Richard H. Peterson, Book Review Editor
Conquer and Colonize: Stevenson’s Regiment and California.
By Donald C. Biggs. San Rafael: Presidio Press, 1977. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. Map. 263 pages. $12.95.
Reviewed by Clarence F. McIntosh, Professor of History, California State University, Chico.
When President James Polk authorized the raising of a regiment of volunteers in New York after the 1846 declaration of war between the United States and Mexico, Jonathan Stevenson, a man with proper Democratic Party credentials, was named to recruit and lead its members.
Donald Biggs, former director of the California Historical Society, has written a history of the regiment tracing its recruitment and training in New York, its arrival in California in March 1847, its deployment throughout both Alta and Baja California, its members’ reactions to gold fever, and its mustering out. He then follows the regiment’s former members into the gold fields, San Francisco businesses, and public life. Biggs concludes that a majority of members of Stevenson’s Regiment became an important and positive force in the Americanization of California. Edward Gilbert became a leader in the movement to establish civil government. Seven former members were delegates to the 1849 constitutional convention. Stevenson himself was active in real estate speculation and development but spent his late years in poverty. A minority of the regiment’s members became outlaws, like Jack Powers, or members of the Hounds, like Samuel Roberts, or filibusters, like Joseph Morehead, or had a brief career in smuggling, as did Ira Johnson in San Diego.
Biggs effectively and persuasively points out that many historians, instead of looking at the constructive work of the majority of former regiment members, have emphasized the role of the minority, particularly of the Hounds. He performs the important task of correcting our view of the impact of the regiment.
Some readers will wish that Biggs had provided a more detailed follow-up on the careers of former members of the regiment in their particular locality of settlement in California, but that would have obscured his major point. He has provided important insight into the era of transition from Mexican to American rule. May the re-writing and re-interpretation of nineteenth-century California history continue.