Occupation of Monterey by Commodore Thomas ap Catesby Jones - 1842

By 1840 all of the principal residents, foreign and Mexican, living in California recognized that the territory was too weak economically, politically, and militarily to stand on its own. Most foreigners advocated a political alliance with the land of their birth. Most Californios favored some sort of an association with a major nation state, but they could not agree on which state nor on exactly how the relationship should best be structured. The three most favored nations were England, France, and the United States, but none offered a perfect solution to California's problems. There was general agreement that Mexico was not going to provide the support necessary to avoid foreign domination, and that, if nothing was done, American immigration into California would soon settle the issue the same way that it had in Texas.

Late in 1841 Commodore Thomas ap Catesby Jones was assigned to command the U.S. Pacific Fleet. In September 1842, he received a message from the U.S. Consul in Mazatlan, Mexico, stating that war with Mexico was imminent. Jones was aware that a large French fleet and an English naval squadron were in the Pacific and worried that they might have designs on California. There were numerous rumors circulating including one that Mexico had concluded a secret treaty that ceded California to England. Jones decided that the Monroe Doctrine dictated that he must seize California before one or the other European powers could act.

On October 19, 1842, Jones sailed into Monterey Harbor and demanded that the governor surrender California to the United States. Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado had recently been replaced by General Manuel Micheltorena, but the new governor was in Los Angeles. Alvarado refused to act and referred Jones to Micheltorena. Later that night a group of Monterey citizens (with American merchant Thomas O. Larkin acting as interpreter) negotiated the surrender of the Monterey District (not all of California). On October 20, 1842, Jose Abrego and Pedro Narvaez signed the surrender documents and the U.S. Navy occupied Monterey and raised the American flag.

On October 21, 1842, Jones went ashore, read newspapers locally available, and spoke with prominent residents. He quickly became convinced that war had not broken out and that the rumored treaty with England had not been consummated. He explained to Alvarado that he was leaving Monterey, wrote a note to Micheltorena, replaced the American flag with that of Mexico, withdrew his occupation force, and sailed out of Monterey Harbor. Micheltorena had ordered all Mexican military forces to resist the American incursion, and on October 26, 1842, upon learning of Jones's withdrawal from Monterey, insisted that the commodore meet with him in Los Angeles to publicly remedy the situation. Jones immediately agreed, but awaited further confirmation of the true nature of relations between Mexico and the United States before meeting with the governor.

On the evening of January 17, 1843, Jones dined with Micheltorena in the home of merchant Abel Sterns in Los Angeles. On January 18, 1843, Jones met formally with the governor in his quarters and received a list of demands for restitution which the governor asked him to sign. (The demands included 1,500 complete uniforms, musical instruments, and $15,000.) Jones asked that the governor provide him with a written translation for his consideration. That evening there was a ball attended by both Micheltorena and Jones. On January 20, 1843, Jones returned the list of demands with a note explaining that he would not sign because he did not have the necessary authority from his government and because he found the demands objectionable. On January 21, 1843, Jones sailed out of San Pedro Harbor.

Micheltorena's demands for restitution were not heard about again. Jones was publicly censured by the United States and recalled from his command of the Pacific Fleet. His career was not, however, ended. Many of his seniors believed that he had acted correctly given the situation and felt that his actions had underscored the vulnerability of California to a foreign takeover. Relations between the United States and Santa Anna's Mexico were continuing to deteriorate and sympathy for Mexico's honor was not great in Washington D.C.

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