"go to dig gold in California"
Where the Gold comes from (1855)
Public DomainWhere the Gold comes from (1855) - Credit: Francis Samuel Marryat
James W. Marshall standing in front of Sutter's Mill (1850)
Public DomainJames W. Marshall standing in front of Sutter's Mill (1850) - Credit: R. H. Vance

When Hawthorne was writing The Scarlet Letter, the whole of America and beyond was in a frenzy over the California Gold Rush. It kicked off in 1848 when James W. Marshall, a foreman, discovered flakes of gold caught in the waterwheel of the mill he was constructing at the fork of the American River at Coloma. As the news got out, around 300,000 people flocked to the area from all over world in a bid to make their fortunes. By the early 1850s, most of the accessible gold had been claimed and the enormous number of migrants made getting to what remained almost impossible. By 1855, the fever had died down.