Supporting a New Mormon Zion
New Hope was a farming colony established in 1846 on the lower Stanislaus River to support the anticipated new western center of the Mormon Church. The colonists expected that Brigham Young and 12,000 fellow Mormons would soon arrive to share the settlement on the southeastern edge of the San Joaquin Delta.
A chartered ship named the Brooklyn, loaded with Mormon settlers from the Eastern Seaboard, farming equipment, seeds, and so on, sailed from New York for California on February 4, 1846—the same day the first wagon train of Mormons headed west from Nauvoo, Illinois. Both groups believed their mission was to establish a new center for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in the Far West. The Brooklyn was under the direction of 26-year-old journalist/printer Samuel Brannan (1819-1889).
After a harrowing six months at sea, sailing around the Horn and resupplying on the west coast of South America and in Honolulu, the Brooklyn arrived in San Francisco Bay on July 30, 1846. The 238 Mormon settlers more than doubled the population of the crude settlement of Yerba Buena, the forerunner of San Francisco. Samuel Brannan and the LDS vanguard quickly sought to establish a farming community as a foundation for the westward migration of their Church members.
Based on Brannan’s conversations with John Fremont and others who were familiar with the California Heartland, the location for the farming colony was picked: about one and one-half miles up the Stanislaus River from its junction with the San Joaquin River—about five miles southwest of present-day Ripon, near Caswell Memorial State Park.
In the late fall of 1846, about thirty men traveled up the San Joaquin River in a sail launch, called the Comet, and overland via ox cart by way of Livermore’s ranch. They established New Hope colony. They built log fences, wood houses, corrals, a ferry, and a sawmill. By January of 1847, they had cleared and planted eighty acres. Brannan and about ten men returned to Yerba Buena after the initial construction and planting. On January 1, 1847, Sam Brannan wrote:
We have commenced a settlement on the river San Joaquin, a large and beautiful stream emptying into the Bay of San Francisco; but the families of the company are wintering in this place [Yerba Buena], where they find plenty of employment and houses to live in; and about twenty of our number are up at the new settlement, which we call New Hope, ploughing and putting in wheat and other crops, and making preparation to move their families up in the spring, where they hope to meet the main body…some time during the coming season.
A visitor in June reported that the farmers at New Hope had sown nearly 300 acres of wheat—the first substantial crop planted in what a few years later became San Joaquin County.
On June 30, 1847, Sam Brannan met with Mormon leader Brigham Young at Green River, Wyoming. Brannan pressed Young to continue to California. Of course, Young’s decision was that the Great Salt Lake Valley was “the right place” for the new center of the Mormon Church.
Returning to California, the discouraged Brannan encountered the 200 members of the Mormon Battalion who had recently been discharged in San Diego by the U.S. Army after service during the Mexican-American War. Many came to central California and worked. Some helped with the harvest at the New Hope colony.
When the New Hope men learned in late 1847 that the main migrating body of the LDS Church would remain in the Salt Lake Valley, they were disheartened. They missed their wives and children and had struggled through floods, incessant mosquitoes, and malaria. Many of the Brooklyn families headed east to the new Mormon Zion in the Salt Lake Valley, others moved to the farmlands of the Santa Clara (Silicon) Valley, or to Sacramento City. Some men from New Hope panned for gold at Mormon Island on the American River, the first major strike of the Gold Rush. Some may have helped build the Carson Pass Wagon Road—also called the Mormon Emigrant Trail—on their way east to the Salt Lake Valley.
Samuel Brannan was extremely disappointed that central California was not going to become the new center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He largely broke his ties with the church and turned to personal businesses. He founded the California Star, the first newspaper in San Francisco and the second in California, using the printing press brought on the Brooklyn, and publicized the discovery of gold on the American River. He had a store at Sutter’s Fort and built a real estate empire in Sacramento City, San Francisco, and Honolulu. He is considered the first Gold Rush millionaire. Brannan was disfellowshipped from the LDS church in 1851.
About forty years after the Mormon New Hope colony had failed, a New Hope Landing was established about forty miles north, on the lower Mokelumne River, near present-day Thornton. The two communities shared only a name.
The New Hope agricultural colony is recognized as California Historical Landmark number 436 and the landing place of the Comet as Landmark number 437.
A street in San Francisco, a Delta island, and Brannan Island State Recreation Area are named after Samuel Brannan.
David Stuart recently retired as the executive director of the San Joaquin County Historical Society. Previously, he directed the Sacramento History Museum, the Sacramento Science Center, and museums in Ventura. His family settled in the Delta in 1860.
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I really enjoyed this article. My dad was born in Stockton but grew up in Utah, where I was born. Both my parents and grandparents are from California but have all since migrated back to Utah.
I am a fifth generation descendant of Latter-day Saint pioneers who trekked across the country and settled first in Utah, then in Arizona, as loyal followers of Brigham Young. As a longtime resident of Stockton and a former leader in the Church, I have been intrigued by the story of Sam Brannan. Your article captures the essence of his life very well. In answer to the “What If?” question, I suggest taking a look at the downstream of their individual and institutional lives. Sam died in 1889 as an impoverished, disrespected and forsaken man in San Diego. The Church overcame early persecution and today enjoys worldwide respect and is supported by over 16 million members. “By their fruits ye shall know them.”
Thank you for reading and commenting. I’m pleased that you think the story is accurate. This early story of LDS pioneers should be better known, as should LDS contributions throughout California history. My best…