Exit highway 80 at Fremont Street and you will enter an ever-growing forest of skyscrapers. Welcome to downtown San Francisco. Born in Savannah, Georgia on January 21, 1813, John C. Fremont was the illegitimate child of the run-away wife of an older Revolutionary War veteran and a tutor who had fought with the Royalist in the French Revolution. In 1841 Fremont married Jessie, the daughter of Thomas Hart Benton, a powerful Mississippi senator and ardent proponent of Manifest Destiny who felt Americans should control the continent from east to west. As a Lieutenant in the Corps of Topographical Engineers, Fremont already had been on several mapping expeditions west of the Mississippi when in 1842 he met Kit Carson, an experienced mountain man and guide, just as Fremont prepared to lead his own journey west.
The first Bear Flag Wikipedia Commons
For the next several years Fremont mapped the Oregon Trail, eventually arriving at Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River. From Oregon he went south to Sutter’s Fort. Then in June 1845 he began his next trip west with Carson as guide and 55 men handpicked for their marksmanship, and instead of his goal of mapping the headwaters of the Arkansas River, he made for the Sacramento Valley where he promised to protect the American settlers if a war with Mexico broke out. Toward this end he lent support to the Bear Flag Revolt and, when war did erupt in 1846, he formed the California Battalion from his sharpshooters and local volunteers and marched south and took Santa Barbara on Christmas Eve. Los Angeles surrendered a few days later and the war in California was quickly over.
Marines land at the SF Presidio Museum Of Local History
On January 16, 1847 Commodore Stockton appointed Fremont Military Governor of California but a heated disagreement arose with General Kearny, commander of the recently arrived Army of the West who claimed he had orders from the president stating he was to be governor. Fremont resisted strongly but on March 1 Kearny replaced him and ordered Fremont back to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas where he was arrested, brought to Washington for trial and convicted of mutiny and disobeying a superior officer. President Polk, a political ally of Fremont’s father-in-law, commuted his sentence of a dishonorable discharge. Fremont then resigned from the army and returned to California.
Next: Senator Fremont, the Civil War and the obscurity of old age.