One of the great American explorers, John C. Frémont, "The Pathfinder," was born on January 21, 1813 in Savannah, Georgia as the illegitimate child of a Virginia woman, Anne Beverley Whiting, and a French refugee tutor. Following the death of his father in 1818 Whitting moved with her 3 children from Norfolk, Virginia to Charleston, South Carolina. It was there that in 1828 Frémont was admitted to Charleston College. Academiclly, he did very well, however his unattentiveness and frequent absences forced his eventual expulsion. Following his expulsion, however, Frémont became a private math tutor, and even taught at an evening school. After serving on the sloop-of-war Natchez in 1838, however, he recieved his degree from, interestingly, Charleston College.
Upon recieving his degree, Frémont then took a difficult exam into the United States Navy and was assigned to the frigate, Independence, but decline. Instead he chose to go and join the U.S. Topographical Corps as an assistant engineer under Captain William G. Williams, then doing surveys for a projected railroad from Cinncinnati to Charleston. This project was suspended in 1837 and in 1838 and 1839 he took part in Jean Nicollet's expedition to the plains between the upper Mississippi and Missouri rivers. It was also during this time that President Martin Van Buren commissioned him as a 2nd Lieutenent of Topographical Engineers.
Following his survey with Nicollet, Frémont went to Washington D.C. to prepare a report. It was there he met his future wife, Jessie Benton, the 15 year-old daughter of Missouri Senator Thomas H. Benton. Although they became engaged soon after they met, the Bentons did not condone the relationship and tried to seperate the 2 lovers. Not to be deterred, they were secretly married on 19 October 1841.
In 1842, not long after their marriage, Frémont was instructed by the War Department to survey the Rocky Mountains, especially the South Pass on his 2nd major expedition. It was also during this expedition that he scouted the Wind River Mountains, reaching its highest point that now bears his name, Frémont Peak. His report to Congress in winter 1842 was well recieved and helped further the cause of Manifest Destiny.
A few short years later, in 1845, Frémont was off again, this time to explore the Great Basin and the Pacific region. During this journey however, the Mexican-American War had broke out. Although originally forced out of California, he was located in Oregon, given the rank of major in the United States Army and ordered to defend the American settlements in the area which were under attack. Once he returned, he was a key factor in organizing the local settlers annex California for the U.S. Soon after, Commodore Robert Stockton appointed Fremont as governor of California. However, he was court-martialed in 1847 after the intense dislike between General Stephen Kearney and him exploded with Kearney charing him with mutiny and insubordinance. He was sentenced to be dismissed from service, but President James Polk intervened and Frémont was released. However, he promptly resigned from the army.
Following his resignation, Frémont, using his own money mounted 2 failed expeditions of a proposed railway line from the upper Rio Grande to California. However, following the California Gold Rush, he became a multi-millionare when the precious rock was found on his estate.
Following the Election of 1860 when Abraham Lincoln was elected, Frémont was expected to be the new Secretary of War, but anti-Southern sentiments ended up with his appointment as a Major General in the Union Army when the war in charge of the Western Department (Headquartered in St. Louis) broke out. However, he would soon feel the fury of Lincoln when on August 30, 1861, declared that all Missouri slaves were to be free. Lincoln, concerned more (about preserving the Union than freeing the slaves at that point ordered the proclmation to be retracted. Frémont refused saying that it would mean that did not believe in what he said, and was sacked.
His popularity with the Radical Republicans, however, put him back in service in March of 1862 as the leader of the new Mountain Department. Frémont was then critized for not taking appropriate action with Stonewall Jackson during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign. Summararily, he would spend the rest of the war in New York after his troops fell under the command of General John Pope who he refused to work with, on June 26.
However, he was not yet finished. In May 1860 he was elected as the as their candidated for the Election of 1864. Lincoln weary with dealing with a Radical, decided to negotiate. Frémont agreed to step down, only if his long time rival, Mongomery Blair would be removed from his cabinet position. On September 22, 1864, Frémont revoked his candidacy and the following day Blair was sacked and replaced by the Radical William Dennison.
Frémont died on July 13, 1890 in New York City. In his last 30 years he had lost his fortune from the gold rush in railroad ventures, become the governor of Arizona and even written several books including his autobiography Memoirs of My Life in 1877. He lives on however, in name, as numerous streets, parks, and bridges. Including the Fremont Bridge.