Philip Crosthwaite was born in Athy, Ireland (County Kildare) on December 27, 1825. His parents, Edward and Rachel Crosthwaite had immigrated to America in the early 1800s and at the time of his birth were in Ireland for a visit. When they returned to America they left Philip to grow up in his grandmother's home in Athy. When he was sixteen he traveled to Ohio to live with his parents for two years. In 1841 he returned to Ireland to study at Trinity College in Dublin. In 1843 his grandmother died and he decided to return to America.
In 1844 Philip and a friend set off for Newfoundland Banks where they intended to become fishermen. They joined the crew of the whaler Hopewell but, after the ship set sail, learned that it was headed for San Francisco instead of Newfoundland. When the Hopewell put into port at San Diego Crosthwaite, his friend, and several other crew members jumped ship. Several weeks later an American ship called at San Diego and the two friends asked to join the crew. There was only one opening available and they flipped a coin. Crosthwaite lost and stayed in San Diego while his friend sailed off.
Crosthwaite waited in vain for another ship to call at San Diego and did odd jobs transporting goods for Mexican ranchos in the San Diego area to support himself. In the Spring of 1846 he got a job hunting sea otters in the Pacific Ocean. The hunters used canoes to find the otters in the kelp beds off shore. It was hard work but paid well - $40 for a prime pelt. In October he came ashore in Baja California and met Governor Pio Pico who informed him that Mexico and the United States were at war and he was fleeing to avoid capture. Crosthwaite decided to return to San Diego.
Crosthwaite arrived in San Diego in November 1846 and was accosted by Captain Archibald Gillespie, then serving as the United States Military Commander in Southern California. Gillespie had just been driven out of Los Angeles by a Mexican rebellion against his occupation of their town. Gillespie told Crosthwaite that there could be no neutrals in California. He was given the choice of enlisting in the U.S. Army or being imprisoned. Crosthwaite enlisted. Crosthwaite was with Gillespie when he joined forces with Brigadier General Stephen Kearney and participated in the battle of San Pascal on December 6, 1846. Crosthwaite did not participate in the retaking of Los Angeles being assigned instead to the force guarding San Diego.
Although California was under martial law it was decided that the territory would continue to be governed by Mexican law. Elections were held for local offices throughout the state. In San Diego Crosthwaite was elected second Alcalde. His responsibilities were similar to sheriff and he served in that capacity through 1847. Philip married a fourteen year old Mexican girl named Maria Josefa Lopez on January 10, 1848. In August 1848 he leased Mission San Diego de Alcala as the nucleus of a small farm and home for himself and his bride. Late in 1848 he decided to go into the Sierras in search of gold. He stayed in the gold fields less than a year and returned to San Diego in August 1848 with the modest proceeds from his mining adventure.
During his absence in the Sierras the United States military had taken over Mission San Diego for a barracks. Crosthwaite sold his livestock and moved in with the father of his wife. In October 1849 the California State Constitutional Convention wrote and ratified a new constitution which among other things called for elections. On April 1, 1850 Crosthwaite ran for sheriff but was defeated. A short time later he was selected to fill the County Treasurer position Four months later in a special election he was chosen to fill a seat on the City Council that had become vacant due to the resignation of the incumbent. In 1851 he was appointed Deputy County Clerk. It was just six years after he had jumped ship in San Diego.
In November 1851 Crosthwaite was a member of the Fizgerald Volunteers and participated in the capture and execution of William Marshall, a man accused of fomenting an Indian uprising. (Marshall had been one of the men that had jumped ship along with Crosthwaite.) On August 24, 1852 he purchased a house on the old Plaza in San Diego and once again purchased a small herd of cattle. He and his wife opened a small store and butcher shop. In 1854 he was elected school superintendent and was a member of the group of San Diego businessmen that formed the San Diego and Gila Southern Pacific and Atlantic Railroad Company. In 1855 he was elected Justice of the Peace and appointed Deputy Sheriff. That same year he purchased half of Rancho Paui (Poway) and 160 acres nearby where he built an adobe home.
The onset of the Civil War caused a number of hardships for Crosthwaite including the demise of his railroad dreams. On August 6, 1861, Crosthwaite sold his 160 acres in Poway and moved 55 miles across the border to Baja California where he purchased Rancho San Miguel. At Rancho San Miguel he ran 2,600 cattle on 18,000 acres. He also acted as a middleman delivering supplies to miners in the area. In 1868 the Crosthwaite family moved back to Mission Valley, but kept their livestock operation at Rancho San Miguel. Also in 1861 Crosthwaite convinced his sister Mary to move from Northern California to San Diego. Her husband, Colonel William Gatewood, closed his newspaper, the San Andreas Register, moved to San Diego City, and established the San Diego Union Newspaper. The first issue was printed on October 10, 1868.
In 1869 Crosthwaite reentered public life in San Diego by once again being appointed Deputy County Clerk. He also formed a partnership and opened a general store. In September 1869 he was appointed San Diego Chief of Police. In 1871 he gave up the position as Chief of Police and was appointed Deputy Sheriff. On April 20, 1872 fire destroyed the old town of San Diego including the Crosthwaite general store. In 1874 flood destroyed his adobe in Mission Valley. Having lost virtually everything that they had built in San Diego the Crosthwaite family moved back to Rancho San Miguel. While living in Mexico he continued to keep in contact with his many friends and fellow Masons in San Diego and assisted them in their business dealings south of the border.
In 1900 Crosthwaite rented an apartment in San Diego to be near his old friends. His family now consisted of his wife Maria, seven sons, three daughters, and forty-seven grandchildren. He died in San Diego on February 19, 1903.
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