Frémont, John Charles
FRéMONT, JOHN CHARLES
John Charles Frémont (1895–1983) not only explored the American West, he played an important role in popularizing it. The tales of his exploits made the very idea of settling the West an exciting and popular idea, and those tales made him a national hero. Frémont made scientific contributions that were recognized nationally and internationally, and won him gold medals from the Royal Geographical Society of London and the Prussian government.
Frémont was born in Savannah, Georgia, on January 21, 1813. He was the illegitimate son of Charles Fremon, a Frenchman, and Anne Beverley Whiting Pryor, who had left her elderly husband to run away with Fremon. The union of Fremon and Pryor produced another son and daughter, and the family was a scandal in Richmond, Virginia. The Fremons were poor and moved frequently. When Charles Fremon died in 1818, Pryor took the family to Charleston, South Carolina. No one knows when John Frémont added the acute accent to the "e" and the "t" to his name.
The lawyer for whom Frémont had been a clerk sent him to private school at age fourteen. Afterwards, Frémont enrolled in the Scientific Department at the College of Charleston, but in 1831 was dismissed for "habitual irregularity and incorrigible negligence," just three months from graduating. Five years later, Frémont petitioned the college for his degree, and it was granted. The family was still poor, however, and despite frequent moving and determined efforts, John Frémont was unable to break out of poverty until he got his first big break. Joel Poinsett, an influential South Carolina politician, helped Fremont obtain an appointment as a teacher of mathematics to the midshipmen on the U.S.S. Natchez. Poinsett then helped Frémont gain employment, surveying land for the Charleston, Louisville, and Cincinnati Railroad, and for the Cherokee Indian lands in Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. The survey work concerned mountainous country and forests, and Frémont was to later write he had "found the path which I was 'destined to walk."'
Again due to the influence of Poinsett, Frémont was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Corps of Topographical Engineers in 1838. His first assignment was to accompany French scientist Joseph Nicolas Nicollet on a reconnaissance of the region between the upper Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Frémont learned sophisticated methods of geodetic surveying, the use of the barometer in measuring altitude, and how to take astronomical observations from the French scientist. He also learned how to manage an expedition and to construct a map.
Back in Washington, D.C., Frémont met Jessie Benton and the two eloped on October 19, 1841. Jessie was the daughter of Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, and only 17 years of age when the couple eloped. Senator Benton's support was important to Frémont's career, and his wife became his collaborator in chronicling his journeys. Frémont took command of an expedition to survey the Platte River in 1842. In 1843, he again led a survey mission into the West, linking up with the Pacific Coast survey headed by Charles Wilkes (1798–1877). Christopher (Kit) Carson was Frémont's guide for these trips, and he was accompanied by German cartographer Charles Preuss.
Reunited with his wife in St. Louis, the couple wrote captivating accounts of his adventures—accounts that had much to do with glamorizing the exploration of the West and encouraging settlement of the area. Frémont laced his accounts with an enthusiasm for nature, as well as the pure adventure of shooting river rapids, traversing the Great Salt Lake in a rubber boat, and fighting snow to cross the Sierra Nevada mountains in mid-January. His stories were detailed and fun, but they also provided very useful information concerning terrain, campsites, water, vegetation, wildlife, and weather. Countless settlers used this information after Congress ordered Frémont's maps and reports published. As a result, Frémont became a national hero.
While on his third expedition to the West and California, Frémont was commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the Mounted Rifles. During that third expedition, American settlers in California mounted the Bear Flag Rebellion against Mexico, and Frémont became involved with a battalion of volunteers. Frémont and his California Battalion served under Robert F. Stockton during the Mexican War (1848), and Stockton rewarded Frémont with the governorship of California. Caught in a power struggle between Stockton and Brigadier General Stephen Watts Kearny, however, Frémont came out on the wrong side and was court-martialed and convicted on charges of mutiny, disobedience, and conduct prejudiced to military discipline. President James K. Polk (1845–1849) remitted the penalty and ordered Frémont to duty, but unable to deal with the original decision, Frémont resigned from the army.
Frémont's major life accomplishments occurred prior to the age of forty, with his explorations and writings on the West. He mined gold on his 44,000–acre estate in California. Though he reportedly made millions, he lost control of the property in 1864, along with his money. In the interim, he did serve a brief term in the United State Senate, representing California from 1853 to 1854. In 1856, he was the first nominee of the Republican Party for president and did nearly well enough to win the election. During the American Civil War (1861–1865), he served a brief term as a major general in command of the Western Department, headquartered in St. Louis. President Abraham Lincoln (1861–1865) fired him for a declaration Frémont made on August 31, 1861, freeing the slaves of Missouri rebels. Frémont also served as commander of the Mountain Division at Wheeling, West Virginia, during the Civil War, but Frémont again chose wrongly in his political affiliations and resigned.
After the war, Frémont bought a home on the Hudson River and became involved in railroad promotion. He lost everything in a failed attempt to finance and build a railroad from Norfolk, Virginia, to San Diego, California. In 1878, friend and President Rutherford B. Hayes (1877–1881) appointed him territorial governor of Arizona. Extended absences from the territory, along with conflicts of interest, prompted President Chester A. Arthur (1881–1885) to ask for his resignation, which Frémont submitted on October 11, 1881. Frémont wrote an autobiographical account, Memoirs, but the book did not address the more recent events in his life, and did not sell well.
In 1887, John and Jessie Frémont moved to Los Angeles, hoping to profit from a real estate boom. Their spinster daughter, Elizabeth, accompanied them, while sons John Charles, Jr., and Frank Preston, served in the Navy and the Army respectively. Frémont died July 13, 1890, in a New York boarding house while on a business trip. He and his wife are buried in a Rockland Cemetery overlooking the Hudson River.
See also: Westward Expansion
Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, Inc. 1998, s.v. "Frémont, John."
Goetzmann, William H. The World Book Multimedia Encyclopedia. Chicago: World Book, Inc. 1998, s.v. "Frémont, John."
Jackson, Donald, and Spence, Mary Lee. The Expeditions of John Charles Frémont. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1970–84.
Nevins, Allan. Frémont: Pathmarker of the West. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992.
Spence, Mary Lee, and Anne Commire, editors. Historic World Leaders. Detroit: Gale Research, Inc., 1994, s.v. "Frémont, John."
"Frémont, John Charles." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fremont-john-charles
"Frémont, John Charles." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Retrieved February 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fremont-john-charles
Frémont, John Charles
"Frémont, John Charles." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fremont-john-charles
"Frémont, John Charles." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved February 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fremont-john-charles