The Monroe Family in Coloma

Peter and Nancy Gooch were brought to California in 1849-1850 by wagon-train from Missouri as slaves. We believe that their owner was William Gooch, a partner in the Crescent hotel in Placerville. Nancy had to leave behind her three year old son, Andrew, who was not old enough to be a productive worker. He was sold by William Gooch in Missouri to the Monroe family, and as was customary, assumed the slave-owner’s name and thus became Andrew Monroe.
In 1850 California became a free state that did not allow slavery. Peter and Nancy were freed!  Peter worked as a handyman and Nancy cooked, did washing and mending for local miners. By 1870, nine years after Peter’s death, Nancy had saved $700 and acquired some property.  She located her 24 year old son in Missouri, helped Andrew pay off his debts (was a tenant farmer), and sent four railroad tickets to bring Andrew, wife Sarah and sons Pearley and Grant to California. Once in California Nancy helped Andrew start a farm on adjoining land in the northwestern end of Coloma. 
Over the next 15 years Andrew and Sarah had five more living children: Andrew Jr., Cordelia, William, Garfield and James (two infants did not survive).  Andrew taught himself to read and write and all the children were educated in Coloma & nearby schools. Andrew cleared 80 acres on the west side of the Old Coloma Road of rocks and boulders & turned it into a productive apple and pear orchard.  
The oldest son Pearley quit school early to work as a shepherd for a nearby rancher and with his father hired out to work in Sac Valley wheat fields.  Pearley subsequently leased land to farm and ranch. Around 1900 Pearley did work for a widow in exchange for a six acre plot of land in Coloma that included the Mill Site.
In 1885 Andrew and Pearley buried James Marshall.  
Andrew died in 1921 while helping Pearley drive cattle to Placerville. On news of his fathers death, James returned from Oakland, where he had been employed on Pullman rail cars, to help Pearley care for the Monroe homestead. In years that followed and as the town population declined, Pearly continued buying land & properties growing the family homestead & ranch to over 360 acres.
Brother Grant spent most of his life working as a stage coach driver and teamster in Placerville.  Andrew Jr. died at age 20 possibly of a heart condition. Cordelia spent her life helping care for the family and acting as caregiver to grandmother Gooch who lived to be 90, and mother Sarah who lived to be 88. 
William married widow Josephine Burgess in 1913. He was 40 years old and she was 55. William helped her three sons care for the Burgess homestead (which included the blacksmith shop property that later was acquired to build the Gold Trail Grange). The Monroe-Burgess union bonded the two Coloma families. 
Garfield worked in the mining districts of Nevada and died at age 40 in Carson City. James tried gold mining during the depression without much success and around 1949 moved to Sacramento to work at the State Capital. He married without having children. James died at age 101. 
Around 1923 Pearley built what is now known as the “Monroe House” and is believed to have used it as a rental property. The Blacksmith Shop was added around 1928. 
By 1930 Pearley had moved to Sacramento to work at the State Library as a custodian. He married and cared for a step-granddaughter returning to the Coloma ranch on week-ends to farm and bring back produce to sell in Sacramento. 
In the 1930’s the State Park Commission opened negotiations to buy the old Mill property. Failure to agree on a price led to condemnation proceedings and a forced sale by 1943 for $3,100.  (Pearley was asking for $6,000 and the State offered $2,000)  Pearley maintained that the historic site had greater value because of the commercial opportunities with a restored Mill, to offer gold panning for a fee as well as camping and picnicking for families.
Pearley retired from the State in 1948 and returned to live in Coloma. He subsequently sold the original 80 acre farm to the State and by 1962 had sold the remaining land and properties. In his last years old residents remembered Pearley living in the “Monroe House” and frequently saw him socialize in front of the Post Office. 
On a 1963 visit to his brother and friends in Sacramento, Pearley was hospitalized and died in a convalescent home at age 95.  In his will Pearley left $125,000 to the NAACP to further the 1960’s civil rights causes as well as $2,500 to help 35 school-children.


(Almariah) Pearley Monroe – a California entrepreneur

  • Born in Missouri in 1868
  • Arrived in California with his family by train in 1870
  • Attended Coloma school taught by Edwin Markum
  • Left school early to work as a shepherd for a nearby rancher
  • Known to have hired out to work with his father harvesting grain in SAC valley
  • Farmed and ranched on leased land
  • Around 1900 acquired 6 acres in Coloma that includes old saw mill site from a widow in exchange for labor
  • In 1906 bought Kane property (Chinatown area that burned in 1902)
  • Bought C. Sullivan/E.M. Smith property in 1907
  • Bought schoolhouse block in 1910
  • Father Andrew died in 1921 while helping Pearley drive cattle to Placerville. Andrew inherited Monroe homestead.
  • During prohibition (1920’s) acquired saloon and stable property on Main street
  • Build “Monroe House” around 1923 (as income property?).
  • Build blacksmith shop around 1928 (started implementing his idea of a park where families could enjoy Gold Rush history, picnic, camp and pan for gold?)
  • Great Depression scuttled his dream for a commercial park
  • By 1929 Pearley had a job at State Library in Sacramento. Income helped pay taxes & hold on to the Monroe Homestead and ranch (nearly 360 acres?) during hard times.
  • Married in his sixties; helped raise grand step-daughter
  • Farmed in Coloma on week-ends and returned with produce (trees at Christmas) to sell in Sacramento
  • State park commission started negotiating to buy mill site in 1930’s. Failed to agree on price. Around 1942 (during WWII) arbitrator set price at $3,100.
  • Retired from State job after 20 years and returned to Coloma around 1948.
  • Was a history celebrity around town particularly during Gold Rush events. Considered State park to be a Monroe Family heritage.
  • Lived in old family home in 1960; doing his own cooking, shopping and housekeeping with visits to friends in Sacramento.
  • Old family home burned for second time (briefly lived in “Monroe House”?)
  • By 1962 had sold remaining Coloma properties.
  • Was hospitalized in Sacramento in 1963; briefly lived in convalescent home and died at age 95.
  • His will left $125,000 to NAACP (time of civil rights marches) and $2,500 to 35 school children