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March 19, 2015

Samuel Brannan

click on pictures to enlarge

Samuel Brannan
James Wilson Marshall

On March 2, 1819 Samuel Brannan was born in Saco, Massachusetts, which eventually became the state of Maine about a year later. After turning 14, Sam moved to Kirtland, Ohio with his sister where he learned the printer's trade. He joined the "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" also known as "LDS." In 1844, he moved to New York and began printing "The Prophet" and the "New York Messenger," a Latter Day Saint newspaper.

AfterJoseph Smith, a church leader was murdered the Latter Day Saints decided to move their central headquarters away from Nauvoo, Illinois. Several locations were considered, including the Mexican Territory of Alta, California. In February 1846, with the approval of church leaders, Brannan and 245 other Latter Day Saints from New York boarded the ship "Brooklyn" and sailed for upper California via Cape Horn. Sam brought an old printing press and a complete flour mill. After a stop in Honolulu, Hawaii, they landed on July 31,1846 at the Mexican port town of Yerba Buena, a present day San Francisco, tripling the population of the pueblo. Brannan was appointed as the first President of the California LDS Mission.

Sam used his press to establish the "California Star" which was the first newspaper in San Francisco. It was the second paper in Alta, California after the "Californian" which he also started on August 15, 1846. These two papers were combined to become "The Daily Alta California" in 1848. Sam also created the first school in San Francisco. In June 1847, he tried to convince Brigham Young, the head of the LDS church, to migrate to the Great Basin bringing Mormon pioneers to California. Young rejected the idea and settled what is now Utah. Brannan returned to northern California.

Sam Brannan moved to New Helvetia where he opened a store at John Sutter's Fort. After gold was discovered in Coloma at Sutter's Mill, Sam stocked as many picks, shovels, and pans as possible. His store was the only store between San Francisco and the gold fields. Being a shrewd businessman, Brannan would pay 20 cents for a gold pan and sell them for $15 each. In 9 weeks, he made $36,000. In 1849, his Sutter's Fort store sold $150,000 per month. Brannan opened more stores in San Francisco.

In addition to his stores, Brannan, being a LDS representative, collected "offerings" from Mormon gold miners in the fields. Brigham Young demanded that Brannan turn the money over to him in Utah. According to reporters, Sam Brannan's answer was "tell Bringham Young that I'll give up the Lord's money when he sends me a receipt signed by the Lord!." Some historians consider this a legend, and others do not.

Brannan was elected to the First Council of San Francisco in the "new" U.S. Territory. After a series of crimes, he organized the "San Francisco Committee of Vigilance," which functioned as an unofficial police force., During a vigilante raid at the gold fields a "squatter" was murdered. Some say Brannan pulled the trigger, and because of this was ejected from the LDS church for vigilante violence.

During the gold rush days, Sam Brannan became "California's First Millionaire." With 2 other outfits, he purchased Sutter's vast land holdings and built many fine buildings in the San Francisco and Scramento areas. He started a lucrative ship trade with China, Hawaii, and the east coast. His land holdings stretched to southern California and Hawaii. In 1851, he bought large amounts of land in Honolulu. In 1853, Sam was elected a state Senator of California in the new State's Capital in Sacramento. He helped develop trade with China and financial agreements with Mexico, the founding of the "Society of Califorian Pioneers," as well as developing banks, railroads, and telegraph companies in California. In 1858, he built the first version of the famous "Cliff House" in San Francisco.

Upon visiting the hot springs in upper Napa Valley in 1859, Brannan purchased the springs in the northern portion of the "Rancho Carne Humana" and founded the town of Calistoga. The name was the combination of "California and the then fashionable Saratoga Springs" in New York. He also founded the "Napa Valley Railroad" in 1864 to provide tourists with an easy route to reach Calistoga from the San Francisco ferry boats that docked in lower Vallejo. Unfortunately, the railroad was sold due to a foreclosure in Napa county in 1869.

In 1868, Brannan became one of the main investors at the Robinson Trust which initiated developments of major coastal land holdings in Los Angeles county and also near San Pedro Bay in southern California.

In 1872, Brannan divorced his wife Anna Eliza Corwin. Since she was awarded half of his estate, he was forced to liquidate just about all of his properties to pay her off. After the divorce, he became a brewer and an alcoholic. Sam moved to San Diego and remarried. He had a small ranch near the Mexican Border where he did land speculation for the Mexican government in Sonora. In 1888, he earned $49,000. He quit drinking and paid off all of his debts.

Sam Brannan died penniless at age 70 in Escondido, California on Sunday May 5, 1889 from "inflammation of the bowels." His body layed unclaimed for a year in the San Diego county vault until it was recognized by chance. He was given a Christian burial marked only with a stake in Mount Hope Cemetary.

Samuel Brannan's name has lived on in many facets. Many locations are named after him in California which include: a city named Brannan, Brannan St in San Francisco, Brannan Island a good fishing area in the delta, Brannan Bluff, Brannan River, Brannan Mountain, Brannan Springs, and Sam Brannan Middle School in Sacramento (where my best friend and clamper sponser Jeff Hunter attended). Brannan founded Calistoga and Yuba City. In partnership with John A Sutter, William Tecumseh Sherman (famous civil war union general), and Edward Ord as surveyors, Brannan laid out the unofficial subdivisions that became the city of Sacramento. Sam Brannan lead an interesting life, but these are but a few of his stories.

On April 17-19, Sam Brannan Chapter 1004 is having its Spring Function in Knight's Landing. They are having a plack re-dedication since they are moving it to a new location. It will be at the same place as their re-chartering of 1974.

Rub: $55 pre-pay, $65 day of, with PBC-$75. "Sounds like a good time." Want to go?

Rub: $55 pre-pay, $65 day of, with PBC-$75. "Sounds like a good time." Want to go?

Samuel Brannan
James Wilson Marshall

Report presented by Gary "Col. Klink" Klinke
John A Sutter Historian