John Drake Sloat



Occupation 1

Naval officer


Mexican War


NA/Mid-Atlantic region


Heroic Age of Sail (1816-1865)








...the son of John Sloat, a revolutionary war soldier who was killed accidentally by a sentry before John Drake was born...
In the midst of growing tensions between the United States and France, Sloat was appointed a midshipman on 20 February 1800, serving on the President under Commodore Thomas Truxtun. When Thomas Jefferson became president in March 1801, differences with France subsided, the navy was reduced, and Sloat was discharged on 21 May.
Sloat became a merchant seaman, eventually rising to captain. With the proceeds from an inheritance from a grandfather, he bought and commanded his own vessel. On the renewal of hostilities between France and Britain, Sloat, like many other Americans engaged in maritime trade with Europe, suffered economic loss. The United States entered the conflict in 1812, and Sloat returned to naval service as sailing master of the frigate United States. He was promised that he would be promoted expeditiously to the appropriate rank as if his service had not been interrupted. Sloat was wounded in the ship's engagement with the Macedonian in October 1812. The United States was blockaded in New London for the remainder of the war. During the blockade, Sloat was promoted to lieutenant on 24 July 1813, and he married Abby Gordon that year. The couple would have three children.

When the War of 1812 ended in 1815, Sloat secured a furlough and returned to the merchant service. He sailed to France as captain of the Transit. He soon returned to the navy and on 4 June 1816 was assigned to the New York Navy Yard, transferring to the Portsmouth Navy Yard in New Hampshire on 9 March 1820. Sea duty followed in 1821, first on the Washington, and later that same year he sailed the Pacific coasts of Latin America as first lieutenant on the Franklin, Commodore Charles Stewart commanding. On 30 September 1822 Sloat was transferred to the Congress under Commodore James Biddle, whose station was South America.

On 12 December 1823 Sloat was named captain of the Grampus, his first command. He was ordered to Africa to suppress the slave trade thence to Puerto Rico, where he collaborated with local authorities in combating piracy. He was instrumental in the capture of the notorious Cofrecinas and his crew.

Sloat was promoted on 21 March 1826 to master commandant. Named commander of the St. Louis on 15 October 1828, he cruised the Pacific for three years, repeatedly visiting Latin American ports. Sloat was promoted to the rank of captain on 9 February 1839 and was assigned the following year to head the Portsmouth Navy Yard in New Hampshire, where he remained for three years.
Amid deteriorating relations between the United States and Mexico over the Texas question and American designs on the Mexican province of California, Sloat on 27 August 1844 was named commander of the Pacific Squadron, succeeding Commodore Francis Dallas. Now Sloat would carry the title of commodore, signifying command of a squadron. On 2 October 1845, aboard his flagship Savannah at Honolulu, Sloat received orders from George Bancroft, secretary of the navy, dated 24 June 1845. The commodore was instructed to maintain friendly relations with Mexicans and avoid any hint of aggression, but in the event of a Mexican declaration of war against the United States, he was to seize the port of San Francisco and occupy or blockade other Mexican ports as his force permitted.

The fleet sailed from Honolulu on 12 October 1845 and arrived at Mazatl´┐Żn on Mexico's west coast on 18 November. In February Archibald Gillespie, a secret agent of President James K. Polk carrying a dispatch for U.S. consul Thomas O. Larkin in Monterey, arrived in Mazatl´┐Żn. The dispatch appointed Larkin a confidential agent of the President and instructed him to try to influence Californians to separate from Mexico and apply for a peaceful association with the United States. Gillespie would have notified Sloat of the war preparations he had seen during his trek across Mexico. On 17 May Sloat received an unconfirmed report of hostilities on the Rio Grande. He sent a secret message to Consul Larkin, telling him that he was preparing to sail for California and asking Larkin to be ready to advise him on his arrival.

However, Sloat did not sail and has been faulted for his inaction at this point. His detractors point out that if he had sailed promptly, he would have prevented the turmoil that resulted from the Bear Flag uprising by Americans in California. Sloat knew nothing of that movement, but he was aware of the rash act of his predecessor, Commodore Thomas ap Catesby Jones, who, with orders similar to his own, had seized Monterey in 1842, only to find to his embarrassment that there was no war.

On 7 June Sloat received a reliable report that hostilities had begun north of the Rio Grande and that the U.S. Navy had blockaded the Gulf Coast of Mexico. The Pacific Fleet set sail and arrived in Monterey on 1 July 1846. Sloat conferred with Larkin, and together they drafted a proclamation. On 7 July a force was landed, the American flag was raised, and the proclamation was read. Sloat came not as the enemy of the Californians, said the proclamation, but as "their best friend." Californians were invited to American citizenship, they would be treated fairly, and their property was secure. Unfortunately, Sloat's benevolent policy would be reversed by his successor.

With the Stars and Stripes flying throughout California, Sloat, in ill health, turned over his command to Commodore Robert F. Stockton on 23 July and on 29 July departed in the Levant for the East via Panama. Reaching Washington in November, he was lauded by Secretary Bancroft for operations in California.

Sloat commanded the Norfolk Navy Yard from 19 January 1848 to 1 February 1851. Following his appointment on 17 January 1852 as senior member of a board to locate a navy yard in California, Sloat returned to California. Mare Island was designated on his recommendation, and he took part in planning for the new yard. Placed on the retired list on 27 September 1855, Sloat advised the Navy Department during the Civil War. He was promoted to commodore when the official rank was created in 1862 and to rear admiral on 6 August 1866. He died at his home at Staten Island and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn...

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