Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Book Review: Sam Brannan and the California Mormons Paul Bailey, Westernlore Press, Los Angeles, CA 1943

This book is a good read to someone fascinated with California Mormon history.  My only complaint is the author ascribes emotions to Brannan he may not have had.  It tells the life of Brannan, the Mormon Battalion and the founding of San Bernardino.  In this section I talk about Sam Brannan.
Sam Brannan and his story are intermingled with the history of California.  He was the state’s first promoter, first millionaire, first defendant in a civil case.  He was also much more, building cities in Sacramento and san Francisco.  Within this book are more stories than just the story of Sam Brannan, but also other early California Mormons.
Sam Brannan and the Brooklyn.  Because Brannan was convinced he was pioneering the way for a large Mormon community, into the hold of the Brooklyn went “agricultural and mechanical implements for eight hundred men; scythes, plows, hoes, forks, shovels, plow-irons, glass; blacksmith, carpenter and millwright tools; equipment for three grain mills; turning lathes and sawmill irons; printing equipment and two years’ supply of paper.  There were such staples as brass, copper, tin and crockery ware, dry goods, and an immense supply of school books and slates.  Two milch cows, forty pigs, and crates of fowls were loaded aboard to make certain Zion had an agricultural start.” (P 58)  Other interesting items on board was a case or two of smooth bore muskets.  The voyage carried 238 passengers, 70 men, 68 women and 100 children.  The ship was captained by Captain Richardson.  “To prepare meals a Negro cook and Negro steward had been hired.
All was not easy sailing for this vessel.  The hit storm conditions shortly after leaving New York, which storm took them almost to Africa and the Cape Verde islands.  Brannon dealt with the fear and nervousness by telling the Saints to sing.  They sand “The Spirit of God” and “We are going to California.”  The captain gave up hope at one point, telling the passengers to prepare for the worst.  “He was astonished and shamed by their show of composure in the face of danger.  And then, when death and watery grave seem most imminent, the wind suddenly shifted, and died to sailing breeze.”  (p 60)  They rounded the Cape Horn, and tried to resupply at Valparaiso.  A storm prevented this, so they stopped at Juan Fernandez Island, where they were able to get fresh water, and fresh meat (wild pigs and goats, and fish) without price. 
Their next stop was The Sandwich Islands or Hawaii.  They had to unload cargo there.  Commodore Stockton was there, and had a private meeting with Brannan.  He encouraged him to go to San Francisco (there goal all along) so as to Easternize and conquer the area for the United States.  While in Hawaii the passengers of course learned of the Mexican War and that the United States was fighting to take over California.  150 stands of military arms were placed on board the Brooklyn at Hawaii. 
Sam Brannan and Company was organized as a United Order, and signed by the Saints while on board the Brooklyn.  This gave Brannan considerable control of the assets of the group.  Among other things they would give the proceeds of their labor to fund for six years; the fund was controlled by Brannan. 
The men drilled with the muskets for part of the voyage.  They also had uniforms made.  Brannan was hoping to take California for the United States.  Captain Richardson prevented such drilling after they left Hawaii.  He was a peaceful man and his ship was a merchant vessel. 
When the Brooklyn arrived in San Francisco, the sloop Portsmouth had preceded them, and conquered Yerba Buena for the United States.  Brannan’s chance for military glory and conquest was foiled, but most of the settlers were relieved.
One of the first activities was to pay the debt to Captain Richardson.  They did this by harvesting redwoods from the Marin Peninsula.  Another item of business was to construct a house for Brannan and his family.  A house where most Mormons were not welcome as Brannan gained financial success and status. 
The first jury trial took place in Yerba Buena (shortly to be renamed San Francisco after the bay)  was many of the Mormons suing Sam Brannan for the strict nature of the Sam Brannan and Company agreement.  The civil mayor ruled in favor of Brannan.
With the Company resources, Brannan purchased the ship Comet, and sent it up the Sacramento, and San Joaquin rivers with 20 men, to where he had heard of fertile fields.  The New Hope group found the fertile soil, on the banks of the Stanislaus River just before it empties into the San Joaquin.  They planted the first wheat in the valley.  However they could not overcome their grievances towards each other.  William Stout, who was the leader of the small group, declared that the first home and farm built would be his.  He was following the pattern he had seen with Sam Brannan.  All were upset.  When Brannan visited, he declared the first house would be for the apostles.  He then headed east to present Brigham Young with the idea of moving the body of the Saints to California.