America in the 1850s


What was life in California like in 1850?

The territory that would soon become the Golden State was a rather wild place, where fortunes were made and lost in the blink of an eye or the turn of a hand at cards. The federal census of 1850 numbered 92,597 persons in California, the great majority of whom were recent immigrants, drawn there by the gold that had been found in the hills near Sacramento. That California would furnish the United States with riches was believed by most, because the territory possessed vast agricultural, as well as mining, resources.

Many Northerners feared that the slave-holding South would expand, reaching the Pacific Ocean, but the supremacy of the North, where transportation hubs were concerned, made all the difference. In the two years since gold was discovered, far more Northerners than Southerners had moved to California, a move made possible by the steamships that carried them to Panama, the mule trains that carried them over the Isthmus, then the other set of steamboats that took them up to California. To be sure, there were quite a few Southerners who had made this migration, but they were—for the most part—outnumbered.


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