Conquest of California by Fremont and Sloat

In the campaign; of 1844, which resulted in the election of James K. Polk to the presidency over Henry Clay, the democrats had declared for two things, first, the annexation of Texas, and, second, the extending of their claims upon the Pacific to 59° 40. The last official act of President Tyler was the signing of a joint resolution of both Houses of Congress for the annexation of Texas, and one of the first acts of President Polk was to officially notify the people of Texas of such annexation.

A treaty with England was made which defined the boundaries on the Pacific between the two countries as they are at present, leaving all south of the present State of Oregon Mexican territory, which England had claimed by right of discovery through Sir Francis Drake, who, they claimed, had first discovered California when he landed at Point Reyes near San Francisco and hoisted the British flag on the territory. The Mexicans, it is said, were willing to cede this territory to England in cancellation of a debt of fifty millions which they owed to the British Government. This treaty with England, upon the advice of the Senate, was ratified by the President July 19th, 1846, ratifications were exchanged July 27th, 1846, and it was proclaimed August 5th, 1846.

Upon the annexation of Texas, which everyone knew must result in war with Mexico, California became a prize which both the United States and England were anxious to secure. Both nationalities were largely represented in the immigration into California.

Cabrillo, a Spanish navigator, in 1748 discovered Upper California. It was colonized by the Spaniards in 1768. Garrisoned forts were established, first at San Diego, and then at Santa Barbara, Monterey and San Francisco. Missions of Franciscans accompanied or immediately followed them. The first mission was established at San Diego, and from time to time, twenty more were established. They included handsome churches, some of them of stone, ample quarters, workshops, storehouses, granaries and courts. They gradually extended their claims to territory, and so came to include the whole country. The natives were not only converted to Christianity, but were instructed in agriculture and the mechanical arts. They became the hewers of wood and drawers of water for the priests. Their rancherias, or villages, were near the missions and they lived in thatched, conical huts. Small military detachments were located at each rancheria to preserve order. In 1822 the number of converts was estimated at twenty-two thousand, besides colonists settled nearby.

There was some immigration from Mexico, the soldiers usually bringing their wives, but the immigration was discouraged by the priesthood, who made it very difficult to obtain ownership to the land. The territorial government was irregular and weak, the head of it being the commandant general. There were no schools, and but little wheat and beans were raised by the families, whose diet was chiefly fresh meat. Milk was seldom used, and butter was a thing unknown. They lived on horseback, an indolent but active life, and were fine horsemen.

Horseracing, gambling and dancing were their chief occupations. Cattle and horses were introduced, the latter said to be of the Arabian breed, and their flocks and herds increased wonderfully upon the rich grasses in California’s most favorable climate, while horses soon overran the land, and, in 1826, it was common for men to join together to drive them into great pens prepared for the purpose, and, when thus confined, after securing some of the finest animals, to slaughter the rest. Trade in hides and tallow was established in 1816; an annual ship came from Boston, and, says one authority, “in 1822 near forty thousand hides and about the same number of arrobas (twenty-five pounds) of tallow were exported. Hides became known as California bank notes, of the value of two dollars.”

The Mexican revolution of 1822 overthrew the Spanish power in California. The missions began to decline in wealth and power in 1824, at which time a decree of expulsion against all native Spaniards and their priests was enforced, and by 1836 the Mission fathers were stripped of their possessions. This wrong, however, had its compensating effects for the people at large. The lands were divided and came into individual ownership. Industry and enterprise were encouraged and the mass of the population was no longer dependent upon the bounty and will of the priests.
In 1846 the white population of California was estimated at not higher than ten thousand, including about two thousand foreigners, chiefly from the United States; these last beginning to arrive so rapidly that their superior intelligence and energy aroused the jealousy of prominent natives. General Castro assumed command of the military and soon afterwards issued a proclamation requiring all Americans to leave the country, but no immediate measures were taken to enforce the order, and it was disregarded by the immigrants.

Lieutenant Archibald Gillespie arrived at Mazatlan in February, 1846, with dispatches for Consul Larkin at Monterey, and also for Fremont, and was sent forward by Commodore Sloat in the sloop of war Cyane, which arrived at Monterey, April 17th, 1846, where he delivered his dispatches to Consul Larkin, who provided means for him to reach Fremont, who, at that time, was at Klamath Lake in Southern Oregon, the dispatches to Fremont being oral and secret. The nature of these dispatches is not disclosed, but Fremont, with his command of sixty men, immediately returned to California, where the Americans, in the meantime, had organized under what was know as the “Bear Flag.” The Mexicans were commanded by General Castro. The Americans joined Fremont’s command and the Mexicans were driven south.

The following facts, which are taken from official documents and authentic records, are from the life of Commodore John Drake Sloat, written by Major Edwin A, Sherman, and I consider them reliable in all respects:

In 1844 Commodore Sloat was appointed commander of the American squadron in the Pacific waters, succeeding Commodore Jones. On June 25th, 1845, dispatches were sent by the Hon. George Bancroft, Secretary of the Navy, to Commodore Sloat, which were delivered to him by Lieutenant Watson of the United States Navy on October 25th, at Honolulu. After stating that it was the earnest desire of the President to pursue the policy of peace, and that he was anxious that every part of the commodore’s squadron should be assiduously careful to avoid any act which could be construed as one of aggression, Secretary Bancroft gave the following instruction to the Commodore:

“Should Mexico, however, be resolutely bent on hostilities, you will be mindful to protect the persons and interests of citizens of the United States near your station, and should you ascertain beyond a doubt that the Mexican Government has declared war against us, you will at once employ the force under your command to the best advantage. The Mexican ports on the Pacific are said to be open and defenseless. If you ascertain with certainty that Mexico has declared war against the United States, you will at once possess yourself of the port of San Francisco, and blockade or occupy such other ports as your force may permit.”

Commodore Sloat remained ten days in Honolulu, taking on supplies and water, and making such necessary repairs as were required. In the meantime the British ship Frolic came in and anchored in the inner harbor. On October 12th, 1845, the United States frigate, Savannah, Commodore Sloat ‘s flagship got under way, and Commodore Sloat sailed for Mazatlan, Mexico, where, after thirty-seven days, he arrived on November 18, 1845, and saluted the Mexican flag, which salute was duly returned. Here he waited for many months in a sickly harbor with his flagship, the Savannah, while the other vessels of his squadron were watching tho movements of the British fleet under Admiral Seymour with his flagship, the Collingwood, of eighty guns, which was constantly sailing between Mazatlan, San Bias and California.

Sloat became very anxious to learn what was being done by the administration, and dispatched Surgeon William Maxwell Wood from Mazatlan across to the city of Mexico, and from thence to Vera Cruz, with instructions to forward him all the information that he could gather, and also to visit Washington and give the Secretary of the Navy an oral account of what was transpiring in Pacific waters. Surgeon Wood dispatched a letter from the city of Mexico to the Commodore, giving an account of the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, and giving also the information that the port of Vera Cruz had been blockaded by the American squadron. He gave no information of war having been declared between the two countries, but stated that hostilities had actually commenced. The declaration of war was not made by the United States until four days after these battles were fought. Upon the receipt of the information from’ Surgeon Wood, on the 7th of June, 1846, Commodore Sloat prepared for action, and on the next day, sailed for Monterey. Before his sailing, the British tender, the brigantine Spy, which was in the harbor of Mazatlan at that time, noticing what was transpiring on the Savannah, hoisted its anchor and sailed for San Bias to convey the information to the British Admiral, Seymour.

Commodore Sloat arrived at the harbor of Monterey on July 2nd, 1846, just twenty-four days from Mazatlan, his flagship being one of the fastest vessels known at that time. At Monterey he found the sloops Cyane and Levant belonging to his squadron, which had previously been dispatched there. Having made all necessary preparations he took possession of the town of Monterey on the 7th. On the 6th he sent, by a trusty courier, the following dispatch to Captain John B. Montgomery, commanding the sloop of war Portsmouth, at San Francisco, also sending a copy of it by boat at the same time:

“I have determined to hoist the flag of the United States at this place tomorrow, as I would prefer being sacrificed for doing too much than too little. If you consider you have sufficient force, or if Fremont will join you, you will hoist the flag at Yerba Buena, or at any other proper place, and take possession of the fort and that portion of the country.”

Acting upon this order Captain Montgomery took possession of the port of San Francisco.

Sixteen days after Commodore Sloat arrived at Monterey, Admiral Seymour, in his flagship, the Collingwood, sailed into the harbor, and, much to his disappointment, found the American flag hoisted above the fort.

It seems the irony of fate that. Sir Francis Drake having hoisted the first British flag over California, it should have been taken from the British Government by one of his descendants, the American Commodore, John Drake Sloat.

Notes About Book:

Source: History Of Arizona Volume 1, By Thomas Edwin Farish, 1915, Printed and Published by Direction of the Second Legislature of the State of Arizona, A. D.

Notes about Online Publication: This manuscript has been ocr’d and heavily edited. Many of the Native American words have been reproduced as clearly as online publication will allow us, but not all are exactly the way they were in the original work. The structure of this manuscript has been changed to allow better online presentation.

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