After Mexico ceded California to the U.S. in 1846 Congress delayed setting up a territorial government for a variety of reasons. A series of seven military governors filled the gap until an election could be held.
- 7 Jul – 29 Jul 1846: John Drake Sloat
John Drake Sloat (1781-1867) was born 6 July 1781 in Sloatbury, N.Y. His father died just before he was born and his mother died two years after; he was raised by his maternal grandparents, the Drakes; distant relatives of Sir Francis Drake. He joined the Navy at 19 and fought during the War of 1812. He commanded the Grampus as a Lieutenant-Commander by 1824 and helped suppress and African slave trade. He eventually made Captain (highest Navy rank then) and became Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Squadron in 1845 with orders to claim California if war broke out with Mexico. He got the jump on the British via a spy he sent to Texas and who reported the start of hostilities. On 7 July 1846 he raised the U.S. flag over the Customs House in Monterey. About three weeks later he left California due to ill health. 25 July 1866 he was promoted to Rear Admiral on the retired list. He died 28 November 1867 at New Brighton, Staten Island, N.Y.
- 29 Jul 1846 – 19 Jan 1847: Robert Field Stockton
Robert Field Stockton (1795-1866) was the grandson of Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He entered the U.S. Navy at age 16 after leaving the College of New Jersey (now Princeton). He fought in the War of 1812 and off the coast of Africa. He commanded the Pacific squadron during the Mexican War. In 1850 he left the Navy and moved back to his residence, Morven, in New Jersey. He was a New Jersey Senator 1851-1853. He is also noted for developing the first screw-propelled warship, the Delaware and Raritan Canal, and the Camden and Amboy Railway.
- 19 Jan – 1 Mar 1847: John Charles Frémont
John Charles Frémont (1813-1891) was born 21 January 1813 in Savannah, Ga. His father died when he was five and the family moved to South Carolina. He attended Charleston College from 1829-1831 when he was expelled for irregular attendance. He taught math for the Navy but left for the U.S. Topographical Corps (now the Army Corps of Engineers). On various expeditions he became an expert in geology, topography, and astronomy. In 1841 he secretly married the 17-year-old daughter of Senator Thomas Hart Benton, Jessie Benton. He continued on his expeditions, including three to the Far West: 1842, 1843-1844, and 1845-1847. He became known as “The Pathfinder” and his wife’s accounts held the nation’s interest. Frémont was involved in the Bear Flag Revolt and the formation of the California Battalion. These actions led Stockton to appoint him Military Governor. Unfortunately, Stephen W. Kearny (see below) had conflicting orders which were ultimately upheld by Washington. Frémont was court-martialed and found guilty. He was later pardoned by President Polk. After this, gold was found on his land but he was cheated out of it. He served as a Senator from California during the period 1850-1851 and was the Republican candidate for president in 1856. He lost most of his money on a Pacific railroad deal. In 1878 he was appointed Governor of the Arizona Territory and held the post until 1883. In 1890 Congress gave him a pension and promotion to Major General but he died three months later, 13 July 1890, in New York City. [Note: On one of his California expeditions Frémont spent some time at the Dana Adobe just north of Santa Maria.]
- 1 Mar – 31 May 1847: Stephen Watts Kearny
Stephen Watts Kearny (1794-1848) was born 30 August 1794 in Newark, N.J. He joined the military, fought in the War of 1812, and eventually commanded the Army of the West as a Brigadier General. During the Mexican War he held New Mexico and established a civil government. He moved into California and occupied Los Angeles. Colonel Frémont and Kearny got into a command dispute with Frémont ignoring Kearny’s orders. Washington sustained Kearny and he court-martialed Frémont (President Polk later pardoned him). After leaving California, Kearny was military commander of Veracruz, where he was infected with yellow fever and returned to the U.S. He died 31 October 1848 in St. Louis, Mo.
- 31 May 1847 – 28 Feb 1849: Richard Barnes Mason
Richard Barnes Mason (1797-1850) was the son of George Mason of Virginia. His grandfather, also George Mason, authored the Virginia bill of rights and was a friend of Washington and Jefferson. He joined the military in 1817 and rose through the ranks to Colonel 30 June 1846 and Brevet Brigadier General 30 May 1848. His service was spent on the Northern and Western frontiers. Mason’s administration saw the start of the California Gold Rush with the discovery of gold at Sutter’s mill 24 January 1848. Mason’s report was forwarded to Washington and President Polk inserted the discovery into his State of the Union message to Congress 5 December 1848. Personally, he was a hard man. The story goes that at an execution the hangman’s knots slipped. The local priest petitioned the governor to say the penalty was paid. Colonel Mason is said to have told the priest that the prisoners had been sentenced to be hanged until dead and he would consider the knot slipping after that happened. Mason left the job at his request, was put in charge of Jefferson Barracks and died there 25 July 1850.
- 28 Feb – 12 Apr 1849: Persifor Frazer Smith
Persifor Frazer Smith (1798-1858) was born 16 November 1798 and spent much of his adult life in the military. He started his military career in the Second Seminole War, fought with General Zachary Taylor, moved to General Winfield Scott’s command and helped during the capture of Mexico City. He was made Military Governor of Vera Cruz. After many other commands he died on active duty 17 May 1858 in Kansas.
- 12 Apr – 20 Dec 1849: Bennet Riley
Bennet Riley (1787-1853) distinguished himself both in battle and as an able administrator who was largely responsible for the generation of California’s first constitution. He rose through the military ranks to Major General and fought in the War of 1812, the Indian wars, and the Mexican War. He commanded the first military wagon train escort along the Santa Fe Trail. As Military Governor of California he presided over the Sept/Oct 1849 Constitutional Convention. Congress took no action on setting up a California government in 1848 or 1849 so Brevet Brigadier General Riley took action to elect delegates to a Constitutional Convention (a questionable, but necessary action). Delegate election was 1 August 1849; the convention met in Monterey 1 September 1849. The final copy of the new Constitution was signed 13 October 1849 and ratified by the people via election 13 November 1849.
- The Governors of California at http://www.notfrisco.com/calarchive/governors.html
- Sloat Article that used to be at http://www.sfusd.k12.ca.us/schwww/sch488/commodore.html
- USS Sloat II (DE-245) Story at http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/ships/dafs/DE/de245.html
- Slider.com Encyclopedia Stockton Article that used to be at http://www.slider.com/enc/50000/Stockton_Robert_Field.htm
- Morvan Info Page that used to be at http://www.historicmorven.org/history.html
- Slider.com Encyclopedia FrÃ©mont Article that used to be at http://www.slider.com/enc/20000/Fremont_John_Charles.htm
- Frémont and the Bear Flag Revolt Info that used to be at http://www.militarymuseum.org/fremont.html
- Frémont Bio that used to be at http://www.sfu.ca/~jfremont/jcfremont.html
- Compton Encyclopedia Kearny Article that used to be at http://www.comptons.com/encyclopedia/ARTICLES/0075/00997376_A.html
- Slider.com Encyclopedia Kearny Article that used to be at http://www.slider.com/enc/28000/Kearny_Stephen_Watts.htm
- Mason Bio that used to be at http://www.sfgenealogy.com/history/hbbegn11.htm
- Persifor Smith Bio that used to be at http://www.findagrave.org/pictures/20100.html
- Bennet Riley Military Bio that used to be at http://www-cgsc.army.mil/carl/HallofFame/preci.htm
- State Constitution Info that used to be at http://www.militarymuseum.org/Constitution.html
- Eisenhower, John S.D. “So Far From God: The U.S. War with Mexico 1846-1848.” Random House, 1989