Saco in York County, Maine — The American Northeast (New England)
Samuel Brannan and the Gold Rush
Saco Main Street Museum Walk
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
Brannan heard rumors of gold being found at Sutter’s Mill in the Central Valley. He found the 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.
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
[Photo captions read]
1. Portrait of Samuel Brannan by Nancy Lord (a copy of a portrait 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.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Exploration • Industry & Commerce • Settlements & Settlers. A significant historical month for this entry is September 1845.
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. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: Joe Riley Park, Saco ME 04072, United States of America. Touch for directions.
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 War Memorial (within shouting distance of this marker); Sarah Fairfield Hamilton, 1831-1909 (within shouting 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). Touch for a list and map 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.)
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. It was originally submitted on May 27, 2012, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania. This page has been viewed 1,498 times since then and 14 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on May 27, 2012, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.