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Elisha Oscar Crosby Papers
MSS 0654  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Acquisition Information
  • Preferred Citation
  • Publication Rights
  • Historical Background
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Creator: Crosby, Elisha Oscar, 1818-1895
    Title: Elisha Oscar Crosby Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1849 - 1895
    Extent: 1.00 linear feet (1 archive box)
    Abstract: The Elisha Oscar Crosby Papers consist mainly of autobiographical essays, documents, and correspondence regarding an early (1849-1895) California pioneer, lawyer, politician, diplomat, and civil servant. Subjects include Crosby's reminiscences of his official life in early California including his participation as a delegate at the constitutional convention that created the state; his duties as an election official for the Sacramento district; his services as a state senator from 1848 until 1852; his term as the United States resident minister to Guatemala; and his legal work regarding the land claims of Spanish-speaking Californios. Biographical materials include correspondence, personal family and financial papers, photographic portraits, newspaper clippings, and miscellaneous materials.
    Repository: University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
    La Jolla, California 92093-0175
    Collection number: MSS 0654
    Language of Material: Collection materials in English


    Collection is open for research.

    Acquisition Information

    Not Available

    Preferred Citation

    Elisha Oscar Crosby Papers, MSS 0654. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD.

    Publication Rights

    Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.

    Historical Background

    Elisha Oscar (E.O.) Crosby was born on July 18, 1818, the second son of seven children born to a farming family in the upstate New York Finger Lakes district near what is now Ithaca. He studied law under several lawyers, including his uncle, A.G. Spaulding of Buffalo, and received his legal diploma on his twenty-fifth birthday. He then moved to New York City to practice with Abner Benedict doing admiralty (maritime) law at 27 Wall Street.
    Crosby joined those responding to the news of gold in California, arriving in San Francisco, via Panama, on February 28, 1849, aboard the "California." Rather than mine gold, Crosby made money by exchanging currency for gold dust and then began to buy real estate in the Sacramento area, even purchasing land from Captain Sutter of Sutter's Fort fame. He laid out a town called Vernon, but this venture failed when winter floods made the tiny community an island and all the homeowners left. He also guided a delegation from the United States government that had come to investigate the stories of California gold.
    In August of 1849, Crosby was elected a delegate to the California State Constitutional Convention convened in Monterey on September 1, 1849, and became the chair of the Finance Committee. He wrote an account of the Convention describing his fellow delegates and the constitution writing process. He unsuccessfully argued for an appointed state judiciary to achieve judicial independence. Crosby then became the election officer for the Sacramento District for the constitutional election that was held on November 13, 1849. The voters ratified the constitution and elected Crosby a state senator.
    Crosby, at age 31, took up his position as a California senator in San Jose (Sacramento would become the capital, following Benicia, in 1854) and was elected chair of the Judiciary Committee. As chair, he championed the adoption of English common law as the basic legal system of California while retaining what he viewed as some superior elements of Mexican law, including the concept we now know as "community property." The Committee also organized the first Supreme Court of California, as well as district courts, and divided California into counties.
    He left the Senate in 1852 and went into private legal practice in San Francisco, specializing in defending Spanish-speaking Californios whose land grant titles were being challenged. He argued over one hundred such cases before the United States Land Claims Commission during its 1852-1856 tenure. Crosby would write that the United States Supreme Court "perpetrated the grossest outrages upon equity and common honesty" in its California land decisions in violation of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) which had guaranteed Californios the same rights as other California citizens.
    In 1859, Crosby traveled to the East Coast to argue some of his land grant cases before the United States Supreme Court but stopped in Guatemala for several months. There he met and befriended the ruler and "president for life" of Guatemala, Rafael Carrera (1814-1865). This would prove auspicious, as in 1861, a newly-elected Abraham Lincoln appointed Crosby as resident minister to Guatemala. During his tenure (1861-1864), he also served as a presiding judge and umpire on a commission that successfully attempted to avert war between Great Britain and the Honduran government in a territorial dispute.
    After finishing his Guatemala appointment, Crosby returned to the United States to Philadelphia. Then he went to Europe to attend the 1867 Exposition in Paris. After a brief residency in Fremont, Nebraska, where he helped to open the Fremont Opera House, Crosby returned to California in the early 1870s to spend his remaining years. Despite severe eye trouble, Crosby continued his law practice and served as a justice of the peace, judge of the police court, and as city recorder in Alameda. Crosby was a member of numerous organizations including the Society of California Pioneers, New York Ethnological Society, Knights Templar, Veteran Tippiecanoe Club, Free and Accepted Masons, Lincoln Grand Guard of Honor, and the Republican Party.
    Crosby died in Alameda on June 25, 1895, following a fall, at the age of seventy-seven. He was one of the last surviving members of the California constitutional convention. According to his obituary, he was survived by his wife and an only son, Edward Crosby.
    These materials were collected by John B. Goodman, III, and were donated by him to UCSD Libraries in 1995.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Elisha Oscar (E.O.) Crosby Papers document the life of an early (1849-1895) California pioneer, lawyer, politician, diplomat, and civil servant. The papers are arranged in four series: 1) BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS, 2) PHOTOGRAPHS, 3) WRITINGS, and 4) ORIGINALS OF PRESERVATION PHOTOCOPIES.
    The BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS series contains original correspondence and documents (both originals and photographic copies) from 1848 to 1891 regarding Crosby's official participation in the formation of a state government in California, as a lawyer representing land grant claimants, and in his later role as Alameda City Recorder. Included are newspaper clippings of interest to and about Crosby, including his obituary; handwritten legal documents reflecting his personal life including an 1872 legal separation document from a long-time female companion, an 1874 bankruptcy, and his membership and participation in numerous organizations including the Lincoln Grand Guard of Honor and the Masons; miscellaneous materials including a legal business card, his calling card when he was the minister to Guatemala, Pioneer banquet tickets, and family genealogical data. The files are arranged alphabetically by subject.
    The PHOTOGRAPHS series includes numerous formal portraits (1850-1890) in the carte-de-visite form (a 2 1/2" X 4" photograph on cardboard popular in the second half of the nineteenth century), as well as cabinet cards (a larger version of the carte-de-visite at 4 1/2" X 6 1/2"). One photograph shows Crosby as he appeared in 1863 while serving as resident minister in Guatemala. Included are photographs of a young man, most likely Crosby's son, Edward, and other unidentified women and boys. The Series contains two tintype photographs of Crosby (ca. 1870-1880s) and a printed portrait that appeared as part of an unknown published work. Early California photographers represented include: E. Graybiel, I.M. Taber, Charles Lainer, G. Ball, Nash of San Francisco, Dames of Oakland, and Saunders of Ukiah City. The files are arranged in alphabetical order.
    The WRITINGS series contains mainly handwritten autobiographical essays by Crosby regarding a variety of subjects: including his voyage to California via Panama; his early participation in the affairs of the forty-niner gold prospectors; the formation of state government and the constitutional convention; his legal work representing Spanish-speaking Californio landowners before the federal commission created to deal with those claims; his longtime friend and fellow California pioneer and politician, Henry E. Robinson; his experiences in 1860 Washington and his appointment and subsequent mission to Guatemala (1861-1864); other California-related subjects, and an engraved case used to hold his writings. The files are arranged in alphabetical order by title.
    The ORIGINALS OF PRESERVATION PHOTOCOPIES contains original newspaper clippings.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Crosby, Elisha Oscar, 1818-1895
    California -- Constitution (1849)
    California -- Constitutional Convention (1849)
    California -- Politics and government -- 19th century
    California -- Gold discoveries
    California -- History -- 19th century -- Sources