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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
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
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
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
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
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.