Walter Colton

Birth: 1797


Rev. Walter Colton (May 7, 1797 - January 22, 1851) was a Chaplain for the United States Navy, the Alcalde of Monterey, and the author of Three Years in California and Deck and Port. His book is regarded as a principal description of California before the California Gold Rush. He was also co-publisher of California's first newspaper, The Californian.

Walter Colton was born in Rutland County, Vermont, on May 9, 1797. He was the third of 12 children born to Walter and Thankful (Cobb) Colton; his nephew John Jay Colton later became known as a pioneer of anesthesia. Walter went to Hartford, Connecticut, at the age of 17 to learn to be a cabinetmaker.

He attended Hartford Grammar School and entered Yale in the fall of 1818. He won the Berkeleyan Prize for the best Latin translation, and delivered the valedictory poem at his graduation in 1822. He entered Andover Theological Seminary and graduated in 1825. He became a professor of moral philosophy and letters at the Scientific and Military Academy at Middletown, Connecticut.

He then moved to Washington, D.C. to become the editor of the American Spectator and Washington City Chronicle. He was also elected to preach at a church attended by President Andrew Jackson. The men developed a close acquaintanceship. The president offered Colton the choice of being a chaplain in the Navy or a consul abroad. Colton was nominated chaplain of the West India Squadron in 1831 and visited ports throughout the world. He was married to a Philadelphia woman of the same family name, and he sailed to the Pacific in 1845. He recorded the story of that eventful voyage in his book, Deck and Port.

Soon after Colton's arrival in Monterey, Commodore Robert F. Stockton appointed him the first American Alcalde of Monterey, a title he held from 1846 to 1849. This role was a combination of judge, sheriff, and governor over much of Northern California. He served with wisdom and sound judgment in dealing with lawbreakers, built Colton Hall, and fined every gambler $20 to help cover the costs of building California’s first schoolhouse. He won wide acclaim as a fair judge and impaneled the first jury in California to assist in making decisions.

During this period, he also met Robert B. Semple and the two launched the first newspaper published in California, The Californian on August 15, 1846. The first issue was released only a month after the American flag was raised at Monterey, The Californian carried the news of the declaration of war with Mexico. Colton's book about his experiences, Three Years in California, was published in 1850 after his return to the east. He died in 1851 and was buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.

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