Scope and Content of Collection
Crosby, Elisha Oscar, 1818-1895
Title: Elisha Oscar Crosby Papers,
Date (inclusive): 1849 - 1895
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.
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.
Elisha Oscar Crosby Papers, MSS 0654. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD.
Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.
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.
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.
SERIES 1: BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS
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.
SERIES 2: PHOTOGRAPHS
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.
SERIES 3: WRITINGS
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.
SERIES 4: ORIGINALS OF PRESERVATIONS PHOTOCOPIES
The ORIGINALS OF PRESERVATION PHOTOCOPIES contains original newspaper clippings.
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