Jessie Benton, Mrs. John C. Fremont

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In the year 1868 the city of St. Louis erected a monument to the memory of one of her most distinguished citizens, Thomas Hart Benton. Of the forty thousand people who thronged the park on that May afternoon set aside for its unveiling, but one was of the great man’s blood, the daughter most closely associated with the accomplishment of his loftiest conception, that dream of Western empire for his country. Accompanied by her husband, General John C. Fremont, she had accepted the invitation to unveil the statue. As she pulled the cord that loosened its wrap-pings, and the school children of the city threw their offerings of roses at the feet of him who had befriended their fathers, the huzzas of the vast multitude filled the fragrant air. The outgoing train to San Francisco halted to salute with flags and whistles as the bronze hand, pointing to the west, came into view and the words graven on the pedestal: “There is the East. There lies the road to India.”To General Fremont, quietly and reverently occupying a place of honor on the platform, it was one of those supreme moments when the landmarks of memory, those events that give color to our lives, stand forth to the exclusion even of that which is at the moment passing before the eye. Neither the vivas of the people nor the flowers of their children thrilled him as did the salute of that out bound train, that thing of strength and power and speed, bearing its message of progress and civilization.

He knew every mile of its route. He, the path-finder, by his indomitable energy had traversed the virgin snows of its mountain ways, had penetrated the mysteries of its wild valleys, and by his valor had given to his country its golden terminus. And there, between the effigy of the one in the radiance of the spring sunshine and the living man, stood the woman still radiant with that high type of beauty that emanates from the soul, the link, she has said of herself, between the conception and the execution of the great scheme of Western aggrandizement. Cradled among great ideas, she had grown up to be an inspiration to the man with the prowess and daring necessary to give them life and form. Some men, such as Abraham Lincoln, have been great in spite of their wives, while to others, as to Fremont, through their wives have come not only the opportunity for greatness, but with them that identity of purpose that in itself is a fortification against all adverse circumstances.

The story of Jessie Benton Fremont’s life is closely allied with that of the acquisition and development of the vast territory west of St. Louis, which even in her young womanhood was the outpost of habitation. Be-yond its confines stretched that wonderland of her childhood, whence came the trappers and hunters with their wild tales of adventure, and whither she was des-tined to follow one day the princely pied piper of her girlhood. The seed of the thought which bore its first fruit when Fremont raised our flag on Wind River Mountain, thirteen thousand feet above the Gulf of Mexico, was sown in the mind of her father when, in 1812, he followed Andrew Jackson from Nashville to New Orleans to defend the Mississippi. In the stirring life on its broad bosom, together with a first realization of the extent of our domain, he recognized the possibilities of our future expansion and greatness. He had already been admitted to the bar of Tennessee and was a member of the Legislature of that State. With the idea, however, that the government of the United States should extend its protecting arm over the great western wilderness, in which it evinced no interest and whence it anticipated no benefit, he moved, in his thirtieth year, to its border-land.

Its people recognized his friendly attitude, and when Missouri rose to the dignity of a representation on the floor of the United States Senate, Benton was the first man to whom she delegated that honor. There, for over thirty years, with a limited following, he fought aggressively foot by foot for the development of the West. He often wearied his hearers, who had but little sympathy with projects that to the remote Eastern mind seemed preposterous. It was not infrequently a signal, when Benton mounted his hobby, for his fellow Senators to take up their letter-writing and for the galleries to be deserted. It made little difference to them if England’s hand were outstretched and her fingers daily tightening their clutch upon our northwestern territory. The mouth of the Columbia River was about of as much consequence to the welfare of the United States, in the estimation of the people on the Atlantic sea-board, as are the canals on the planet Mars.

Commercial relations with Asia and ports on the Pacific, however Utopian they may have seemed to others with less of a grasp on the world’s history than his scholarly mind possessed, were to Benton vital questions, for which he fought with that vigor of utterance that provoked John Randolph into saying that his family motto, ” Factus non verbis,” should be ” Factus et verbis.”

He was a powerful man, with a forcible way of speaking, which he retained to the end of his life. When he was stumping his State in the summer of 1856, being already in his seventieth year, he was cautiously viewed one morning through the crack of an open door by two anti-Bentonites. He was standing at the moment and speaking in a vigorous way that appalled his surreptitious visitors. “Good God,” ejaculated one, “we shall have to fight him these twenty years!”

He was a striking figure, with heavy black hair and side whiskers, and during all the years that he was in the Senate, like some of his illustrious successors, he never changed the style of his dress. His vehemence was expended in public. In his family life he was as gentle as he was devoted. Jessie, the second of his four daughters, and the subject of this sketch, was born at the home of her maternal grandfather, Colonel James McDowell, near Lexington, Virginia. She grew up partly in the picturesque atmosphere of St. Louis, then almost wholly a French settlement, and partly in Washington, where Benton’s home was considered one of the most interesting in the city, owing to the cultivated wife and daughters who gave it character and individuality. Intermingled with her school-days she had her little day of belleship, during which the two most notable events were a dinner at the White House, given by President Van Buren for his young son, and the wedding of Baron Bodisco, the Russian minister, at which she appeared as first bridesmaid. The bride Miss Williams was one of her schoolmates, and a girl of sixteen, while the bridegroom was over sixty. The details of the ceremony, however, were all harmoniously arranged by him, and included eight bridesmaids between the ages of thirteen and sixteen, and eight groomsmen of his own period of life. With one of the most distinguished, James Buchanan, then in the United States Senate, and but recently returned from the Russian mission, walked Jessie Benton, fourteen years of age, and in her first long dress. Judged by his last will, this Russian January seems to have been an unselfish husband, for he therein expressed the wish that his still young wife should marry again and be as happy herself as she had made him.

The Van Buren dinner was a more or less memorable event, though the White House was familiar ground to Jessie Benton. During Jackson’s administration she used frequently to go there with her father, for the old soldier President was notably a lover of children. He liked to run his long fingers through her soft curls, while he talked with his old friend Benton, unwittingly giving the curls many a twist as he warmed to his subject, all of which the little girl bore heroically, finding ample recompense in her father’s praise, which was sure to follow the ordeal.

She went to school both in St. Louis and Washington, in the former city principally for the sake of learning French by association with children to whom it was the mother tongue. She spent two years at Miss English’s boarding school, in Georgetown, where she was not regarded as a diligent student. Many hours stolen from the classrooms were not, perhaps, altogether unprofitably spent up a mulberry tree listening to the fascinating accounts of a midshipman’s life, as told by one of his cousins, and hanging hungrily upon every word, as if it in a measure foretold her own eventful career.

At home her mental training was continuous, and without conscious, or at least arduous, effort on her part. Each of Benton’s daughters had her place at his library table, and there, stimulated by his studious habits, she acquired readily her portion of that vast fund of knowledge which he had gleaned first from his father’s library of unusual excellence and later from his contact with men and measures of his day.

Of the measures there were many afoot when Benton’s daughters were young, whose stupendous proportions we are scarcely able to gauge, knowing them only in the perfection of their full realization. Benton was the sympathetic friend of all progress, and beneath the steady glow of his astral lamp or the soft flicker of their mother’s candles, in the nights before the advent of gas, his daughters, sewing each her fine seam, listened to the unfolding of the minds of the men who have developed America. They learned also those lessons of inexhaustible patience that must go hand in hand with every great undertaking and of the frequent subordination of the individual to the things his own mind has conceived.

Thither came Morse with that sublime faith in his conception of telegraphy that made him insensible or at least indifferent to the ridicule of Congress, where a member suggested, when he at length obtained his twenty-five thousand dollars for an experimental line to Baltimore, that a second appropriation should be made for an experimental line to the moon.

An overland emigrant route, the surveys for a railroad to the Pacific, and the Panama Railroad, Stevens coming to them directly from Central America and going later to the Isthmus, were some of the vast projects with whose details they were early familiarized. Later, when Jessie Benton, as Mrs. Fremont, crossed the Isthmus herself and was detained there by the fever, she saw Stevens every day, he coming, as he said, “to take his chill with her.” He died in Panama, as he predicted that he would, one of the heroes in the vanguard of progress.

Into Benton’s home quite naturally there drifted, in the year 1840, a young lieutenant of the corps of topographical engineers, fresh from the survey of the upper Mississippi. The son of a French father and a Virginia mother, John C. Fremont was born in South Carolina, in the year 1813. He was graduated, when he was seventeen years old, from Charleston College, where he remained to study civil engineering and teach mathematics. He was so unusually talented that Poinsett, the Secretary of War, recommended his services to Nicollet when the latter was about to under-take the survey of the Upper Mississippi. The two years in the field were followed by two years spent in Washington in preparing the scientific result of the expedition, during which period Benton became interested more perhaps in the work than in the individuality of the young officer, whose genius was later to open to us the western gates of our republic.

Accompanying Benton’s eldest daughter to a concert at Miss English’s school, Fremont for the first time met Jessie Benton. She produced on his mind at once “the effect that a rose of rare color or a beautiful picture would have done.” She was but sixteen years old at the time, in the first bloom of girlish beauty, and her bright mind exhilarated by the pleasure of seeing her sister, poured itself forth in language as sparkling as it was natural. “Her beauty,” he wrote later, in describing that first impression of her, “had come far enough down from English ancestry to be now in her that American kind which is made up largely of mind expressed in the face, but it still showed its Saxon descent. At that time of awakening mind, the qualities that made hers could only be seen in flitting shadows across the face or in the expression of incipient thought or unused and untried feeling.”

Coming home for the Easter holidays, she found that the young lieutenant had become identified with her father’s “Oregon work.” He was an almost daily visitor at her home, and in his constant meetings with her in its unreserved atmosphere he found confirmation of the first impression he had formed of her. “There are features,” he wrote later, “that convey to us a soul so white that they impress with instant pleasure, and of this kind were hers. Her qualities were all womanly, and education had curiously preserved the down of a modesty which was innate. There had been no experience of life to brush away the bloom.”

Before the holidays were over this impression of her had penetrated Fremont’s entire being, and he loved her no less profoundly than he admired her, rendering her an absolute devotion that knew no subsequent diminution. “Insensibly and imperceptibly,” he said, “there came a glow into my heart which changed the current and color of daily life, and gave a beauty to common things.”

That April day in 1841, when, a month after it had witnessed his inauguration, a mourning nation assembled to pay its last tribute to William Henry Harrison, a gray and gloomy day without, Fremont has recorded as the “red letter day” of his life. The government had leased quarters near the Capitol for the use of Nicollet, where the work on the map of the Mississippi’s sources was going forward. From the windows of one of the rooms Senator Benton and his family were invited to view the funeral procession as it wound down Capitol Hill. Fremont, on leave of absence for the day, was the host of the occasion. Notwithstanding his best uniform, in which he looked very handsome, he personally tended the cheery log-fire that gave a touch of cosines to the big office, which he had, moreover, with somewhat reckless extravagance for a man on a lieutenant’s salary, decorated with plants and cut flowers. From a daintily set table he served, with captivating grace, coffee and ices. Though the nation mourned, two hearts, at least, of all who looked upon the solemn pageant of that day were in gala attire.

The next day, though he discreetly sent Mrs. Benton the plants and flowers that had done decorative duty in his office, it availed him nothing in her wise eyes. Jessie was too young, and, besides, she did not wish her to marry an army man; the life was too unsettled. Mrs. Poinsett, the wife of the Secretary of War, was taken into her confidence, and, as a result, Fremont was ordered off to survey the Des Moines River. Jessie, moreover, as a further diversion, was taken to the wed-ding of one of her Virginia cousins, which meant in those days weeks of festivity.

It was but another case, however, of the best laid plans that “gang aglee,” for in the autumn both Fremont and Jesse Benton were back in Washington, and on the 19th of October she was courageous enough, in defiance of both father and mother, whom she not only loved but truly revered, to become Fremont’s wife. She married too young, she says herself, ever to have been a belle in the usual acceptation of that term, yet so gifted has she been with those qualities that evoke the chivalry of man that but few American women have had a better right to that title. Though her life has been one of much exposure, she herself has at all times been singularly sheltered.

The year following his marriage, Fremont applied to the Secretary of War for permission to explore the far West and penetrate the Rockies. The plan was sup-ported by Benton, who believed that by making surveys the government would be giving at least a semblance of protection to its Western possessions. Congress gave its sanction, and in May, 1842, with a handful of venturesome spirits gathered on the Missouri frontier, Fremont went forth to the exploration of the southern pass. It was the first of numerous similar expeditions, his scientific reports of which going into astronomy, botany, mineralogy, geology, and geography were translated into many tongues, and gave their author world wide fame.

During his absences, which were always of uncertain duration, his wife sometimes remained in her parents’ home. Her father sent for her one morning, when she had been married about a year, and, pointing out her old place at his library table, he said, “I want you to resume your place there; you are too young to fritter away your life without some useful pursuit.” So she dropped back quite naturally into her old habits of study, as if her honeymoon days had been but another form of vacation.

She frequently accompanied Fremont, however, as far as St. Louis, waiting there for his return, or going out again to meet him after a fixed time. He was once eight months overdue, during which period of awful silence and suspense she had a supper table set for him every night with all the comforts and luxuries of that civilization to which he had been so long a stranger. He came at length, in the dead of the night, and, rather than disturb a household, he went to a hotel, and for the first time in eighteen months slept in a bed.

With whatever misgivings she may have seen him set out for a field where he would encounter certainly many dangers, and possibly even death, she never, even when the opportunity came, of which many a weaker woman would have availed herself, endeavored to withhold him from his purpose. He would sometimes, after having covered many miles of his route, come back to her for another goodbye, overtaking his party again by hard riding or pressing forward while they were resting.

In the summer of 1843, while he was still on the frontier gathering together men and animals for his second expedition, his recall to Washington was ordered, to explain their why, making a scientific expedition under the protection of the government, he had armed his men with the howitzer. The order, however, never reached him, for he had already left St. Louis, where it fell into the hands of his wife. Though she still labored under the depression of their recent parting, she yet, with all the spirit which the emergency demanded, sent him a swift messenger, bidding him hurry off and rest and fatten his animals at Bent’s Ford, stating that there was sufficient reason for the haste which could not then be given.

When he was quite beyond the reach of recall, for it was before the days of telegraphy, she wrote to the colonel of the Topographical Bureau, and confessed what she had done, at the same time giving ample reason for her action. To have obeyed the order, she explained, would have meant the ruin of the expedition. Together with the time it would have required to settle the party before he could leave it, the length of the trip to Washington, and the inevitable delays there, the early grass would be past its best, and the animals thus would be thrown underfed into the mountains for the winter. She then replied to the charge made against Fremont in the order of his recall. The expedition must cross the country of the Blackfeet and other unfriendly tribes of Indians, with no reverence whatever for the cause of science, but with a very wholesome regard for any rights that were backed up with a howitzer. Her father, who was absent from St. Louis at the time, endorsed her action, and wrote to Wash-ington, assuming the responsibility for it, saying he would call for a court martial on the point charged against Fremont. Nothing further was heard of it, however, and the precious time, that meant so much more to the scientific mind of the explorer than to his government, to which all seasons are the same, was saved.

From an historical point of view this was the most important of all Fremont’s expeditions. With the French territory which we had acquired by the Louisiana Purchase we inherited also France’s old feud with England, the underlying cause of which was the control of the markets in the East. When we took up the cudgels, their conflict, so far as the Western hemi-sphere was involved, had narrowed down to the ultimate possession of that portion of Mexico’s territory which included the harbor of San Francisco. England had already made her survey of the ground, and her eye coveted that matchless port. She was the power we confronted in California when our war with Mexico ushered in the moment for decisive action. Two courageous, intensely American men, however, held the situation in their grasp, in the Senate, at the climax of his powers, Benton, who had ever had a jealous eye upon England’s encroachments on our boundary; in the field, Fremont, with all the gallantry and spirit that final coup demanded.

The British admiral, moving with more deliberation than the American colonel, with characteristic love of sport and appreciation of success, gracefully accepted his defeat, and tendered his felicitations to the intrepid rival, whose flag he found already floating above the coveted territory.

Fremont, after his gallant conquest, became the victim of a quarrel between two officers commanding the United States forces in that vicinity, and was brought back a prisoner over the territory he had acquired for his country. During the ninety days of his trial by court-martial, which stripped him of his commission as lieutenant-colonel of mounted riflemen, inspired by a lofty enthusiasm, his nights were devoted to writing the history of the expedition.

Though he was reinstated by the President, he returned his commission, and in 1848 took out a private expedition, opening the route from the Mississippi to San Francisco. His mountaineers flocked to him, ready to follow wherever he should lead. He had that faith in himself and in his purpose that evoked a corresponding confidence in them, and his presence was light and warmth and refreshment to their daring spirit. When it became necessary at times to divide the party, those who were not with him suffered sorely. The memorable winter of 1848, however, was one of hardships for all, travelling days and weeks within sight of eternal snows. Fremont wrote to his wife during a brief respite from that agonizing period, when his men were starving and freezing and wandering off in despair to lie down alone and die: “We shall yet enjoy quiet and happiness together; these are nearly one and the same to me now. I make frequent pleasant pictures of the happy home we are to have, and oftenest and among the pleasantest of all I see our library with its bright fire in the rainy, stormy days, and the large windows looking out upon the sea in the bright weather. I have it all planned in my mind.”

Mrs. Fremont was, meanwhile, making ready for the long journey towards the land of this picture-home. It was the first break from the real home, her father’s, where she had passed the greater part of the eight years of her married life, five of which her husband had spent in the field. She started in March, 1849, going by way of the Isthmus, where the man selected by Mr. Aspinwall for her guide had many misgivings about undertaking the charge. He had a wife, who had prophesied that, coming from Washington; Mrs. Fremont would be “a fine lady” and would make him no end of trouble, especially concerning the scant attire of the Indians.

In the sunshine of her presence, however, his misgivings melted away. She was not a “fine lady” at all, he said, that bugbear of his unconventional mind, but a slender woman with a head so level and a heart so stout as to render all the more forcible the appeal of her delicate body.

She was stricken with the fever, and ill for many weeks in Panama, where she was surrounded with that warmth of friendship and sympathy which she ever seemed to attract. In addition to many substantial evidences of genuine interest in her recovery, one resident of the city vowed in that event to supply the hospital with limes for a year.

Gold was discovered in California in 1848. When Mrs. Fremont arrived in San Francisco the people were in that first frenzy of excitement that disturbed temporarily the whole aspect of their daily existence. The population of the towns was flocking to the mines, and the comparatively few who remained at home had many novel problems to face. The art of cooking without eggs and butter had to be acquired, for there were neither chickens nor cows, though one woman had as many as thirty-seven satin dresses, “and no two off the same piece,” she averred.

A little Eastern bride, whom San Francisco society, consisting of sixteen ladies, turned out in a body to welcome, set up her first household belongings in a modest frame structure two stories in height, that had been put up at a cost, out of all proportion to its intrinsic value, of ninety thousand dollars.

Yet nothing was so valuable as time, and though it was estimated to be worth fifty dollars a minute, there were busy men who paid Mrs. Fremont the compliment of frequent day-time visits

With every personal inducement to favor slave labor in the new territory, both Fremont and his wife were among its most strenuous opposers. Not only did they pay their first house maid two hundred and forty dollars a month with perquisites, which included the housing of her husband and children, yet even with a disposition to retain her at that neat figure, they found themselves obliged to do without her truly valuable assistance when Mrs. Fremont refused the loan of her gowns as patterns for the wardrobe she was having constructed at the hands of a Chinese modiste. There were, moreover, on the lands that Fremont owned, rich gold deposits, which could be most profitably operated by slave labor.

When the convention to draft the constitution under which California should come into the Union met at Monterey, where Fremont had established himself, his home became the head-quarters for the anti-slavery party. Its neatness, the smoothness of its internal workings, and the evident contentment of his wife formed a text for the friends of free soil, and many an incredulous opponent was brought to behold, and, seeing, went away believing in the possibility of domestic happiness without slaves. Mrs. Fremont had, to be sure, a preference for underclothing that had been ironed, and she might have wished also that the two Indian men who presided in her kitchen and pantry had not been gifted with such facilities for terminating both the ornamental and useful career of her china and glassware. Yet these small clouds in no way overshadowed her domestic horizon. Her prejudice to slavery she inherited from both parents, belonging, as she said, “to the aristocracy of emancipation,” or to that class of people who, owning slaves, quietly gave them their freedom at infinite sacrifice to themselves, as opposed to the abolitionists of the North, who, with nothing to lose and much to gain, clamored noisily for that freedom.

Fremont was the hero of the hour, and could have been governor of the new State or one of its first Senators. He chose the latter, however, though it took him away from those material interests which California then held for him. Going into the Union as a free State, it would need in Congress a defense such as no man could give it with greater loyalty than Fremont.

There is an anecdote told and applied indiscriminately to various political heroes, most frequently, per-haps, to Lincoln, to whom, therefore, it may possibly appertain, demonstrating delicately his deference for the marital tie. On the night of his election to some office, and while he was being inundated with the congratulations of the friends who had assisted in the achievement of his triumph, he further captivated their fancy by remembering his wife. “Well, gentlemen,” he said, quietly, “this is very nice, but there is a little woman around the corner who will be interested in hearing this news, and if you will just excuse me, I think I’ll step around and tell her.”

One woman interested in the balloting of the delegates at San Jose for California’s first Senators was not so conveniently situated. She was at Monterey, and as a season of heavy rains was on, there was but little prospect that her keen desire to know the result would find immediate gratification. Before just such a merry blazing fire as his imagination had once conjured up as a central feature of their library sat Fremont’s wife, her fingers for the first time fashioning a dress for herself on the trustworthy outlines of one that had been ripped up for the purpose. .Her little daughter had been put to bed, and her companions for the evening were the Australian woman who had replaced her two Indian servitors, and whose accustomed fingers plied the needle with a more rapid stroke than her own, and the woman’s baby, playing on the bear skin rug near the fire. Besides the voice of the woman and an occasional chirrup from the baby, she heard nothing but the storm without, till the door opened and a man, dripping with rain, stood on the threshold and asked, in consideration of his sorry plight, if he might enter.

It was Fremont. He had torn himself away from his idolizing followers and ridden out into the darkness and storm to tell his wife, seventy miles away, that he had been elected to the United States Senate. Though it was late in the night when he reached Monterey, he was in the saddle again before dawn and on his way back to San Jose, making in all a ride of one hundred and forty miles.

The home-bound steamer, sailing from San Francisco on the 1st of January, 1850, carried, among others, the first two Senators from the new State, Fremont and Givin. At Mazatlan a British man-of-war fired a salute in honor of these two distinguished passengers.

They landed in New York the last of March, and from the long mirror into which she looked, in her hotel bedroom, there gazed back at Mrs. Fremont a comely young woman clad in a riding habit that had been abbreviated to a convenient walking length, a pair of black satin slippers, a leghorn hat tied down with a China crepe scarf, and a Scotch plaid shawl that had borne the brunt of her year’s outing, in a word, the wife of a United States Senator from the golden West.

On another morning of the early spring two years later, such were the contrasts which the events of her life produced, she stood in the throne-room of Buckingham Palace, awaiting presentation to the Queen of England. To the British eyes that looked upon her she was a graceful, distinguished woman, sharing in the renown of her husband, the American explorer, and a recent medallist of the Royal Geographical Society, whose honors are only conferred upon those whose expeditions are taken out at personal cost and sacrifice. In the faultless details of her court dress she was a gratification to the most critical taste. Its exquisite design, shading in color from the faint pink that touches the outer edge of a rose petal to the deeper tone it assumes near the heart, with clusters of the fair flower itself giving it an almost fragrant emphasis and bringing out the delicate beauty of her fine face, seemed a part of herself, so gracefully did she wear it, carrying its sweep of train with a queen lines that was of her nature. On the 17th of June, 1856, Fremont was unanimously nominated for the Presidency by the National Republican Convention at Philadelphia. He was the first choice of the Free Soil, which became, later, the Republican party, and he was also, probably, the only man of whom Lincoln, the first successful candidate of that party, was ever jealous. Fearing a military rival and recognizing in Fremont the qualities that gave him a natural supremacy among men, he kept him In the background. He foresaw correctly. The military hero came, but he came in the person of the man to whom opportunity had been a fairy god-mother.

Though he polled the vote of all the Northern States but five, the time was not ripe for a Republican President when Fremont was a candidate for that high honor. The men, like Benton, who still led the political thought of that day, and who knew every aspect of the country, realizing the peril that lay in countenancing sectionalism, could not give their support to a candidate who stood upon a sectional platform.

Whatever were his hopes or his disappointment, his wife shared them. His accepting the nomination from so radical a party had meant the breaking up of many friendships for her, which in itself was a genuine grief to a woman of her temperament. The anguish she endured during the first months of the war between the North and the South, which she spent in St. Louis among familiar faces, whom the circumstances of her position as the wife of a Northern general had estranged from her, left its record in her beautiful hair, which, from a warm brown, became quite white within a few weeks. No matter with what heroism we endure, we sometimes bear all the rest of our lives the scars which our courage has cost us.

She has never outgrown, however, her early attachment to the South, to which she is united by many ties of blood. During the famine there that followed the war she applied to Congress for relief, which was immediately granted, with a ship to carry all the supplies the Freedman’s Bureau could furnish. With warm and tender sympathies she has always taken up any cause that appealed to her with an enthusiasm that communicated itself to others. Relating to Mrs. Dix one evening the case of one of Lieutenant Fremont’s men, who had been disabled by being wounded in both legs, and to whom Congress had refused a pension on the ground that he had not been regularly enlisted at the time the wound was inflicted, she did not observe that a man who was calling upon Senator Dix was attentively listening to all the graphic details of her story. It was Preston King, of New York, and at that time chair-man of the Committee on Appropriations. He took Senator Dix to the door with him when he left, and bade him tell her to write out the story as she had just told it and send it to him, and he would see that the man got his pension; and he did.

With what tender gratitude and reverence the man himself, Alexis Ayot, a Canadian by birth, came to thank her!

I cannot kneel to thank you,” he said, balancing himself upon his crutches, “Je n’ai plus de jambes; but you are my Sainte Madonne, et je vous fais ma priere.”

During her early California days she extended her generous young hand to a youthful compositor who was working on the Golden Era. He dined with her every Sunday, and she gave him not only that recognition and encouragement that were in themselves a stimulus to his talent and ambition, but she used her influence to obtain for him salaried offices that lifted him above anxiety concerning his material condition, and gave him the leisure necessary to the best development of his genius. His name is Bret Harte, and so entirely did he recognize his indebtedness to her that he once wrote to her: “If I were to be cast away on a desert island, I should expect a savage to come forward with a three-cornered note from you to tell me that at your request I had been appointed governor of the island at a salary of two thousand four hundred dollars.”

She has both the versatility and adaptiveness that are characteristic of the genuine American woman, and which have enabled her to make almost as many friends in foreign lands as she has throughout her own country. The Count de la Garde, a cousin of Eugene and Hor-tense Beauharnais, whom she knew in Paris, and who left her at his death a valuable collection of souvenirs of the Bonaparte family, said of her that she was the only American woman he had ever known. He had known others of her countrywomen, but they were but imitations of English or French women, while in her he felt the originality and individuality of another people.

As a scientist and explorer, Fremont’s reputation had gone forth to the countries of Europe, from many of which he received enviable honors and decorations. He and his wife were presented at the courts of England, France, and Denmark, attending at Copenhagen the wedding festivities of the Crown Prince and his Swedish bride. As one of her friends has cleverly said of Mrs. Fremont, ” she has entertained and been entertained through not only the gamut but the chromatic scale of society.”

After the war, while her younger children were still growing up, and during her husband’s lifetime, she lived for some years in New York, on a picturesque old property on the Hudson that still bore its Indian name, Pocaho. Now, however, she lives again in the State that once gave her health, wealth, and honors, near the great sea, away from which she feels that she is never fully alive.

Her life has been full of changes and events, to all of which her alert intelligence and quick sympathies have made her keenly susceptible, and which wrung from her recently a plaintive, ” We are tired, my heart and I.” That was all, for one who knew every phase of her life has already borne testimony to that “sweet and happy and forbearing temper which has remained proof against the wearing of time.”




MLA Source Citation:

Peacock, Virginia Tatnal. Famous American Belles of the Nineteenth Century. K. B. Lippincott Company. 1901. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 20 April 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/missouri/jessie-benton-mrs-john-c-fremont.htm - Last updated on Aug 26th, 2013


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