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Saco in York County, Maine — The American Northeast (New England)
 

Samuel Brannan and the Gold Rush

Saco Main Street Museum Walk

 
 
Samuel Brannan and the Gold Rush Marker image. Click for full size.
By William Fischer, Jr., September 26, 2011
1. Samuel Brannan and the Gold Rush Marker
Inscription.
Saco native Samuel Brannan became one of the country’s richest men promoting the California gold rush, and one of the most colorful figures in California history, but he wasn’t a gold miner and he died in poverty.

Brannan was born in Saco in 1819 and lived on the corner of Main and Beach Streets during his youth. He moved to Ohio with relatives at age 14 and became involved with the five-year-old Mormon Church. He completed an apprenticeship with a printer in 1836 and gained a small inheritance when his father died the next year. He moved to New York City in 1842, where he published a Mormon newspaper The Prophet.

In September 1845 Brigham Young wrote to Brannan, who was already a youthful Mormon elder: “I wish you together with your press, paper and ten thousand of the brethren were now in California at the Bay of San Francisco.” In November Brannan led a group of 238 Mormons on the ship Brooklyn around Cape Horn from New York to San Francisco, arriving in July in 1846 and nearly doubling San Francisco’s population. The group built over 100 buildings and laid the foundation for both the city and the gold rush to come. Brannan founded the California Star, San Francisco’s first newspaper.

Brannan heard rumors of gold being found at Sutter’s Mill in the Central Valley. He found the
Samuel Brannan and the Gold Rush Marker image. Click for full size.
By William Fischer, Jr., September 26, 2011
2. Samuel Brannan and the Gold Rush Marker
Looking west, with Main Street in background
place already hectic with miners and quickly confirmed the rumors. He began collecting “the Lord’s tithes” from the Mormon miners. When they questioned his right to do so to the military governor of California, Colonel Mason, he is reported to have responded that Brannan, “…has a perfect right to collect them…as long as you are fools enough to pay!” Brannan’s answer to the Mormons: “I’ll give the Lord his money when I get a receipt signed by the Lord.” Brannan refused to return the money and was expelled from the Mormon Church.

He prepared a general store, stocked with shovels and other equipment useful to miners, and then went back to San Francisco where he ran through the streets waving a bottle of gold dust yelling, “Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!” The Gold Rush moved into high gear. His was the only general store in the area. Brannan sold $150,000 in goods each month, and he became California’s first millionaire.

In 1849, he moved back to San Francisco, becoming one of their City Council members and establishing the first chartered bank in California. He diverted much of his fortune into real estate ventures. He organized the controversial Committee of Vigilance in 1851, citizens’ police force, in response to a crime wave that had hit San Francisco. Suspected criminals were rounded up by citizens,
Samuel Brannan image. Click for full size.
By Nancy Lord, undated
3. Samuel Brannan
A copy of a portrait by Charles Granger
tried in Brannan’s office and then lynched by a mob. The eastern press portrayed Brannan’s creation as brutal and barbaric.

Locally, the Mercantile Advertiser printed a story which said, “Notorious is he for violence and contempt of law.” The editor commented, “We are sorry to hear such things regarding Mr. Brannan…We well remember him as a boy. He was rather a roguish fellow, but we never supposed he would be so cruel as to sentence a man to be hung until the poor fellow had a chance to prove his innocence.”

Brannan visited Saco in 1852. Tales of his exploits in California had filled columns in newspapers all over the country. Of his visit to Saco, he editor of the Mercantile Advertiser wrote, “He was cordially greeted by many old acquaintances and looked upon by other with as much curiosity as though he had been some foreign Prince. What a mighty influence money will exert!” Among the well-wishers was the local artist, Charles Henry Granger, who painted his portrait.

Later in life, Brannan struggled with divorce, alcoholism, a quick temper, and failed land agreements with the Mexican government. Despite being one of the riches men in the country a few years earlier, he died in poverty in 1889.

[Photo captions read]
1. Portrait of Samuel Brannan by Nancy Lord (a copy of a portrait
1845-46 Route of Brannan and the Mormons to California image. Click for full size.
By Unknown, undated
4. 1845-46 Route of Brannan and the Mormons to California
by Charles Granger.)
2. The ship Brooklyn.
3. The route of Brannan and the Mormons.
4. A portrait of his [sic] Brannan’s father by Charles Henry Granger.
5. Brannan’s store at Sutter’s Mill.
6. The symbol of the notorious Committee of Vigilance.
 
Erected by City of Saco and the Saco Museum.
 
Location. 43° 30.028′ N, 70° 26.578′ W. Marker is in Saco, Maine, in York County. Marker is at the intersection of Beach Street (Maine Route 9) and Main Street, on the right when traveling east on Beach Street. Click for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: Joe Riley Park, Saco ME 04072, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Jacob Cochran, 1782-1836 (here, next to this marker); Dr. Laura Black Stickney, 1879-1961 (within shouting distance of this marker); World War Memorial (within shouting distance of this marker); Spanish War and Philippine Insurrection Memorial (within shouting distance of this marker); War Memorial (within shouting distance of this marker); Sarah Fairfield Hamilton, 1831-1909 (within shouting
Symbol of the Committee of Vigilance image. Click for full size.
By Unknown, 1850s
5. Symbol of the Committee of Vigilance
distance of this marker); A Stone Fort (approx. 0.7 miles away); Fort Saco in 1693 / Le Fort Saco en 1693 (approx. 0.7 miles away). Click for a list of all markers in Saco.
 
Also see . . .
1. Saco Main Street Museum Walk. (Submitted on May 27, 2012, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
2. The Gold Rush: Behind the Hype. (Submitted on May 27, 2012, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
3. Sam Brannan. (Submitted on May 27, 2012, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
4. Gold Rush Profile: Sam Brannan. (Submitted on May 27, 2012, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
 
Categories. ExplorationIndustry & CommerceSettlements & Settlers
 
 
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania. This page has been viewed 1,197 times since then and 50 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on , by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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