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  • In January of 1848, James Marshall found a few shiny flakes in a stream at Sutter’s sawmill in the Coloma valley. What followed was one of the greatest voluntary migrations in human history: the California Gold Rush.

    San Francisco, the port of entry to the gold fields of Northern California, saw its population swell from less than 400 people in 1847 to almost 25,000 by 1850.

    Hundreds of thousands continued to pass through the city on their way to the gold fields. Prostitution, murder, thievery, and gambling became commonplace. Speculation was at a peak. The city itself nearly burned to the ground more than a dozen times during the 1850s. Upon arriving in the city in 1849, Fr. Michael Accolti, one of the first Jesuits to come to San Francisco, wrote the following about the city:

    “Whether it should be called a madhouse or Babylon I am at a loss to determine; so great in those days was the disorder, the brawling, the open immorality, the reign of crime which brazen-faced triumphed on a soil not yet brought under the sway of human laws.”

    Another priest, Fr. Antoine Langlois, wrote in 1849, however,

    “In spite of the temptations of bar-rooms and saloons on every hand for the multitudes that frequented them … it was possible for a person to save his soul in San Francisco.”
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