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Third Thursday's on the Stockton Waterfront 2014 ~ Commodore Robert Field Stockton
by Martha Alderson, M.A.
Monday Apr 14th, 2014 2:55 AM
Third Thursday's on the Stockton Waterfront begins with a tribute to Commodore Robert Field Stockton, namesake of the City of Stockton, California. The Historic Stockton Waterfront is poised to showcase an amazing past, present and future in the heart of the "Greatest Garden in the World" ~ the California Central Valley.

by: Martha Alderson, M.A.

Robert Stockton took part in almost every major political event in his lifetime and, thus, makes a perfect study of early American history.


Robert Stockton born 8/20/1795
Princeton, New Jersey
Lived on the family estate of Morven amid peach and apple orchards
Second son of Richard Stockton, a judge and politician
Ten brothers and sisters

U.S. History

Nineteen years before Robert was born, thirteen rag-tag colonies in the Northern Hemisphere along the Atlantic coast united to create the United States of America.

The Thirteen Original States were New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

Robert’s father’s father signed the Declaration of Independence for New Jersey.
Robert’s Grandmother wrote and received poetry from George Washington.
The Revolutionary War ~~ 1775-1783
Robert is born 4 years after the Bill of Rights guaranteed every American:

a) Life
b) Liberty
c) Pursuit of happiness


At 13 years old, Robert enters College of New Jersey, known today as Princeton


Robert joins US Navy as midshipman
One year left of college
16 years old


Robert is the youngest Midshipman-Acting Master’s Mate
On-board Commodore Rodger’s flagship—USS President.

U.S. History

The United States declares war on England. At the time, what we know as the War of 1812 was called 2nd War of Independence because the first one hadn’t made a deep enough impression on England.

The United States went to war again Great Britain in 1812 for three primary reasons:

a) England’s illegal practice of abducting United States sailors for service under the crown
b) England’s violation of the sovereignty of America’s territorial waters
c) England’s part in inciting Indian warfare along America’s borders

At the end of war, Robert is described as over six feet tall, with a build notable muscular with a magnificent voice that demands attention.
20 years old
Promoted to 1st Lieutenant
Sails to Mediterranean on the USS Spitfire as part of the Commodore Decatur’s squadron in the War with Algiers

U.S. History

During the War of 1812, the Barbary pirate states returned to their practice of attacking American merchant vessels in the Mediterranean Sea and holding their crews and officers

They declared war on the United States for failing to pay its required ransom.

On March 3, 1815, the US Congress authorized deployment of naval power against Algiers, and a force of ten ships was dispatched under the command of Commodore Stephen Decatur, Jr., veterans of the First Barbary War. Decatur’s squadron departed for the Mediterranean on May 20, 1815.

Shortly after departing Gibraltar en route to Algiers, Decatur’s squadron captured two Algerian ships. By the final week of June, the squadron reached Algiers.


Robert is commander of the USS Erie
Serves as part of the American squadron in the Mediterranean
In Gibraltar, Robert hears a British officer call an American merchantman captain “a damned Yankee”
Robert believes the insult is against his entire country
He goes against direct orders and demands a duel

U.S. History

Dueling, a fight between two people over a point of honor, each with a matching deadly weapon—usually pistols, was not uncommon at this time

Missouri Compromise—set the line between the free states and slave states/splitting North/South forever (keep in mind New Jersey—Robert’s home state–is the southern most Northern state


Robert is home at Morven after being reprimanded for duel
First leave from the U.S. Navy in 10 years
American Colonization Society asks him to find and negotiate for land in Africa for the freed enslaved Africans in America
Everyone before him had died from the West African yellow fever
Robert accepts the mission and negotiates for land known today as Liberia
On the way to the west coast of Africa, he arrests two slave ships—American ships flying the French flag
Robert is reprimanded even though slave trade is prohibited by American law, French law, and the Law of Nations

U.S. History

Americans are in the midst of persuading France to reduce tariffs on our goods and the ships, Robert captures are sent back to France

American Colonization is controversial
Southern slaveholders want somewhere other than the South to send freed slaves
Northern abolitionists want Liberia only as voluntary asylum for freed slaves with Congressional assistance to go


Lieutenant Stockton sails to Charleston South Carolina
He meets, falls in love with and marries the Southern belle Harriet Maria Potter
Robert takes a formal extended leave from the navy, but does not quit
Robert returns to Princeton, New Jersey with his new bride
Robert builds a house for his bride down the street from Morven
He begins a newspaper—Princeton Courier and gets involved in local politics
President of New Jersey Colonization Society Chapter—he believes the great object of colonization is the gradual abolition of slavery

U.S. History

1817 – 1825 is known as the Era of Good Feelings. There was little need for a navy

Population of North outnumbers South by over a million people
Of 5 million people in North, 125,000 are black
Of 4 million people in South, more than 2 million are black


Robert’s older brother dies in a duel
Several months later, Robert’s father dies
Unexpectedly, Robert inherits the entire estate: Morven, orchards, all the family wealth
He is 32 years old and has two sons

U.S. History

Congress imposes tariffs that benefit the North and hurt the South
Nat Turner leads an uprising of slaves in Virginia
William Lloyd Garrison begins an anti-slavery newspaper


Robert invest $1/2 million (a fortune in those days) in Delaware and Raritan Canal stock to connect New York to Philadelphia through New Jersey

Robert and his father-in-law, Mister Potter, hold ½ the stock and unite with the Camden and Amboy Railroad Company

U.S. History

The Erie Canal that connected the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean was completed five years before and to great success


Delaware and Raritan Canal opens
With the canal and railroad, Robert controlled transportation in the state of New Jersey
Robert is 35 years old and has a little girl and third son


Robert is in England raising money for the canal
He meets the famous Swedish inventor—Captain John Ericsson, who had built the prototype of and iron tugboat driven by steam power applied to an underwater screw-propeller, a revolutionary concept
Robert buys the experimental craft and has it sailed to America
He hopes the iron hull will cut through the winter ice which paralyzes the canal for months.
Robert begins plans with Ericsson for the first underwater screw propeller rather than side or rear paddle wheel which were vulnerable to enemy fire
He believes whoever rules the sea, rules the world
Robert presents the idea to the US Naval Commission
Permission denied

U.S. History

Texas becomes an independent nation
The United States is in a financial depression and small banks are failing. Hundreds of people’s savings were wiped out


Robert returns to politics and campaigns for War of 1812 hero Major General William Henry Harrison


Harrison elected and dies
The new President Tyler offers Stockton the position of Secretary of the Navy
Robert declines but gets approval to build the screw-propelled battleship for the United Sates Navy—The Princeton
The Princeton’s main battery will consist of two twelve-inch muzzle guns each weighing ten tons each—the Oregon-built in England—and the Peacemaker—the construction of which Robert personally supervises in American using American iron—largest one ever built


U.S. History

1st great wagon train is organized


Robert’s ship is finished
Robert sails up the Potomac with 400 guests including President Tyler, members of the Cabinet, senators and dignitaries
Secretary of the Navy asks for the Peacemaker to be fired again.
The Peacemaker explodes, killing the Secretary of State and Navy, a servant and two sailors
Robert is burned and temporarily blinded


Robert, now a commodore, ails to Texas with secret orders from newly elected President Polk
Robert unable to convince the President of Texas—President Jones—to go in for success
According to the secret orders from Polk, Robert proceeds to the Pacific to relieve Commodore Sloat as supreme commander of the U.S. Naval forces in the Pacific and, once war with Mexico is declared, take possession of California and establish a government un the American flag
Robert is 50 years old (average age in those days was 42 years old)
Nine children
Famously wealthy
Incredibly powerful

U.S. History

President Polk elected

Polk is an unabashed expansionist—wants entire Northern Hemisphere under American rule
Polk tries to buy California from Mexico—Mexico won’t sell
A declaration of war by President Polk would not be viewed favorably in Europe
Texas is a nation and wants to be annexed into the Untied Sates.
Many opposed annexation because Texas will be added as slave state and throw off the delicate balance between free sates and slave states—tension in the country is building
Polk wants Robert to help Texas place itself in an attitude of active hostilities towards Mexico over the Rio Grande boarder.
Polk wants Texas to bring war with Mexico upon annexation into the Union
Polk sends Robert to California by sea, John C. Fremont overland the northern route, and Kearny overland the southern route, all with the same secret orders—take California for the U.S.


After five months at sea, Robert arrives in Monterey, California on July 15, 1846
Assumes command of the fleet from Commodore Sloat
Receives word of war with Mexico
Robert declares CA a territory of the US and proceeds to organize a civil government
Robert enrolls the Bear Flag battalion of John C. Fremont as volunteers in the American Army
Robert sails south to take Los Angeles
All is calm. Raises the American flag and the deed is done
Robert sends the famous Kit Carson to Washington D.C. to inform President Polk mission accomplished
Robert sails to Yerba Buena (SF) and travels inland to SJ where he buys land hat today is the San Jose Airport

U.S. History

September, Mexican forces surround Los Angeles, Former Governor Pico, General Flores and 500 men retake Los Angles, Santa Barbara, San Diego and issue their won proclamation to “drive insolent invaders from CA soil”

Polk has also sent Kearny to California with orders appointing him as Governor of the American territory of California
Kearny is attacked by Mexican forces at San Pacaul and critically wounded


Robert coverts his sailors and marines into land forces and reoccupies Los Angeles
Robert ignores Kearny and appoints himself 1st US Governor of California and is later hailed by biographer as “conqueror of the whole of California”
Robert makes Fremont governor and commander-in-chief if CA and returns east overland across the Rockies


Robert ordered to face court marital for his refusal to recognize Kearny’s authority
Robert resigns from the Navy.
He is 55 years old

U.S. History

California asks to be admitted into the Union. No one expected this so quickly—the number of people who rushed to California for the Gold Rush qualifies them for statehood

California wants in as a freed sate—a deadlock in Congress ensures and it seems a disruption of the Union must be the outcome

The country his grandfather fought and died for cannot be destroyed. He forgets about this legacy and works incessantly to keep negations open between the North and South


Robert elected to U.S. Senate as the youngest member
He introduces a bill abolishing flogging in the entire U. S. Navy, which passes into law

U.S. History

A new fugitive slave law requires Northerners to return runaway slaves to South—the law is immensely unpopular in North.
Missouri Compromise repealed as unconstitutional—North outraged
Tensions between he North and the South are incredible


Robert member of Peace Convention in Washing. His belief= Constitution does not give the federal government the power to interfere with state’s rights
Robert stands with South so long as it does not destroy the country or dissolve the Union
Southern states start to secede from the Union.
Robert takes a public stand for the Union and for the first time turns his back on the south.

U.S. History

Lincolns elected President with the promise not to touch slavery in states where it exists, but to stop the spread


Robert’s wife dies
Robert sells his land in CA and retires from public life
Robert is 68 yeas old


U.S. History

Lee surrenders to Grant, ending the U.S. Civil War
The 13th amendment neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist in U.S., unless convicted of a crime.


October 1, 1866, Robert dies
Robert is 71 years old