Our last stop before turning in our teardrop trailer on Sunday was to check out nearby Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. It was our intention to learn about gold panning and history of the California Gold Rush.
James W. Marshall discovered gold in 1848 on the South Fork of the American River in the valley known as Cullumah by the Nisenan Indians who lived in the area sustainably and peacefully. But Marshall’s discovery led to the greatest mass movement of people in the Western Hemisphere, and it was the spark that ignited the rapid appropriation of the West during the ensuing decades. The gold discovery site, located in the still visible tailrace of Sutter’s sawmill, in present day Coloma California, is one of the most significant historic sites in the nation.
But as my children and I moved about the site, we were surprised to learn about a nugget of African American history in the area: The Monroe Family.
According to Bill, our interpreter, Monroe was the grandson of Peter and Nancy Gooch, who were freed from slavery when California became a state in 1850. The Monroe family in particular became successful fruit farmers and prominent property holders in Coloma. The family grew and prospered with an estate that grew to eighty acres.
For decades, the Monroes were well liked and respected for their integrity, good citizenship, and an insistence on being accepted as they were. The end of this pioneering family came in 1988 when its last member, Jim Monroe died at the age of 99. Unfortunately, the Monroes did not have any heirs; therefore their land is now preserved as a public monument to remember an important era of California history.