Scope and Content of Collection
Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla 92093-0175
Title: Elisha Oscar Crosby Papers
Identifier/Call Number: MSS 0654
.4 Linear feet
(1 archive box)
Date (inclusive): 1849 - 1895
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.
Scope and Content of Collection
The Elisha Oscar Crosby Papers document the life of 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 miscellaenous materials.
The papers are arranged in four series: 1) BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS, 2) PHOTOGRAPHS, 3) WRITINGS, and 4) ORIGINALS OF PRESERVATION
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,
These materials were collected by John B. Goodman, III, and were donated by him to UCSD Libraries in 1995.
Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.
Elisha Oscar Crosby Papers, MSS 654. Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego Library.
This collection was digitized in 2016 for inclusion in the Adam Matthew subscription database Frontier Life: borderlands,
settlement & colonial encounters. The documents are viewable in that resource when accessed from a UC San Diego IP address,
or via any institution that subscribes to that resource.
Subjects and Indexing Terms
California -- History -- 19th century -- Sources
California -- Politics and government -- 19th century
California -- Gold discoveries
California. Constitutional Convention (1849)