The naval officer who won California

Robert Field Stockton

Born in Princeton, New Jersey on August 20, 1795, Robert Field Stockton could boast of a father who was a senator and a grandfather who signed the Declaration of Independence. He went to sea at 16, served during the War of 1812 as a lieutenant, then in the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and off the coast of Africa where he was the first American navel officer to fight against the slave trade. While there he also aided in the negotiation of a treaty that resulted in the foundation of Liberia.  Stockton was instrumental in the construction of the U.S.S. Princeton, the navy’s first steamship with a screw propeller. After the election of President Polk and commanding the impressive Princeton, he was sent to Texas with an offer of annexation into the United States. That offer was refused, but Stockton was fully informed of how imminent the danger of war with Mexico truly was.

USS Congress, 1841

Then on 23 July 1846 Commodore Stockton arrived in Monterey, California with a flotilla of three frigates, four sloops, and one ship-of-the-line. He was now the senior officer in California, headquartered in his flagship, the USS Congress, with orders to take possession of the territory. On August 11th he sailed to Cuidad de Los Angeles ready to fight, but the Mexicans there fled south in a hurry, leaving behind their artillery. On December 6th he led a column overland to relieve General Kearny’s Army of the West at Mule Hill after their bloody battle at the nearby Indian Pueblo of San Pasquel near San Diego. With Kearny’s Dragoons, the California Battalion of Colonel Fremont and his own navel forces, Stockton won the battles of Rio San Gabriel and La Mesa. The war in California ended soon after with the Treaty of Cahuenga. He was elected senator from New Jersey in 1851 and died in Princeton on October 7th, 1866 after a long, distinguished life.


  1. Fascinating person. Thank you for bringing him to our attention.

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