“During the spring months of 1846, units of the United States Pacific Squadron, commanded by Commodore John D. Sloat, had been waiting at Mazatlan, Mexico, for receipt of a formal declaration of war between the United States and Mexico. Commodore Sloat had standing orders to seize the California ports as soon as he was certain that war had broken out. Also awaiting developments was the English Admiral, Sir George Seymour, in command of H. M. S. Collingwood, anchored at San Blas.
Upon receipt of news on May 17 that hostilities had commenced on the Rio Grande, Commodore Sloat sent the Cyane, the Levant, and the Portsmouth to Monterey, and on June 7 followed in the Savannah, although he had not yet received notice that war had been formally declared.
On July 2 the Savannah dropped anchor near the Cyane and the Levant in Monterey harbor, the Portsmouth having been moved previously to Sausalito in San Francisco Bay.” (1)
Monterey Bay was a valuable gateway to Asia and the Pacific, so it was no secret that the United States wanted the 600,000 square miles of California, a territory controlled by Mexico. In 1845, President Polk and the Navy Department gave Commodore Sloat his orders. If Sloat learned that the United States was at war with Mexico he was to immediately seize Monterey.
For more than 80 years on the Saturday closest to July 7, the Monterey History and Art Association has been re-enacting what has come to be known as Sloat’s Landing at Monterey Custom House Plaza.
Our commemoration opened with the United States Navy Color Guard from the Defense Language Institute presenting the colors,
while Monterey Community Band played the Star Spangled Banner.
Master of Ceremonies, Thom Diggins, of Monterey Walking Tours introduced the dignitaries, Libby Downey, Monterey City Council Member, Scott Miller, Monterey County Sheriff,
representatives from the Native Sons (and Daughters) of the Golden West,
along with their K9 representative and a handful of guests in period dress.
After the formalities Mr. Diggins gave a very enlightening summary of Sloat’s Landing. “Clear in concept,” Mr. Diggins stated, “but short in detail Sloat’s orders directed him to confirm war with Mexico, seize the capital at Monterey, and avoid antagonizing the local inhabitants.”
And so on July 7, 1846, four days after arriving in Monterey harbor, Sloat directed Captain Mervine of the Cyane to lead an amphibious assault against Monterey at the Custom House.
Mervine came ashore with about 250 sailors and marines seeking the surrender of Monterey from the Mexican commandant Captain Mariano Silva.
What the U.S. soldiers found was a rather nonexistent Mexican fortress, as Silva’s soldiers had previously left Monterey for Los Angeles.
Furthermore the Mexican’s had left no gunpowder behind to fuel the few cannons that remained and no Mexican flag flew over the Custom House. Mervine’s men procured a Mexican flag, raised it on the flagpole and then subsequently lowered it in surrender.
Finally Purser Rodman Price of the Levant went to the balcony of the Custom House and read a proclamation written by Sloat that proclaimed California for the United States and the American flag with four rows of seven stars was raised over Monterey.
Within five days the American flag was flying at Yerba Buena (San Francisco), in Sonoma, at Sutter’s Fort and San Jose. English Admiral, Sir George Seymour and the Collingwood arrived in Monterey on July 23 and chose not to interfere with the American’s claim to California.
“One of the ironies,” Mr. Diggins concluded, “is that Commodore Sloat never set foot on the shore at Monterey. I believe,” he said, ” that he spent his time here aboard the Savannah. Yet they still call it Sloat’s Landing.”
(1) Van Nostrand, Jeanne. A Pictorial and Narrative History of Monterey Adobe Capital of California 1770 – 1847. California Historical Society, 1968, p. 68.
* The New York Volunteers and the Consolidated Fife and Drum Corps filled in for Captain Mervine and his men.
All photograph and video by L. A. Momboisse unless noted below:
– Picture of Commodore Sloat, US Pacific Squadron, and USS Levant from Wikipedia.
–Battle of Monterey – Anonymous (Public Domain) Officers of Commodore Sloat raise the U.S. flag over Monterey.