Question: What happened to Samuel Brannan after he sailed with 245 members of the LDS Church from New York to California?
Answer: On March 2, 1819, Samuel Brannan was born to Thomas Brannan and Sarah Knox, in Saco, Massachusetts. After turning 14, Samuel moved to Kirtland, Ohio with his sister, Mary Ann and her husband, Alexander Badlam, who had joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Here Sam learned the printer’s trade and joined the Church. They moved to Missouri and then to Nauvoo, Illinois.
In 1844, Samuel moved to New York and began printing “The Prophet” and the “New York Messenger,” a Latter-Day Saint newspaper. He labored as a missionary in the East and was appointed to preside over the Eastern States branch of the Church.
Soon after the Prophet Joseph Smith was murdered on June 27, 1844, the Latter-day Saints were forced out of Nauvoo, Illinois. Brigham Young led the Saints to Winter Quarters, Nebraska and Council Bluffs, Iowa. The leaders of the Church were looking for a new place for the Saints to go where they would be free from the persecution they were enduring because of their religion.
Several locations were considered, including the Mexican Territory of Alta, California. In February 1846, with the approval of church leaders, Samuel Brannan and 245 other Latter-day Saints from New York boarded the ship “Brooklyn” and sailed for upper California via Cape Horn. Samuel brought an old printing press and a complete flour mill. After a stop in Honolulu, Hawaii, they landed in California on July 31,1846, at the Mexican port town of Yerba Buena, a present-day San Francisco, tripling the population of the pueblo. Samuel Brannan was appointed as the first President of the California LDS Mission.
Samuel 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. Samuel also created the first school in San Francisco. In June 1847, Samuel meet with Brigham Young who was on his way west, now the leader of the LDS church, to encourage him to bring Mormon pioneers to California. Brigham Young rejected the idea and settled what is now Utah. Samuel Brannan returned to northern California.
Samuel 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, Samuel 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, Samuel 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. Samuel opened more stores in San Francisco.
Samuel 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 Samuel Brannan pulled the trigger, and because of this and other reports, was dropped from membership in the LDS church for vigilante violence.
During the gold rush days, Samuel was considered the first to publicize the California Gold Rush. Samuel Brannan became “California’s First Millionaire.” With two other outfits, he purchased Sutter’s vast land holdings and built many fine buildings in the San Francisco and Sacramento areas. In 1872, Samuel 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. Samuel 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.
Samuel Brannan died penniless at age 70 in Escondido, California on Sunday May 5, 1889 from “inflammation of the bowels.” His body laid unclaimed for a year in the San Diego county vault until it was recognized. He was given a Christian burial marked only with a stake in Mount Hope Cemetery in San Diego, California.