Joined: 27 Nov 2007
Location: Monterey County, California
|Posted: Mon Apr 14, 2008 2:17 pm Post subject: Sloat Raisies Stars And Stripes
|While lying at Mazatlan, Commodore John Drake Sloat received indirectly through John Parrott, American Consul at the port, the news that Congress had declared war. "Through act of Mexico.” At last, the time was ripe for the explainable seizure of California by the United States.
Quietly, Commodore Sloat made preparations for the departure of the Savannah and the Cyane, slipping out of the harbor under cover of night. To divert the attention of the commanders of other powers then in the port—notably of Admiral Seymour of the English man-of-war Collingwood—he shaped his course toward the Sandwich Islands.
Luck was with him. Favorable winds on the run north brought him in sight of Punta de Pinos on July 2, 1846. He had won the race—if race there was.
Soon after the ships dropped anchor, Thomas Oliver Larkin, American Consul at Monterey, boarded the flagship, and was soon closeted with the commander.
The appearance of the Savannah and the Cyane in the harbor caused a considerable commotion in the sleepy old town; but as yet no word had been received by the townspeople that hostilities between the republics had begun. Governor Pio Pico had not honored the capital with his presence during his term, remaining in the south; nor was there a ranking officer in command at the Presidio.
From the 2nd to the 6th, Sloat had remained in the harbor, making no move. What was he waiting for? On the 6th, the officers held a council of war, at which were present the commander, Captain William Mervine, Captain Dupont of the Cyane and other officers of the squadron, to determine upon a course of action.
From all reports of the session, Sloat was still irresolute. Commodore Jones. predicament was probably back of his hesitancy. Whereupon Captain Mervine is reported to have said, "You hesitate, Commodore Sloat, but delays are dangerous. It is more than your commission is worth to hesitate further” pointing out that Admiral Seymour of the Collingwood was undoubtedly at their heels.
That the commander was bucked up by the pressure of his officers is commonly admitted. But two circumstances helped him to a decision—that Captain John C. Fremont was in the territory, supposedly under secret instructions to stand by when the seizure of the province was accomplished; and that the Proclamation to the people and "General Orders" to the troops were ready for publication—a task in which he had had the valuable assistance of Thomas Oliver Larkin through several midnight sessions aboard ship.
At ten o'clock, on the morning of the 7th, Captain Mervine, with two hundred and fifty bluejackets and sailors, accompanied by their band, landed in small boats on the beach, in front of the Customs House, and raised the Stars and Stripes on the tall staff that stood fifteen or twenty feet north of the building. The marines fired a salute, and with all hands at attention, the band played the National Anthem. And as the flag floated out on the breeze, the ships fired the national salute amid the wild cheers of the men.
They had, however, been deprived of the dramatic details of lowering the Mexican flag, for the simple reason that the Mexicans had anticipated them. The story goes that one of the Vallejos, feeling the time was approaching when the Gringos would attack the capital in the event of war, had lowered the red and green ensign weeks before. Some time afterward, it was carried to Mission San Jose, where Salvador Vallejo was comisionado. Thus far, the story checks. It appears that in later years, the children of the family, playing about the gardens of the Mission—perhaps re-enacting scenes of the "Seizure of Monterey"—used the flag. As for its final disposition, a daughter of Don Salvador rescued a piece of the red bunting—the green portion having faded and worn thin—and presented half of it to Major Edwin R. Sherman, who had initiated and pushed through the Sloat Monument at Monterey. Half was retained by the Vallejo family. Years later, Major Sherman presented his portion to the Monterey City Council, explaining the foregoing story. (It now reposes in the Customs House State Museum of History, loaned by the City Council, together with the explanatory letter.)
As for the details that followed the landing of the United States forces, it may be added that the Americans in the town were frenzied with joy to behold the flag of their nation aloft on the western edge of the continent.
The troops then marched up the Calle Principal (Main Street), to the residence of the American Consul, halted in front of the house, while the band serenaded Consul Larkin and his party. Mrs. Larkin, one of the most charming hostesses in the department, was not at home to accept the honor, having been sent to Honolulu with her children, when the consul felt the political situation was becoming too tense for their safety and comfort.
The gay music of the band—Yankee Doodle one of its selections—greatly annoyed the solemn senoras, who bitterly resented the taking of their country by the Americans. They revealed their resentment by hurriedly closing the shutters of their homes, after withdrawing from their balconies. But no such feeling possessed the young senoritas, who promptly re-opened the shutters and waved to the debonair Yankees as they marched by. A new promise of romance, to be fulfilled beneath the rose-hung balconies of the old town. Soon the Americans learned the art of the serenade, and to speak the soft language of the conquered people.
The landing-force had little chance to initiate a romance, however, on the eventful 7th, as they were under orders not to break ranks until embarking for their ships at the wharf. A wise old sailor was Commodore Sloat!
The Proclamation, read from the north balcony by the commander, is an interesting document, with the ring of sincerity and fair play.
To THE INHABITANTS OF CALIFORNIA:
The central government of Mexico having commenced hostilities against the United States of America by invading its territory and attacking troops on the north side of the Rio Grande; and with a force of 7000 men under General Arista, which army was totally destroyed on the 8th and 9th of May last, by a force of 2300 men under General Taylor, and the City of Matamoras taken, And the two nations being actually at war by this transaction, I shall hoist the standard of the United States of America at Monte¬rey immediately, and shall carry it throughout California. I declare to the inhabitants of California that, although I come in arms with a powerful force, I do not come among them as an enemy to California; on the contrary, I come as their best friend, as henceforward California will be a portion of the United States, and its peaceful inhabitants will enjoy the same rights and privileges as the citizens of any other portion of that territory, with all the rights and privileges they now enjoy, together with the privilege of choosing their own magistrates and other officers for the administration of justice among themselves; and the same protection will be extended to them as to any state in the union.
They will also enjoy a permanent government, under which life, property and the constitutional right and lawful security to worship the Creator in the way most congenial to each one's sense of duty, will be secured, which unfortunately the central government of Mexico cannot afford them, destroyed as her resources are by internal factions and corrupt officers, who create constant revolutions to promote their own interests and oppress the people. Under the flag of the United States, California will be free from all such troubles and expenses; consequently, the country will rapidly advance and improve, both in agriculture and commerce, as, of course, the revenue laws will be the same in California as in all other parts of the United States, affording them all manufactures and produce of the United States free of any duty, and all foreign goods at one quarter of the duty they now pay. A great increase in the value of real estate and the products of California may also be anticipated. With the great interest and kind feelings I know the government and people of the United States possess toward the citizens of California, the country cannot but improve more rapidly than any other on the continent of America.
Such of the inhabitants of California, whether native or foreigners, as may not be disposed to accept the high privileges of citizenship and to live peaceably under the government of the United States, will be allowed time to dispose of their property and to remove out of the country, if they choose, without any restrictions; or, remain in it, observing strict neutrality.
With full confidence in the honor and integrity of the inhabitants of the country I invite the judges, alcaldes, and any other civil officers to retain their offices, and to execute their functions as heretofore, that the public tranquillity may not be disturbed; at least, until the government of the territory can be more definitely arranged.
All persons holding titles to real estate, or in quiet possession of lands under a color of right, shall have those titles and rights guaranteed to them.
All churches and the property they contain, in possession of the clergy of California, shall continue in the same rights and possession they now enjoy.
All provisions and supplies of every kind furnished by the inhabitants for the use of the United States ships and soldiers will be paid for at fair rates; and no private property will be taken for public use without just compensation at the moment.
"General Orders," read to the troops about to land, was thought out in accord with the pacific policy of President Polk. (Fremont should have seen it before he staged his performances in the north and at Gabilan Peak,) It read:
FLAG SHIP SAVANNAH, 7 July, 1846
We are now about to land upon the territory of Mexico with whom the United States is at war. To strike their flag and hoist our own in place of it is our duty. It is not only our duty to take California, but to preserve it afterwards as part of the United States at all hazards, and to accomplish this it is of the first importance to cultivate the good opinions of the inhabitants, and reconcile them to the change. We know how to take care of those who oppose us, but it is the peaceful and unoffending inhabitants whom we must reconcile. I scarcely consider it necessary for me to caution American Seamen and Marines against the detestable crime of plundering and maltreating unoffending inhabitants.
That no one may misunderstand his duty, the following Regulations must be strictly adhered to, as no violation can hope to escape the severest punishment.
1st. On landing, no man is to leave the shore until the Commanding Officers give the order to march.
2nd. No gun is to be fired, or other act of hostility committed without express orders from the officer commanding the party.
3rd, The officers and Boat-keepers will keep their respective boats as close to the Shore as they will safely float, taking care that they do not lay aground, and remain in them prepared to defend themselves from attack, and attentively watch for signals from the ships as well as from the party on shore.
4th. No man is to quit the ranks, or enter any house for any pretense whatever, without express orders from an officer. Let every man avoid insult or offence to any unoffending inhabitant, and especially avoid that eternal disgrace which would attach to our names and our country's name, by indignity offered to a single female, even let her standing be however low it may.
5th. Plunder of every kind is strictly forbidden; not only does the plundering of the smallest article from a prize forfeit all claim to prize money, but the offender must expect to be severely punished.
6th. Finally let me entreat you, one and all, not to tarnish our hope of bright success by any act that we shall be ashamed to acknowledge before God and our Country.
JOHN D. SLOAT, Commandet-in-Chief of the U. S. Naval Forces in the Pacific Ocean.
The document reflects the humane and level-headed qualities of both Sloat and Larkin. Likewise the attitude of the Polk administration, whose policy had been to make the operation as painless as possible. If the United States had previously agreed that the empire west of the Rockies was necessary to the ultimate destiny of the nation, at least the administration revealed a sense of good manners, even if a bit weak on morals.