Commodore Sloat Landing
Early that morning, Commodore John Drake Sloat, Commander of the United States Navy’s Pacific Squadron, which had sailed into Monterey Bay five days before, wrote in the log of his flagship SAVANNAH the following historic General Order, which was then issued to his Squadron’s forces:
“We are now about to land on 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. To accomplish this, it is of the first importance to cultivate the good opin¬ions of the inhabitants whom we must reconcile. I scarcely consider it necessary for me to caution American seamen and marines against the detestable crimes 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.”
This order issued to his forces was followed by a list of regulations and concluded: “… Finally, let me entrust 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.”
Shortly thereafter, 250 armed officers, seamen and marines boarded launches of the Fleet’s Savannah, Levant, and Cyane and set out for the Monterey shore. They landed without a shot being fired in anger in either direction, marched briskly to the Custom House and hoisted the American flag to a thunderous 21-gun salute from the flagship Savannah.
Commodore Sloat’s proclamation was then read in English and Spanish to the bewildered and apprehensive gathering of the town’s Mexican government and military personnel, Mexican citizens and foreigners, including American, English, French and other immigrants. Sloat declared that Monterey and all of California was “… henceforward a portion of the United States,” and that the “…peaceful inhabitants will enjoy the same rights and privileges as the citizens of any other portion of the Nation.”
Although the war with Mexico expedited this conquest, California was not considered a prize of war. Justification for the conquest had more to do with U.S. fervor for westward expansion, which was gaining momentum in the nation’s capital during the period. President James K. Polk further ignited passions when he proclaimed at his inauguration on March 4, 1845 that it was his “duty to assert and maintain by all constitutional means the right of the United States to that portion of our territory which lies beyond the Rocky Mountains.”
On December 2, 1845, in another strongly worded appeal for territorial control, President Polk elaborated to Congress his interpretation of the 1823 Monroe Doctrine in light of the 1845 declaration of “Manifest Destiny.” Said Polk, “No further European colony or dominion shall without our consent be planted or established on any part of the North American continent.” Significantly, this was intended to apply to those Western Territories that we now know to be part of the continental United States, and reflected American concerns with the threat from other nations, particularly England.
Thus, with Monterey serving as access, California became the capstone for the United States’ acquisition of all the Western Territories. Sloat’s conquest, on July 7, 1846, was fortuitous, for sailing ever more closely (less than two weeks away) to Monterey was Admiral Seymour and his English Pacific Fleet. Seymour intended to seize the town and all of California in payment of a huge debt owed to England by Mexico. In the ensuing development of the nation, the late arrival of the English navy at Monterey proved to be our eventual good fortune.
The bitter disappointment of Admiral Seymour was reported by an officer aboard the Admiral’s flagship Collingwood “When we were near Point Pinios, the Admiral came on deck and manifested a great deal of anxiety and gave strict orders to the quartermaster, who carried the spy-glass, to keep a sharp lookout when rounding the Point.
As the Collingwood made the turn and was sailing in, the Admiral, in sharp tones, said, “Quartermaster, do you see a flag flying on shore?” The latter replied, “Yes, sir, but I cannot make it out, sir.” The Admiral becoming more excited, kept repeating the question sharply, and received the same answer. At last he said again, “Quartermaster, do you see a flag on shore now?” The quartermaster, shadowing his eyes and stooping a little and getting a view under the fog, replied, “Yes sir, I see a flag very clearly now sir!” “What flag is it?” asked the Admiral. The quartermaster replied, “It is the American flag, sir.” Upon which the British admiral slapped his foot and passionately exclaimed in disappointment, “Then, by God, I am too late!”
With Monterey in possession of the United States, the United States Navy’s Pacific Squadron, under the command of the skillful and brave Commodore John Drake Sloat, forever secured California and the Western Territories for the American Union. And, as witnessed by the entire world, England not long thereafter became an enduring ally.
Although this is but one of the many exciting events in Monterey’s dramatic and colorful history, itis of singular significance because it marks the beginning of California and the West’s subsequent renowned emergence as a vibrant part of the American nation.
from the Monterey History and Art Association 75th Anniversary book
View the Herald article HERE