Historic Mariposa, CA
April 25, 26, 27, 2008

John Charles Fremont


John Charles Frémont
(January 21, 1813July 13, 1890), was an American military officer, explorer, the first candidate of the Republican Party for the office of President of the United States, and the first presidential candidate of a major party to run on a platform in opposition to slavery. During the 1840s, that era's penny press accorded Frémont the epithet The Pathfinder, which remains in use, sometimes as "The Great Pathfinder".

The Story of John Charles Frémont
Frémont was born in Savannah, Georgia. His ancestry is disputed. According to a 1902 genealogy of the Frémont family, he was the son of Anne Beverley Whiting, a prominent Virginia society woman, who after his birth married Louis-René Frémont, a penniless French refugee, in Norfolk on May 14, 1807.

Louis-René Frémont was the son of Jean-Louis Frémont, a
Québec City merchant, who was the immigrant son of Charles-Louis Frémont from Saint Germaine en Laye near Paris. H.W. Brands, however, in his biography of Andrew Jackson, states that Fremont was the son of Anne and Charles Fremont, and that Fremont added the accented "e" and the "t" to his name later in life.

Many confirm he was in fact
illegitimate, a social handicap he overcame by marrying Jessie Benton, the favorite daughter of the very influential senator and slave owner from Missouri, Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858). 


Benton, Democratic Party leader for over 30 years in the Senate, championed the expansionist movement, a political cause that became known as "Manifest Destiny." The expansionists believed that the North American continent, from one end to the other, should belong to the citizens of the United States, and that getting those lands was the country’s destiny.

This movement became a crusade for politicians like Benton and in his new son-in-law. Benton pushed appropriations through Congress for surveys of the
Oregon Trail (1842), the Oregon Territory (1844), the Great Basin, and Sierra Mountains to California (1845). Through his power and influence, Benton got Frémont the leadership of these expeditions.

Frémont's great-grandfather, Henry Whiting, was a half-brother of Catherine Whiting who married John Washington, uncle of George Washington.

After graduating from the College of Charleston (1836), Frémont assisted and led multiple surveying expeditions through the western territory of the United States and beyond. In 1838 and 1839 he assisted Joseph Nicollet in exploring the lands between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and in 1841, with training from Nicollet, he mapped portions of the Des Moines River.

Frémont first met
American frontiersman Kit Carson on a Missouri River steamboat in St. Louis, Missouri during the summer of 1842. Frémont was preparing to lead his first expedition and was looking for a guide to take him to South Pass. Carson offered his services, as he had spent much time in the area. The five-month journey, made with 25 men, was a success, and Fremont's report was published by the U.S. Congress. The Frémont report "touched off a wave of wagon caravans filled with hopeful emigrants" heading west.

From 1842 to 1846, Frémont and his guide Carson led expedition parties on the Oregon Trail and into the Sierra Nevada. During his expeditions in the Sierra Nevada, it is generally acknowledged that Frémont became the first European American to view Lake Tahoe. He is also credited with determining that the Great Basin had no outlet to the sea. He also mapped volcanoes such as Mount St. Helens 

June 1 1845 John Frémont and 55 men left St. Louis, with Carson as guide, on the third expedition. The stated goal was to "map the source of the Arkansas River," on the east side of the Rocky Mountains. But upon reaching the Arkansas, Frémont suddenly made a hasty trail straight to California, without explanation.

Arriving in the
Sacramento Valley in early winter 1846, he promptly sought to stir up patriotic enthusiasm among the American settlers there. He promised that if war with Mexico started, his military force would "be there to protect them." Frémont nearly provoked a battle with General José Castro near Monterey. Frémont then fled Mexican-controlled California, and went north to Oregon, making camp at Klamath Lake.

Kit Carson accompanied Fremont on his expeditions

Following a May 9 1846, Modoc Indian attack on his expedition party, Frémont chose to attack a Klamath Indian fishing village named Dokdokwas, at the junction of the Williamson River and Klamath Lake, which took place May 10 1846. The action completely destroyed the village. After the burning of the village, Carson was nearly killed by a Klamath warrior later that day: his gun misfired, and the warrior drew to fire a poison arrow; but Frémont, seeing Carson's predicament, trampled the warrior with his horse. Carson stated he felt that he owed Frémont his life due to this incident.

On June 28 1846, Frémont intercepted three Mexican men crossing the San Francisco Bay near San Quentin. Frémont ordered Carson to execute the three men in revenge for the deaths of two Americans. Carson questioned the orders. At first he asked Fremont if he should take the men prisoner. Frémont's plan was otherwise: "I have no use for prisoners, do your duty." When Carson hesitated Frémont yelled, "Mr. Carson, your duty," to which Carson then complied by executing Jose R. Berreyesa and his nephews, Ramon and Francisco De Haro, the nineteen-year-old twin sons of Francisco De Haro, the first Alcalde of San Francisco, near present-day San Rafael.

The execution of these popular Californianos hindered Frémont's political career and prevented him from being the first American governor of California, a post he coveted.

Mexican-American War
In 1846, Frémont was also Lieutenant Colonel of the U.S. Mounted Rifles (a predecessor of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment). In late 1846 Frémont, acting under orders from Commodore Robert F. Stockton, led a military expedition of 300 men to capture Santa Barbara, California, during the Mexican-American War. Frémont led his unit over the Santa Ynez Mountains at San Marcos Pass, captured the Presidio, and captured the town. Mexican General Pío Pico, recognizing that the war was lost, surrendered rather than incur casualties.


On January 16 1847, Commodore Stockton appointed Frémont military governor of California following the Treaty of Cahuenga, which ended the Mexican-American War in California. However, U.S. Army general Stephen Watts Kearny, who outranked Frémont and believed that he was the legitimate governor, arrested Frémont and brought him to Washington, D.C., where he was convicted of mutiny. President James Polk quickly pardoned him in light of his service in the war.

U.S. Senator 
He bought real estate in San Francisco and lived lavishly, winning election as U.S. senator from California. He drew the short term and served only from Sept. 9, 1850, to March 4, 1851. Afterward he visited Paris and London, where he raised funds for ambitious schemes on the Mariposa. In 1853-1854 he conducted another private expedition surveying a railroad route, along the 37th-38th parallels.

In 1856 the newly formed Republican party named Frémont its first presidential candidate because of his strong stand on free soil in Kansas and his attitude against enforcement of the
Fugitive Slave Law. His campaign suffered from a shortage of funds, and he lost, but he was at the peak of his career. Frémont served from 1850 to 1851 as one of the first pair of Senators from California.

Civil War
Frémont later served as a major general in the American Civil War and served a controversial term as commander of the Army's Department of the West from May to November 1861. Frémont replaced William S. Harney, who had negotiated the Harney-Price Truce, which permitted Missouri to remain neutral in the conflict as long as it did not send men or supplies to either side. 

Frémont ordered his General Nathaniel Lyon to formally bring Missouri into the Union cause. Lyon had been named the temporary commander of the Department of the West to succeed Harney before Frémont ultimately replaced Lyon. Lyon, in a series of battles, evicted Governor Claiborne Jackson and installed a pro-Union government. After Lyon was killed in the Battle of Wilson's Creek in August, Frémont imposed martial law in the state, confiscating secessionists' private property of and emancipating the state's slaves.

Abraham Lincoln, fearing the order would tip Missouri (and other slave states in Union control) to the southern cause, asked Frémont to revise the order. Frémont refused and sent his wife to plead the case. Lincoln responded by revoking the proclamation and relieving Frémont of command on November 2, 1861. In March 1862, he was placed in command of the Mountain Department of Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky, Early in June he pursued the Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson for 8 days, finally engaging him at Battle of Cross Keys June 8, but permitted him to escape with his army.

When the Army of Virginia was created June 26, to include Gen. Fremont's corps, with John Pope in command, Fremont declined to serve on the ground that he outranked Pope, and for sufficient personal reasons. He then went to New York where he remained throughout the war, expecting a command, but none was given him. He was nominated for the presidency, May 31, 1864, by a small faction of the Republican Party, but, finding but slender support, he withdrew his name in September.

Radical Republicans
Frémont's over-speculation at the Mariposa led to his loss of this property.  Frémont was briefly the 1864 candidate of the Radical Republicans, a group of hard-line Republican abolitionists upset with Lincoln's position on the issues of slavery and post-war reconciliation with the southern states. 

This 1864 frisson in the Republican Party divided the party into two factions: the anti-Lincoln Radical Republicans, who nominated Frémont, and the pro-Lincoln Republicans. Frémont abandoned his political campaign in September, 1864, after he brokered a political deal in which Lincoln removed
U.S. Postmaster General Montgomery Blair from office.

Later Life
The state of Missouri took possession of the Pacific Railroad in February 1866 when the company defaulted in its interest payment, and in June 1866, the state, at private sale, sold the road to Frémont. Frémont reorganized the assets of the Pacific Railroad as the Southwest Pacific Railroad in August 1866. However, in less than a year (June 1867), the railroad was repossessed by the state of Missouri after Frémont was unable to pay the second installment on his purchase. 

From 1878 to 1881, Frémont was governor of the
Arizona Territory. Frémont died in 1890 a forgotten man, of peritonitis in a hotel in New York City and is buried in Rockland Cemetery, Sparkill, New York.

Frémont has had cities and streets and a variety of other namesakes, and Mariposa is no exception.  The following, to name a few: 

John C. Fremont Hospital -  (Hospital Rd.)- Named for John C. Frémont .

Charles Street - (Main Street) - Named for John Charles Frémont .

Jessie Street - Named for Frémont 's wife, Jessie Benton Frémont

Bullion Street - Named for Frémont's father-in-law, Senator “Bullion” Benton.

Jones Street -
Named for William Carey Jones, Frémont 's brother-in-law.

Frémont collected a number of plants on his expeditions, including the first recorded discovery of the Single-leaf Pinyon by a European American. The standard botanical author abbreviation Frém. is applied to plants he described. The California Flannelbush, Fremontodendron californicum, is named for him.

The U.S. Army's (now inactive) 8th Infantry Division (Mechanized) is called the Pathfinder Division, after John Frémont. The gold arrow on the 8th ID crest is called the "Arrow of General Frémont."