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John Charles Frémont
goSee a series of portraits 1843-1890.
And one that isn't go

The nervous, rocky West is intruding a new and continental element into the National Mind,
and we shall yet have an American. Emerson, The Young American, February, 1844

John Charles Frémont was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1813. Though poor, through the efforts of a family friend, John Charles was prepared for and entered the Junior Class Charleston College at the age of 15. Though he showed great promise in languages, science, and mathematics, the following year, a few weeks before graduating he was expelled for nonattendance.

But, things got better. Read more about his life as an explorer and mapmaker and as a soldier.

As leader of his surveys, Frémont was addressed as "Captain" by his civilian scouts, hunters, and voyaguers, even though on his first two expeditions he was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Topographical Corps of the US Army. But he was also the astronomer, navigator, surveyor, geologist, hypsometer, and botanist, making important contributions in many scientific fields.

go Follow Frémont, Kit Carson, and Alex Godey on their epic winter crossing of the 10,000' snow-covered Sierra Nevada in 1844.

Presented to John Charles Frémont by Baron von Humboldt in 1850.

"A Monsieur le Colonel Frémont, Senateur [of the State of California]. Avec la grande médaille d'or, pour les progrés dans les sciences. Baron Humboldt."

 

The character and extent of Frémont's astronomical and other physical observations on this long, arduous, and dangerous journey constituted the great value of his exploring work. In few instances did it fall to Frémont's lot to first explore any section of the country, but it was his good fortune, as it was his intent, to first contribute systematic, extended, and reliable data as to climate, elevation, physical conditions, and geographical positions. The hypsometrical work begun by Frémont culminated, indeed, in the unparalleled collation of elevations by Gannett; his climatic observations have been perfected by the Signal Corps; his astronomical and geological data have been overwhelmed by the magnificent collections and field work of the United States Coast and Geodetic and Geological Surveys; but it is to be noted that Frémont's observations, which he gave in detail, were so honest and good that they have withstood successfully the test of hostile examination.
General A. W. Greely, Gold Medalist of the Royal Geographical Society and Société de Géographie, Paris, Chief Signal Officer U.S. Army, arctic explorer.

Professional assiduity, unusual self-control, readiness to endure any amount of monotonous hard work, deprivation, and exhaustion--these were traits of Frémont that we should not allow his many adventures, and the picturesqueness of the scenes in which he moved to obscure. It is significant that [Kit] Carson, like that other expert frontiersman Alex Godey, regarded him with deferential respect. To both he was as efficient a man of action as they could desire--and in addition a scientist.
Allan Nevins, DeWitt Clinton professor of history, Columbia University.

Two portraits: 1843 and1864.

The first by G. P. A. Healy was done about 1847 (Lt. Colonel insignia), but probably from an earlier daguerreotype c.1843. The background is from the Charles Preuss 1st expedition drawing of the Wind River Range, published in 1843. The second (Major General) is by S. N. Carvalho and, on the reverse Painted and presented to the Metropolitan Fair for the benefit the Sick and Wounded Soldiers, New York, 21st March, 1864, S. N. Carvalho. This was the forerunner of the New York Metropolitan Museum. Catalog number #267.
Soloman Nuñes Carvaljo was Frémont's photographer and artist on his railroad survey through the Rocky Mountains in the winter of 1848.

Who's the kid? In contrast to the more often seen images of presidential candidate Frémont, or Civil War Major General Frémont, most of the images on these pages are taken from portraits made at the time of his most important survey work--age 29 to 33.
goHere, a Frémont image that isn't.

Contemporary descriptions:

His men all loved him intensely. He gave his orders with great mildness and simplicity, but they had to be obeyed. There was no shrinking from duty. He was like a father to those under his command. At that time I thought that I could endure as much hardship as most men, especially a small, slender man like Frémont; but I was wholly mistaken.
Peter H. Burnett, first governor of the State of California.

A vast cloud of dust appeared first, and then in a long file emerged this wildest wild party. Frémont rode ahead, a spare, active-looking man, with such an eye! He was dressed in a blouse and leggings, and wore a felt hat. After him came five Delaware Indians, who were his bodyguard, and have been with him through all his wanderings. (Frémont's Delaware chief James Sagundai at right)
Lieutenant Frederick Walpole

The colonel [Frémont] is a man of small stature, of slender but wiry formation, and with a countenance of firmness and decision. This is the fifth time he has crossed the continent in connection with his scientific purposes. To sleep under the open heaven, and depend upon one's rifle for food, is coming about as near the primitive state of the hunter as a civilized man can get; and yet, this life, in this case, is adorned with the triumphs of science.
Rev Walter Colton, Alcalde, Monterey

The fact is, the people of the country are frightened at the very name of Frémont. He is represented to those who do not know any better as being a Cannibal, a bloodthirsty Barbarian, &c &c. His very name causes females to shudder, and crying children to be mute as death, as I have myself seen. While at the same time those who know the gentleman in question admire him for the childlike simplicity and unaffected kindness, justice and liberality which marks his every movement.
Captain William Dane Phelps

I have seen in no other man the qualities of lightness, activity, strength and physical endurance in such equilibrium. His face is rather thin and embrowned by exposure; his nose a bold aquiline and his eyes deep-set and keen as a hawk's. Rough camp life has lessened in no degree his native refinement of character and polish of manners. A stranger would never suppose him to be the Columbus of our central wilderness, though when so informed, would believe it without surprise.
Bayard Taylor.


A new University of Oklahoma Press edition of Tom Chaffin's now classic Pathfinder: John Charles Fremont and the Course of American Empire.

"The most eloquent, understanding, and yet very candid biography of Frémont that has appeared to date"--Howard R. Lamar, Yale University


©1999, 2007
Bob Graham