Nancy Gooch and her husband Peter were a pioneer family in Coloma, settling in the area in 1850.
Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park
Black History Month is an annual observance in Canada, the United
Kingdom, the United States. It began as a way for remembering important
people and events in the history of the African diaspora.
The discovery of gold in the Coloma Valley in 1848 brought a flurry of
humanity to the area. Among those who rushed in were African Americans;
some came as slaves, some came as freemen, some came as runaway
“fugitive” slaves. For these people, mining offered the possibility of
swiftly purchasing freedom for themselves and their families. For those
who remained in the area, their hopes of personal freedom were realized
in 1850 when California entered the Union as a free state.
In 1849 William Gooch traveled to Coloma from Missouri bringing with
him two African American slaves, Nancy and Peter Gooch. Left behind was
Nancy’s 3-year old son Andrew, who would subsequently be sold to a
family by the name of Monroe. As was the custom at that time, Andrew
thereafter took the last name of Monroe.
Nancy and Peter Gooch gained their freedom in 1850 and became respected
members of the community. Nancy took in laundry and mending for the
miners and performed other domestic chores. Peter worked odd jobs and
construction. Together they earned enough money to purchase 80 acres at
the north end of town, which they cleared for farming.
The Gooch family land holdings eventually included 10 lots on both
sides of Main Street in Coloma, running from above the schoolhouse to
beyond the original site of Sutter’s Mill. They also owned several
houses, and the 320-acre Four Corner Ranch. Photo courtesy of
California State Parks.
Peter Gooch died in 1861. Nancy continued to farm the property and save
her money with the hopes of purchasing the freedom of her son Andrew.
By 1870 she had saved more than $700 (equivalent to $12,600 today) and
had located her now grown son in Missouri. Andrew, who was married with
two children of his own, was a free man working as a tenant farmer.
With her savings Nancy was able to pay off Andrew’s debts and secure
passage for the family to move to Coloma.
Through hard work and determination Nancy Gooch, whose love of her son
never faded, was able to reunite with Andrew and his family. The family
prospered in Coloma and continued to purchase property over the years.
They added an orchard, family home and nearly 300 acres to the original
80-acre farmstead, and Andrew and his wife Sarah welcomed five
additional children to the family.
The family land holdings eventually included 10 lots on both sides of
Main Street running from above the schoolhouse to beyond the original
site of Sutter’s Mill. They also owned several houses, and the 320-acre
Four Corner Ranch. They farmed much of the land, growing vegetables,
peaches, apples and pears, which they sold in Coloma and Placerville.
Some of the fruit trees planted by the Monroe family still dot the
Monroe Orchard at the north end of Coloma.
The couple’s oldest son, Pearly, is perhaps the best remembered member
of the family. Pearly attended the one room schoolhouse in Coloma and
was a student of the famed poet Edwin Markham. He left school at a
young age to become a shepherd on a local ranch and later hired out
with his father in the wheat fields in Sacramento. When James Marshall
died in 1885, Pearly and his father Andrew, who had known Marshall,
helped with the burial of the discoverer of gold.
Around the turn of the century, Pearly hired out to a widow in exchange
for a 6-acre plot of land that included the original site of Sutter’s
Mill. He dreamed of turning the site into a commercial park that would
include a replica of the mill, a picnic area and campgrounds.
Anticipating the centennial of the discovery of gold, the state of
California wanted the original mill site as a centerpiece for a state
park and approached Pearly in 1939 hoping to purchase the property. The
two parties could not agree on a sale price —Pearly asking $6,000, the
state offering $2,000 — and so the state filed a condemnation suit
against Pearly leaving the matter to the court. In May 1942, the state
purchased the original mill site for $3,100, laying the foundation for
Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.
Over the next 20 years, the state purchased three more parcels of land
from the Monroe family to add to the state park. The family originally
owned approximately a third of the 285 acres that now comprise the park.
Pearly lived out his last days in Coloma and passed away in 1963 at the
age of 95. In his will he left $125,000 to the NAACP and $2,500 to be
distributed between 35 schoolchildren.