August 20, 1795 - October 7, 1866
Robert F. Stockton
August 20, 1795-October 7, 1866
Robert F. Stockton, a career naval officer, was born in Princeton, New Jersey, on August 20, 1795, son of Senator and Congressman Richard Stockton. His grandfather, also named Richard, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
At sixteen, Stockton went to sea and served throughout the War of 1812, attaining the rank of lieutenant. In 1826, he returned to civilian life. In 1838, he rejoined the Navy with the rank of captain. He was later promoted to commodore.
In 1844 Stockton commanded the U.S.S. Princeton, the first steamer in the United States Navy. During a Potomac River cruise one of the vessel's two large guns exploded while being fired, killing two presidential cabinet members and several sailors. Stockton, injured in the incident, was officially held blameless.
On the eve of the U.S.-Mexico War U.S. Navy Secretary George Bancroft knew that California's leading citizens were unhappy under Mexican rule. Some wanted independence. Others thought California should become a British protectorate. A few, like Gen. Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, military commandant of Sonoma, favored union with the United States. Acting on orders from Bancroft, Commodore John H. Sloat, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, seized California's ports in June and July 1846.
After seizing Monterey, which was then the California capital, Sloat departed California, leaving Stockton, who had arrived only six days earlier, in command. Two weeks later, Stockton led a band of sailors and marines who occupied Los Angeles without firing a shot. Returning to Monterey, he left Marine Lt. Archibald Gillespie in charge of the Los Angeles garrison.
Gillespie quickly alienated the inhabitants, and three weeks later, discontented Angelenos laid siege to Fort Hill, which overlooked the town. After the outnumbered Americans surrendered, the Angelenos permitted them to retire with their arms. Upon learning the news, Stockton sailed to San Pedro, where his men skirmished with Californian insurgents, then sailed to San Diego.
In October, insurgentshad overwhelmed the settlement, forcing the small American garrison and San Diegans sympathetic to U.S. rule to seek safety aboard a ship anchored in the harbor. By the time Stockton arrived however, the city had been re-taken, although the insurgents continued to harass it.
On December 6, Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny, with a force of one hundred dragoons, reached California following an overland march from New Mexico. Following a brief skirmish with insurgents at San Pasqual, the weary troops arrived at San Diego, where Stockton welcomed them.
While Kearny's men rested, Stockton prepared to re-take Los Angeles. In late December the two officers led a joint Army-Navy force of about 600 men out of San Diego.
Following victories at the Battles of the Rio San Gabriel and La Mesa, Stockton and Kearny's troops entered Los Angeles. After the Treaty of Cahuenga ended Californian resistance to the American occupation, Stockton turned over military command to Kearny and appointed John C. Fremont governor.
Two years after war's end Stockton resigned his commission and returned once more to civilian life. In 1851 he followed in his father's footsteps, becoming a senator from New Jersey, but served only two years before resigning to serve as president of the Delaware and Raritan Canal Company, a post he held until his death in 1866. During the Civil War he commanded the New Jersey Militia.
Stockton died in Princeton, New Jersey on October 7, 1866.
29th Congress, 1st Session, Senate Document No. 388, Message of the President of the United States Relative to the Operations and Recent Engagements on the Mexican Frontier, 1847.
30th Congress, 2nd Session, House Executive Document No. 31: Report of the Secretary of the Navy, communicating copies of Commodore Stockton's despatches, relating to the military and naval operations in California. Washington, D.C.: 1849.
Bayard, John Samuel. A Sketch of the Life of Commodore Robert F. Stockton. New York: Derby and Jackson, 1856.
Bancroft, Hubert Howe. The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, Volume XXII, The History of California, Volume V, 1846-1848. San Francisco: The History Company, 1886.