Thursday, September 24, 2009

A common place-name of the West: Fremont

Browsing a map of California, it is not hard to find a place-name that has the word Fremont in it. This name refers to John Charles Frémont, who literally put many parts of the western United States on the map. When he was born in Savannah, Georgia, on January 21, 1813, his name was spelled John Charles Fremon [1]. His father was the French teacher Charles Fremon. John Charles grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, where he adopted the french spelling of his name: Frémont. He became a lieutenant in the army corps of engineers in Washington and was sent west for surveying expeditions during the time when James Knox Polk was the president of the United States. Walter Borneman summarizes Frémont's westward drift as follows [1]:
John Charles Frémont was, and remains, something of an enigma. To his defenders, Frémont will always be “the Pathfinder of the West,” the quintessential explorer marching westward, ever westward. To his detractors, Frémont was an opportunistic bungler, a man who—had it not been for the political connections and journalistic talents of his wife and the dedicated services of his mountain man guides, including Kit Carson—might have simply marched off history's map.
As usual with someone who elicits such strong and divergent passions, the truth lies somewhere in between. Certainly, there is no denying that the West is covered with place-names—Frémont peaks, lakes, rivers, towns, and counties— that mark his paths.
The acute accent over the letter e in his name is now often dropped in American-English writings. If still alive, Frémont would not be pleased!

[1] Walter R. Borneman: PolkThe Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America. Random House Trade Paperback Edition, New York, 2009; pages 182-184.

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