The first American flag flies in California

John Drake Sloat was born in Sloatsburg, New York on July 6, 1781 two months after a British soldier killed his father. When his mother died soon after his grandparents raised him. A midshipman in the navy by 1800, he served as sailing master under Captain Stephen Decatur on the USS United States during the War of 1812 and distinguished himself in the capture of the powerful British warship HMS Macedonian, a feat comparable to the famous victory of the USS Constitution over the HMS Guerriere. After the war Sloat served in the West Indies chasing pirates. In 1824 he commanded the USS Grampus, and 1840 to ‘44 he ran the Portsmouth Navy Yard. Then in 1846, as commander of the US Pacific Squadron, Sloat had orders that, in the event of hostilities with Mexico, he was to prevent the British from interfering in California and, when possible, claim the territory for the United States.

USS United States vs. HMS Macedonian

On July 7 1846, Sloat sailed his small fleet into Monterey Bay and engaged the Mexican forces there in the Battle of Monterey. The fight was quickly over as most Mexican units never fired a shot and the few batteries that did were easily subdued, and afterward, much like his namesake Sir Francis Drake, who had once been the first to plant the English flag here, Captain Sloat raised the American flag high over the Customs House and claimed California for the United States. Two days later John B. Montgomery took the small hamlet of Yerba Buena in San Francisco Bay.

Sloat raises the American flag

Sloat acted as military Governor for a short time before he passed the post to John C. Fremont and, with the arrival of Commodore Stockton, an ailing Sloat returned to the east coast. His sea duty at an end, Sloat later served as Commander of the Norfolk Navy Yard and helped plan California’s Mare Island Navy Yard. He died in New Brighton, New York on November 28,1867 at age 86 after a long and exciting life.

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