Stockton Story — California Campaign 1846

November 13, 2009 by  
Filed under California History, Kids and Teens

The story of how Commodore Stockton turns his ship of sailors into soldiers during the California Campaign in 1846 is told through the eyes of twelve-year-old Sven Johnsson.

Sven does not remember his father; he died at sea before Sven was born. Sven’s Mexican mother takes Sven to live on her family’s land next to Rio Nueces. Though she tries to help him fit in, Sven, with his mother’s brown eyes and father’s fair skin and blonde hair, suffers in the small village.

In 1846, with the dream of finding a home where he truly belongs, Sven boards the USS Congress as scribe to Commodore Stockton.

He quickly learns that the American commander is sailing under secret presidential orders to Alta California to capture the territory from the Mexicans. Fearful of being outcast as the enemy, Sven keeps his full identity a secret. He despairs that he will never find a place he fits in.

The treacherous Cape Horn crossing leaves Sven’s dreams of a life at sea in tatters. He plans to escape when they finally reach their destination. Once there, Sven is swept up in the dramatic events involving the leaders of both sides of the Mexican War.

Sailing with Commodore Stockton is a coming of age story about a young boy in search of his place in the world and what he ultimately finds in Alta California.

As a fifth-generation Californian and descendent of Commodore Robert Stockton I have been granted access to stories about the man who came from a long-line of patriots in New Jersey and later went on to conquer California in 1846-47.

This book meets the California Content Standards requirement that every student study the economic, social, and political life in California from the establishment of the Bear Flag Republic through the Mexican-American War.

I currently give lectures about Stockton in classrooms all over California along with plot workshops for children and their teachers. Staff and the administration from the most recent public school district I visited – Stockton Unified – encouraged me to finish this project.

Chronology of Events in California 1846-1847


What the territory of California looked like in 1846

Commodore Robert Field Stockton played a major role in the transfer of the territory of Alta California (California) from the Mexican government to the United States and thus, makes a perfect study of early California history.


1845 – 1846



Martha Alderson, M.A.


  • Robert Stockton, by now a commodore, sails to Texas with secret orders from newly elected President Polk — convince President of the Republic of Texas to provoke a war with Mexico over boundary issues. Polk, unwilling to risk the good favor of his European allies, refuses to get involved. He wants the deed done without the order coming directly from him
  • President Jones of the Republic of Texas refuses Robert
  • Still under secret orders from Polk, Robert proceeds to the Pacific to relieve Commodore Sloat as supreme commander of the U.S. Naval forces in the Pacific. Once war with Mexico is declared, Robert is to take possession of California and establish a government un the American flag
  • Robert is 50 years old (average age in those days was 42 years old)
  • Nine children
  • Famously wealthy
  • Incredibly powerful
  • Robert wanted to redeem himself over the explosion of the cannon he built on the Princeton. He personally knew the men of power who died

U.S. History

President Polk elected

Polk is an unabashed expansionist—wants entire Northern Hemisphere under American rule

Polk tries to buy California from Mexico—Mexico won’t sell

A declaration of war by President Polk would not be viewed favorably in Europe

Texas is a nation and wants to be annexed into the Untied Sates.

Many opposed annexation because Texas will be added as slave state and throw off the delicate balance between free sates and slave states—tension in the country is building

Polk wants Robert to help Texas place itself in an attitude of active hostilities towards Mexico over the Rio Grande boarder.

Polk wants Texas to bring war with Mexico upon annexation into the Union

Polk sends Robert to California by sea, John C. Fremont overland the northern route, and Kearny overland the southern route, all with the same secret orders—take California for the U.S.


  • After five months at sea, Robert arrives in Monterey, California on July 15, 1846
  • Assumes command of the fleet from Commodore Sloat
  • Receives word of war with Mexico
  • Robert declares CA a territory of the US and proceeds to organize a civil government
  • Robert enrolls the Bear Flag battalion of John C. Fremont as volunteers in the American Army
  • Robert sails south to take LA.
  • All is calm. Raises the American flag and the deed is done
  • Robert sends the famous Kit Carson to WA to inform President Polk mission accomplished
  • Robert sails to Yerba Buena (SF) and travels inland to SJ where he buys land hat today is the San Jose Airport

U.S. History

September, Mexican forces surround Los Angeles, Former Governor Pico, General Flores and 500 men retake Los Angles, Santa Barbara, San Diego and issue their won proclamation to “drive insolent invaders from CA soil”

Polk has also sent Kearny to California with orders appointing him as Governor of the American territory of California

Kearny is attacked by Mexican forces at San Pacaul and critically wounded


  • Robert coverts his sailors and marines into land forces and reoccupies Los Angeles
  • Robert ignores Kearny and appoints himself 1st US Governor of California and is later hailed by biographer as “conqueror of the whole of California”
  • Robert makes Fremont governor and commander-in-chief if CA and returns east overland across the Rockies