Samuel Brannan was a prominent San Franciscan settler, and is widely known for popularizing the Gold Rush in the Sierras and for being the first millionaire of the Gold Rush period.
Samuel Brannan came to San Francisco in July of 1846 in the company of 240 other settlers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This settlement was intended to remove the church population from the government and military control of the United States and place them in a territory where they could live by their religious laws. Their timing was poor though, since they arrived just in time to witness the Bear Flag Revolt and the seizure of the Mexican territory of Alta California by the United States Government. Upon arriving in the San Francisco Bay, Samuel Brannan is said to have remarked on seeing "that damned flag again" flying from the ships of the U.S. Navy that had taken control of the area. The settlers arrived in Yerba Buena and immediately tripled its population.
Brannan has a long list of important firsts attached to his name, and it's hard to over-emphasize how important he was to the early history of San Francisco, and Northern California in general.
- He brought a printing press with him when he settled in San Francisco and founded the city's first newspaper, The California Star, in 1846.
- He founded San Francisco's first public school in Portsmouth Square in 1847.
- He was the first person to publicize the discovery of gold in the Sierra's, speaking to crowds in Portsmouth Square. This was, of course, after purchasing every shovel in San Francisco in order to re-sell them to prospectors and opening a general store near Sacramento to supply miners with supplies and tools. Ironically, his newspaper couldn't publish news of the discovery of gold since the staff had already left to make their fortunes in the gold fields. His store would make $150,000 a month in 1849 ($3.7 million in current terms).
- He was elected to the first town council in San Francisco and was a key part of organizing the San Francisco Committee of vigilance, a de facto police force for the city. After a squatter was murdered by the vigilante group, Brannan was held accountable for the violence and was excommunicated from the LDS.
- He founded the city of Calistoga in 1859 and built a resort there. He also founded the Napa Valley Railroad Company in 1864 to provide an easier way for tourists to reach the springs.
- He built the first incarnation of San Francisco's Cliff House in 1858.
- He divorced his wife in 1872, lost most of his personal fortune, and drifted to San Diego, where he became a brewer and engaged in land speculation with the Mexican government.
- He, along with William Tecumseh Sherman (of Civil War fame), William Ord, and John Augustus Sutter, Jr., laid out the subdivisions for what would become the city of Sacramento.
Most of the sites associated with Samuel Brannan are located near Montgomery Street and Portsmouth Square. There are several monuments associated with him in Portsmouth Square, and lots of contemporary monuments and buildings are within walking distance. Much of this area has been extensively redeveoped, but there are still some great back alleys where you can see original storefronts from the 19th century.