Samuel Brannan was born on a small farm in Saco, Maine in 1819. His father was Thomas Brannan and his mother Sarah Emery Brannan. In 1833 Alexander Badlam married Samuel's sister, Mary Ann, and they moved to newly opened land in Lake County, Northern Ohio. Samuel, at age fourteen, went along. They settled in Painesville and established a small farm. All three took up the Mormon faith and attended church in nearby Kirtland where Prophet Joseph Smith had recently established the new home for the Church of the Latter Day Saints. Samuel worked on the Badlam farm, helped construct the Mormon Church in Kirtland, and became a printer's apprentice in Painesville.
Mormonism flourished in Kirtland and spread into Missouri. As a youth, Samuel had aspired to advancement within the church and a future as a printer. Upon the death of his father in 1837 he and Mary Ann each obtained a small inheritance. Mary Ann used her money to set her husband Alexander up as a merchant in Painesville. Samuel used his inheritance to buy out the last year of his apprenticeship and invest in land speculation. The financial crash of 1838 wiped out his investment and forced many other Mormon businesses to collapse in both Ohio and Missouri. Joseph Smith's life was threatened and the Church of Latter Day Saints lost many of its adherents in Ohio. Even the Badlams considered leaving the church.
Samuel, eighteen years old, decided to move to New York and work as a printer's assistant in a newspaper. Later his brother, John, a mate on a merchant ship, helped him ship before the mast from New York to New Orleans where another brother, Thomas, was clerking in a store. The two brothers pooled their limited funds and established a literary weekly. After only a few issues had been printed and distributed Thomas contracted a fever and died. Samuel left New Orleans and traveled overland through the South to Indianapolis where he obtained a job on an anti-slavery newspaper - the Indianapolis Gazette. When the editor fled town to avoid his debtors Samuel took the paper over and for six months tried unsuccessfully to make it a paying venture. Eventually he too fled before his debtors and made his way back to Painesville where he once again moved in with the Badlam family.
Increasingly violent opposition to the Mormon Church had forced Joseph Smith to flee Ohio into Missouri where he was jailed for six months before escaping into Illinois. In Illinois the new center for the church was named Nauvoo. Alexander Badlam had advanced in the Mormon Church hierarchy and assisted Samuel to reestablish his relationship with the Church. Samuel went back to work for the printer in Painesville and advanced to become an elder in the church. Soon after his re-admission into the church he was called upon to travel and preach in northern Ohio. Six months into the effort he came down with malaria and almost died. He returned to Painesville to recuperate in the Badlam home.
On regaining his health Brannan was sent to New York to establish a Mormon press in support of the church's efforts in the East. During this period he married Anna Eliza Corwin. The first issue of the Prophet rolled off of the press in May of 1844. In this effort, Brannan worked with William Smith, the younger brother of Prophet Joseph Smith. When Joseph was murdered, Brigham Young advanced to head the church and William objected. Brannan backed William's objections and the Prophet reflected their opposition in its editorials. The senior leadership of the church disfellowshiped both men. Brannan went to Nauvoo and successfully appealed the excommunication decision. (William Smith continued his opposition to Young.) Upon reinstatement Brannan was sent back to New York, the name of the paper was changed to The Messenger, and a new church member loyal to Brigham Young was assigned to supervise the editorial content.
In 1845 the state legislature ordered the Mormons to leave Illinois. Brigham Young decided that the rising tide of opposition within the United States made it necessary to evacuate all Mormons from the country. Brannan was ordered to coordinate the movement of all Latter Day Saints in the Northeast to California by ship. On February 4, 1846, the Brooklyn sailed with 238 Mormons on board under Brannan's leadership. While shipboard the group contracted themselves into an organization named Brannan and Company. All were to work together for three years and benefit equally from the results of their labors. They rounded Cape Horn and on June 20, 1846, they reached Honolulu, Hawaii. While in Hawaii Brannan met with Commodore Robert Field Stockton who was en-route to Monterey to participate in the conquest of California. Stockton suggested that Brannan proceed to San Francisco and assist in its capture. Brannan willingly agreed.