FREMONT , JOHN CHARLES
John C. Fremont
John C. Frémont was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1813, the son
of Charles Fremon, a French emigre, and Ann Beverly Whiting of Virginia.
Frémont spent his boyhood in Charleston and was educated in the Scientific
Department of the College of Charleston before his expulsion in 1831, three
months short of graduation.
In 1833 Frémont obtained a civilian post as teacher of mathematics
to midshipmen; 1836-37 found him assisting in the surveys of the projected
Charleston and Cincinnati Railroad and in the Cherokee country; and in 1838
he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Corps of Topographical
Engineers and assigned to accompany the French scientist Joseph N. Nicollet
on a two-year reconnaissance of the Minnesota country. Under Nicollet's
tutelage, Frémont quickly absorbed a great deal of information about
science and sophisticated methods of geodetic surveying as well as about
how to organize and manage an expedition. When the two returned to Washington
to work on the report and map of the survey, he met Jessie, the talented
daughter of Senator Thomas Hart Benton, with whom he eloped in October 1841.
The alliance was to prove extremely valuable to the advancement of his career
in exploration and politics.
During the next twelve years, Frémont led five expeditions into the
West. On the first, he surveyed the Platte "up to the head of the Sweetwater";
on the second, of fourteen months duration, he made a circuit of the entire
West, launching his India-rubber boat on the Great Salt Lake on the outbound
trip and examining Utah Lake on the return. The third expedition took him
across the Salt Lake Desert and also involved him in the struggle to wrest
California from Mexico and eventually in a court-martial trial which ended
his government-sponsored explorations. The fourth, a winter expedition designed
to ascertain the feasibility of a central railroad route, became stranded
in the snows of the rugged San Juan Mountains of Colorado. The fifth and
final expedition, which also had a railroad objective, was saved from disaster
by the Mormons of Parowan.
For a time, Frémont made his home in California, but he was unable
to exploit successfully the rich gold-bearing veins on his large estate
of Las Mariposas. California became a state in 1850, and he served briefly
as one of its United States senators. In 1856 he was the Republican Party's
first candidate for president, but lost to Democrat James Buchanan. Early
in the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln gave him command of the Union
Army's Western Department, only to remove him one hundred days later when
Frémont foolishly ordered property held by Missouri rebels confiscated
and their slaves freed.
Frémont would serve as governor of Arizona Territory from 1878 to
1881, but most of his post-Civil War career was consumed by speculative
activities in western mines, land, and railroads. He died in virtual poverty
in New York City on 13 July 1890.
Frémont's grandest achievement was in exploring the West and making
it known through his lively, readable reports (prepared with the help of
his wife) and his maps (drawn with the assistance of Charles Preuss). They
seem to have been influential in the Mormons' decision to settle in the
Salt Lake Valley. He also discovered and named the Great Basin as a geologic
and geographic entity and established the correct elevation of the Great
Salt Lake at 4,200 feet.
See: Allan Nevins, Fremont: Pathmarker of the West (1955); Donald
Jackson and/or Mary Lee Spence, The Expeditions of John Charles Frémont
Mary Lee Spence