Philip Crosthwaite (1825-1903)

philipcrosthwaitePhilip Crosthwaite was born December 27, 1825, in Athy, County Kildare, Ireland, where his parents were visiting their old home, they having emigrated to the United States some years before. On their return to America, Philip was left in the care of his grandparents, and lived with them until 16, when he visited his mother. In 1843 he returned to Ireland to complete his education, and entered Trinity College, Dublin. His grandmother died in 1845 and he thereupon came to America for a second visit, intending to return and complete his education. But while in Philadelphia, he met a young man from Boston with whom he struck up an acquaintance, and for a “lark” these two determined to take a short sea voyage. Going to Newport, R.I., they shipped on board the schooner Hopewell, Captain Littlefield, supposing they were bound on a fishing trip to the Newfoundland banks. To their dismay, after reaching the open sea, they found the ship was booked for San Francisco. They begged so hard to be put ashore that the captain finally promised to allow them to return by the first ship they met; but Crosthwaite related it as a singular circumstance that they never saw another sail from that day until they reached the Bay of San Diego.

Crosthwaite and his friend, Rhead, deserted here and waited until the Hopewell had departed. A ship bound for the East came along soon after, but there was room for only one; there was a toss-up for the vacant berth, and Crosthwaite losing, he gave up all thought of leaving San Diego. He was strong and adventurous and made his way. In 1846, when the Mexican War broke out, he was on an otter hunting expedition on the Lower California coast, with Julian Ames, John Post, John C. Stewart, and William Curley. Learning of the war at the Santa Rosario Mission, they all returned to San Diego and served in the San Pasqual campaign. They reached the town late at night, and early the next morning were awakened by a thundering knock at the door. It was Captain Gillespie, who said: “There can be no neutrals in this country; you must either enlist for three months (as the war will probably be over by that time), or be imprisoned on the Congress.” He intended to enlist, anyway, but the choice was made easy. A good deal of the local color concerning the San Pasqual campaign has been derived from his accounts of it. He was in the midst of it from beginning to end, and was slightly wounded by Pico’s rangers in the slaughter of December 6th. After the troops left for the capture of Los Angeles, he performed garrison duty until the close of the war.

In 1851, Crosthwaite served in the Garra Insurrection, with the rank of third sergeant. After these troubles, he was the mainstay of the citizens in preserving the peace, at the time when the San Francisco “Hounds” were terrorizing the town, and was seriously wounded in the discharge of his duty, as has been related.

He held a number of offices at an early day, being the first county treasurer, deputy sheriff several years, and sheriff one or two terms. He was also school commissioner in 1850, county clerk and recorder in 1853-4, and justice of the peace in 1854. He lived for several years in Mission Valley, above Old Town, and later owned the San Miguel Rancho in Lower California. He was lessee of the San Diego Mission in 1848, and later went to the mines. He also kept a store in Old Town, and later in new San Diego, in partnership with Mr. Whaley. His old ledger, kept in 1853, is now owned by Mr. Joséph Jessop, and shows many curious things. The first entry in it shows the sale of over $200 worth of provisions to Lieutenant Derby, for the use of the Indians working on the San Diego River dam. The prices charged are also very interesting, now.

He purchased the San Miguel Rancho in 1861 and removed to Lower California, but still spent much of his time in San Diego. He was an active and earnest Freemason, and the first Worshipful Master of San Diego Lodge No. 35-the oldest lodge in the Southwest. When Lieutenant Derby left San Diego, he presented Crosthwaite with the Past Master’s jewel, which the latter later gave to his beloved lodge, and which is now a cherished item of their furniture.

He married Joséfa Lopez, a daughter of Bonifacio Lopez, of San Diego, 1848. They had a large family, of which seven sons and two daughters survived him. His daughter Mary was married to J. N. Briseño, of San Diego, but the others live in Lower California. He died in San Diego, February 19, 1903. Mrs. Wm. Jeff Gatewood was his sister. It is said he had nearly fifty grandchildren at the time of his death.

Crosthwaite was a well built man, with a full beard and a remarkably deep voice. It is related that an uncle by marriage, Mr. Hempstead, stopping off at La Playa on his way to San Francisco in the 50’s, recognized him by his voice, though he had not seen him for years. He was known to be an utterly fearless man, whose courage was proved in many hard encounters. He was a man of strong character and had enemies as well as friends. Part of these troubles were due to religious differences, he being an Episcopalian and his wife a Catholic. He was fond of telling his recollections of early days and his stories were not always accurate or free from prejudice. He was fond of a joke, and it has been said that he carried this propensity into his tales of old times; but a careful study of them shows clearly enough that the inaccuracies and discrepancies are no more than was natural with one who talks a good deal and whose memory is not remarkable for its accuracy. That Crosthwaite had some faults is doubtless true, but he was beyond question a strong, resolute man, well fitted for the rough life of his time.

[from Smythe, William Ellsworth. History of San Diego, 1542-1908. San Diego: History Co., 1907. (pages 269-271)]

See also:

Tamplain, Pamela. “Philip Crosthwaite: San Diego Pioneer and Public Servant.” The Journal of San Diego History 21.3 (Summer 1975): 43-49.

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