless mining towns and on the prairies. Merchants like Brannan became the most prosperous of the lot, many parlaying their wealth into political power. California became a state in 1850 because of the populations surge. Economies around the world profited. Native Americans probably suffered the most—records indicate that fifty Indians a day were slaughtered in some areas where the miners settled on native lands. Almost overnight, California had become “The Golden State,” and has never looked back.
A “forty-niner” pans for gold in the American River, c. 1850
The Overthrow of Queen Lili’uokalani,
January 17, 1893
ritish Captain James Cook is generally recognized as the first European to lay eyes on the islands he named after his patron, the Earl of Sandwich, in 1778. In time, the local name of the largest island, Hawai’i, gave its name to the eight isles that make up the modern American state of Hawaii. In common with Texas, it was the only other state that was an independent nation prior to statehood. Like Texas, it was a Christian nation. But unlike the Lone Star State, the Christian Queen of Hawaii was overthrown in a coup by American businessmen in collusion with the American government backed by United States Marines, in 1893. Although President Grover Cleveland determined that the coup was illegal, and tried to reinstate the Queen, the fait accompli prevailed, and the island kingdom became a protectorate of the United States, and in sixty-seven years, a state.
Captain James Cook (1728-1779), cartographer, navigator, explorer and captain in the British Royal Navy
The modern history of Hawaii began with internecine warfare in the last two decades of the 18th Century which ended in the triumph of King Kamehameha I, who established a monarchic dynasty which lasted until 1872 with the death of Kamehameha V. Two events had profound impact on the Hawaiian Islands in the 19th Century—the development of the sugar industry and the success of the Christian Gospel brought there by American missionaries.
Sugar exporting began shortly after the arrival of the British expeditions of Captain Cook. From 1835 to 1865, sugar plantations were constructed on the four largest islands and utterly dominated the economy of the nation. Both England and America competed for economic dominance on the other end of the world.
Kamehameha I, (c. 1736-1819) ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaii
King Kamehameha II (1797-1824) abolished the ancient pagan “kapu” religious system. He died of measles at the young age of 26 during a diplomatic visit to London.
The ancient pagan “kapu” religious system continued to prevail during the reign of Kamehameha I but was abolished by his son and successor. The American board of Commissioners for Missions, an ecumenical Reformed missionary association based in New England, sent fourteen missionaries (Presbyterian, Congregationalist, and Dutch Reformed) on one ship to bring the Gospel to the Sandwich Islands. They arrived in April of 1820. After centuries of human sacrifice, cannibalism, and demon worship, the light of the Gospel shown on Hawaii and the Holy Spirit was pleased to bring many people to faith in Christ. With the approval of the king, Rev. Hiram Bingham led the missionaries to establish headquarters in Honolulu. They learned the language, created a written alphabet, taught it back to the natives, translated the Scriptures and preached to them in the vernacular. Succeeding waves of missionaries arrived throughout the century and most of the children of the missionaries remained there, establishing educational institutions, joining in business ventures, often sugar planting and trade, as well as intermarrying with Hawaiians. Within two generations, members of the royal family had become Christians also.
Hiram Bingham I (1789-1869) led the first wave of American missionaries introducing the Gospel to the islands
A stone chimney and foundation are all that remain of “The Old Sugar Mill”, Hawaii’s first commercially successful sugarcane plantation founded in 1835 on the island of Kauai.
The sugar barons were active in Hawaiian and American politics, and between 1887 and 1895, fomented a series of rebellions against the King of Hawaii. The “Reform Party” protested the growing debt of the kingdom, as well as the corrupt bargains made by the king himself with foreign interests. A coalition of cabinet members, sugar planters, and royal advisors imposed a constitution on the king, the so-called “bayonet constitution,” for they used United States Marines to force compliance by King Kalākaua. He was stripped of his powers and only wealthy Americans, Europeans and Hawaiians were given the right to vote. The king died on a visit to San Francisco in 1891 and his sister Lilioukalani became the Queen and ruler of Hawaii.
Kalākaua (1836-1891), King of the Hawaiin Islands from 1874 to 1891. He named his sister Lili’uokalani as his heir-apparent.
Lorrin Thurston (1858-1931), grandson of Christian missionaries to Hawaii and a key figure in the overthrow of Hawaii
The Queen believed that the majority of Hawaiians did not want the new constitution and took steps to rid the nation of the imposed document. A “Committee of Safety” in the “Name of the people” organized a coup with the American minister to Hawaii, John L. Stevens. Citing imminent danger to Americans and their property, Marines and sailors of the U.S. Navy were brought to shore and the Queen was deposed on January 17, 1893. A provisional government was established by the Committee of Safety. The Queen wrote in response:
I Lili’uokalani, by the Grace of God and under the Constitution of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Queen, do hereby solemnly protest against any and all acts done against myself and the Constitutional Government of the Hawaiian Kingdom by certain persons claiming to have established a Provisional Government of and for this Kingdom.
That I yield to the superior force of the United States of America whose Minister Plenipotentiary, His Excellency John L. Stevens, has caused United States troops to be landed at Honolulu and declared that he would support the Provisional Government.
Now to avoid any collision of armed forces, and perhaps the loss of life, I do this under protest and impelled by said force yield my authority until such time as the Government of the United States shall, upon facts being presented to it, undo the action of its representatives and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the Constitutional Sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands.
Queen Lil’uokalani (1838-1917), ruled as the Kingdom of Hawaii’s last sovereign from 1891 until the overthrow of the kingdom on January 17, 1893
After lengthy investigation, by the American Congress and President, the Republic of Hawaii was declared on the 4th of July, 1894, with Sanford Dole as President. The United States got their permanent naval base at Pearl Harbor.
The Death of General Hugh Mercer,
January 12, 1777
ugh Mercer was born fighting. His military service ranged over two continents and three different armies, which reflect his devotion to his calling as a doctor and a soldier, and a temporary change of heart regarding his loyalties. George Washington considered Mercer one of the best soldiers in North America and instigated his promotion to Brigadier General in the American Army. Mercer was at the sharpest end in his final battle, commanding the 3rd Virginia Infantry of the Continental Line, helping Washington win the great victory at Princeton at one of the moments of great crisis in the War for Independence.
General Hugh Mercer (1726-1777), as portrayed by his son Hugh, Jr. in a portrait based on a sketch by artist John Trumbull
Hugh was born near Aberdeen, Scotland in 1726, son of a Church of Scotland minister. After a rigorous classical education, he earned a master’s degree and trained to become a surgeon. The Mercer family, though Presbyterian, supported the dynastic claims of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and Hugh joined the Jacobite army as an assistant surgeon. The military fortunes of the Pretender’s army declined until extinguished at the Battle of Culloden, where Hugh Mercer escaped the English pursuers and slipped aboard a merchant ship bound for America. Upon arrival in Philadelphia, Hugh travelled to the back-country and served as a country physician. He settled in the area now named after him—Mercersburg.
Bonnie Prince Charlie (1720-1788), leader of the Jacobite Rising of 1745
The Battle of Culloden, April 16, 1746, effectively put an end the Jacobite Rebellion
General Edward Braddock had led British troops and American militia to a dazzling defeat at the hands of the French and Indians along the Monongahela River in Western Pennsylvania in 1755, thus opening the frontier to further incursions and war. Dr. Mercer obtained a Captain’s commission from his colony to fight against Britain’s frontier enemies. After an Indian ambush where he was the only survivor, Hugh made his way through a trackless one-hundred-mile wilderness with a shattered arm, and arrived in Philadelphia for treatment. He became a local hero, was promoted to Colonel, and ended up under the command of Virginian George Washington, a fellow Colonel. Mercer was assigned the road-building duties to Fort Duquesne, which eventually led him to guiding the construction of Fort Pitt at the confluence of three rivers, and the Fort at Presque Isle on Lake Erie.
Fort Duquesne in modern-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Mercer served for a time
Following the French and Indian War, Colonel Mercer settled in Fredericksburg, Virginia where he opened a very successful medical practice, especially among the substantial Scottish community. He married into a popular local family and acquired significant property holdings, including George Washington’s Fredericksburg farm. Active in the resistance movement from the start, Dr. Mercer led the Sons of Liberty and commanded a militia company, which became part of the 3rd Virginia Regiment, Continental Line, with Hugh appointed by Congress as Colonel and, within a year, General, under his friend and old comrade, George Washington. The old (age 35) Scottish Jacobite had come full circle and was again in the field against the British government.
General George Washington (1732-1799) under whom Mercer served
Ferry Farm in Fredericksburg, Virginia—childhood home of George Washington, who sold it to Hugh Mercer in 1772
General Mercer supervised the building of Fort Washington and Fort Lee, both lost to the British in 1776. Some historians believe that the secret attack on Trenton on December 26, 1776 was originally Mercer’s idea, which Washington accepted and implemented. In any event, Mercer successfully led one of the columns in the attack, at the absolute nadir of American prospects, striking a physical and psychological blow that saved the Cause.
Battle of Trenton, December 26, 1776
Washington placed Mercer’s Brigade at the point in his maneuver to capture Princeton on January 3, ten days after Trenton. Bypassing the main British forces under Lord Cornwallis, Mercer took 350 men to seize a strategic bridge and cut off the post road—the British regiments’ main avenue of retreat. Spotting the Scotsman making the maneuver in the early morning fog, the British General deployed his men along a fence line and opened fire. General Mercer led his troops in a direct attack, driving the ad hoc group of the 17th Foot Regiment from their position. Mercer fell wounded and in the ensuing melee and retreat of his troops, General Mercer was bayonetted seven times, the British thinking they had killed Washington. Mercer lingered for nine days under the ministrations of fellow-doctor Benjamin Rush, before dying on January 12. George Washington had lost what biographer Douglas Southall Freeman said “was the peer, and perhaps the superior, of [Nathaniel] Greene”, considered second only to Washington himself.
General Mercer is wounded at the Battle of Princeton, January 3, 1777. Mercer would survive another nine days, but eventually die on January 12.
Mercer left a widow and five children. His direct descendants include two Confederate generals as well as General George Patton of World War II fame. Seven counties are named after him, as well as five towns and at least three schools. Three wars on two continents, untold hundreds of medical patients, a patriotic and valorous progeny, and the thanks of a nation are among a legacy that ought not to be forgotten.
General George S. Patton, Jr. (1885-1945), direct descendant of Hugh Mercer
“But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death.” —Proverbs 8:36
Decian Persecution of the Church Begins, January 3, AD 250
n the middle of the third century Anno Domini, Decius, a former senator, consul, governor, and now general, from the province of Illyricum in the Roman Empire, an area today within the borders of Serbia, fought and defeated an army of Balkan rebels led by one Pacatianus. The army of Decius then proclaimed Decius Emperor of Rome in response to his successes on the field of battle. When the true emperor led an army against him, Decius defeated and killed him, popularly known as Phillip the Arab, at the Battle of Verona in September of AD 249. Probably to solidify his takeover, as well as perhaps a jealousy of the increase of Christians, Decius decreed to all provincial governors that everyone in the Empire make sacrifices and burn incense to the gods of Rome, as an act of obedience, piety and worship. Christians were split on the issue of going along with the civil decree.
Philip the Arab (c. AD 204-249) Emperor of Rome (AD 244-249)
Trajan Decius (c. AD 201-251) Emperor of Rome AD 249-251
Protestant historian John Foxe in his famous Book of Martyrs, first published in 1563, noted that the Decian persecution was the seventh one by the Roman emperors. Church historian Philip Schaff described Decius as “an earnest and energetic emperor, in whom the old Roman spirit once more awoke, resolved to root out the Church as an atheistic and seditious sect.” This persecution, however, exceeded all previous ones since the edict covered the entire Empire. Former persecutions had often been provincial or just local; this one produced more Christian martyrs than all previous decrees and attacks, for “extent, consistency, and cruelty exceeded all before it.” The Emperor set a date for compliance: sacrifice to the gods and receive a certificate of obedience.
Saint Mercurius (d. AD 250), a Christian victim of the Decian persecution
Cyprian of Carthage wrote that many nominal Christians sacrificed to the gods of the State (sacrificati) or procured, illegally from a magistrate, a document (libellatici) stating that they had complied with the government orders. Many thousands of Christians fled to safer areas or simply refused the State’s demand to sacrifice to the Roman gods. Compromisers (lapsi) were often excommunicated. One of those who confessed Christ alone and refused to worship the State wrote to Cyprian, “what more glorious and blessed lot can fall to man by the grace of God, than to confess God the Lord amidst tortures and in the face of death itself; to confess Christ the Son of God with lacerated body and with a spirit departing, yet free; and to become fellow sufferers with Christ in the name of Christ?”
Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (c. AD 200-258)
Fabian, Bishop of Rome (martyred January 20, AD 250)
Babylas, Bishop of Antioch (martyred AD 253)
Alexander, Bishop of Jerusalem (martyred AD 251)
The Romans martyred the bishops of Rome, Antioch, and Jerusalem. Other pastors hid out and the persecutors turned on their flocks for slaughter. Cyprian concealed himself for a time, but was seized and put on trial seven years later, and when accused of being an enemy of Roman gods and laws, replied “Deo Gratias.” He was executed with a sword.
At the same time as the persecution of the Church came a plague which killed up to five thousand Romans per day. Some people called it Cyprian’s plague and redoubled their efforts to punish Christians. Decius also faced new barbarian invasions, especially the Goths. He assembled his army and moved north to drive them away. In the course of campaign, he was killed in battle, the first Roman emperor to go to his eternal reward fighting enemies of Rome, having served as emperor for only two years. The persecution of Christians continued regardless of the political power brokers of the next two imperial administrations.
A Libellus papyrus discovered in Egypt dated AD 250 certifying that the bearer has sacrificed to the gods
The pagan emperors of Rome worshipped the State and its power. Christians believed that Jesus was Lord and the only one to be worshipped. When the State demanded worship or set the rules for worship in opposition to the Holy Scriptures, professing Christians were faced with choices that always had consequences. Some bent to the will of the civil authorities and kept their head out of the noose, at least for a while. Others defied the tyranny over the church and faced fines, arrest, torture and sometimes martyrdom. Within two hundred years, the Roman emperors were professing Christians, and the Church had grown exponentially under persecution. That seems to be a recurring pattern. Someday, the persecution will stop and all the enemies of Christ will be gone. Of His Kingdom there shall be no end.