San Francisco: Nahl Bros./ L. Nagel, 1874. Large lithograph measuring approximately 55 cm x 70 cm, in substantial wooden frame with metal trim and rustic detailing. Slight rippling to print at extremities, toning, else very light wear. The certificate reads: SOCIETY OF CALIFORNIA PIONEERS/ THIS IS TO CERTIFY/ THAT/ Joseph Nichols/ who arrived in California July 31st 1846 is a/ Member of the Society of California Pioneers. It is signed by D. J. Staples, Vice President, and Louis R. Lull, Secretary, and dated July 17th, 1874.
Beautifully detailed vignettes surrounding the central device depict miners panning and digging for gold, a bustling fort, Yosemite Falls, a redwood forest, San Francisco Bay, a native family, a Spanish mission, and a vaquero attempting to lasso a bull. Larger images flanking the device are of a hunter with a dead bear and a miner with his tools, all surmounted by an image of the raising of the Bear Flag. Item #50603
Joseph Nichols and his family were among the first Mormon settlers in California, having travelled in 1846 from New York to Yerba Buena (now San Francisco) on the ship Brooklyn.
Two hundred and thirty-odd Saints set sail on the Brooklyn under the leadership of Samuel Brannan, a young printer tasked by the Church with founding a new Mormon settlement outside of U.S. territories. Upon arriving in Yerba Buena, the settlers were informed that the land had changed hands but three weeks previously, and that they had not come to Mexico, but to the United States. Undeterred, Brannan founded "New Hope", but the settlement did not ultimately succeed. Brannan himself was to succeed brilliantly in California, at least initially. He founded the first newspaper in San Francisco, The California Star, and is considered to be the first millionaire of the California Gold Rush, as well as the first to publicize it. Brannan's relationship with the Church was a tumultuous one, and he was disfellowshipped twice. He died in poverty.
Joseph Nichols' story, while less sensational, wonderfully illustrates the California Mormon emigrant experience. Nichols and his wife Sophia Jerusha Bull Nichols boarded the Brooklyn with their two infant sons, twin boys named Enos Sperry and Joseph Jr. The ship left Brooklyn Harbor on February 4th, the same day that the first pioneers set out westward from Nauvoo. Only ten days later, Joseph Jr. was dead of dehydration. The voyage round Cape Horn, difficult at the best of times, was especially rough for this group; according to differing accounts, between ten and fourteen of the passengers died, many of them children.
Nichols, a stonemason, found many opportunities to ply his trade in the young city of San Francisco. He also had some success panning gold and planting fruit trees. He and Sophia would have six more children: Martin, Irene, Joseph Jr., Francisco, Charles, and Ann Eliza. Martin was the first child to be born in the emigrant community; Ann Eliza was named for Samuel Brannan’s wife.
Nichols purchased land in Fremont with his gold rush money, and constructed a house on it from local redwood. Sophia Nichols died in childbirth in 1862, sixteen years to the day after they had arrived in California. Joseph Nichols lived in the Fremont house until his death in 1899.
The Ship Brooklyn Story, Volume 2 by Richard H. Bullock was consulted for biographical information on Joseph Nichols.