The Brooklyn Voyage: Saints of Service and Sacrifice
Rebecca Ellefsen, Bay Area Historian and Genealogist
In 1846, the passengers aboard the Ship Brooklyn sacrificed their lives to strengthen the foundation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This year marks the 175 anniversary of their arrival to the Bay Area.
Brigham Young was the prophet in 1846. Under his direction, the saints began a long overland exodus from Nauvoo, Illinois to the west to escape persecution and worship in peace.
A young twenty-six-year-old Samuel Brannan was called to lead west a second group of saints who were limited by means on the east coast. At the time of their departure on February 4th, 1846, their intended destination was outside the bounds of the U.S.
The Brooklyn’s Purpose
The Ship Brooklyn saints traveled 24,000 miles from New York City, around Cape Horn, to the California northwest coast. Eventually, they were to establish a way station for Pacific travelers and also to join the overland saints in the Great Basin. Of the approximately 251 souls on board, there were 240 saints, with 51 families including 98 children. They escaped threats, danger, and malicious attempts to stop their departure.
With sincere devotion, the saints gathered from many parts of the east coast and beyond. Many saints sold all that they owned, to pay for passage. They said goodbye to family and friends, many of which they never saw again. They recalled the teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, who said “A religion that doesn’t require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.”
What was the Journey like?
This was the longest voyage ever achieved by a religious group lasting six months. To say it was a classic sea adventure was an understatement. High winds, treacherous storms, and icebergs were only some of the challenges. Vermin plagued the deteriorating food supplies, contaminated water, which contributed to seasickness and other medical issues. Even glassy seas caused the Brooklyn to be idle for days far from land. Twelve souls lost their lives along the journey, but still, the brave saints kept their faith.
Heavenly Father blessed the long voyage. He gave comfort in many ways. Storms were calmed and the wind filled the sails. Songs were sung and prayers strengthened the saints. Sundays were a day for church worship. Joyfully, two infants were born. Children received school lessons. Saints enjoyed majestic views of ocean life, whales, dolphins, and tropical coastlines. They knew there was loving, protective guidance from above.
Where did they settle?
After six months, the Brooklyn sailed into what is now the San Francisco Bay on Friday, July 31st, 1846. The United States had recently gained control of a village known as Yerba Buena. The American Flag adorned a little plaza which is now known as Portsmouth Square. About 150 people lived around the plaza, Mission Deloris, and the Presidio.
How do their actions impact me?
Six months after the saints arrived, the little village was renamed, San Francisco. The industrious saints used their skills to build churches, homes, schools, and businesses. They excelled in agriculture, farming, and produce on a large scale. Among their accomplishments was the development of roads, cities, such as Oakland, Fremont, and San Jose. Vital trails were blazed over the Sierras. Their work was a vibrant contribution to bay area history.
The voyagers’ impact spread beyond California. The newspaper The California Star was created, and volunteers rode for the Pony Express. Ten saints served on the Union side of the Civil War. As the world rushed in, some saints gleaned gold to help their fellow members arrive and settle in the Salt Lake Valley. These hard-working people laid the community groundwork for the eventual beacon on the hill, the Oakland Temple.
On this 175th anniversary of the arrival of the Ship Brooklyn Saints to the Bay Area, let us celebrate. Come visit the beautiful plaque honoring their journey on Temple Hill next to the Visitor Center. It overlooks the place in the bay that the Brooklyn dropped anchor in the summer of 1846. A second plaque is near the original anchor point at 120 Broadway, San Francisco, California.
My great grandfather was a ship captain that settled in the Bay Area soon after the Ship Brooklyn arrived. His family associated with the saints. Seven generations of my family have been impacted by the love and sacrifice of these voyagers. Their faithful service endures.
- Ship Brooklyn Saints: Their Journey and Early Endeavors in California: Rischard H. Bullock, Publisher ShipBrooklyn.com, 2014ISBN: 1933170581,9781933170589
- The California Star, San Francisco, California