The book chronicles Walter Colton's time in California as Alcalde of Monterey where he acted as magistrate and judge for Northern California. His first journal entry records the raising of the United States flag at Monterey and San Francisco on July 10, 1846. He held the first jury trial in California and fined gamblers $20 to cover the expense of building the first schoolhouse too. A Navy chaplain, he was sent to California by President Andrew Jackson before the the U.S. entered the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). Walter Colton, along with Robert Semple, launched the first newspaper, The Californian, on August 15,1846.
Three Years in California offers a unique look at the region before gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill on January 24, 1848 and shortly after. Reverend Colton recorded in his journal on May 29 that gold was discovered on the American Fork [American River]. It took several days due to doubts to substantiate the claim.
The charm of the book and Colton's entries stem not from his observations of big historical events for the time in California, but humorous anecdotes about people and places.
A complete, scanned version of the book is viewable through the Internet Archive at
Three Years in California by Reverend Walter Colton, U.S.N.