(KTXL) — The City of Stockton in Central California owes its name to a man who fought against slavery in Africa but was not an abolitionist at home, who was a pivotal figure in the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War and the Civil War, and who was the grandson of one of the signers of the United States Declaration of Independence.

Robert F. Stockton was born on Aug. 20, 1795 in Princeton, New Jersey and was the son of U.S. Senator for New Jersey Richard Stockton.

In 1810, at the age of 16, the young Stockton would withdraw from Princeton University, a place where his family had strong ties, to join the United States Navy, according to the Trustees of Princeton University.

Stockton’s great-grandfather, John, along with three other men, would donate more than 200 acres of land to the then College of New Jersey in the 1750s to ensure that the university would never leave Princeton, according to the trustee.

Early Naval Career

Although coming from a slave-owning family, the young Robert Stockton would spend the early part of his naval carrier combating the slave trade in African waters.

In 1808, the United States Congress signed The Act Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves, which stated: “to prohibit the importation of slaves in any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States, from and after the first day of January.”

Following the war of 1812, in which Stockton was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant and gained the nickname of “Fighting Bob,” he used connections in the American Colonization Society (ACS) to secure command of the USS Alligator, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command and the University of Texas Arlington Library Special Collections.

The Alligator was a new cruiser destined for the west coast of Africa to suppress the slave trade in the region.

Noticing that American slavers were not flying ships under their nation’s flag, Stockton began seizing traffickers of any and all nations, according to the University of Texas Arlington Library Special Collections.

In what would be the US Navy’s most aggressive attack on the African slave trade, Stockton would capture four foreign slave ships and would save some 800 Africans, according to the University of Texas Arlington Library Special Collections.

“I have great satisfaction in the reflection that I have procrastinated the slavery of some 800 Africans, and have broken off this horrible traffic to the northward Cape Palmas for at least the season,” Stockton wrote in 1821.

Not satisfied with his anti-slavery efforts, during another tour of the African West Coast between October 1821 and January 1822, Stockton would purchase on behalf of the ACS a 130-mile long and 40-mile wide section of the African coastline, according to the trustee.

This land would be the genesis of the west coast African nation of Liberia, according to the trustee. Stockton and the ACS proclaimed the then colony as a place for free Black Americans and liberated African slaves

First Return to Civilian Life and Voice for Anti-Abolitionists

In 1826, Stockton would leave the Navy and return to civilian life where he would take a far different stance on slavery in the United States than he did abroad, according to the trustee.

Stockton would argue there was nothing wrong with “domestic slavery” and that “non-intervention is the true principle” to slavery in areas under U.S. control, according to the trustee.

Some historians state that this anti-abolitionist stance was due to Stockton’s desire to keep slavery from being the issue that would tear the nation apart, at the cost of Black Americans’ lives, according to the trustee.

Return to the Navy and the Mexican-American War

Stockton would rejoin the Navy in 1838 as a captain and be promoted to commodore before sailing to the coast of California to fight in the Mexican-American War, according to the University of Texas Arlington Library Special Collections.

In 1846, as the Bear Flag Revolt raged in Sonoma, Commodore John H. Sloat, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, was seizing ports along the California coast in June and July.

Sloat departed California after seizing Monterey and gave command over to Stockton who had arrived just six days before.

Stockton would waste no time and two weeks after taking command led a force of marines and sailors into Los Angeles, which they took without firing a shot, according to the University of Texas Arlington Library Special Collections

In late December 1846, Stockton and U.S. Army General Stephen Watts Kearny would take a combined Navy-Army force of 600 men to retake Los Angeles after it was lost by Marine Lt. Archibald Gillespie due to a revolt of the Angelenos, according to the University of Texas Arlington Library Special Collections

The combined U.S. force would win the battles of Rio San Gabriel and La Mesa, allowing Stockton and Kearny to enter Los Angeles and the signing of the Treaty of Cahuenga to end conflicts against the American occupation.

Kearny would take over military command from Stockton and John C. Fremont was then named governor.

Second Return to Civilian Life and Taking Public Office

Stockton left military service once again in 1848 and in 1851 took a seat as a New Jersey Senator, where he served for two years, according to the trustee.

He then become president of the Delaware and Raritan Canal Company and was a member of the Washington Peace Conference of 1861.

Returning to his juxtaposing position on slavery in the United States, Stockton would support the permanency of slavery as a hail Mary attempt to prevent war between the south and the north, according to the trustee.

It would turn out that Stockton’s efforts in securing California for the Union and its subsequent designation as a free state, would be a major issue at the start of the Civil War, according to the trustee.

Civil War and Death

Not one to stand by, Stockton once again adorned a military uniform in 1863 as the commander of the New Jersey Militia after the invasion of Pennsylvania by the Confederate army during the Civil War.

Stockton died on Oct. 6, 1866, and is buried at Princeton Cemetery in Princeton.

When the City of Stockton was given its name by Captain Charles Weber in 1849, it was the first city in California to have an English name, according to the city of Stockton.

According to the city of Stockton’s website, Weber chose the name of Stockton in honor of the commodore but does not name any specific reason why Weber was inspired to choose the name.