American Folk Figure. She was the wife of explorer and adventurer John Charles Fremont, and the daughter of United States Senator Thomas Hart Benton. Born in Lexington, Virginia, her father raised and educated her as if she were his son and made her wise in the ways of social structure and politics, an unusual thing for the period. By 1841, her father was a Senator from Missouri and protagonist of "Manifest Destiny". The now seventeen year old Jesse, a student in a girl's seminary, met and fell in love with Lieutenant John C. Fremont, who is ten years her senior. The couple eloped and was married on October 19, 1841. Senator Benton was so disappointed that he becomes estranged for a time from his headstrong daughter. Jessie, in the mean time, settled in as the wife of a junior Army officer, following her husband from assignment to assignment. Some where around this time, her parents decide to reconcile with Jessie and John who had been living a less than luxurious life on Army posts. John Fremont then gained famed a "The Pathfinder to the West" in the name of "Manifest Destiny". She and her husband begin writing best-selling stories of Western Explorations that make John C. Fremont and his scout, Kit Carson, famous. In 1856, Jessie became the first presidential candidate's wife to play an active part in a political campaign. When first-ever Republican Party candidate Fremont's name came up in rallies for votes, the slogan was "Fremont and Jessie too." Fremont garnered many northern votes, but lost over all. The Fremonts then moved to California where they discovered more gold on their property. They settled into San Francisco society with Jessie leading the way and enjoying discussing politics with the many educated men in that city. When war became imminent, John Fremont returned East to get a new commission, and Jessie went with him. In 1861, they returned to St. Louis when John was appointed commander of the Western Region. They shared the belief that St. Louis was unprepared for war and needed reinforcements and supplies, and both pressured Washington to send more supplies and troops to St. Louis. Jessie threw herself into the war effort, helping to organize a soldier's relief society in St. Louis and becoming very active in the Western Sanitary Commission which provided medicine and nursing to soldiers injured in the war. These endeavors were some of the few acceptable avenues of participation for women in the 1860's, but Jessie, the late senator's daughter, wanted more. She used her political expertise to make decisions for John and organized his military campaign to the extent that she was called, "General Jessie" by his critics. In spite of Jesse's help, Fremont was always in trouble. One decision caused him to be removed from command - he overstepped his authority when he trumped the Commander in Chief by issuing, of his own volition, his own emancipation proclamation which summarily freed all Missouri slaves. John Fremont had a deep hatred for slavery and saw that it needed to end, but he neglected to confer with his President before issuing the order and Abraham Lincoln became angry with him. Jessie, the senator's daughter, and ever her husband's protector, went to see President Lincoln in Washington to plead Fremont's case. Lincoln listened but still removed John Fremont from the command of St. Louis and the Union's Western area. The Fremonts would not live in St. Louis again, moving to New York and then California, where she that state's first First Lady. Being unsuccessful in both places, John Fremont declared bankruptcy in 1873. Jessie started writing books and articles to support the family, and remained faithful to her husband, even when she heard rumors that he was being unfaithful. In 1890, three months after having been allowed to resign with pension, rather than being drummed out of the Army for insubordination in an incident in California, John Fremont died in New York. Twelve years later, Jessie, then a resident of the then back-water pueblo of Los Angeles, died as well and she was cremated and buried in Los Angeles at Angelus Rosedale Cemetery. Jessie Fremont had, within the framework of her era, demonstrated that women were capable of equal rights of citizenship and full participation with their male counterparts in family life, business and politics. Her husband lies in Rockland Cemetery,high atop the crest of The Palisades of the Hudson River just south of the Tappan Zee Bridge.
Bio by: John T. Chiarella
John Charles Fremont