December 27: Jessie Ann Benton Frémont (1902)

Jessie Ann Benton Frémont was an American writer whose literary career arose largely from her writings in connection with her husband’s career and adventures and from the eventful life she led with him. Jessie was the daughter of Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri. She was well educated, mainly privately, and was notably independent and spirited. In 1840 she met Lieutenant John C. Frémont, a young officer in the Topographical Corps, and in 1841, over her father’s strong opposition, they were secretly married. Senator Benton chose to make the best of it and began using his considerable influence to further his son-in-law’s career as an explorer. While her husband was on his first expedition to the Wind River Country, Jessie Frémont served as her father’s hostess and occasionally translated secret Spanish documents for the State Department. She was largely responsible for the literary quality of the 1844 report on his second expedition. It was reprinted as a Senate document in an edition of 10,000 copies and widely sold in a commercial edition as well. In 1849, following her husband’s third expedition, his controversial role in the conquest of California, and his court-martial, she sailed to San Francisco to join him.

Jessie frequently wrote articles, memoirs, travel sketches, and stories that appeared in leading magazines at a time when the west was an exotic frontier. A great supporter of her husband, who was one of the first two Senators of the new U.S. state of California and a Governor of the Territory of Arizona, she was outspoken on political issues and a determined opponent of slavery, which was excluded from the formation of California. By maintaining a high level of political involvement during a period that was extremely unfavorable for women, Jessie Benton Frémont proved herself to be years ahead of her time. The Benton family was connected to Epiphany in its early years. Two of Jessie’s sisters were married at the church (Elizabeth, 1847; Sarah, 1848). All four of John and Jessie Frémont’s children were baptized at Epiphany.

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