The Gooch-Monroe Family at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park | Cal Parks
Published: February 28, 2023

In Coloma, California, tucked away in the forested valley of the Sierra foothills west of Sacramento lies Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. The ancestral homelands of the Nisenan and foothill Miwok peoples, the area "Cullumah" — meaning "beautiful valley" in the Nisenan language — would become the site of the largest mass movement of people in the Western Hemisphere. Here, in 1848, James W. Marshall found his first gold nugget on the South Fork of the American River. This finding would consequentially lead to the migration of over 300,000 settlers and miners to the area, devastating the local Native people, and putting California on a fast track to statehood.

Gooch-Monroe Family

Photograph of the Gooch-Monroe family. Courtesy of the El Dorado County Historical Museum. From ColoredConversations.Org.

Gooch-Monroe Family 

With a profound influx of people who migrated to Coloma to join the economic boom, many stores, farms, and businesses took up shop, earning their proprietors money beyond their imagination. African American people were among the many who came to Northern California and purchased land, opened stores, mined for gold, and created their own histories in California. Many early Black pioneers arrived as enslaved people; some were born free or with unknown statuses. 

Among these early Black settlers were Peter and Nancy Gooch, who were moved from Missouri to California by their enslaver William Gooch in 1849. Peter and Nancy quickly gained their freedom when California entered statehood in 1850. Newly freed, they used this opportunity to work and save money; purchase property; and bring their son Andrew Monroe, his wife Sarah Ellen, and sons Pearley and Grant to California. 

Through their work as successful farmers and domestic workers, the Gooch-Monroe Family would eventually own 420 acres of land in Coloma, including the original site of Marshall's gold discovery at Sutter’s Mill. In the 1940s, the state acquired a portion of the property from the Gooch-Monroe family and two other black families under eminent domain. This established the state park we know today as Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. 

The State Historic Park Today

Marshall Gold State Historic Park now offers a site to reflect on the deep history of the Gold Rush and its impacts on California. Recently, through the California State Parks' Reexamining Our Past Initiative, several projects have been initiated to acknowledge the contributions of the Black community and the Gooch-Monroe family to the history of the Coloma Valley. These include new exhibits in the Gold Discovery Museum, interpretive panels and research about the Monroe family's impact on the park, and a complete restoration of the historic Monroe Orchard shed. 

If you plan to visit the park, be sure to check out the Monroe Orchards, Monroe Ridge Trail, Monroe House, and Monroe Blacksmith Shop. 

Courtesy of California State Parks, 2019.