- Journal of SD History
San Diego History from Newspaper Accounts
Philip Crosthwaite: A Remarkable Memory
In 1854 Philip Crosthwaite, after completing his schooling in Ireland, took a sea voyage from Rhode Island to California. When the war with Mexico erupted, he enlisted immediately with the United States Army at San Diego, and served under General Kearney during the Battle of San Pasqual. Several of his accounts of this battle have contributed to the color of that episode.
Although in this War he did battle with his friends of Mexican descent in San Diego, he returned to Old San Diego and became a prominent figure in political and business circles. He served as Alcalde or Mayor of San Diego in 1847, was first treasurer of San Diego County, school commissioner, county clerk, recorder, and Justice of the Peace. He also owned a store in Old San Diego in partnership with Thomas Whaley.
San Diego life for him included many friends. In the ebbing years of his life he was prompted to record some of his rememberings for the San Diego Union, such as this article in that paper of December 4, 1887.
"Perhaps there is no man living who is more personally familiar with the early history of California, and particularly that of San Diego than Crosthwaite, now a citizen of Ensenada. He is as full of valuable information as the Bible is full of good precepts. His gray hair and scraggly beard and eyebrows show the weight of 80 years, but his mind and memory are as bright and unburdened as that of a man of half his age. As Mr. Crosthwaite's deep voice and quick accents tell the story of San Diego's early existence, it appears incredible to think that the speaker is a person who has seen the things and incidents he relates. They seem more like matters of history a century old, than like narratives of personal adventure. Mr. Crosthwaite remembers the time when the form of an ocean craft was seldom seen on the bay of San Diego. Then great numbers of whales entered its gate to deliver their young, and rarely was there a day when scores of these mammals could not be seen spouting and basking in the warm sunlight. On the north island of Coronado Beach still stands a portion of the old whaling station used in the forties. Near this, as improbably as it may seem, a fine spring of clear, fresh water came to the surface through a cask that had been sunk in the ground. It was the only fresh water within a long distance, and so thick were the whales in the channel that men who went in canoes from La Playa to get water from this spring, were frequently obliged to wait hours before they deemed it safe to cross. After the tide of immigration to the gold mines had set in and Pacific Mail Steamship Company had established their line between Panama and San Francisco, the old ship Clarissa Andrews was anchored inside the bay and used as a coaling depot. Captain J. C. Bogart was in charge of the Andrews, and about the year 1852 he planted a field of barley on a strip of land near La Playa. The grain sprouted and grew, but it never ripened, for what the antelopes left the jack rabbits destroyed. Herds of the former swarmed over this portion of the coast in those days, Mr. Crosthwaite says, and hunting them was fine sport. Along the shore of the ocean, great sea elephants, some of them upwards of twenty feet in length, could be seen enjoying the warmth of the sun on any pleasant morning, and their coarse yelps were almost always heard with the roaring of the surf. All these animals were exterminated from this region decades ago, and now they are unheard of."