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Picturing history: Sam Brannan and the Brooklyn

On July 31, 1846, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the ship Brooklyn, led by Samuel Brannan, arrived at Yerba Buena, now San Francisco.

The Brooklyn began its voyage leaving New York harbor Feb. 4, 1846, the same day that the first wagons rolled down Parley Street in Nauvoo heading west. The Brooklyn sailed around Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America. Now in the Pacific Ocean, the ship sailed to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and continued on to the San Francisco Bay.

The Brooklyn Saints traveled some 24,000 miles in 177 days. Eleven souls died during that voyage and two babies were born. The 240 passengers more than doubled the population of Yerba Buena which, at that time, had an estimated 150 inhabitants (see "The Voyage of the Brooklyn," Ensign, July 1997).

In April 1847, Brannan traveled east and met Brigham Young in Wyoming on the Mormon Pioneer Trail near the Green River. President Young and the pioneer company were en route to the Salt Lake Valley. Enthusiastic about California, Brannan offered to lead them past the Great Basin to the San Francisco area. Young declined his offer, preferring at that time to go where “nobody else wants to go.”

Back in California, the energetic and driven Brannan became wealthy and influential, but his fortunes changed and he died a pauper.

Kenneth Mays is a board member of the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation and a retired instructor in the LDS Church’s Department of Seminaries and Institutes.