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Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Historical Background
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Digital Content
  • Processing Information

  • Descriptive Summary

    Contributing Institution: Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego
    9500 Gilman Drive
    La Jolla 92093-0175
    Title: Elisha Oscar Crosby Papers
    Identifier/Call Number: MSS 0654
    Physical Description: .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.
    Languages: English .

    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.

    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.

    Publication Rights

    Digital copies of this material are intended to support research, teaching, and private study. This work may be used without prior permission. The original manuscripts for this collection are held by Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego Library.

    Preferred Citation

    Elisha Oscar Crosby Papers, MSS 654. Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego Library.

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired 2007.

    Digital Content

    This collection has been digitized.

    Processing Information

    This collection was digitized in 2016 for inclusion in the Adam Matthew subscription database Frontier Life: borderlands, settlement & colonial encounters.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    California -- History -- 19th century -- Sources
    California -- Politics and government -- 19th century
    California -- Gold discoveries
    California. Constitutional Convention (1849)