Shopping at Sutter’s Fort, 1849

Today in History — Courtesy of the Sacramento History Museum:


Copy of a lithograph of Sutter’s Fort in 1849 by George Victor Cooper from the Robert B. Honeyman Jr. Collection, courtesy of the Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley.

December 28, 1848

On this day in 1848, John Sutter Jr., in an effort to raise capital to pay off his father’s looming debts, started to sell portions of Sutter’s Fort. Priest, Lee, and Company purchased the rooms along the north wall east of the Central Building for $3,500 for their mining equipment store. Dr. Victor Fourgeaud bought the northeast corner rooms for $1,700.

The rooms along the south wall east of the main gate were sold to Hensley, Reading, and Company for $6,500. Pierson B. Reading and Samuel Hensley rented the properties to David Dring who operated a dry goods store, Peter Slater who had a saloon and bowling alley, and the southeast bastion (tower) became a hospital (which was later one of the main cholera hospitals in the city during the October-November 1850 cholera epidemic).

The Central Building was purchased for $7,000 by Alden Bayley and Michael McClellan, who converted the former administrative hub for New Helvetia into a hotel on the main floor and a saloon, gambling parlor, and bowling alley in the basement. The rest of Sutter’s Fort was sold by April 1849.

Most of these men were already renting the rooms that they bought at this time. Sam Brannan had a store at Sutter’s Fort too.

On one of my forays into the archives at the California State Library, I came across a trove of receipts saved by John Bidwell from his trips to buy supplies for his trading post at Bidwell’s Bar on the Feather River. Picture in your mind Sutter’s Fort, and then imagine John Bidwell and his partner George McKinstry going round the various businesses that had set up shop there, buying all kinds of necessary items to stock their own store. Here are a few of the receipts, with transcriptions (not all from the same trip):

Mr. Bidwell

                        Bought of McKee & Dring

10 pairs of shoes                     @ $7               $70.

¼ oz. Quinine                          @ $60             15.

1 piece Mantua                                               12. (probably “manta,” a type of cloth)

1 roll of Copper                                                6.

1 lb. of Salts                                                      2.

1 Rope                                                               3.00

9 pieces of Prints                     @ $14             126. (more cloth)

3    “        “    “                         @ $11               33.

12 pairs Pantaloons                 @ $4              48.

3     “            “                                                    12.

20 pairs of Blankets                @ $20             400.

5 Scotch Caps                         @ $1                   5.

                                                                      $732.—

                        Rec’d Payment

                                    Wm. H. Smith

                                    for McKee and Dring [on reverse] Oct. 14th 1848

Messrs McKinstry, Bidwell

                                    Bot of Hensley Reading & co.

155 lbs Coffee            30¢                  $46.50

100  “  Sugar   4 sacks  30¢                32.40

2 pc. blue drill             $16                  32.00 (fabric similar to denim)

2 sack salt                                               1.00

                                                            $111.90

Chag’d to acct.           Hensley Reading & co.

I Paid on the above $25.00 J. Bidwell

Sacramento City July 6, 1849 [Priest & Lee had moved out of the Fort by this time]

Mr. Bidwell

                        Bought of Priest, Lee & Co.

7 8/12  Doz. Fancy Shirts       @$12              $92.00

4 pr. Blankets                          $20.                80.00

2 doz. Pants                             $16                  32.00

1 sack nuts      50 #                 $30                  15.00

4 cases Brandy                        $20.                 80.00

1 Canister Powder                    $4                    4.00

                                                                      303.00

Received Payment                  Priest, Lee & Co.

Mr. Bidwell Bot of P. Slater

½ doz. Hatchets                                  12.00

9 Col’d Shirts   (colored)               13.00

                                                            $25.00

Sacramento City August 29 / 49

Rec’d Paymt.  P. Slater  [other name unreadable]

Unfortunately, these receipts do not answer the question: Did John Bidwell go bowling at Sutter’s Fort?

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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5 Responses to Shopping at Sutter’s Fort, 1849

  1. Charles Smay says:

    Nancy given my interest in Bidwell’s Bar the information about John Bidwell’s shopping a Sutter’s Fort was very interesting to me. Would be interesting to know the mark up was between Sutter’s Fort prices and what it sold for at Bidwell’s Bar in 1849. I also appreciate how much time and effort you invested to read these early store receipts. I have spent considerable time trying to read several pages of store transactions from Bendel’s Sore at Bidwell’s Bar so can sure appreciate what you have done.

  2. nancyleek says:

    I’ll have to try doing a comparison of prices — I have photos of Bidwell’s ledger book from Bidwell’s Bar and a slew of these receipts. Might be able to match a few things.

    • Charles Smay says:

      Wow! I was just making a offhand comment comment about the prices. Yes, I think that would be a very interesting comparison. Never dreamed you had a copy of his Bidwell store ledger. Did you get that from the State Archives? How extensive is the record?

      • nancyleek says:

        Bidwell’s store ledger from 1849 is in the California State Library. I used a photo of one page in my Bidwell biography, but the last time I was at the library I decided to take pictures of the whole thing. You would find it very interesting.

      • Charles Smay says:

        We moved to Oregon before I ever got to the State Library to do any Bidwell’s Bar research. Had no idea a Bidwell Store diary was there. I have a few questions about it. 1. How many pages are involved? 2. Do they have it digitized so I could request a copy.( Have no idea if the State fees make that possible. Is interesting they let you take photographs) 3. Do you have a State Library inventory number for the item? 4. Would you be willing to send me a couple of sample pages so I can see how readable it is and the information contained? I have information from the Bendle’s 1858 Store ledger on my website: http://www.bidwellthetown.com. Have gleaned some prices from Bidwell’s Bar Newspapers staring in 1853. The information in John Bidwell’s 1849 store ledger would provide information for an interesting comparison of prices. Also would be interesting to see the names of individuals making the purchases; if that is recorded as it is in John Bendle’s journals.
        Thanks for your posts that made me aware of this information!
        Chuck

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