Robert Field Stockton

Robert Field Stockton (1795-1866), American naval officer, politician, and promoter of internal improvements in the nation, was very important in the conquest of California and served briefly in the U.S. Senate.

Born on Aug. 20, 1795, at Princeton, N. J., Robert F. Stockton was the son of a prominent lawyer and U.S. senator. Robert entered the College of New Jersey at the age of 13, studying mathematics and languages, but withdrew to accept an appointment as a midshipman in 1811 aboard the President, flagship of Commodore John Rodgers. During the War of 1812 Stockton was aide-de-camp to Rodgers and was cited for his conduct.

Following the War of 1812, Stockton fought against the Algerian pirates and from 1816 to 1820 cruised the Mediterranean aboard the Washington and the Erie, rising to command the latter. He fought two duels during this time. Active in the American Colonization Society, in 1821 he commanded the Alligator, which took Dr. Eli Ayres to Africa to secure the land that would become Liberia. In 1822 Stockton helped suppress piracy in the West Indies and then did duty with the surveying team along the southern coast of the United States (1823-1824 and 1827-1828).

In 1828 Stockton inherited the family estate of Morven at Princeton. For the next 12 years he was on furlough and leave of absence, investing the family fortune in the Delaware and Raritan Canal (and serving as its first president) and in the Camden and Amboy Railroad. In 1838 he was promoted to captain and returned to active duty, but in 1840 he took a leave of absence to campaign for William Henry Harrison's election. He was offered the post of secretary of the Navy, but he declined in order to promote the building of steam vessels for the Navy.

The Mexican War began, and in October 1845 Stockton sailed to the Pacific in command of the Congress. At Monterey, Calif., on July 23, 1846, he assumed command of the Pacific fleet. Quickly he enrolled the army of the Bear Flag Revolt into his force and won a victory over the Mexican troops, proclaiming the war to be at an end on August 17. He next intended an invasion of Mexico at Acapulco but had to abandon that plan during the Mexican counterrevolution in California. The province was secured in January 1847.

Replaced as commander of the Pacific naval squadron, Stockton made his way to Washington, where he resigned from the Navy. That fall the legislature of New Jersey elected him to the U.S. Senate; he served until Jan. 10, 1853, working for Navy reforms and expanded harbor defenses. In 1856 he almost became the presidential candidate of the American party, and in 1861 he was a delegate to the Washington Peace Conference. He served as president of the Delaware and Raritan Canal until his death on Oct. 7, 1866.


Further Reading on Robert Field Stockton

Very little has been written about this hero, for whom the city of Stockton, Calif., was named. Samuel J. Bayard, A Sketch of the Life of Com. Robert F. Stockton (1856), was intended as a campaign biography. Considerable information can be obtained from Alfred Hoyt Bill, A House Called Morven (1954).