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Joshua Sloane

If this work were a collection of entertaining anecdotes, instead of a sober and veracious history, it would be easy to fill it with stories about the various characters who once lived here. Among them all there is, perhaps, none more interesting than Joshua Sloane. He was the butt of many jokes and the “fresh” young newspaper writers of the early 70’s took such liberties with his personality that it is difficult to disentangle him from their fairy tales. But enough has been gathered from the records and from the recollections of his friends to show that he was something more than merely an eccentric old man.

He was a native of Ireland, came of a good family, and had advantages when young. He came to San Diego in the early 50’s and earned a livelihood by various pursuits. At one time he was a clerk in Morse’s store and later a deputy in Captain Pendleton’s office. He owned a wind-power mill near the old Mission and had some real estate. In 1858 he was deputy postmaster and in the following year postmaster. When his term was about to expire, the people of San Diego, who were nearly all opposed to him in politics, signed a protest against his reappointment. When the letter containing this document was deposited in the post office, Sloane’s curiosity was aroused by its appearance and address, and he opened it and read the enclosure. Having done this, he coolly cut off the remonstrance, wrote on similar paper a petition for his own reappointment, pasted the signatures below it, and forwarded the altered enclosure in a new envelope. The people of San Diego were at a loss to understand why their almost unanimous petition passed unheeded, and it remained a mystery until Sloane himself told the story, years after.

In the campaign of 1856, Sloane voted for Frémont, and is said to have been one of two or three in San Diego who did so. In the campaign of 1860 he was very active, organized a Republican club, and became known to the party leaders in the East. For this service he was made collector of the port in 1861, and served one term. A famous story about those days was to the effect that he appointed his dog, “Patrick,” deputy collector, and carried him on the pay roll. He was an autograph collector and delighted to show the letters he had received from notable persons.

His greatest service to San Diego was, undoubtedly, his work for the park. He was secretary of the board of trustees at the time the question of setting aside the park came up, and was one of the earliest, most tireless, and most earnest advocates of a large park. One of his friends says regarding this: “He was the man who first proposed having a big park here and he urged it upon the trustees till they let him have his way. There were people here who wanted it cut down and it was due to his efforts that this was not done. He often said to me: ‘They want to cut up the park, but I’m damned if they shall do it!’ He stood like a bulldog over that big park and, some day, people will be grateful to him for doing so. His mission here seemed to be to save that park, and he did it.”

While Joshua Sloane was a shy man, he had a few warm friends who understood him and speak of him to this day with respect and affection. There is no doubt that he was eccentric and much misunderstood. He died, unmarried, January 6, 1879.

[from Smythe, William Ellsworth. History of San Diego, 1542-1908. San Diego: History Co., 1907. (pages 288-289)]

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