Brooklyn Saints Legacy
Pioneers of the Bay Area
Rebecca Ellefsen, Bay Area Historian and Genealogist
It is incredible the impact that one group of passengers on a ship had on the Bay Area. It is still felt 175 years later. The Brooklyn Saints were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Their sacrifice continues to bless us to this today.
Called by the Prophet Brigham Young, the saints came by ship from New York City, around Cape Horn to Yerba Buena. They were prepared to create a new settlement and gather with the saints traveling across the west. July 31st, 1846 marks the day the Ship Brooklyn arrived in what has become San Francisco.
The Pristine Beauty of the Bay
After six months at sea, the Brooklyn sailed into the Bay. Anxious to see their new home, the passengers gazed at the beautiful hillsides. As the bay stretched before their eyes, they were met with clear blue skies, Mt Tamalpais, and evergreen trees jetting from the north. Yerba Buena had golden undulating sandy beaches, small oaks, and bushes. It was named after the abundant mint, mingled with daisies, and forget-me-nots.
The Saints learned that the U.S. gained control of the area from Mexico a few weeks earlier. An American Flag confirmed the news. It graced Portsmouth Square, the center of the village. There was a small population with few buildings around the Square, Presidio, and Mission Deloris.
As the Saints disembarked the Brooklyn, they more than doubled the population. Six months later, this village was renamed, San Francisco.
Industrious and Hardworking
The saints were anxiously preparing for the Prophet Brigham Young and many more members arriving by land within a year. The goal was to develop a strong settlement. Homes and businesses were built. Enough goods were brought on the Brooklyn to start a mercantile. Church services were held near Portsmouth Square and a schoolhouse was built on the site in 1847.
A Turn of Events
Samuel Brannan, the Church leader for the Brooklyn Saints started a newspaper, The California Star, with the help of a few passengers.
He kept a tight hold to keep the saints together. But they grew restless, wondering when the Prophet Brigham Young and the main body of pioneers would be arriving. There had been no communication with the leaders since leaving New York City in February 1846.
Meanwhile, the Prophet was trying to see to the needs and safety of thousands of saints traveling across the plains.
Brannan and a few men set out east over the Sierras, to learn of the Prophet’s final plans. Meeting just east of the Salt Lake Valley, Brigham Young informed Brannan of the permanent church establishment in Utah. This changed the course of events for California Saints. Brannan was a young, and gifted man. Not knowing where the prophet was going to establish the church, Brannan presumed or hoped the bay area would be the permanent home for all the pioneers. He was displeased with this decision, eventually being released from his leadership.
He later declared gold was found on Sutter’s property in the foothills. Though a newspaper article of the event was expected to only reach the East Coast, it spread across the world. Brannan amassed his fortune and left the church.
What followed was truly remarkable.
As it turned out, the Brooklyn party played a vital role for the Church. They accomplished what they set out to do, establishing a colony and way station for those traveling to Utah.
Many Brooklyn saints stayed faithful. They gave service to those around them. Some called the Bay Area home. Others continued back to Utah to gather and live out their lives with friends and family.
Sophia Clark married a ship captain by the name of Edward King. He was the first Harbor Master to manage ships in the bay. This proved a valuable service during the Gold Rush period when hundreds of ships were abandoned by gold seekers heading to the foothills.
William and Jane Glover greeted travelers at their boarding house in San Francisco. They had occasion to care for former Mormon Battalion members passing through. William would stay up all night to share the gospel and the love he had for Jesus Christ with travelers.
The family eventually moved to the goldfields to glean enough gold to travel back to Utah. They allowed their little daughter to collect gold dust. When the family arrived in Utah, little Catherine passed out all the gold she found to help families around them. William personally gave the family tithing worth over 3,000 dollars to Brigham Young, as did many other Brooklyn saints.
John Horner and his wife started a large farming industry. They contributed thousands of dollars to traveling missionaries over the years.
Sophia Patterson Clark had a love of the Bible and the gospel of Jesus Christ. With compassion in 1847, she took in children that survived the Donner Party. Missionaries passing through appreciated her generosity of blankets and supplies.
Young Amanda Evans was just 12 years old when she made the voyage with her family. Her father William Evans had the first Anglo tailoring shop in town on the corner of Market and Van Ness. As missionaries passed through San Francisco, he would make sure they were clothed for their long journeys.
Like other young ladies that came on the Brooklyn, Amanda Evans met and married a former Mormon Battalion member. Zacheus Cheney was hardworking. Their home was the first missionary headquarters. He made over 50,000 kiln-fired bricks to build homes and businesses. Some of his handiwork can still be seen on images of San Francisco prior to the 1906 earthquake and fire.
In time, they moved to San Jose and made a 160-acre homestead. He became the first President of the Alameda Branch. In 1857, the family prepared their wagon and traveled over the pass to gather with the saints in Utah.
The Brooklyn Legacy
The saints gave service as carpenters, farmers, and bakers. Some rode for the Pony Express and served on the Union side of the Civil War. They were musicians, trailblazers, teachers, City Councilmen, and seamstresses.
Their hard work laid the bedrock for San Francisco, Oakland, Hayward, Alameda, Fremont, San Jose, and beyond. Many streets and areas are named after those that sacrificed.
The Town of Brooklyn was established in 1856. It was bound by Lake Merritt, East 38th, 22nd Ave, and the bay. Eventually, it was annexed into Oakland in 1872.
Above all, many honored Jesus Christ, remaining faithful building the church. Their influence has impacted the world. Church buildings dot the state of California and the Oakland Temple overlooks the bay as a beacon of peace and hope.
One ship with passengers that sacrificed their lives to strengthen the church and our community. These Bay Area pioneers are a blessing to us all.
Bullock, Richard H. Ship Brooklyn Saints: Their Journey and Early Endeavors in California Vol 2: Publisher ShipBrooklyn.com, 2014 ISBN: 1933170581,9781933170589