Who is Jessie Benton (1824-1902) and why is this apartment called the “Jessie Benton Suite?”
Jessie was a daughter of Thomas Hart Benton, one of Missouri’s first United States senators. She is best known as the wife of John C. Fremont, the famed “Pathfinder”of the Far West and military governor of California during the Mexican-American War (1847). But Fremont was equally important as the first Presidential candidate in 1856 of the new Republican Party, and as the first commander of the Department of the West during the Civil War.
While Jessie was the mother to five children, she was far more than the dutiful and well-behaved Victorian housewife. Jessie was a relentless promoter of her husband’s political and military career, his traveling companion and, in fact, the one who often “wore the pants” in the family. Although she wrote several books detailing her family’s experiences in the Far West, “General Jessie” is best remembered as perhaps the only Union woman who may have insulted President Lincoln in the White House.
One of Fremont’s first acts upon assuming command of the Department of the West in St. Louis was his imposition of martial law throughout Missouri. He also issued the first emancipation proclamation of the entire Civil War. Fremont’s edict anticipated Lincoln’s own iconic one by more than a year. But the Commander-In-Chief, then struggling to hold the border states within the Union, was not pleased with what he understood to be Fremont’s rash and radical act. When Fremont refused to retract his emancipation order, Lincoln sacked the Pathfinder. Outraged, Jessie traveled to Washington for a face-to-face confrontation with the man later to win international acclaim as “The Great Emancipator.”
Following the Civil War, John Fremont failed at several business ventures and the family became nearly bankrupt. To keep food on the table, “General Jessie” became a chronicler of her family’s adventures in the Far West. She outlived her husband by twelve years, retiring to Los Angeles where she survived through the sale of her memoirs and a $2,000/year Congressional pension.
Fast forward to the summer of 2009. The owners of The Fremont, an historic 1928 St. Louis apartment house, were brainstorming ideas for the name of their new vacation rental in the building. The apartment could be named in memory of no one but Jessie Benton, the remarkable wife of the building’s namesake, John C. Fremont. If you were to stay in the Jessie Benton Suite, you can learn more about her, since we have several excellent biographies in the suite’s small library.
For more information or to make a reservation, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Karen at 314-568-0236