French Designs on Sonoma


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On my second visit to Sonoma to see my newfound daughter, she took me to General Vallejo’s home with my newborn grandson. This was June of 2000. I brought along Laurence Gardner’s book someone had give me to give Heather and her mother an idea of what my book about my Rose Line was going to be a bout. Not only were they not impressed, they were alarmed. Meeting my daughter for the first time was not supposed to be anything about me. Heather was the designated star. How did Jesus get in the picture?

Heather showed off her town and vineyards, and told me how rich her friend’s fathers were. We did not visit a winery because I had thirteen years recovery. I told her her cousin, Drew Benton was kin to John Fremont, and thus much of California’s history is in our family tree. My daughter was not impressed. I had no job, no money, no land. In her eyes, I was a failure.

Jon Presco

Fremont remained in the background of events, not wishing to involve the United States in any altercations the Osos might be involved in; however, he and his force had already been branded “bandits” by General Castro, after an alleged horse stealing episode near Salinas during May 1846. Hence, in early June, Captain Fremont gave advice to capture the Northern Headquarters of General Mariano Vallejo at Sonoma. On June 14, the Osos took the town of Sonoma in the early dawn light without firing a shot. And with the acceptance of General Vallejo’s surrender the Osos declared California a Republic, and raised the Bear Flag over the plaza.

Captain Fremont saluted the Bear Flaggers, whose force now numbered ninety, when both the flag of the United States and California Republic were raised on July 4, 1846, in celebration of United States and California Independence.

Following the celebration, Captain Fremont proposed that a unified force be organized, under his command. A discussion was held July 5, with William Brown Ide (Grigsby-Ide emigrant party of 1845), who the Bear Flaggers had elected as their Commander-in-Chief. A compact was drawn up for all volunteers to sign, which in part read: Not to violate the chastity of Women; conduct their revolution honorably; and pledge obedience to their officers. With the signatures or marks of the men, the California Battalion was formed. Fremont appointed a Marine Corps Officer, Captain Archibald H. Gillespie, his Adjutant. Captain Gillespie had joined Fremont when the latter was at the Oregon Border. Gillespie had crossed the Mexican nation and entered California about the time hostilities broke out with the opening of the Mexican War, May 1846. Fremont requested the Battalion’s volunteers to elect their officers from the ranks. Chosen were: Richard Owens, John Grigsby, Granville P. Swift, and Henry L. Ford.

I’ll start with the facts. Eugene Duflot de Mofras was born in Toulouse, France on July 5, 1810. He was a naturalist, diplomat and explorer who held a diplomatic post in Mexico City in 1839. During this time period, countries other than Mexico had entertained notions of colonizing California, included England, the U.S. and the French. After serving in the southern capital, he began exploring what was to become California and Oregon. Duflot de Mofras, published his natural and cultural insights in “Travel on the Pacific Coast.”

Though claiming to explore northern California for French business interests, in the modern world, he might have been convicted as a spy. Many of his comments focused on the California missions and his time spent at Sutter’s fort. In 1840 he commented “…it is evident that California will belong to whatever nation chooses to send there a man-of-war and two-hundred men.”

While visiting Sutter’s Fort, Mofras also made a number of interesting statements. He noted that Sutter’s work force of about thirty men included Germans, Swiss, Canadians, Americans, English and French. These men were employed as wood-cutters, black-smiths, carpenters and trappers. He further noted that Sutter lives in a territory “barely” belonging to Mexico. Mofras also expressed the idea of having Sutter import French missionaries to assist in the civilizing of Indian tribes living in the area.

Mofras visited Sonoma in 1841. Mariano Vallejo welcomed him to Sonoma, however, did not like Mofras. Evidently, Mofras, while visiting the Alisal Rancho, made an unwelcome advance to one of the women living on the rancho. Though discounted by many, Vallejo held on to his dislike of the Frenchman. Mofras was also arrested by Jesus Pico, the administrator at San Antonio. Here, Mofras complained that he had not received the proper attention to which he was accustomed, during his visit.

Sir George Simpson, another visitor to Sonoma in early 1841, spoke of Mofras as having an arrogant air. Simpson states that “though this gentlemen professed to be collecting information for the purpose of making a book…he scarcely went ten miles from his comfortable quarters… while in conversation he was more ready to dilate on his own equestrian feats than to hear what others might be able to tell him.”

There is little doubt that Mofras was exploring more than the natural and cultural wonders of Mexican California. In his book, Mofras made note of all Frenchman residing in various pueblos and ranchos throughout Alta California. He made numerous mention of Sutter’s New Helvetia as being essentially a French settlement. Recall, he made comments encouraging French missionaries to assist Sutter in civilizing native peoples. Mofras was undoubtedly making comments that would assist the French government in making decisions regarding colonization in California.

In 1841, California saw a much stronger overland migration through the Sierra Nevada. As the Russians packed their bags and vacated Ross over on the coast, immigrants from all over the world began to trickle into California. Mariano Vallejo treated many of these newcomers with kindness, assisting them in making their residency a legal affair. Governor Alvarado made many implications, implying that Vallejo was unwise allowing foreigners to remain.

Manifest Destiny, the American belief that the U.S. was destined to expand across the continent, certainly came to fruition. Within a few short years, any designs by the English or French, to colonize California, evaporated into thin air. Much of this mind set centered on the belief that American expansion must promote and defend democracy throughout the world.

To sum it all up, I leave you once again with the words of Sir George Simpson. He offers, “Duflot de Mofras was a man of talent, but somewhat wild, bent on amusing himself, fonder of personal comforts than of study; gentlemanly in manner, but not overawed by the dignity of California officials; and somewhat too careless about the reputation he might leave in so distant a land.”

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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