Samuel Brannan

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Samuel Brannan
Samuel Brannan.jpg
Samuel Brannan
Born (1819-03-02)March 2, 1819
Saco, Maine, United States
Died May 5, 1889(1889-05-05) (aged 70)
Escondido, California, United States
Resting place Mount Hope Cemetery, San Diego, California, United States
Religion Mormon; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
Spouse(s) Anna Eliza Corwin
  • Samuel Brannan
  • Don Francisco Brannan
  • Lesa A. Brannan Gjessing

Samuel Brannan (March 2, 1819 – May 5, 1889) was an American settler, businessman, journalist, and prominent Mormon who founded the California Star, the first newspaper in San Francisco, California. He is considered the first to publicize the California Gold Rush and was its first millionaire.[citation needed] He helped form the first vigilance committee in San Francisco. He used the profits from his stores and possibly the tithes contributed to him as a leader of the LDS church to buy large tracts of real estate. When he could not account for the tithes given him, he was disfellowshipped from the LDS church. His wife divorced him and he was forced to liquidate much of his real estate to pay her one-half of their assets. He died poor and in relative obscurity.

Early life[edit]

Brannan was born in Saco, Maine, about a year before its independence from Massachusetts. When he was 14 years old, he moved with his sister to Kirtland, Ohio, where Brannan learned the printer's trade. There, he joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Brannan moved to New York City, New York, in 1844, and began printing The Prophet (later The New-York Messenger), a Latter Day Saint newspaper.[citation needed]

Travel to California[edit]

After the murder of church leader Joseph Smith, in June 1844, the Latter Day Saints decided to relocate their center from Nauvoo, Illinois. Several possible destinations were discussed, 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 set sail aboard the ship Brooklyn for upper California via Cape Horn. Brannan had an antiquated printing press and a complete flour mill on board. After a stop in Honolulu, Hawaii, they landed, on July 31, 1846, at the Mexican port town of Yerba Buena, present-day San Francisco, tripling the population of the pueblo. Brannan was appointed as the first mission president of the California LDS Mission.[citation needed]

California career[edit]

Brannan used his press to establish the California Star as the first newspaper in San Francisco. It was the second paper in Alta California, following The Californian founded in Monterey and first published on August 15, 1846.[1] The two joined to become The Daily Alta California in 1848. He also established the first school in San Francisco.[citation needed] In 1847, he opened a store at Sutter's Fort, in present-day Sacramento, California.

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 region. Brannan urged Young to bring the Mormon pioneers to California but Young rejected the proposal in favor of settling in what is today Utah. Brannan returned to northern California.[citation needed]

California Gold Rush[edit]

Samuel Brannan's store at Sutter's Fort

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. His California Star paper could not publish the news as the staff had already left for the gold fields. "Brannan moved to New Helvetia, where he opened a store at John Sutter's Fort. When gold was discovered, Brannan owned the only store between San Francisco and the gold fields -- a fact he capitalized on by buying up all the picks, shovels and pans he could find, and then running up and down the streets of San Francisco, shouting "Gold! Gold on the American River!" He paid 20 cents each for the pans, then sold them for $15 apiece. In nine weeks, he made $36,000."[2]

San Francisco[edit]

Samuel Brannan's House at Washington and Stockton Streets, San Francisco, 1849

Brannan had 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.[3] LDS envoys were sent from Utah to Brannan, who reportedly told 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",[4] although historians, such as Will Bagley have found this is likely just legend.[5][6] When he could not account for the tithes given him, he was disfellowshipped from the LDS Church.[citation needed] Brannan was elected to the first town council of San Francisco in the new U.S. territory. After a series of sensational crimes in the area, he helped organize the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance, which functioned as a de facto police force.


Using his profits and possibly the proceeds of tithing paid to him as a LDS church representative, Brannan bought land from Sutter in the Sacramento area. He and other landowner and speculators raised the price of land considerably, angering many. The disagreement escalated during 1850 into the Squatters' Riot, during which the squatter's spokesman, Doctor Charles L. Robinson, was shot, along with others. Some allege he was shot by Brannan and put in jail with his wound untreated. Nine people were killed. Brannan was considered the instigator of the incident.[citation needed]

Brannan became California's first millionaire.[citation needed] With two other capabilities,[clarification needed] he purchased Sutter's vast holdings and erected numerous buildings in San Francisco and Sacramento. He established a lucrative ship trade with China, Hawaii, and the east coast. His land holdings extended to southern California and to Hawaii where, in 1851, he visited and purchased large amounts of land in Honolulu. In 1853, he was elected as a Senator to the California State Senate in the new state's capital of Sacramento. He was involved in developing trade with China and financial agreements with Mexico, founding the Society of California Pioneers, and developing banks, railroads and telegraph companies in California. In 1858, Brannan built the first incarnation of the famous Cliff House on the Pacific Ocean in undeveloped western San Francisco.[citation needed]


After Brannan visited the hot springs in the upper Napa Valley in 1859, he planned a new resort for the area. He bought land containing the springs in the northern portion of the Rancho Carne Humana and founded the town of Calistoga, said to be a combination of the words "California" and then-fashionable Saratoga Springs in New York. Brannan also founded the Napa Valley Railroad there in 1864 in order to provide tourists with an easier way to reach Calistoga from the San Francisco Bay ferry boats that docked in the lower Napa Valley at Vallejo. The railroad was later sold at a foreclosure sale in Napa County in 1869.[citation needed]

In 1868, Brannan became one of the principal investors in the Robinson Trust which purchased and initiated development of the major coastal Los Angeles County land holdings of Californio Abel Stearns, near the San Pedro Bay in Southern California.[citation needed]

In 1872, Anna Eliza Corwin divorced Brannan. He lost much of his personal fortune after his divorce, as it was ruled that his wife was entitled to half of their holdings, payable in cash. Because the vast majority of Brannan's holdings were in real estate, he had to liquidate the properties to pay the full divorce settlement.[citation needed]

Southern California[edit]

Following the divorce, he became a brewer and developed a problem with alcohol. Forsaking the city he helped develop into San Francisco, he drifted south to San Diego and remarried. He set up a small ranch near the Mexican border, where he engaged in land speculation with the Mexican government in the state of Sonora. In 1888, at the age of sixty-nine, he was paid the sum of forty-nine thousand dollars in interest from the Mexican government. He quit drinking and paid all his debts, but he died without leaving enough money to pay for his own funeral.[citation needed]

Death and legacy[edit]

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 respects he was not a bad man, being as a rule straightforward 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.[7]

Brannan died at age 70 in Escondido, California, Sunday, May 5, 1889, from inflammation of the bowels.[8] He is interred in Mount Hope Cemetery.[9] Brannan's body lay unclaimed in the San Diego County receiving vault for a year until it was recognized by chance. He was given a Christian burial though, for many years, only a stake marked his grave.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Breschini, Gary S. (2000). "The First Newspaper in California". Monterey County Historical Society. Retrieved January 22, 2009. 
  2. ^ "Profile - Sam Brannan". 
  3. ^ Bailey, Paul (1959) [1943], Sam Brannan and the California Mormons, Los Angeles: Westernlore Press, p. 130, OCLC 1980521 .
  4. ^ Quinn, Arthur (1997), The Rivals: William Gwin, David Broderick, and the Birth of California, University of Nebraska Press, p. 38 
  5. ^ Bagley, Will, "Latter-day Scoundrel Sam Brannan", Wild West 
  6. ^ Bagley, Will (1999), Scoundrel's Tale: The Samuel Brannan Papers, Spokane, Washington: Arthur H. Clark Company, ISBN 0-87062-287-0 
  7. ^ Bancroft, H. H. California pioneer register and index, 1542-1848 (Baltimore : Regional Pub. Co., 1964), 68.
  8. ^ "Sacramento daily record-union. (Sacramento [Calif.]) 1875-1891, May 07, 1889, Page 2, Image 2". 
  9. ^ Samuel Brannan at Find a Grave
  10. ^ Sam Brannan Middle.


  • Scott, Reva Lucile Holdaway (1944), Samuel Brannan and the Golden Fleece (2nd ed.), New York: Macmillan .

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