Jessie Frémont as a young woman

Sheila RathjenSheila Rathjen is an interpreter at our history museum in Old Town Sacramento. She has been in banking most of her adult life. Sheila took some time from her schedule of tours to send us this story on a remarkable woman. Thanks Sheila! (CR)

Who was Jessie Frémont? She was a daughter of Thomas Hart Benton, U.S. Senator from Missouri, and married to John C. Frémont, the famous explorer and California pioneer.

But she was also a successful writer, was an intelligent political advisor, and a humanitarian. As I researched her life, I found an interesting episode from her life in California.

In the summer of 1849, Jessie and her three children moved west to live with her husband in a little bungalow he had built near the Pine Tree Mine. A couple years earlier, John C. Frémont had sent $3,000 to the American consul in Monterey, asking them to purchase a ranch for him outside the city of San Jose.

Instead, the consul bought 45,000 acres of what Frémont soon discovered was remote real estate. The consul refused to take back the land and return Frémont’s money, so he was was stuck with a “worthless” ranch that went by the Spanish name of Mariposa.

Jessie Frémont spent many pleasant days at the bungalow until a threat by miners destroyed her peace. Owners of the Merced Mining Co. were in a land dispute land with the Frémonts, who had been on constant guard against them. One day when John was absent, Jessie got a visitor who handed her a horrifying note. In 24 hours, it warned, the cottage would be burned to the ground: The family must leave at once.

What would Jessie do?

Well, she made to a quick decision and began writing a note explaining that there was no need to endanger her family’s life to make them leave. She asked for more time to pack the family’s belongings, using this as a stall tactic. The visitor left and Jessie gained more time.

The Frémont family home in MariposaThe situation remained tense, and there were armed confrontations between sides. But the issue was soon resolved in court without further threat to Jessie and her family.

After this incident, The Frémonts enjoyed fame much as celebrities today. John served as U.S. Senator, ran for President in 1856, and served as a senior Union Army officer in the war between the states. Jessie wrote books and articles on her experiences on the frontier, making a fine income. The two were railroad pioneers.

Through it all, Jessie Frémont proved an active and fearless woman in an era when women were expected to be the opposite.

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One Response to Jessie Frémont as a young woman

  1. rembot says:

    She was always such a dear…

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