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John Charles Frémont (January 21, 1813 July 13, 1890), was an Americanmarker 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 opposing slavery. During the 1840s, that era's penny press accorded Frémont the sobriquet The Pathfinder. It remains in use, and he is sometimes called "The Great Pathfinder".


Frémont's mother, Anne Beverley Whiting, was the youngest daughter of socially prominent Virginiamarker planter Colonel Thomas Whiting and his wife. The colonel died when Anne was less than a year old. Her mother married Samuel Cary, who soon exhausted most of the Whiting estate. To enable Anne to escape the family’s financial problems, her mother placed Anne with an older married sister. In 1796 the sister arranged for the 17-year-old Anne to marry local Revolutionary War veteran Major John Pryor, a wealthy Richmond resident in his early 60s. (The difference in age was not so unusual when widowers often married younger women.) In 1810 Pryor hired Charles Fremon, a French immigrant who had fought with the Royalists during the French Revolution, to tutor his wife. In July 1811, Pryor learned that Whiting and Fremon were having an affair. Confronted by Pryor, the couple left Richmond together on July 10, 1811, creating a scandal that shook city society.

Pryor published a divorce petition in the Virginia Patriot, in which he charged that his wife had “for some time past indulged in criminal intercourse.” Whiting and Fremon moved first to Norfolk and later settled in Savannah, Georgiamarker. Having recently inherited slaves valued at $1,900, Whiting financed the trip and purchase of a house in Savannah by their sale. When the Virginia House of Delegates refused Pryor’s divorce petition, it was impossible for the couple to marry. In Savannah, Whiting took in boarders while Fremon taught French and dancing. On January 21, 1813 their first child, John Charles Fremon, was born. Their son was illegitimate, a social handicap which he overcame later with his marriage to the daughter of a powerful US senator.

While H. W. Brands, in Andrew Jackson, His Life and Times, claims Frémont added the accented "e" and the "t" to his name later in life, Andre Rolle, in John Charles Frémont: Character as Destiny, states that John's father, originally named Louis-René Frémont, had changed his name to Charles Fremon or Frémon upon emigrating to Virginia. Thus, John was reclaiming his father's (and family's) true French name.


In 1841, John C. Frémont married Jessie Benton, daughter of Thomas Hart Benton, the US senator from Missourimarker.Benton, Democratic Party leader for more than 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, north and south, east and west, should belong to the citizens of the United Statesmarker. They believed it was the nation's destiny to control the continent. This movement became a crusade for politicians such as Benton and his new son-in-law. Benton pushed appropriations through Congress for national surveys of the Oregon Trail (1842), the Oregon Territorymarker (1844), the Great Basin, and Sierra Mountains to Californiamarker (1845). Through his power and influence, Benton got Frémont the position of leading each expedition.

Early expeditions

Col. Frémont

After attending the College of Charlestonmarker from 1829 to 1831, Frémont was appointed a teacher of Mathematics aboard the sloop USS Natchez. In July 1838 he was appointed a Second Lieutenant in the Corps of Topographical Engineers and 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 Missourimarker rivers. In 1841, with training from Nicollet, Frémont mapped portions of the Des Moines River.

Frémont first met American frontiersman Kit Carson on a Missouri Rivermarker steamboat in St. Louismarker during the summer of 1842. Frémont was preparing to lead his first expedition and was looking for a guide to take him to South Passmarker. Carson offered his services, as he had spent much time in the area. The five-month journey, made with 25 men, was a success. The U.S. Congress published Frémont's report, touching 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, Frémont became the first European American to see Lake Tahoemarker. He is also credited with determining the Great Basin as endorheic, that is, having no outlet to the sea or a river. One of Frémont's reports from an expedition inspired the Mormons to consider Utahmarker for settlement. He also mapped volcanoes such as Mount St. Helensmarker.

Third expedition

On 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 Rivermarker," 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 1846, he promptly sought to stir up patriotic enthusiasm among the American settlers there. He promised that if war with Mexicomarker started, his military force would "be there to protect them." Frémont nearly provoked a battle with General José Castro near Montereymarker, camped at the summit of what is now named Fremont Peakmarker. A conflict would likely have resulted in the annihilation of Frémont's group, due to the superior numbers of the Mexican troops. Frémont then fled Mexican-controlled California, and went north to Oregonmarker, making camp at Klamath Lakemarker.

After a May 9, 1846, Modoc Indian attack on his expedition party, the following day Frémont reatliated by attacking a Klamath Indian fishing village named Dokdokwas, although the people were not involved in the first action. The village was at the junction of the Williamson River and Klamath Lake, and on May 10, 1846, the Frémont group completely destroyed it, massacring women and children in the action. Afterward, Carson was nearly killed by a Klamath warrior. As Carson's gun misfired, the warrior drew to fire a poison arrow; but Frémont, seeing Carson's predicament, trampled the warrior with his horse. Carson felt he owed Frémont his life.

California executions

During the Bear Flag Revoltmarker, Frémont imprisoned José de los Santos Berreyesa, the alcalde, or mayor, of Sonoma; two Berreyesa brothers; and others he believed were against him. On June 28, 1846, Berreyesa's father, prominent landowner José de los Reyes Berreyesa, crossed the San Francisco Baymarker and landed near San Quentinmarker with two cousins, twin sons of Francisco de Haro, the first alcalde of the Presidio of San Franciscomarker. Berreyesa intended to visit his sons in jail. Frémont ordered Carson and two others to shoot and kill the three Californios, as there was no room for more prisoners. Later, Carson told Jasper O'Farrell that he regretted killing the men, but that the act was only one such that Frémont ordered him to commit.

There are several accounts of these deaths. Another version is:

Frémont ordered Carson to execute the three men in revenge for the deaths of two Americans. Carson supposedly questioned the orders. At first he asked Frémont if he should take the men prisoner. Frémont directed him 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 Fransciso De Haro, the 19-year-old twin sons of Francisco de Haro, the first Alcalde of San Franciscomarker, near present-day San Rafaelmarker.

This second version is the statement of Jasper O'Farrell, given 10 years after the incident, to a newspaper reporter for the Los Angeles Star when Frémont was running for President. In an article on the genealogy of leading figures in San Francisco history, O'Farrell's account is included along with one by José de los Santos Berreyesa.

Writing about the executions a half-century later, the historian[[ Robert A. Thompsen noted, "Californians cannot speak of it down to this day without intense feeling." Harlow says at this late date, it is impossible to know whether O'Farrell was telling the truth or even if he made the reported statement. Politics often involved the telling of brutal rumors.

Mexican-American War

In 1846, Frémont was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the California Battalion – also called U.S. Mounted Rifles and other names – which he had helped form with his survey crew and volunteers from the Bear Flag Republicmarker. 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 Mountainsmarker at San Marcos Passmarker, in a rainstorm on the night of December 24, 1846. In spite of losing many of his horses, mules, and cannon, which slid down the muddy slopes during the rainy night, his men regrouped in the foothills the next morning, and captured the Presidiomarker without bloodshed, thereby capturing the town. A few days later Frémont led his men southeast towards Los Angeles, accepting the surrender of the leader Andres Pico and signing the Treaty of Cahuenga on January 13, 1847, which terminated the war in upper California.

On January 16, 1847, Commodore Stockton appointed Frémont military governor of California following the Treaty of Cahuenga. But U.S. Army Brigadier General Stephen Watts Kearny, who outranked Frémont (and who arguably had the same rank as Stockton, one star), said he had orders from the US President and Secretary of War to serve as governor. He asked Frémont to give up the governorship, which the latter stubbornly refused to do for a time. Kearny gave Frémont several opportunities to change his position. When they arrived at Fort Leavenworthmarker in August 1847, Kearny arrested Frémont and brought him to Washington, D.C.marker for court martial. The explorer was convicted of mutiny.

While approving the court's decision, President James K. Polk quickly commuted his sentence of dishonorable discharge in light of his service in the war. Frémont considered his conviction an injustice and a dishonor, and wrote to Polk in February 1848 that he would resign from the Army unless the President overturned his conviction. One month later, having received no reply from Polk, Frémont resigned his commission and settled in California. In 1847 he purchased the Rancho Las Mariposasmarker land grant in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains near Yosemitemarker.

Fourth expedition

In 1848, Frémont and his father-in-law Senator Benton developed a plan to advance their vision of "Manifest Destiny", as well as restore Frémont's honor after his court martial. With a keen interest in the potential of railroads, Senator Benton had sought support from the Senate for a railroad connecting St. Louis to San Francisco along the 38th parallel, the latitude which both cities approximately share. After Benton failed to secure federal funding, Frémont secured private funding. In October 1848, he embarked with 35 men up the Missourimarker, Kansasmarker, and Arkansas marker rivers to explore the terrain.

On his party's reaching Bent's Fortmarker, he was strongly advised by most of the trappers against continuing the journey. Already a foot of snow was on the ground at Bent's Fort, and the winter in the mountains promised to be especially snowy. Part of Frémont's purpose, however, was to demonstrate that a 38th parallel railroad would be practical year-round. At Bent's Fort, he secured "Uncle Dick" Wootton as guide, and at what is now Pueblo, Coloradomarker, he hired the eccentric "Old Bill" Williams, and moved on.

Had Frémont continued up the Arkansas, he might have succeeded. On November 25, at what is now Florence, Coloradomarker, he turned sharply south. By the time his party crossed the Sangre De Cristo range via Mocha Pass, they had already experienced days of bitter cold, blinding snow, and difficult travel. Some of the party, including the guide Wootton, had already turned back, concluding further travel would be impossible. Although the passes through the Sangre de Cristo had proven too steep for a railroad, Frémont pressed on. From this point the party might still have succeeded had they gone up the Rio Grandemarker to its source, or gone by a more northerly route, but the route they took brought them to the very top of Mesa Mountain. It was not until December 22 that Frémont acknowledged the party needed to regroup and be resupplied. They began to make their way to Taos, New Mexicomarker. By the time the last surviving member of the expedition made it to Taos on February 12, 1849, ten of the party were dead. But for the efforts of member Alexis Godey, another 15 would have been lost. After recuperating in Taos, Frémont and only a few of the men left for California via an established southern trade route.

U.S. Senator and presidential candidate

Frémont was one of the first two Senator from California, serving from 1850 to 1851.

Frémont was also the first presidential candidate of the new Republican Party in 1856. At the time of his campaign he lived in Staten Islandmarker, New Yorkmarker. The campaign was headquartered near his home in St. George. He placed second to James Buchanan in a three-way election, but was unable to carry the state of California.

Civil War

Frémont later served as a major general in the American Civil War, including 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 Missourimarker 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, 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 Creekmarker in August, Frémont imposed martial law in the state, confiscating secessionists' private property, and emancipating slaves.

John C.
President 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 to do so, and sent his wife to plead the case. Lincoln responded by publicly revoking the proclamation and relieving Frémont of command on November 2, 1861, simultaneous to a War Department report detailing Frémont's iniquities as a major general. In March 1862, he was placed in command of the Mountain Department of Virginiamarker, Tennesseemarker, and Kentuckymarker.

Early in June 1862, Frémont pursued the Confederate General Stonewall Jackson for eight days, finally engaging him at Battle of Cross Keysmarker on June 8, but Jackson slipped away after the battle, saving his army.

When the Army of Virginia was created June 26, to include Gen. Frémont's corps, with John Pope in command, Frémont declined to serve on the grounds that he was senior to Pope, and for personal reasons. He then went to New York where he remained throughout the war, expecting a command, but none was given to him.

Radical Republican presidential candidacy

In 1860 the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln for president, who won the presidency and then ran for reelection in 1864. The Radical Republicans, a group of hard-line abolitionists, were upset with Lincoln's positions on the issues of slavery and post-war reconciliation with the southern states, and on May 31, 1864 they nominated Frémont for president. This 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 Postmaster General Montgomery Blair from office.

Later life

John C.

The state of Missourimarker 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. Destitute, the family depended on the publication earnings of his wife Jessie.

In retirement, Frémont lived on Staten Island. He died in New York Citymarker in 1890 of peritonitis, a forgotten man. He was buried in Rockland Cemetery, Sparkillmarker, New Yorkmarker.



Frémont collected a number of plants on his expeditions, including the first recorded discovery of the Single-leaf Pinyon by a European American. The genus of the California Flannelbush (Fremontodendron californicum) is named for him, as are the species names of many other plants, including Frémont's chaff bush (Amphipappus fremontii), Western rosinweed (Calycadenia fremontii), pincushion flower (Chaenactis fremontii), goosefoot (Chenopodium fremontii), silk tassel (Garrya fremontii), moss gentian (Gentiana fremontii), vernal pool goldfields (Lasthenia fremontii), tidytips (Layia fremontii), desert pepperweed (Lepidium fremontii), desert boxthorn (Lycium fremontii), barberry (Mahonia fremontii), bush mallow (Malacothamnus fremontii), monkeyflower (Mimulus fremontii), phacelia (Phacelia fremontii), desert combleaf (Polyctenium fremontii), cottonwood tree (Populus fremontii), desert apricot (Prunus fremontii), indigo bush (Psorothamnus fremontii), mountain ragwort (Senecio fremontii), yellowray gold (Syntrichopappus fremontii), and chaparral death camas (Toxicoscordion fremontii).


The City of Elizabeth, South Australiamarker (now a part of the City of Playfordmarker) named a local park and high school 'Fremont' in recognition of the sister city relationship it had with Fremont, Californiamarker. The high school has since merged with Elizabeth High School, so the Pathfinder's legacy is carried by Fremont-Elizabeth City High School.

The "largest and most expensive 'trophy'" in college football is a replica of a cannon "that accompanied Captain John C. Frémont on his expedition through Oregon, Nevada and California in 1843-44". The annual game between the University of Nevada, Renomarker and the University of Nevada - Las Vegasmarker is for possession of the Fremont Cannon.

A barbershop chorus in Fremont, Nebraska is named The Fremont Pathfinders. The Fremont Pathfinders Artillery Battery is an American Civil War reenactment group from the same community.

Fremont Streetmarker in Las Vegas, Nevadamarker is named in his honor, as are streets in Minneapolis, Minnesotamarker, Kiel, Wisconsinmarker, Manhattan, Kansasmarker, Portland, Oregonmarker, Tucson, Arizonamarker; the Californiamarker cities of Fremontmarker, Montereymarker, Seasidemarker, Stocktonmarker, San Mateomarker, and San Franciscomarker, and the Grant Citymarker section of Staten Island, New York. Portland also has several other locations named after Frémont, such as Fremont Bridge. Other places named for him include John C.marker Fremont Senior High Schoolmarker in Los Angeles and Oakland, Californiamarker, the John C. Fremont Branch Library located on Melrose Avenue in Los Angelesmarker, and the John C. Fremont Branch Library in Tucson, Arizonamarker. John C. Fremont Elementary School in Glendale, California, and a John C. Fremont Junior High School in Mesa, Arizonamarker, Pomona, Californiamarker, Roseburg, Oregonmarker and one in Oxnard, Californiamarker bear his name. Fremont High Schoolmarker in Sunnyvale, Californiamarker is named for the explorer and its annual yearbook is called The Pathfinder. In addition, the Fremont Hospital in Yuba City, CA. and the John C. Fremont Hospital, in Mariposa, Californiamarker—where Frémont and his wife lived and prospered during the Gold Rush—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."

  • The 1983 historical novel Dream West by western writer David Nevin covers the life, loves and times of Frémont.


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


  1. Adams, Dennis. "The Man for Whom Fort Fremont was Named", Beaufort County (SC) Library, retrieved on February 1, 2007
  2. "John Charles Fremont", Sierra Nevada Virtual Museum, Biographies, retrieved on February 19, 2007
  3. Nevins pp. 3-7. Chaffin pp. 19-21
  4. Chaffin, pp. 21-22
  5. John C. Fremont
  6. Harlow, Neal; California Conquered: the Annexation of a Mexican Province 1846–1850; p110, p 371; University of California Press; 1982; ISBN 0-520-06605-7
  7. Eldredge, Zoeth Skinner. The Beginnings of San Francisco, 1912. "Appendix D: The Murder of Berreyesa and the De Haros." Hosted at SFGenealogy. Retrieved on August 17, 2009.
  8. O'Farrell statement to "Los Angeles Star", September 27, 1856
  9. San Francisco History: The Beginnings of San Francisco, Appendix D. San Francisco Genealogy. URL retrieved on January 24, 2007.
  10. Thompsen, Robert A. (1905) History of California, Vol. 5. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 174–75.
  11. Harlow; op. cit; p. 371
  12. Tompkins, Walker A. Santa Barbara, Past and Present. Santa Barbara, CA: Tecolote Books, 1975, pp. 33-35.
  13. Borneman, Walter R., Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America. New York, NY,: Random House Books, 2008, pp. 284-85.
  14. Both Patricia Richmond in Trail to Disaster and David Roberts in A Newer World (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000) detail the exact route.
  15. Roberts, David, A Newer World, page 241
  16. Republican National Political Conventions 1856 - 2008
  17. U.S. Civil War Generals - Union Generals -(Frémont); John Charles Fremont
  18. "The Old Pathfinder Dead; Gen. John C. Fremont Expired at his Home Yesterday", New York Times, 14 July 1890
  19. [1]
  20. The History of the Fremont Pathfinders. Barbershop Chorus. URL retrieved on February 19, 2007
  21. History of the Pathfinders Fremont Pathfinders Artillery Battery. URL retrieved on February 19, 2007
  22. Robert H. Wynn, "John Charles Fremont, Explorer!", 'Bob and Brenda Exploring' Newsletter, March 2006, Issue No. 16. URL retrieved on January 7, 2007.
  23. "The Diaries of George Washington", Vol. 2, 1976. The George Washington Papers, The Library of Congress. URL retrieved on January 7, 2007.
  24. Genealogical convolution, RootsWeb. URL retrieved on January 7, 2007.


Further reading

  • Harvey, Miles, The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime, Random House, 2000, ISBN 0375501517, ISBN 0767908260.
  • Brandon, William, The Men and the Mountain (1955) ISBN 0-8371-5873-7. An account of Frémont's failed fourth expedition.
  • David H. Miller and Mark J. Stegmaier, James F. Milligan: His Journal of Fremont's Fifth Expedition, 1853-1854; His Adventurous Life on Land and Sea, Arthur H. Clark Co., 1988. 300 pp.
  • NY Times, Harper's Weekly political cartoon, "That's What's the Trouble with John C."; Fremont's 1864 challenge to Lincoln's re-nomination. [13691]
  • Chaffin, Tom, Pathfinder: John Charles Frémont and the Course of American Empire, New York: Hill and Wang, 2002 ISBN 0809075571 ISBN 978-0809075577
  • Nevins, Allan, Fremont: Pathmarker of the West, Volume 1: Fremont the Explorer; Volume 2: Fremont in the Civil War (1939, rev ed. 1955)
  • Roberts, David (2001), A newer world: Kit Carson, John C. Fremont and the claiming of the American west, New York: Touchstone ISBN 0-684-83482-0
  • Tompkins, Walker A. Santa Barbara, Past and Present. Tecolote Books, Santa Barbara, CA, 1975.

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