New Helvetia

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Nueva Helvecia is a city in Uruguay.

New Helvetia (Nueva Helvetia in Spanish), meaning "New Switzerland", was a Mexican-era California settlement.


The Swiss pioneer John Sutter arrived in Mexican Alta California with other settlers in August 1839. He established the agricultural and trading colony and stockade, Sutter's Fort, as "Nueva Helvetia," at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers. He received a 47,827-acre New Helvetia Grant from Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado in 1841.[1] The site of "Nueva Helvetia" is just a few miles east of where his son, John Sutter, Jr. established Sacramento, California, and is on the eastern edge of Sacramento's current downtown.

Rancho origins[edit]

Rancho New Helvetia (also called "Nueva Helvetia") was a 48,839-acre (197.64 km2) Mexican land grant located in present day Sacramento County, Sutter County, and Yuba County, California, given in 1841 by Governor Juan Alvarado to John Sutter.[2] The name means "New Switzerland", after Sutter's home country. The grant extended roughly from near present day Marysville south along the Feather River, to the confluence of the Sacramento River and American River near present day Sacramento.[3]


By 1840, the settlements in Mexican California were limited, for the most part, to lands near coastal waters. The Californios were worried about encroachments by foreigners, especially by Americans.[4] To serve as a buffer "against the invasion of the Indians and marauding bands of hunters and trappers",[5] Governor Alvarado granted eleven square leagues of land (the maximum under Mexican law) in the Sacramento Valley to John Sutter (1803–1880), a German-Swiss immigrant. Part of Sutter's mandate was to encourage settlers, and he made numerous grants of parcels of land; however, these grants far exceeded the quantity ultimately awarded to him.[6]

With the cession of California to the United States following the Mexican-American War, the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo provided that the land grants would be honored. As required by the Land Act of 1851, in 1852 Sutter filed a claim with the Public Land Commission for the eleven square leagues granted by Alvarado in 1841. In 1853 Sutter amended his petition, and claimed an additional twenty-two square league "Sobrante", granted to him and his son, John A. Sutter Jr., by Governor Manuel Micheltorena in 1845.

Both grants (New Helvetia and Sobrante) were confirmed by the US District Court in 1857, but the US Attorney General filed an appeal and took the case to the US Supreme Court. Although Sutter could not produce the original records of his grant, the Supreme Court accepted the 1841 Alvarado grant (New Helvetia) and sent the 1845 Micheltorena grant (Sobrante) back to the district court.[7] In 1864, the US Supreme Court rejected the 1845 Micheltorena grant (Sobrante).[8] The eleven square league Alvarado grant was patented to John A. Sutter in 1866.[9][10]

A claim for part of Rancho New Helvetia was filed by Charles Covillaud, J. M. Ramírez, W. H. Sampson, R. B. Buchanan, and G. N. Sweazy with the Land Commission in 1852.[11] Known as Covillaud & Co., the partners bought Cordua's Rancho Honcut, and also bought Cordua's leased land on Rancho New Helvetia from Sutter. A claim for Rancho New Helvetia was filed by Roland Gelston with the Land Commission in 1852.[12] Roland Gelston, a San Francisco merchant owned considerable property there and in Sacramento. A claim for part of Rancho New Helvetia as filed by Hiram Grimes, who owned Rancho Del Paso, with the Land Commission in 1853.[13][14]


As many as six hundred Indians worked at New Helvetia during the wheat harvest. Other industries included "a distillery, hat factory, blanket works, and a tannery."[15] These workers were recruited through local leaders such as Maximo, a Miwok who had sent many workers to Mission San José and Anashe.[15] Housing and working conditions at the fort were very poor, and have been described as "enslavement", with uncooperative Indians being "whipped, jailed, and executed." Housing for workers living in nearby villages and rancherías was described as somewhat better.[16][17]

The settlement was defended by an army of Miwok, Nisenan, and Mission Indians, all consisting of 150 infantry, 50 cavalry, and German-speaking white officers. This group, wearing Russian uniforms purchased from Fort Ross, marched to the Los Angeles area and briefly defended Governor Manuel Micheltorena from the revolt of the Californios.[15]

Sutter was forced to abandon his business ventures at the settlement during the California Gold Rush of 1848, when the area was overrun by large numbers of gold-seekers.[18] Sutter's Fort is preserved as a California State Historic Park.[17] With the gold rush, Sutter's workers abandoned him to seek their fortune in the gold fields. Later, squatters occupied his land. By 1852, Sutter was bankrupt. For fifteen years following the 1864 US Supreme Court rejection of the Sobrante grant, Sutter tried to obtain reimbursement from Congress for his help in colonizing California. However, little was done, and in 1880, Sutter died in a hotel in Washington DC.[4][19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Time Line of Sutter's Fort". Retrieved 2013-10-17. 
  2. ^ Ogden Hoffman, 1862, Reports of Land Cases Determined in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, Numa Hubert, San Francisco
  3. ^ Diseño del Rancho New Helvetia
  4. ^ a b Hurtado, Albert L.; John Sutter: A Life on the North American Frontier; 2006; University of Oklahoma Press; 416 p.; ISBN 978-0-8061-3772-8.
  5. ^ United States Supreme Court (1901). United States Supreme Court reports 16. Lawyers Co-operative Publishing Company. p. 119. 
  6. ^ Hoover, Mildred B.; Hero & Ethel Rensch, and William N. Abeloe (1966). Historic Spots in California. Stanford University Press. pp. 286–289. ISBN 978-0-8047-4482-9. 
  7. ^ United States v. Sutter, U.S. Supreme Court, 62 U.S. 21 Howard 170 (1858)
  8. ^ The Sutter Case, U.S. Supreme Court, 69 U.S. 2 Wall. 562 562 (1864)
  9. ^ Report of the Surveyor General 1844 - 1886
  10. ^ United States. District Court (California : Northern District) Land Case 319 ND
  11. ^ United States. District Court (California : Northern District) Land Case 341 ND
  12. ^ United States. District Court (California : Northern District) Land Case 416 ND
  13. ^ United States. District Court (California : Northern District) Land Case 417 ND
  14. ^ United States v. Grimes, U.S. Supreme Court, 67 U.S. 2 Black 610 610 (1862)
  15. ^ a b c Hurtado, Albert L. (1988). Indian survival on the California frontier. Yale Western Americana series. New Haven: Yale University Press. pp. 49–51. ISBN 0300041470. 
  16. ^ Hurtado (1988), p. 57-59
  17. ^ a b "Five Views: An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California (American Indians)". Retrieved 2013-10-17. 
  18. ^ "Discovery of Gold, by John A. Sutter - 1848". Retrieved 2013-10-17. 
  19. ^ The Oldest Californian; Death of Gen. John Augustus Sutter; June 20, 1880 article; New York Times; accessed .

Further reading[edit]

  • Hurtado, Albert L. (1988). ""Saved so much as possible for labour": New Helvetia's Indian Work Force". Indian survival on the California frontier. Yale Western Americana series. New Haven: Yale University Press. pp. 55–71. ISBN 0300041470. 

Coordinates: 38°34′48″N 121°28′48″W / 38.580°N 121.480°W / 38.580; -121.480

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