Brief Description: Fictionalized life of John C. Fremont’s wife, daughter of a prominent senator, supporter of her explorer husband, and editor of his field notes.
Geographical Setting: Atlantic Ocean, California, Central America, Europe, Gulf of Mexico, Isthmus of Panama, Mariposa, Missouri, Monterey (CA), North America, Oceans of the World, Pacific Ocean, Panama, San Francisco, San Jose (CA), St. Louis, United States, Washington DC
Historical Era: 1830s, 1840s, 1850s, 1860s, 1870s, 1880s, 1890s, 19th Century, 20th Century
Date Range: 1830-1902
Keywords: Abolition of Slavery, Abraham Lincoln, American Westward Expansion, Andrew Jackson, Bear Flag Revolt, California Gold Rush, Golden Gate, Indian Removal Act, Jessie Benton Fremont, John Charles Fremont, Kit Carson, Manifest Destiny, Mexican-American War, Philip Kearny, Thomas Hart Benton
Original Publication: 1962
Suitable for Grades: 4-8th
Target Audience: Middle Grade
This old-fashioned fictionalized biography of Jessie Benton Fremont made me wish it was a biography of her husband, John Charles Fremont. The strictures placed on women at the time limited Jessie’s opportunities, while her husband made five westward expeditions to explore and map routes to Oregon and California. He also ran a gold mine, became involved in the early politics of California, fought in the Civil War, and ran for President of the United States. The website georgiahistory.com has some excellent information and a teacher guide about their native son Fremont. (Note: John Charles Fremont is a controversial historical figure due to his involvement in removing Native Americans from their lands.)
Of course, Jessie was instrumental in supporting her husband’s career. The well-connected daughter of a Missouri Senator, she married at age seventeen and bore five children, two of whom died young. She compiled Fremont’s expedition notes which became best sellers for people migrating west to participate in the Gold Rush. She made several arduous trips with her children via the Isthmus of Panama to join her husband in California. She always offered advice and moral support to her husband. In her later years, she wrote her memoirs in order to support the family, which had lost money in the stock market
This book gives an excellent taste of California history both before and after the Gold Rush. John Charles Fremont’s activities in California during the Mexican-American War and the early days of statehood are recounted here. It also illustrates how the major issues of the time on the east coast (slavery and abolition) were very different from the concerns of California ranchers and other western settlers.