Sam Brannan

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Samuel Brannan
Samuel Brannan (March 2, 1819May 14, 1889), was the first publicist of the California Gold Rush and its first millionaire. Brannan was a colorful, energetic figure in the early history of California and especially of San Francisco. "He probably did more for [San Francisco] and for other places than was effected by the combined efforts of scores of better men; and indeed, in many repects he was not a bad man, being as a rule strightforward as well as shrewd in his dealings, as famous for his acts of charity and open-handed liberality as for in enterprise, giving also frequent proofs of personal bravery."[1]

Early career

Samuel Brannan was born in Saco, Maine. As a teenager, his family moved to Ohio, where Brannan learned the printer's trade. He joined the early Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or Mormon Church. Brannan moved to New York in 1844, and began printing The New York Messenger, a Latter Day Saint newspaper.

After the murder of church leader Joseph Smith, Jr., in June 1844 it soon became clear that the Latter Day Saints would have to leave their seat at Nauvoo, Illinois. Several possible destinations were discussed, including the Mexican territory of California. On February 4, 1846, with the approval of church leaders, Brannan and about 240 other Latter Day Saints from New York set sail aboard the ship Brooklyn for California via Cape Horn. Brannan had an antiquated printing press and a complete flour mill on board. After a stop in Honolulu, they landed at Yerba Buena (now San Francisco) on July 31, 1846, tripling the size of the village.

Brannan used his press to establish the first newspaper in San Francisco, the California Star. He also established the first school in San Francisco. In 1847, he opened a store at Sutter's Fort, in what is now Sacramento. In June 1847, Brannan traveled overland to Green River, Wyoming, to meet with Brigham Young, the head of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who was leading the first contingent of Mormon pioneers across the plains to the Great Basin. Brannan urged Young to bring the Saints to California but Young rejected the proposal in favor of settling in what is today Utah and Brannan returned to California to fling himself into the excitement that would shortly ensue.

California career

Early in 1848, employees of John Sutter paid for goods in his store with gold they had found at Sutter's Mill, near Coloma, California. Brannan went to the mill and, as a representative of the LDS Church, he received the tithes of the LDS workers there from the gold they had found in their spare time. Brannan took this gold back to San Francisco, purchased every shovel in the city, and then ran through the streets yelling, "Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!"

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Samuel Brannan's store at Sutter's Fort
Brannan opened more stores to sell goods to the miners (his Sutter Fort store sold US$150,000 a month in 1849), and began buying land in San Francisco. At about this time, Brannan was accused of diverting church money, including collected tithes, to fund his private ventures. An LDS envoy was sent to Brannan and he sent them back reportedly telling them "You go back and tell Brigham Young that I'll give up the Lord's money when he sends me a receipt signed by the Lord." (Brannan was later excommunicated from the LDS Church.) He was elected to the first town council of San Francisco and, after a series of sensational crimes in the area, helped organize the Committee of Vigilance, which functioned as a de facto police force.

In 1851, Brannan visited Hawaii, and purchased large amounts of land in Honolulu. In 1853 he was elected to the California State Senate. He was involved in developing trade with China, financial agreements with Mexico, founding the Society of California Pioneers, and developing banks, railroads and telegraph companies. Brannan built the first incarnation of the famous Cliff House in San Francisco in 1858. In 1868 he purchased 160,000 acres (647 km²) of land in Los Angeles County, California.

After visiting the hot springs in Napa County, Brannan bought a huge tract of land in 1859 and founded the village of Calistoga, (said to be a combination of the words California and Saratoga) planning a resort. Brannan founded the Napa Valley Railroad Company in 1864 in order to provide tourists with an easier way to reach Calistoga from the ferry boats from San Francisco that docked in Vallejo.

Brannan lost much of his personal fortune after his divorce. It was ruled that Brannan's wife was entitled to half of their holdings, payable in cash. Because the vast majority of Brannan's holdings were in real estate, he was forced to liquidate to pay the divorce settlement. The railroad was sold at a foreclosure sale in 1869.

Following the divorce, he became a brewer, then developed a problem with alcohol. Forsaking the city he helped found, he drifted to San Diego, remarried and set up a small ranch near the Mexican border, where he engaged in land speculation with the Mexican government near Sonora. At the age of sixty-nine, he was paid the sum of forty-nine thousand dollars in interest from the government of Mexico. He quit drinking, paid all his debts and died penniless at the age of seventy in Escondido, California, on May 14, 1889, after suffering from bowel inflammation.

Legacy

  • Many locations in California are named after Sam Brannan, including Brannan Street in San Francisco, Brannan Island, Brannan Bluff, Brannan Creek, Brannan Mountain, Brannin Springs, and Brannon River; there is also a Sam Brannan Middle School in Sacramento. [2]
  • California cities that claim Sam Brannan as their founder include Yuba City and Calistoga.
  • In partnership with John Sutter Jr. and with William Tecumseh Sherman as surveyor, Brannan laid out the unofficial subdivisions that became the city of Sacramento.

Notes

1. ^ Bancroft, H. H. California pioneer register and index, 1542-1848 (Baltimore : Regional Pub. Co., 1964), 68.
2. ^ [1]

See also

References

  • Bagley, Will. "'Every Thing Is Favorable! And God Is on Our Side': Samuel Brannan and the Conquest of California." Journal of Mormon History 23, no. 2 (1997): 185-209.
  • Bagley, Will, ed. Scoundrel's Tale: The Samuel Brannan Papers. Spokane, WA: Arthur H. Clark, 1999.
  • Dickson, Samuel. Tales of San Francisco. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1957.

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