John Charles Fremont
Not much is known about John Charles Fremont's parents. His father, Charles Fremon, claimed to have been born near Lyon, France, and to have fought for the Royalists in the French Revolution. Following the revolution he attempted to sail to Santo Domingo but was captured by the English and imprisoned in the British West Indies for several years. On his release he traveled to Richmond Virginia where he was first employed in the prestigious Green Street Academy as a French teacher. Although he was considered to be a good teacher he was fired because of a charge that he was living with a prostitute.
Following Green Street, Fremon obtained a succession of other teaching positions in Richmond. In 1811 he was employed by Major John Prior to teach French to his young wife, Anne. Anne fell in love with her French teacher and the two of them left Richmond and a few months later settled in Savannah, Georgia. Fremon worked in a number of different jobs and Anne took in boarders. On January 21, 1813, their first son, John Charles Fremon was born. Major Prior had tried to divorce Anne but the Virginia House of Delegates had declined to approve his petition so their son was born out of wedlock.
Following the birth of their son the family moved on to Norfolk and then Nashville. Their second child, Elizabeth Fremon, was born in Nashville. Following her birth the family moved back to Norfolk where, in 1817, they had their third child, Horation Francis Fremon. Charles Fremon died later that same year leaving Anne destitute to care for three small children. Family and friends helped her and in 1823 she moved the family to Charleston, South Carolina. John Charles obtained a position as clerk to John W. Mitchell, a prominent attorney in Charleston. Mitchell financed his early education and in 1829 John Charles enrolled in the College of Charleston. He was thought to be an exceptional student but just before his graduation he was expelled because of irregular attendance and "incorrigible negligence."
In 1830 John Charles met Joel Poinsett, a prominent figure in Charleston society. Poinsett in turn introduced him to a wide circle of people to include some very prominent politicians. In 1833 with Poinsett's assistance, John was taken aboard the US Navy ship Natchez to teach mathematics to the midshipmen. In 1836 Poinsett was named Secretary of War in the Martin Van Buren administration. In 1837 Poinsett helped John Charles obtain a position on a team surveying a route for the proposed Charleston, Cincinnati, Louisville Railroad. In the winter of 1837-1838 he participated in a survey in Georgia.
In 1838 Poinsett commissioned Joseph Nicollet to survey the Upper Mississippi River Basin. The commission specified that John Charles Fremont (sic) would be Nicollet's assistant. Nicollet found his assistant's work to be exemplarily and in 1839 Fremont, as he now called himself, was appointed a second lieutenant in the newly formed U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers. Later that same year Fremont accompanied Nicollet on a second survey of the Upper Mississippi River Basin. In 1841, in Washington D.C., Fremont married Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benson's daughter, Jessie Ann.
In 1842 Fremont led a survey of the Oregon Trail including South Pass over the Rocky Mountains. Christopher "Kit" Carson was hired to serve as guide for the party. Jessie gave birth to their first child, Elizabeth Benton Fremont (Lily), in October of that year. In April 1843 Lieutenant Fremont was ordered to survey the area south of South Pass in order to find another route across the Rockies. Once again Kit Carson was hired on as scout and hunter for the party. It was during this expedition that the closed nature of what Fremont called "The Great Basin" was first understood.
In January and February of 1844 Fremont's Party followed the East Fork of the Walker River to cross the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains through what is known today as Carson Pass. They then followed the South fork of the American River down to emerge in the Sacramento Valley near Sutter's Fort in early March 1844. In April 1844 Fremont explored southward through the San Joaquin Valley in search of the mythical San Buenaventura River that allegedly rose in the Rocky Mountains and cut through the Sierras to empty into the Pacific. The party crossed the Tehachapi Mountains through Oak Creek Pass in mid April, 1844. After leaving California they crossed the deserts of The Great Basin to return to Washington D.C. in August, 1844.
In March 1845 Fremont presented the report of his expedition to the Secretary of War. The report was followed by a book which became a best seller, Fremont was promoted to Captain and became famous as "The Pathfinder." On June 26, 1845, Fremont left St. Louis on what was called "The Third Expedition." His official orders called for him to enter Mexican territory to survey rivers that drained the eastern Rocky Mountains. His orders did not mention California. When the party got to Bent's Fort Kit Carson was once again employed as scout and hunter as was Joseph Walker.
It was during this expedition that Fremont renamed Mary's River (originally named in the 1820s by Hudson Bay Company trapper Peter Ogden). Henceforth it was known as the Humboldt River and quickly became a principal route across the Great Basin. In December 1845, Fremont divided his party into two groups. One, guided by Joseph Walker, crossed the Sierras via Walker Pass while Fremont and Carson followed the trail blazed by the Stevens-Townsend emigrant party in 1844-1845 up the Truckee River to the crest, through Donner Pass, along the Bear River, to Sutter's Fort.