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John Charles Fremont (1813-1890):
The Man for Whom Fort Fremont was Named

by

Dennis Adams
Information
Services Coordinator

 

About John Charles Fremont
(1813-1890)
About Ft. Fremont
(Beaufort County, SC)

 

John Charles Fremont (1813-1890)

Fort Fremont (Beaufort County, SC) bears the name of Savannah-born (and Charleston-educated) Army officer, politician and explorer John Charles Fremont (1813-1890). Fremont's expeditions led him to the Orgeon Territory (to map the Oregon Trail) , Colorado, Nevada and California. Beaufort Senator Robert Woodward Barnwell presented Fremont's credentials as California's first senator.

Fremont never lived in Beaufort County, SC. Historian Gerhard Spieler wrote that John Charles "Fremont's connections with Charleston and Savannah, as well as his adherence to the Union probably were responsible for the naming of the fort on St. Helena Island -- Fort Fremont." Fremont had also been an opponent of slavery (on August 31, 1861, as commander of the Western Department of the U. S. Army, he issued a proclamation freeing the slaves of the Missouri rebels; the more moderate Abraham Lincoln -- whose own Emancipation Proclamation came on January 1, 1863 -- requested that Fremont revoke the Missouri proclamation).

The Life of John Charles Fremont

Fremont's father, Jean-Charles Frémont, was a schoolteacher and French immigrant (whence the frequent spelling of "Frémont" with the acute accent) . Having eloped with a married woman (Mrs. Anne Whiting Pryor), Jean-Charles quickly left Richmond, Virginia for Savannah, Georgia in 1811. Upon his death in 1818, Anne took her young son, John Charles, with her to Charleston, S. C., where she raised her children on a small inheritance income.

Though expelled from Charleston College for poor attendance in 1831, John Charles had learned enough mathematics and natural sciences for his first job as math teacher on the war sloop Natchez, when it sailed for South America in 1833. Fremont resigned from the navy to join the U. S. Topographical Corps as a surveyor of the planned railroad between Charleston and Cincinnati. In 1837-1838, he did reconnaissance of the Georgia Cherokee lands in preparation for the government's removal of the tribe. Soon afterwards, Fremont left on the expedition to the plateau between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, led by French scientist and geologist J. N. Nicollet (with whom he work upon a map and detailed report upon return to Washington).

Nicollet's expedition enthused Senator Thomas Hart Benton, who in turn sparked Fremont's interest in explorations as far as to the Pacific coast. When Fremont became too attached to his 16 year-old daughter, however, Benton "pulled strings" to give Fremont his first independent expedition, of the Des Moines River Fremont mapped a large area of Iowa Territory in 1841, and in the same year married Benton's daughter Jesse in secret (though angered at first by the marriage, the Senator continued remained Fremont's influential motivator and patron).

In 1842, Fremont led a major expedition, into the Wind River chain of the Rocky Mountains (the famous Kit Carson was his scout). His Report of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains (1843) made Fremont a public figure, known as the "Great Pathfinder" (although he had kept to trails already blazed by mountain men). The government printed many copies of the map of Oregon that he helped prepare. Fremont's route from the Mississippi River to South Pass, Wyoming became the gateway through the Rockies for Westbound settlers.

Fremont's expedition of 1843 took him west of the South Pass and into the Great Basin region. Fremont, Kit Carson and 39 men followed the Snake River into the Columbia River as far as its mouth at the Pacific Ocean at Fort Vancouver, Washington. They brought a 12-pound howitzer cannon as defense against hostile Indians, despite government objections that the weapon gave his expedition a military appearance. On Fremont's return, 10,000 copies of his report were printed, fueling the expansionism that marked the beginning of James K. Polk's presidency, the survey of the northern shores of the Great Salt Lake influencing the Mormons' decision to settle in Utah.

Fremont became a lieutenant colonel in the Mounted Rifles on his third expedition to California (1845) and led a battalion of volunteers in the Mexican War. Though President Polk reversed the conviction of a politically-motivated court martial against Fremont, Fremont resigned from the army in 1848 and went on a fourth expedition that ended in failure in the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado (1848 - winter of 1849).

In 1850, Fremont was elected U. S. Senator (serving only a short term, however, from September 9, 1850, to March 4, 1851).

When the Fremont was not selected to lead the U. S. government's 1853 survey of a trans-continental railroad route to California, he organized an expedition of his own. This fifth and final expedition went into the Colorado River (from the Arkansas River) into the southern reaches of the Great Basin and on into California. The newly-formed Republican Party seized upon Fremont's new fame and nominated him to run against Democrat James Buchanan in the 1856 presidential campaign.

At the outbreak of the Civil War (1861), President Abraham Lincoln commissioned Fremont a major general and gave him the command of the Western Department, headquartered in St. Louis. In 1862, Fremont was named commander of the Army's Mountain Division in Wheeling, West Virginia, but was placed under the command of General John Pope after Confederate General Stonewall Jackson eluded his strategies. Pope was publicly hostile to Fremont, and Fremont resigned his command.

When the two railroads he had promoted went bankrupt in 1870, Fremont lost almost all his money. He was appointed governor of Arizona in 1878, but was removed in 1881 following public protests of his administration. None of Fremont's attempts at new wealth ever succeded, and he lived for almost a decade on money from his wife's writings. Only three months after he finally received an annual pension of $6,000 for his service as major general, in 1890, Fremont died.

Sources of Information


Dictionary of American Biography Base Set. American Council of Learned Societies, 1928-1936 (online version, in Galenet Biography Resource Center).

Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. 17 Vols. Gale Research, 1998 (online version, in Galenet Biography Resource Center).

• Explorers and Discoverers of the World. Gale Research, 1993 (online version, in Galenet Biography Resource Center).

Historic World Leaders. Gale Research, 1994 (online version, in Galenet Biography Resource Center).

Spieler, Gerhard. "Fort in St. Helena Named for Gen. Fremont." The Beaufort Gazette, August 12, 1986, p. 5-A.

 
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