Capture of Monterey, California, by the United States Navy in 1842

[NOTE: This document can be found on pages 66-67 of Taking Possession of Monterey. 27th Congress, 3d session, House Executive Document 166]

No. 18.]

Flag Ship United States,

Callao Bay, May 21, 1842.

Sir: In my letter (No. 14) written at Rio de Janeiro, I stated what was there rumored in reference to the movements of the French squadron in these seas; and I now have the honor to inform you that a strong expedition, consisting of several ships of war, transports, and store ships, having on board, it is said, 1,200 artillery men, with heavy ordnance, and all the appurtenances for siege, or fortifying against attack, sailed from Valparaiso in March, destination altogether conjectural, some supposing New Zealand. This is the opinion of Admiral Thomas, the English commander on the station; some, Tahiti; some, the Marquesas ; and some, the Sandwich islands; while there are others who fix the Californias as the point of debarkation. I incline to the latter opinion.

Had I been on the station at the time, I might have considered it my * duty to have followed this expedition, should its course have been directed towards the Washington or Sandwich islands, or any point on the coast of our own continent washed by the Pacific ocean, and to have propounded certain interrogatories to the French commander, touching the objecr of so formidable an expedition, fitted out with so much secrecy as to have eluded the observation even of Great Britain, her ever-watchful rival. From the civil appointments and equipage of this expedition, colonization is undoubtedly its object, but the point of settlement is yet unknown ; perhaps more than one is contemplated, as reinforcements are constantly passing on.

The occupation of the Sandwich islands by any European Governments would be most disastrous to our whale fisheries and commercial interest in these seas, for unless they are suffered to remain neutral ground, upon which the ships, whether of commerce or war, of all nations, may at all times meet in perfect safety, without being subjected to the belligerent operations or laws of any European or other rivals, it would be found most difficult—nay, impossible—for the United States to afford even a shadow of protection to her commercial enterprise in this quarter. Next to the Sandwich islands, the coast of California is deserving the attention of our Government, as regards the extension and protection of our commercial interest in this region ; and last, though perhaps not least, is the Washington group, which our country claims by right of discovery, as well as by occupation, it having been actually taken possession of, fortified, and held many mouths by Commodore Porter, during the late war with England.

These are questions which do not properly fall within the sphere of my duties as commander of a squadron. Nevertheless, it is not impossible but that, as one step follows another, it may be necessary for me to interpose,, by the assertion of our national commercial rights, in case they are infringed by any Power within the limits of my command. I therefore deem it of great importance that I should be explicitly instructed as to the views of the Government in reference to the suspicious movements of France, whose object is doubtless better known at Washington now than it is out here. To this end, 1 shall send one of the vessels to Panama in December., to facilitate and make certain the arrival of any messenger yon may think proper to despatch, as it is by a special messenger only that we can rely for •peedy or certain communication. In the mean lime, you may rest assured •bat, while I shall exercise the utmost vigilance in watching over our interests, of every nature, in these seas, I shall be extremely cautious to avoid collision, or in any way disturb the peace and harmony subsisting between our own and foreign Governments.

Our consul from the Sandwich island having left this station some months hence for Washington, to communicate important information to the Government, I am not without hope of hearing from you very soon—indeed, by the next arrival. Consequently, 1 shall confine this ship’s cruising to the coast of Chili and Peru, until I do hear from Washington, so that I may be in place to promptly execute your commands.

I have the honor to be your obedient servant,


Commanding Pacific Squadron.

Hon. Secretary or the Navy, and etc.