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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Anne Stapp

First Newspaper in San Francisco

Although it was the second newspaper published in California, the California Star was the first newspaper published in San Francisco. Its first edition appeared on January 9, 1847, printed in three columns on thirteen- by eighteen-inch stock. Initially, it was a weekly paper.

The publisher Samuel Brannan and the typesetter—a lad named John Eagar—had both arrived the previous July, by sea from New York, when the little village on San Francisco Bay was still known as Yerba Buena. The editor was Elbert P. Jones, a lawyer who had entered California with the 1845 overland immigration. A second typesetter named Edward Kemble, a seventeen-year-old who had made the sea journey with Brannan and Eagar, was in Los Angeles that January, having enlisted in John Charles Frémont’s California Battalion to win California for the United States.

Sam Brannan, an Elder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and a printer by trade, owned the small, hand-operated printing press, which he had used in New York to publish a church newspaper called The Prophet. A few months after this venture began, however, the Saints’ president was murdered in Illinois; and rising hostilities there against the faith prompted church leaders to relocate its entire membership to a place that was preferably outside of American jurisdiction. As the church’s highest ranking religious leader in New York, it fell to Brannan to lead the eastern Mormons to Upper California, then owned by Mexico. Brannan chartered the ship Brooklyn and set sail from New York in January 1846, with 238 of the faithful aboard. He brought along his printing press, ink, and a two-year supply of paper.

But when the Brooklyn landed in Yerba Buena in July 1846, its passengers learned that the American military had already invaded California at the start of the Mexican-American War two months prior. Brannan moved his printing equipment to the loft of an old grist mill and store house on the north side of Clay Street, and in September began earning revenue with job work: printing U.S. Navy’s official notices, and official forms for the growing town. By the time the first number of the California Star appeared, the equipment had been moved again, to a small adobe building behind the Custom House on the Plaza. The first advertisements for the Star, at three dollars for ten lines, were lawyer’s cards.

In April 1847, as publisher Sam Brannan was preparing to travel east overland to meet with the Mormon’s new leader Brigham Young, he replaced his ill-tempered editor Elbert Jones with now eighteen-year-old Edward Kemble, recently returned from military service, and Kemble’s fellow typesetter John Eagar. In May 1847, California’s first newspaper the Californian, heretofore published in Monterey since its debut on August 15, 1846, moved to San Francisco. The two sheets were rivals in the early months of the Gold Rush (though both suspended operations for several weeks as "gold fever" escalated), until they merged as the new Star and Californian, issued November 18, 1848 from a newspaper office on Portsmouth Square. The editor and publisher was none other than Edward C. Kemble, who had purchased the Star from Sam Brannan with $800 in gold he had taken from the mines—and then convinced the Californian‘s owners to unite.

Kemble recruited new partners and investors, which led to still more changes. On January 4, 1849, the Star and Californian ceased to exist. In its place rose the long-lasting, popular and influential Alta California, with Kemble at the helm until he sold his interest in 1855. The Alta continued until 1891.

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