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THE EXPEDITIONS OF

John Charles Fremont

VOLUME 1

Travels from 1838 to 1844

EDITED BY DONALD JACKSON AND MARY LEE SPENCE

$22.50

THE EXPEDITIONS OF

John Charles Fremont

Volume 1 : Travels from 1838 to 1844 and Map Portfolio

EDITED BY DONALD JACKSON

AND MARY LEE SPENCE

"Railroads followed the lines of his jour- neyings a nation followed his maps to their resting place and cities have risen on the ashes of his lonely campfires," wrote Jessie Benton Fremont after the death of her husband. She was speaking of a man whose exploits, commendable and other- wise, made him one of the best-known fig- ures of the last century.

John Charles Fremont (1813-90) ex- plored the American West at a time when thousands of migrants were hungry for in- formation, and thus became with the possible exception of Lewis and Clark the most acclaimed traveler of the nine- teenth century in the lands beyond the Missouri River. He married the daughter of a powerful western senator, Thomas Hart Benton, and added the advantages of family influence to his own store of in- genuity, endurance, and courage.

Fremont's expeditions across the plains and Rockies added much to the nation's growing body of knowledge about the West. They also served to involve him in politics and high finance, where he was far from successful. He was the first presi- dential candidate of the new Republican Party in 1856, losing the race to Buchanan. He made a fortune by developing gold mines in California, only to see it slip away in dubious financial schemes after the Civil War. He played a major role in the conquest of California, then was court- martialed for his early failure to recognize Stephen Watts Kearny as governor. His

(Continued on bacl^ flap)

THE EXPEDITIONS OF

John Charles Fremont

John Charles Fremont as he looked about 1849. From a print in Walter Colton's Three Years in California (New York, 1850).

THE EXPEDITIONS OF

John Charles Fremont

VOLUME 1

Travels from 1838 to 1844

EDITED BY

DONALD JACKSON AND MARY LEE SPENCE

UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS URBANA, CHICAGO, AND LONDON

THE EXPEDITIONS OF

John Charles Fremont

ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Allan Nevins (chairman)

Herman R. Friis

Robert W. Johannsen

Dale L. Morgan

© 1970 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.

Manufactured in the United States of America.

Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 73-100374.

252 00086 2

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The preparation of the first volume and Map PortfoUo of Fremont's travels began in 1965. Since then the editors have solicited advice and assistance from scores of persons and institutions all over the United States— and a few abroad. To each we are profoundly grateful, but we must be content to name specifically only those institutions which provided funds for research and publication.

The National Historical Publications Commission gave its early endorsement to the undertaking, and provided not only search facil- ities in the National Archives but also funds for the payment of wages. The Research Board of the University of Illinois gave gener- ously, as always, for the cost of wages, travel, photocopies, and other necessities. The University of Illinois Press, going beyond its tradi- tional role as publisher, became an actual sponsor of the project, providing released time for the senior editor, office space for both editors, and other considerations.

We are also grateful to Miss Jessie Benton Fremont, of Washing- ton, D.C., the granddaughter of John Charles Fremont, for repre- senting the family in granting us permission to use certain papers not in government repositories.

30 June 1970

Donald Jackson

Mary Lee Spence

vn

CONTENTS

Introduction ^^^^

Symbols xliii

Early Years and the 1842 Expedition to South Pass

1. J. J. ABERT to FREMONT, 1 6 APRIL 1 838 3

2. EXCERPT FROM THE M^Wo/r/, [1838] 4

3. FREMONT TO MRS. ANN B. HALE, 6 JUNE 1 838 10

4. FREMONT TO JOEL R. POINSETT, 8 JUNE 1838 12

5. EXCERPT FROM THE Mcmoirs, [1838] 13

6. FREMONT TO HENRY H. SIBLEY, 16 JULY 1 838 20

7. FREMONT TO JOEL R. POINSETT, 5 SEPT. 1 838 21

8. J.J. ABERT TO PRATTE, CHOUTEAU AND COMPANY,

18 OCT. 1838 25

9. FRAGMENT OF A FREMONT JOURNAL, [22-26 OCT. 1838] 25

10. J. J. ABERT TO FREMONT, 26 OCT. 1838 28

11. J. J. ABERT TO PRATTE, CHOUTEAU AND COMPANY,

12 NOV. 1838 28

12. JOSEPH N. NICOLLET TO F. R. HASSLER, 26 DEC. 1 838 3O

13. FINANCIAL RECORDS, 1838 3^

14. FREMONT TO J. J. ABERT, I JAN. 1839 44

15. J. J. ABERT TO FREMONT, 4 JAN. 1839 44

16. J. J. ABERT TO FREMONT, 2 MARCH 1839 45

17. J. J. ABERT TO PRATTE, CHOUTEAU AND COMPANY,

2 MARCH 1839 4"

18. J. J. ABERT TO JOSEPH N. NICOLLET, 4 MARCH 1 839 47

19. J. J. ABERT TO FREMONT, 5 MARCH 1 839 48

20. FREMONT TO HENRY H. SIBLEY, 4 APRIL 1839 48

21. GEORGE M. BROOKE TO FREMONT, 4 APRIL 1839 49

22. EXCERPT FROM THE McmoirS, [1839] 5^

23. FINANCIAL RECORDS, 1839 69

IX

24. FREMONT TO JOEL R. POINSETT, 3 JAN. 184O ^3

25. FREMONT TO J. J. ABERT, 10 NOV. 184O 84

26. J. J. ABERT TO FREMONT, I9 NOV. 184O 85

27. FINANCIAL RECORDS, 184O ^5

28. J. J. ABERT TO JOEL R. POINSETT, 25 JAN. 184I 94

29. JOEL R. POINSETT TO LEVI WOODBURY, 26 FEB. 1 84 1 95

30. J. J. ABERT TO FREMONT, 4 JUNE 184I 9"

31. JOSEPH N. NICOLLET TO FREMONT, II JULY 1 84 1 97

32. FREMONT TO RAMSAY CROOKS, 12 AUG. 184I 99

33. FREMONT TO RAMSAY CROOKS, I5 SEPT. 184I 100

34. J. J. ABERT TO FREMONT, 10 OCT. 184I lOI

35. FERDINAND H. GERDES TO FREMONT, J NOV. 184I lOI

36. FINANCIAL RECORDS, 1 84 1 IO4

37. FREMONT TO J. J. ABERT, I4 APRIL 1842, AND DES MOINES

RIVER REPORT 115

38. J. J. ABERT TO FREMONT, 25 APRIL 1842 121

39. J. J. ABERT TO FREMONT, 25 APRIL 1842 122

40. J. J. ABERT TO FREMONT, 9 MAY 1842 I23

41. J. J. ABERT TO FREMONT, 26 MAY 1842 I23

42. CONTRACT WITH HONORE AYOT, [26 MAY 1842] I24

43. BENJAMIN CLAPP TO ANDREW DRIPS, 3O MAY 1 842 I25

44. J. J. ABERT TO FREMONT, 8 JULY 1842 I26

45. J. J. ABERT TO P. CHOUTEAU, JR., AND COMPANY,

28 JULY 1842 127

46. J.J. ABERT TO P. CHOUTEAU, JR., AND COMPANY,

I AUG. 1842 128

47. J. J. ABERT TO FREMONT, I3 AUG. 1842 I28

48. FREMONT TO JOHN TORREY, 16 NOV. 1842 I28

49. JOHN TORREY TO ASA GRAY, 1 8 NOV. 1 842 1 30

50. FREMONT TO JOSEPH N. NICOLLET, 27 NOV. 1842 I3I

51. ASA GRAY TO JOHN TORREY, [5 DEC. 1 842] 133

52. FREMONT TO J. C. EDWARDS, 10 DEC. 1842 134

53. FINANCIAL RECORDS, 1842 13^

54. ASA GRAY TO JOHN TORREY, [fEB. 1843] 15^

55. J. J. ABERT TO THOMAS H. BENTON, 10 MARCH 1843 159

56. J. J. ABERT TO FREMONT, 10 MARCH 1843 160

57. FREMONT TO JOHN TORREY, II MARCH 1843 161

58. J. J. ABERT TO FREMONT, I4 MARCH 1843 ^^4

59. THOMAS H. BENTON TO FREMONT, 20 MARCH 1843 164

60. FREMONT TO JOHN TORREY, 21 MARCH 1 843 165

61. Report OF the first expedition, 1843 '^^

REPORT 169 catalogue of plants collected by lieutenant FREMONT

in his expedition to the rocky mountains,

by john torrey 286

astronomical observations 312

meteorological observations 317

The Expedition of 1843-44 to Oregon and California

62. john torrey to asa gray, 26 march 1 843 34 1

63. j. j. abert to fremont, 22 april 1 843 342

64. j. j. abert to fremont, 2.6 april 1 843 342

65. fremont to stephen watts kearny, [ca. 8 may 1843] 343

66. p. chouteau, jr., and company to employees of the

company, 10 may 1843 344

67. j, j. abert to fremont, i5 may 1843 344

68. j. j. abert to fremont, 22 may 1 843 345

69. george engelmann to asa gray, 4 june 1 843 346

70. j. j. abert to robert campbell, 22 june 1843 347

71. j. j. abert to jessie benton fremont, 23 june 1843 349

72. j. j, abert to robert campbell, 3 july 1 843 350

73. j. j. abert to thomas h. benton, 10 july 1843 350

74. jessie benton fremont to adelaide talbot,

16 SEPT. 1843 352

75. J. J. ABERT TO ROBERT CAMPBELL, 18 SEPT. 1 843 353

76. FREMONT TO J. J. ABERT, 24 NOV. 1 843 354

77. JESSIE BENTON FREMONT TO ADELAIDE TALBOT, 3 DEC. 1843 354

78. J. J. ABERT TO ROBERT CAMPBELL, I3 DEC. 1843 355

79. JESSIE BENTON FREMONT TO ADELAIDE TALBOT, I FEB. 1844 356

80. JESSIE BENTON FREMONT TO ADELAIDE TALBOT, 3 MARCH 1844 358

81. JESSIE BENTON FREMONT TO ADELAIDE TALBOT,

24 MARCH 1844 360

82. JESSIE BENTON FREMONT TO ADELAIDE TALBOT, I5 JUNE 1844 361

83. FREMONT TO J. J. ABERT, 21 AUG. [1844] 3^^

XI

84. FREMONT TO WILLIAM WILKINS, 28 AUG. 1844 363

85. RUDOLPH BIRCHER TO FREMONT, I5 SEPT. 1844 365

86. FREMONT TO JOHN TORREY, I5 SEPT. 1 844 366

87. ASA GRAY TO JOHN TORREY, I OCT. [1844] 3^9

88. FREMONT TO JOHN TORREY, 6 OCT. 1 844 37O

89. FREMONT TO GEORGE ENGELMANN, 22 OCT. 1844 37I

90. FREMONT TO JOHN TORREY, 28 OCT. 1 844 372

91. FREMONT TO JOHN TORREY, 21 NOV. 1 844 373

92. FREMONT TO JOHN TORREY, 3 DEC. 1844 374

93. GEORGE ENGELMANN TO ASA GRAY, 6 DEC. 1844 375

94. FREMONT TO JOHN TORREY, 3O DEC. 1844 375

95. FINANCIAL RECORDS, I JAN. 1843-3I DEC. 1844 377

96. ASA GRAY TO JOHN TORREY, SATURDAY MORNING [1845] 39I

97. FREMONT TO JOHN TORREY, 12 JAN. 1845 39I

98. ASA GRAY TO JOHN TORREY, [l2 JAN. 1845.'^] 392

99. J. J. ABERT TO JOHN J. AUDUBON, 22 JAN. 1845 393

100. ASA GRAY TO JOHN TORREY, 28 JAN. [1845] 394

101. FREMONT TO JOHN TORREY, 7 FEB. 1845 395

102. J. J. ABERT TO FREMONT, 12 FEB. 1845 395

103. FREMONT TO JOHN TORREY, 26 FEB. 1845 397

104. FREMONT TO JOHN TORREY, 26 FEB. 1845 398

105. J. J. ABERT TO FREMONT, I MARCH 1845 399

106. J. J. ABERT TO FREMONT, 5 MARCH 1845 399

107. FREMONT TO GEORGE TALCOTT, 10 MARCH 1 845 4OO

108. FREMONT TO JOHN TORREY, I3 MARCH [1845] 4OO

109. FREMONT TO [eDWARD M. KERn], 20 MARCH 1845 4OI

110. FREMONT TO JOHN TORREY, 23 MARCH 1845 402

111. J. J. ABERT TO FREMONT, 25 MARCH 1 845 4O3

112. FREMONT TO JOHN TORREY, 27 MARCH 1845 4O3

113. FREMONT TO JOHN TORREY, 3O MARCH 1 845 404

114. FREMONT TO JOHN TORREY, 4 APRIL 1845 4O4

115. FREMONT TO MRS. TOWNSEND, 4 APRIL [1845?] 405

116. FREMONT TO JOHN TORREY, 7 APRIL 1845 406

117. FREMONT TO JOHN TORREY, 8 APRIL 1845 406

118. J. J. ABERT TO FREMONT, 10 APRIL 1845 407

119. FREMONT TO JOHN BAILEY, II APRIL 1845 408

120. FREMONT TO JOHN TORREY, [CA. I5 APRIL 1845] 409

XU

121. FREMONT TO JOHN TORREY, l8 APRIL 1845 4IO

122. FREMONT TO STEPHEN COOPER, 22 APRIL 1845 4II

123. ASA GRAY TO JOHN TORREY, 23 APRIL [1845] 412

124. THOMAS H. BENTON TO [wiLLIAM L. MARCy], 25 APRIL 1845 414

125. J. J. ABERT TO FREMONT, 26 APRIL 1845 415

126. FREMONT TO EDWARD M. KERN, I MAY 1845 415

127. J. J. ABERT TO FREMONT, 2 MAY 1845 416

128. CASPAR WISTAR TO T. HARTLEY CRAWFORD, 5 MAY 1845 417

129. FREMONT TO JOHN TORREY, 7 MAY 1 845 418

130. FREMONT TO J. J. ABERT, 9 MAY 1845 419

131. FREMONT TO JOHN TORREY, I4 MAY 1845 420

132. J. J. ABERT TO ASBURY DICKINS, I4 MAY 1845 421

133. J. J. ABERT TO FREMONT, I4 MAY 1 845 422

134. FREMONT TO JOHN TORREY, 18 MAY 1845 423

135. FREMONT TO ARCHIBALD CAMPBELL, 22 MAY 1 845 424

136. J. J. ABERT TO FREMONT, 2.6 MAY 1 845 425

137. A REPORT OF THE EXPLORING EXPEDITION TO OREGON AND

NORTH CALIFORNIA IN THE YEARS 1 843-44 426

APPENDIX A. GEOLOGICAL FORMATIONS 730

APPENDIX B. ORGANIC REMAINS 744 APPENDIX C. DESCRIPTIONS OF SOME NEW GENERA AND

SPECIES OF PLANTS, COLLECTED IN CAPTAIN

J. c. Fremont's exploring expedition to

OREGON AND NORTH CALIFORNIA, IN THE YEARS

1843-44: BY JOHN TORREY

AND J. C. FREMONT 758

ASTRONOMICAL OBSERVATIONS 77^ METEOROLOGICAL OBSERVATIONS MADE DURING THE JOURNEY 784

Bibliography 807

Index 819

Xlll

ILLUSTRATIONS

hot springs gate devil's gate

JOHN CHARLES FREMONT H

JESSIE BENTON FREMONT XXXV

A LETTER BY FREMONT, IN HIS HANDWRITING xl A LETTER BY FREMONT, IN THE HANDWRITING OF

JESSIE BENTON FREMONT xll

CHIMNEY ROCK 2l6

FORT LARAMIE 220

246 248

VIEW OF THE WIND RIVER MOUNTAINS 264

CENTRAL CHAIN OF THE WIND RIVER MOUNTAINS 200

VIEW OF PIKES PEAK 444

PASS OF THE STANDING ROCK 4^^

THE AMERICAN FALLS OF LEWIS FORK 5^4

OUTLET OF SUBTERRANEAN RIVER 5^9

HILL OF COLUMNAR BASALT ON THE COLUMBIA RIVER 556

PYRAMID LAKE "00

PASS IN THE SIERRA NEVADA OF CALIFORNIA 636

FOSSIL FRESH- WATER INFUSORIA FROM OREGON 74 ^

FOSSIL FERNS, PLATE I 747

FOSSIL FERNS, PLATE 2 749

FOSSIL SHELLS, PLATE 3 753

FOSSIL SHELLS, PLATE 4 757

Prosopis odorata 7"^

Arctomecon calijornka 7"7

Fremontia vermicularis 77^

Pinus monophyllus 775

XV

MAPS

BEAR RIVER between 470 and 471

BEER SPRINGS 479

THE GREAT SALT LAKE 507

RIO DE LOS AMERICANOS between 662 and 663

XVI

INTRODUCTION

The career of John Charles Fremont was marred by disasters large and small, but his successes were monumental. His character was flawed by vanity and by hunger for recognition and financial gain, but there was enough toughness of spirit to carry him five times across the plains and Rockies under conditions of intense privation, leading bands of courageous men. In his lifetime some good men loved him and others despised or mistrusted him. Even today there are strongly differing points of view about his motives and his methods, but there is less dispute about his place in the history of his century.

Fremont's activities in the West, and his published reports, af- fected the lives of thousands of migrants who plied the Oregon and California trails. His success as an explorer, his interest in politics, and his marriage to the daughter of Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri made him a familiar and sometimes influential figure in Washington. He played a major role in the conquest of Califor- nia, only to be court-martialed for his early failure to recognize Stephen Watts Kearny as governor. He was the first presidential standard bearer of the newly formed Republican Party in 1856. His commission as major general in the Civil War, and his handling of his two brief commands, involved him in controversy and earned him the disfavor of Abraham Lincoln.

After acquiring great riches in the development of gold mines on the Mariposa grant in California, he lost the Mariposa and much of his wealth in financial schemes after the Civil War. At last he was surviving by means of sinecures such as the governorship of Ari- zona Territory and the income from the writings of his wife, Jessie Benton Fremont. When he died on 13 July 1890 he was nearly a pauper. Fremont's proudest legacy was what he had done before the age of forty, exploring the West and making it known through his narratives to a nation hungry to know.

xvii

These volumes will deal with those first forty years of his life, and how they affected the future of the nation.

If one factor alone sets Fremont apart from his most notable pred- ecessors in the field of U.S. exploration, it is the accident of time. He was ready, and the public was ready, to turn all eyes to the West and discover what it had to hold for the mass of men. If Lewis and Clark had been able to carry out their travels under such strong public scrutiny, they, too, might have been considered "dashing figures." They lacked the aid of a blustering press agent such as Thomas Hart Benton (although having President Thomas Jefferson as a sponsor was not bad), but mainly they lacked an impatient pub- lic. Their public was curious, patient, proud, but with no thought in 1804-6 of an Oregon Trail, an ox team and wagon, or a new life waiting beyond the Mississippi or the Rockies.

Although time was on Fremont's side, and he had strong sup- porters in Secretary of War Joel Poinsett and Senator Benton, he brought attributes of his own to the making of the Fremont legend. He brought audacity, courage, and a quick mind which had ab- sorbed a good deal of knowledge in the fields of natural history, geography, and surveying. He also brought Jessie into the picture a beautiful and talented girl, inheritor of her father's concern for power and prestige, and with an ability to write which would pro- vide young Fremont with a lifelong amanuensis and ghost-writer.

Senator Benton aided the young explorer in many ways, but no one can say that he freely gave his daughter in marriage; young John Charles accomplished that on his own. Together, John Charles and Jessie comprised a team such as one does not find again in U.S. history, perhaps until another truly dashing pair George Arm- strong Custer and his wife Elizabeth appear upon the scene. And to stretch the analogy just a bit, Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh come to mind in more recent times.

Back again to the importance of the period, and the social and political climate in which Fremont was to operate. It is well known that his expeditions, especially the first two, often followed the trails of other wagon trains. It is important, though, to say some wagon trains, and very early ones at that. We present a note (p. I73n) which indicates how really early in the migration period his operations began. Only two emigrant trains had preceded him: the John Bartleson party to California in 1841, and the Elijah White party to Oregon in 1842.

xvm

It is almost impossible to overstate the enthusiasm with which the nation greeted the printed reports of the first two western expedi- tions. The first publication, which in our edition begins on p. 168, introduced a new kind of intelligence from the West: readable nar- rative combined with competent maps, both produced from personal observation. But it carried the reader only to the Rockies. It was the second report (p. 426), with its description of the route via Laramie, Fort Hall, and Walla Walla to the lush Oregon valleys, then on through the length of California and back across the southwestern deserts, that made Fremont's reputation secure.

It seemed natural that members of the Congress should wish the two reports issued as one volume, with a single map of the entire area covered. The records of Congress contain many a letter or memorandum (some of which we cite) dealing with delays in pub- lication, changes in printing orders, urgent requests for copies before they were finished. There was a dispute in the House over whether members of the previous Congress, not re-elected, should receive copies and the new Congress resolved that they should not. And there were unconfirmed reports that members of Congress or their employees were selling copies to the public.

The many editions issued by trade publishers were not long in coming. By 1846, L. W. Hall in Syracuse had issued a version with no maps or illustrations. At least two Washington publishers (Tay- lor, Wilde, & Co., and H. Polkinhorn) published their own editions, as did H. E. Phinney in Cooperstown, N.Y. Foreign editions in- cluded those of Wiley & Putnam, London, in 1846, and a German version in 1847.

The two Washington publishing houses which had been awarded the contract for the combined report were Gales and Seaton, printers of the Daily National Intelligencer, and Blair and Rives, publishers of the Congressional Globe. Both of these publishers, having early access to the report, hastened to print extracts and reviews. The Intelligencer, for example, ran a total of twenty-three columns be- tween 7 and 26 August 1845. On 28 August it followed with three columns, including an evaluation of the second expedition and some remarks on the third, which was then in progress.

A laudatory review appeared in the July 1845 issue of the United States Magazine and Democratic Review, in which Lewis and Clark were compared unfavorably to Fremont:

XIX

The honorary reward of Brevet Captain has been bestowed upon him. Lewis and Clark received something more substantial, double pay, sixteen hundred acres of land each, promotion to generals, appointment of governors, commission to treat with Indians, and copy-right in their Journal. Certainly as first explorers, they were entitled to great merit; but they lack the science which Capt. Fremont carried into his expedi- tions; and, returning on the same line by which they went out, their dis- coveries lack the breadth and variety which distinguish his. His work was lacking [i.e., needed] to complete the view of the great region from the Mississippi to the Pacific ocean; and it has come at the exact moment that it was most wanted, and will be most useful. Great events are pend- ing of which Oregon is the subject. . . . We assume to say that the publi- cation of this Report will increase the emigration to Oregon, and will sharpen the appetite of two great nations [Great Britain and the U.S.] for the possession of a river whose mouth happens to be the only outlet to the sea. . . .

The reviewer's allusions to Lewis and Clark could have profited by a bit more research, but his enthusiasm for Fremont typified the mood of the country.

Other great events were to follow: the third expedition, resulting in Fremont's involvement in the conquest of California; his court- martial, which did little damage to his own public image and gave California an untold wealth of publicity; and then the unsuccessful campaign for the presidency.

Perhaps the loss of the election marked the moment when the bright star began to fade. Perhaps it was the Civil War, during which he proved to be no military man. Somehow the years sped by, riches came and went, and at last he was old. It is certain that he died poor, but less certain that he died entirely bitter for there were bright memories to temper the unhappy ones and much achievement mingled with his many failures. Among his effects at the time of his death was a scrap of paper bearing a poem he had written near the end of his life as he was crossing the Continental Divide on a train. Part of it reads:

Long years ago I wandered here, In the midsummer of the year.

Life's summer too. A score of horsemen here we rode. The mountain-world its glories showed.

All fair to view.

XX

Now changed the scene, and changed the eyes That here once looked on glowing skies

When summer smiled. These riven trees and wind-swept plain Now shew the winter's dread domain

Its fury wild.

The buoyant hopes and busy life Have ended all in hateful strife

And baffled aim. The world's rude contact killed the rose, No more its shining radiance shows

False roads to fame.

Where still some grand peaks mark the way Touched by the light of parting day

And memory's sun. Backward amid the twilight glow Some lingering spots yet brightly show

On roads hard won.

The verses recalled much, and Jessie saved them. Then she penned a sentence of her own which summed up the labors of a valiant traveler and the pride of a devoted wife. "Railroads followed the lines of his journeyings a nation followed his maps to their resting place and cities have risen on the ashes of his lonely campfires

»'i

PARENTAGE AND EARLY YEARS

When John Charles Fremont was born, 21 January 1813, his parents already had scandalized their community and moved away in disgrace. The fact that they never married was to plague Fremont all his life, but particularly during the presidential race of 1856

^ The poem is in the library of the Southwest Museum, Los Angeles, and Jessie's quotation is from a draft manuscript, "Great Events during the Life of Major General John C. Fremont," Bancroft Library, Berkeley. Hereafter, libraries and other repositories will be referred to by the symbols used in the National Union Catalog of the Library of Congress (see listing on pp. xliii-xliv).

xxi

when the word "illegitimate" came frequently to the lips of his political enemies.

The father was Charles Fremon, a Frenchman from the neigh- borhood of Lyons, said to have made his way to Virginia from Santo Domingo. One biographer says he was on his way to join an aunt in Santo Domingo, about 1800, when he was captured by an English man-of-war and held prisoner for a few years.^ Exactly when Fre- mon came to Virginia is not known, but by the spring of 1808 he seems to have been teaching French in the fashionable academy operated by L. H. Girardin and David Doyle, near Richmond. When he was dismissed after a year on the grounds that he was not a fit person to give instruction to young ladies, he opened a night school for the French language and tutored in private homes. He later rejoined Girardin at a new location.^

By this time he had rented a small house from John Pryor and had soon alienated the affections of Mrs. Pryor, the former Ann Beverly Whiting, who was a good deal younger than her husband. One source says the two lovers actually hoped for Pryor's death so that they might marry. Richmond society was rocked by the scandal

^ BiGELow, 11-12. This 1856 campaign biography was prepared from ma- terial assembled by Jessie. Some of the problems she encountered, particularly with regard to JCF's mother, are reflected in letters to Elizabeth Blair Lee, 2 July [1856], and to John Bigelow, 7 July [1856], in the Blair-Lee Papers, NjP, and Bigelow Collection, NN. Pierre-Georges Roy, a Canadian archivist, believes that JCF's father was actually Louis-Rene Fremont of Quebec, who established himself in Virginia. See roy [1] and [2]. It is not clear when the "t" was added to the name; in early newspaper advertisements the father's name is "Fremon." In fact, receipts for French and dancing lessons in the Wayne-Stites Anderson Papers, GHi, are signed "Jean Charles Fremon" though Charles Fremon seems to have been the common form. Young Fre- mont was variously called "J.C.," "J. Charles," or "Charles" in his early years. He did not begin to use the accented form of "Fremont" until he began his association with the French scientist Joseph N. Nicollet.

^ In an advertisement in the Richmond Enquirer of 8 March 1808, Girardin mentions "a well-qualified native of France" as his assistant. Moncure Robin- son (1802-91), an eminent engineer, claimed that he studied French under Charles Fremon at the College of William and Mary (osborne). It is more likely that he studied under Fremon at Girardin's academy, which he at- tended— as did also Thomas Jefferson's grandson, T. Jefferson Randolph. For Fremon's dismissal, see letter of David Doyle to L. H. Girardin in the Vir- ginia Patriot, 23 Aug. 1811. For Fremon's proprietorship of his own school and his reaffiliation with Girardin, see advertisements in the Richmond En- quirer, 24, 27, and 31 Oct. and 10 and 14 Nov. 1809; 12 June, -27 July, and 11 Sept. 1810.

xxii

in July 1811. Girardin and his current partner, John Wood, lost their academy and feuded publicly over the responsibility for the hiring of Fremon. Finally Mrs. Pryor left her husband's bed and board and went with Fremon to Williamsburg, Norfolk, and then Charles- ton.

In a divorce petition some months later, Pryor charged that his wife had left the house voluntarily. But Ann wrote her brother-in- law that she had been "turned out of doors at night and in an ap- proaching storm" and threatened with "the most cruel and violent treatment" if she remained in the house. She also wrote that she and Fremon were poor, "but we can be content with little, for I have found that happiness consists not in riches." Pryor's intention of applying to the Virginia legislature for a divorce was widely circu- lated, and of course Ann hoped that he would succeed. But the House of Delegates rejected the petition 13 December 1811 without giving a reason.'*

By the fall of 1811, the Fremons, as we shall now call the pair although apparently they were never able to marry, were in Savan- nah, Ga. During the next year Charles tried a number of ways to make ends meet: he gave French lessons, worked in a dancing academy, took in boarders, opened his own dancing school, gave cotillion parties, and opened a livery stable at his residence.

So it was that John Charles Fremont was born into a nomadic

^ John Pryor was a veteran officer of the Revolution who kept livery stables in Richmond and gave the city its first amusement resort, Haymarket Gar- dens. In 1811, he was "far advanced in years," according to his divorce petition, and bigelow, 20, says he was sixty-two when he married seventeen- year-old Ann Whiting in 1796. But he was vigorous enough to take the field against the British in 1813, and did not die until 1823 (Richmond Enquirer, 9 Feb. 1813, and p. c. clark). Ann Beverly Whiting was the daughter of the wealthy Thomas Whiting, a burgess for Gloucester in 1775-76, and Elizabeth Sewell. She was born shortly before the death of her father, whose will was dated 15 Oct. 1780. In 1796, with her "full consent" and that of her stepfather and guardian, Maj. Samuel Carey, she was married to Pryor. See BIGELOW, 13-20, and Pryor's manuscript petition for divorce of 1 Dec. 1811, Vi. For further details of the elopement and attempted divorce, see letter of John Wood to the public, Virginia Patriot, 26 July 1811; letter of David Doyle to Girardin, Patriot, 23 Aug. 1811; advertisements by Wood and Girardin regarding their separation, Richmond Enquirer, 12 and 16 July 1811. No surviving copy has been found of a twenty-eight-page pamphlet pub- lished by Girardin, "pregnant with calumny and slander" according to Wood. Ann's letter to John Lowry, 28 Aug. 1811, was abstracted by Pryor in support of his divorce petition. For the negative decision on the divorce, see Journal of the Virginia House of Delegates, 181 1-12.

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family of unstable finances on 21 January 1813. His nurse was Han- nah, a family slave who had apparently been recovered after run- ning away the previous year. We know little about the next few years in the life of the family. They left Savannah, and a daughter, who died in infancy, was born in Nashville in 1814. From there the Fremons apparently wandered to Norfolk, where a second daugh- ter and a second son were born in 1815 and 1817. After Charles Fremon died in 1818, his widow and her small children stayed for a time in Virginia, and John Charles received his first schooling there. They were in Charleston by 1823, and in 1826 young John Charles had entered the law office of John W. Mitchell. Gone now was the family hope that he would become an Episcopal minister, though in June 1827 he was confirmed in St. Paul's Church by Bishop Bowen for St. Philip's congregation.^

The earliest Fremont document which has come to our attention derives from his service with attorney Mitchell. It is a subpoena issued by Mitchell to several persons and given to sixteen-year-old John Charles to serve. An endorsement on the reverse side reads:

J. C. Fremont being duly sworn deponeth that he served on the within named witnesses personally this writ & gave them tickets except the witness Alphy Berney whom he could not find.

Sworn to before me 14 July 1828 J. Charles Fremont

J. W. Mitchell"

^ For sparse information about the Fremons during this period, see ad- vertisements in the Columbian Museum & Savannah Advertiser, 3 Oct. 1811, and in the Republican and Savannah Evening Ledger, 7 Dec, 1811; 2 Jan. and 31 Oct. 1812; 13 Feb. 1813. The assumption that the Fremons never married is based on the fact that Pryor did not die until 1823, five years after Fremon's death. There is no record that Pryor ever received his divorce. The MEMOIRS and bigelow do not mention the birth of a child named Ann in Nashville, but see roy [1]. bigelow indicates that the youngest daughter (and for him the only daughter) was born in Nashville. He does not name her or the younger son. roy gives their names as Elizabeth and Thomas-Archibald, but JCF's letter to his mother on 8 June 1838 (our Doc. No. 3) refers to "Frank," presumably his brother.

A chronology of JCF's life in the New York Times, 21 July 1856, puts him in school in Virginia in 1820, in school in Charleston in 1823, and in Mitch- ell's law office in 1826. His confirmation in St. Paul's is substantiated by rec- ords inspected for us 6 Oct. 1966 by Sam T. Cobb, rector of St. Philip's.

^ Subpoena of 10 July 1828, in Mitchell's hand, with JCF's signature on the endorsement, lU.

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Mitchell apparently concluded that the pulpit, rather than the bar, might be the better profession for John Charles after all, and took him to the school of J. Roberton, who prepared boys for the College of Charleston. It is from Roberton that we have our first description of the youth. If the memory of an elderly scholar some twenty-three years later can be relied upon, he was a boy of medium size, "graceful in manners, rather slender, but well formed, and upon the whole, what I would call handsome; of a keen, piercing eye, and a noble forehead seemingly the very seat of genius." To Roberton's astonishment, Fremont within a year had read Caesar, Nepos, Sallust, six books of Virgil, nearly all of Horace, two books of Livy, Graeca Minora, part of Graeca Majora, and four books of Homer's Iliad. He also made much progress in mathematics."^

Fremont, who seems to have continued working in Mitchell's law office while reading the classics and doing his calculations, entered the junior class in the College of Charleston in May 1829. The col- lege records for 1830 list him as Charles or C. J. Fremont in the Scientific Department. The records also show that he was away dur- ing the first three months of 1830, "teaching in the country by permission." He resumed his studies in April, but as the year ad- vanced his absences became frequent as he spent more and more time with a Creole family who had a beguiling, black-eyed daughter named Cecilia. He had fallen deeply in love, and though the college faculty was patient because of his recent good scholarship and his abundant promise, he was finally dismissed 5 February 1831 for "incorrigible negligence." He missed graduation by three months. But about five years later he applied to the trustees for a B.A. degree and his request was granted.^

That his career seemed in jeopardy was of little concern; he treated the period of freedom from studies as a holiday: "The days

■^ROBERTON, 3-5. He does not mention JCF by name but the identity of the student is almost certain; Roberton is quoted in bigelow, the memoirs, and in an item on JCF in the New York Times, 27 June 1856. The Benton Papers, MoSHi, contain two letters from Jessie to Roberton, one of which expresses the hope that he will repeat his visits to the Fremonts and another assuring him and "his inquiring friend" that JCF was born and reared in the Protestant Episcopal Church.

^ For JCF's college record, see the journal of the College of Charleston, weekly record, Jan. 1830-Feb. 1831, and for his receipt of the B.A. degree, the journal of the proceedings of the trustees, 19 March 1838, p. 263. One of the trustees of the college when JCF received his belated degree was his friend Joel Poinsett (easterby, 261).

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went by on wings. In the summer we [Fremont and the two boys in the Creole family] ranged about in the woods, or on the now historic islands, gunning or picnicking, the girls dangerously near the breakers on the bar. I remember as in a picture, seeing the beads of perspiration on the forehead of my friend Henry as he tugged frantically at his oar when we had found ourselves one day in the suck of Drunken Dick, a huge breaker that to our eyes appeared monstrous as he threw his spray close to the boat. For us it was really pull Dick pull Devil."

Evenings were also spent with Cecilia and her brothers, though occasionally he absented himself to study a work on astronomy or to read a chronicle of men "who had made themselves famous by brave and noble deeds, or infamous by cruel and base acts."^

The family's poverty would not permit Fremont too long a holi- day. He obtained positions as a teacher of mathematics in various schools (including John A. Wooten's private school), and also took charge of an "Apprentices' Library," a collection of books with some added instructional facilities, and labored as a private surveyor.^" The death of his sister Elizabeth in 1832, and the departure of his brother to try a career on the stage, awoke John Charles to sterner realities and ended this desultory phase of his life.

He now began to come into association with a number of dis- tinguished men. The first to exert an influence upon his career was Joel Poinsett (1799-1851), whose home was on the outskirts of Charleston. Poinsett had been minister to Mexico, and now during Fremont's teaching days was a principal leader of the Union men of South Carolina in the nullification controversy of 1830-32. From him, and from Thomas Hart Benton later, Fremont imbibed the Unionist views, as opposed to sectional interests, which remained with him all his life. It was certainly through Poinsett's influence, but not with his approval, that he obtained a civilian post as teacher of mathematics to the midshipmen on board the U.S.S. Natchez, which had been sent to Charleston to uphold the power of the fed- eral government to collect the tariffs declared null and void by the state of South Carolina. When compromise averted a possible out- break of war between the state and federal governments in April 1833, the Natchez returned to Hampton Roads. The next month,

^ The period spent by JCF with the Creole family is discussed in memoirs, 20-21.

^'^ NEViNs, 17; BENTON [2]; Ncw York Times, 21 July 1856.

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under the command of Capt. John P. Zantzinger, she sailed with Fremont abroad for a two-year cruise in South American waters."

Fremont, who drew $25.00 a month plus rations, maintained that the cruise had no future bearing on his career, though he "saw more of the principal cities and people than a traveller usually does." The routine of the ship, on which David G. Farragut was one of the lieutenants, was broken by a couple of duels while the vessel was anchored off Rio de Janeiro. In the first, one of the principals was killed; in the other, Fremont and Decatur Hurst, the seconds, put only powder in the pistols and then rowed the duelists across the bay. Finding "a narrow strip of sandy beach about forty yards long between the water and the mountain," they positioned their men and gave the word to fire. Of course the men remained upright and Fremont and Hurst were able to carry them "triumphantly back to the ship, nobody hurt and nobody wiser."^"

In 1835, Congress provided for several professorships of mathe- matics in the Navy at $1,200 a year. Fremont received such an ap- pointment on 13 June 1835, with pay retroactive to 3 March. When the Natchez docked at New York, he went home to Charleston and wrote the following letter to Secretary of Navy Mahlon Dickerson:

It will not perhaps be unknown to you that, when the U.S. Ship Natchez arrived at New York, I was attached to her as Professor of Mathematics. Immediately after information of the passage of the "Navy Bill" had been received on the Brazilian Station, I received from Commodore James Renshaw to whose ship the Natchez, I had been attached as School- master from the commencement of her cruise an appointment as "Pro- fessor of Mathematics in the Navy of the United States," bearing date June 13th 1835. Desirous of being again ordered to sea, I am somewhat at a loss to know if you will deem the above circumstances sufficient for that purpose, or whether references, with testimonials of character and qualifications, will be thought previously requisite. Should such be the case, I shall be happy to forward them to the Department, immediately on receiving a notification to that effect. I should, however, suppose that the fact of having been appointed to my station by Commodore Renshaw

11 DNA-45, muster roll of the U.S.S. Natchez, 1833-35, p. 68.

12 See MEMOIRS, 23. JCF says that Decatur Hurst was a nephew of Com- modore Stephen Decatur and later died from wounds sustained in a duel in Africa, callahan lists a William D. Hurst but not a Decatur Hurst. The duelists were Robert P. Lovell, Poinsett's nephew, and Enoch G. Parrott (1815-79), senior officer during much of the blockade of Charleston in the Civil War.

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will be deemed sufficient, and it may not be disadvantageous to me to state that I received from him, when the Natchez was on the eve of departure, an offer of being ordered to another ship of the squadron. It being to you, Sir, a matter of indifference to what ship I am ordered, it will not, I imagine, be considered