Founding a Mormon Mecca: New Hope Colony

Under the direction of twenty-six-year-old church elder Sam Brannan (1819–1889), a ship named the Brooklyn 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 western center for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Brooklyn at sail off the coast of Wales.

The 238 colonists aboard the Brooklyn were church members from the New England and Middle States: seventy men, sixty-eight women, and one hundred children. The Brooklyn's cargo included tools for eight hundred farmers. The colonists were instructed to:

"Bring all your beds and bedding, all your farming and mechanical tools, all your poultry, beef, pork, potatoes, and anything else that will sustain life. You had better pack your things in boxes with hinges to the cover, instead of barrels; the boards will serve some useful purpose at your journey's end."

Six months and eighteen thousand nautical miles later, the Brooklyn arrived at Yerba Buena (now San Francisco). The voyage of the Brooklyn was the first civilian passage around Cape Horn and these were the first American settlers to arrive in California by sea. The Mormon colonists more than doubled the population of Yerba Buena; they quickly sought to establish a farming community that might end the food shortages there, create employment, and provide a foundation for the westward migration of Saints.

In the fall of 1846, twenty colonists set off in a sloop-rigged ship's longboat named the Comet. They would also transport provisions overland—enough to sustain a farming colony for two years. The Comet sailed through San Pablo and Suisun Bays, through the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta, and up the San Joaquin River. It was the first sail boat to travel up the river.

The colonists established New Hope colony about one and one-half miles up the Stanislaus River on the north bank. They built log houses, a ferry, a mill, and by January 1847 had cleared, fenced, and planted eighty acres. They irrigated their crops with ditches and lifted water from the river by a long pole, ropes, and buckets. A visitor in June 1847 reported that the farmers at New Hope had sown almost three hundred acres of wheat—the first crop planted in what is now San Joaquin County.

Although Charles M. Weber had acquired his Rancho del Campo de los Franceses just north of the location chosen for the Mormon colony, Weber's rancho had not yet been settled due to Indian resistance and the Mexican-American War.

Church President Brigham Young would soon decide that the Salt Lake area was "the right place," but in the minds of many Saints in California, New Hope was going to be the new Mormon Mecca in the West.

When the New Hope colonists learned in late 1847 that the main migrating body of the Church would remain in the Salt Lake Valley, they were very disappointed. They no longer had the will to endure the mosquitoes that plagued them and the lack of leadership by controversial Elder Sam Brannan. Many missed their loved ones and the conveniences of "civilization."

The New Hope colonists pulled up stakes. A few went to the Salt Lake Valley, but most moved to Sacramento, San Francisco, or San Jose. The last to leave New Hope that winter of 1847 was Aldonis Buckland, who moved to Weber's new town of Stockton.

The steel flour mill from the New Hope colony was apparently sold to Austin Sperry, owner of a general store in Stockton. Sperry built a large flour mill in 1852, which grew into the Sperry Flour Company, later part of General Mills.

Some forty years later, a New Hope Landing was established about forty miles to the north, on the lower Mokelumne River, near present-day Thornton. The two communities shared only a name.

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