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Paddy comes to California

American San Diego

Andrew Cassidy

George Lyons

James McCoy

Joshua Sloan


"From Shamrocks to Serapes"

(Kelly Tobin O'Donnell - Masters Thesis USD 1995)

Andrew Cassidy

Andrew Cassidy arrived in San Diego in 1853, at the age of thirty six, and lived there longer than mostAndrew Cassidyof the other men of his period. (73) Born in 1817 in County Cavan, Ireland, (74) Cassidy emigrated to the United States in 1834 at the age of seventeen. (75)

Given his future successes, it is doubtful that he arrived as one of the “ghastly specters” described on the emigrant ships. He more than likely left Ireland to seek adventure and opportunity rather than to flee the oppression and poverty which dominated his homeland.

Although research uncovered little about his life between the years 1834 and 1850, it is evident that young Cassidy received a quality education during his early years in the United States. Around 1850, he found employment at West Point in the Engineering Corps. Three years later, Cassidyentered the employ of the Coast Survey Office in Washington, D.C. (76)

After one year with the Coast Survey Office, Cassidy ventured to the west coast with the Topographical Engineers, led by Lieutenant W. T. Trowbridge. In July, 1853, they reached in San Francisco and by August, arrived in San Diego to establish the tidal gauge at La Playa. (77) When Trowbridge’s company left San Diego, Cassidy remained behind to take charge of the tidal gauge, the first one in Southern California. On September 25, 1853, he officially took over responsibility for the gauge, which set the standard for measuring the ebb and flow of the tide in San Diego, from Mr. Szabo. (78)

Cassidy’s first order of business in his new post was to remove the manual tide gauge used by his predecessor, and erect a self-registering onein a building already prepared by Szabo. In his journal, Cassidy described this building:

"The structure is formed by setting heavy posts on the ground in about fifteen feet of water at high tide and three or four feet at the lowest tide near an old wreck which lies firmly embedded in the sand. The posts were secured to this wreck by heavy iron bolts and secured by cross braces.. .On these posts a small house was put and the box for the float fastened by brackets to one of the upright posts. The bottom of the box reaching to within about three feet of the ground. The tide gauge is a new one and seemed firmly and correctly built." (79)

For seventeen years, Cassidy used this gauge to record the depth of the water and the tides. He left behind nine, 5-inch by 8-inch worn, leather-bound journals in which he recorded his daily observations. They allow a glimpse of Cassidy’s day to day life as he performed his duties at La Playa.

The first journal commenced on July 1, 1853, perhaps left over from Mr. Szabo. Across the top of every neatly documented page the same headings appear: date, barometer, thermometer, wind, rain, clouds, and remarks. (80) The small, precise handwriting indicates a great attention todetail which must have been a necessary quality in order to perform such a task. In addition to his observations and journals, Cassidy also collected specimens of an undetermined nature for the Smithsonian Institution. (81)

In his early San Diego days, Andrew Cassidy lived at La Playa with his Irish housekeeper, Bridget Knowles. (82) As mentioned by Judge Benjamin Hayes, an early pioneer and diarist of Southern California, life at La Playa somewhat lacked for amusements. Hayes noted that after five years in charge of the tidal gauge, Cassidy did nothing “save watch the ebb and flow of the tide. [Cassidy] says he is very lonesome; he applied for five months leave of absence". (83) In Cassidy’s time, according to Hayes, La Playa only had about four or five inhabitants, and only the arrival of a landing boat from a ship, or the sight of a whale brought in, varied the monotony of their lives. Hayes depicts Cassidy’s life as very routine, stating that:

"almost every day... [he] would draw rein on the same gray nag at the door of Frank Ames; come to the saloon, finish a game of billiards, take a drink, then a smoke, pass the time of day with a little cheerful conversation, and before sunset return to the solitude of [his] home at the Playa. Thus, all year round." (84) his tide gauge responsibilities Cassidy escaped the solitude of La Playa, when he moved to Old Town after his marriage in 1863. His first wife, Rosa Serrano, daughter of José Antonio Serrano (85) and Rafaela Nieves Aquilar, was only fifteen years old when she married the Irishman. She died, however, on February 11, 1870 at the age of twenty-one. (86) Her tombstone, located in El Campo Santo Cemetery, bears the inscription: “Sacred to the Memory of Rosa Serrano de Cassidy.”

Cassidy’s second wife, Mary Providencia Smith, was born in 1858 to Albert Benjamin Smith, (87) a Mexican-American War hero, and Gaudalupe Machado. In 1877, Andrew and Mary had one child, a daughter, Mary Winifred Cassidy. (88)

Andrew’s wife, however, soon fell ill. Albert H. Smith, Mary’s brother, mentions in his memoirs that Mrs. Winifred McCoy, wife of fellow Irishman James McCoy, took Mary to the McCoy home in Old Town to care for her. (89) On September 16, 1878, Mary Smith Cassidy, just twenty years old, died of cholera. (90) No records indicate whether the widower married for a third time. It is possible that he lived the rest of his lifeconcerned with his business affairs and his daughter’s well-being. (91)

Those business affairs reached beyond the duties of the tidal gauge. Although he served as tide gauge keeper in San Diego for sixteen years, Cassidy found time to pursue other interests. In 1864, he acquired one thousand acres of the common lands of Soledad Valley, perhaps with the thought of raising a family there with his wife Rosa. Under both Spain and Mexico, these fertile lands supplied Old Town with grain (92) A beautiful, verdant pasture land, Miguel Costanso described it in 1769:

"In parts it is probably more than 2000 yards wide; it is entirely covered with pasture and some groves of trees and has much water collected in the pools. All the country was rich in pasture and not rough.. .The country was composed of hills of moderate height sloping into various canyons, all of which ran down to the sea.." (93)

The rolling green hills and valley pastures of the valley resemble those of the Emerald Isle. Undoubtedly, the similarities between the ranchland and the country of his birth were not lost on Andrew Cassidy.

In this fertile land, which probably remained unchanged in the 100 years before he arrived, the Irishman raised livestock and cultivated figs, pears, olives and pomegranates until 1887 when he sold the ranch. (94) During the years which overlapped his responsibilities at the tide gauge in La Playa, Cassidy hired his brother-in-law, Albert H. Smith to run the ranch. Smith lived on the ranch for approximately six years, and while there, took care of the stock (95) In the early days at the ranch, Cassidy and his family inhabited the Bonifacio Lopez adobe house. After his marriage to Mary Smith, however, Andrew constructed his own home.

Charles Kelly, Old Town resident during that time, claimed in his memoirs that he once went out to the ranch to stay with Cassidy for an unspecified length of time. While there, the Irishman showed him how to eat pomegranates. (96) During Cassidy’s ownership, news of the ranch appeared in the San Diego Union on several occasions. In one instance, on August 18, 1878, and unknown perpetrator set fire to the grain stacks. Before the fire could be extinguished, Cassidy lost 1,500 sacks of grain. (97)

Cassidy rented his ranch lands on several occasions. In February, 1882, sheep herders and their flocks enjoyed the 2-3 inch tall grass which covered the ranch lands. (98) That same year, a Colonel Bayley and his family leased the ranch from Cassidy for six months. This may have been during the Irishman’s three month journey by steamer to the Eastern States. It had been his first trip back East in 30 years. (99)

Concurrent with his tide gauge duties, Cassidy served as a member of the Grand Jury. Selected for the June, 1857 term, Cassidy, along with Thomas Whaley, foreman, and fellow Irishman, George Lyons, fulfilled his civic duty. One petition submitted by the Grand Jury requested the rigid enforcement of laws which concerned drunkenness, carrying deadly weapons and selling liquor to Indians. (100)

Three years later, on June 4, 1860, Henry Hancock, Collector of the Port of San Diego, appointed Andrew Cassidy as Deputy Collector of Customs of the District of San Diego. Re-appointed the following year, Cassidy then served under Joshua Sloane, (101) an eccentric Irishman who also lived in San Diego. (102)

In 1869, Andrew Cassidy retired from his position of Tide Gauge Keeper. (103) Although he left a legacy for San Diego in that post, he moved on to pursue other interests and further contribute to the good of his community. Despite the untimely death of his first wife that same year, Cassidy endured and went on to fill several significant posts in San Diego.

His first civic position following retirement came in June, 1869. Cassidy received an appointment to a committee of citizens organized to make the necessary arrangements for Old Town’s July Fourth celebration. At a June 26, 1869 meeting held in Franklin’s Hall, Cassidy, along with fellow Irishman, James McCoy, became a member of the Committee of Arrangements.

The committee decided to celebrate the ninety-third anniversary of American independence with an excursion and a picnic in Rose’s Canyon, (104) one mile east of the Los Angeles stage road. They also opted for a prayer, music by the choir, a recitation of the Declaration of Independence, refreshments and a dance to conclude the festivities. (105)

Like many Irishmen on the East Coast, Andrew Cassidy entered the sphere of Democratic politics. On August 4, 1871, the first day of the Democratic County Convention, held at the San Diego Courthouse, the convention members nominated Cassidy for Supervisor of the Third District. In the September election, Cassidy defeated his Republican opponent 70 to 39. (106) On August 7, 1873, convention members once again nominated Cassidy for Third District Supervisor. In the September 3, 1873 election, Cassidy found himself victorious, this time by a margin of 131-68. (107)

Throughout his life in San Diego, Cassidy’s financial success steadily increased, as evidenced by tax returns, assessments and other availablefinancial records. On his 1855 tax return, Cassidy claimed only one horse worth $25 (perhaps the “grey nag” referred to by Judge Hayes) and cash in the amount of $1,000. (108) By 1858, his tax return indicated a slow but steady increase - he claimed a horse and buggy worth $300, county script in the amount of $270, and $875 in cash. (109)

In the 1860s Cassidy’s assessments began to include ranch lands. Sometime between the 1863 and 1864 assessments, Cassidy acquired the Pauma Rancho in San Luis Rey. (110) This may have been part of a marriage agreement with his bride’s father, José Antonio Serrano, who owned the ranch prior to Andrew Cassidy. (111) 1869 appeared to be a very successful year for the Irishman. His assessment totaled $6,441 and included $2,300 in property and 300 wild cattle. (112)

The next available financial records from the 1870s and l880s continue the story of a successful man. In 1871, Cassidy paid $160.75 in state and county taxes, based on an assessment of 960 acres of land and $4,444 of personal property. (113) In 1873, however, he only paid $99.50 in state and county taxes, based on 950 acres of property and $2,340 in personal property. (114)

City tax receipts tell a similar story to the county and state tax records. The 1880 city tax records indicated that Cassidy’s land, valued at $2,580, had increased to 1,114.5 acres. For that assessment, Cassidy paid $12.90 in city taxes. (115)

The amount of money Cassidy spent on luxury goods further indicates his wealth. A receipt dated October 12, 1876 from Barrett and Sherwood, jewelers and watchmakers located at 517 Montgomery Street in San Francisco, shows that he spent $621.50 on various jewelry as follows:

pearl set$52.50

bracelets 85.00

guard chain 60.00

cuff pins 20.00

sleeve buttons 9.00

shirt studs 5.00

gold watch 175.00

vest chain 40.00

diamond ring 175.00 (116)

Although these items may have been a one-time purchase, the receipt still gives a good indication of Andrew Cassidy’s prosperity.

Cassidy’s property interests expanded beyond the Soledad acres he purchased in 1864. The same year as the Soledad purchase, Cassidy owned two lots in Old Town. In his 1864 assessment, he claimed part of lot 3, in block 408, situated on Washington Square at Fitch Street, and lot 4, in block 410, located on the corner of Washington and Juan Streets. (117) The former lot was near the residence of fellow Irishman, James McCoy. José Antonio Serrano, lived in close proximity to Block 410. Possibly the Cassidy's lived here to be close to Rosa’s family. The assessment valued these (118) two lots at $1,050.00. Cassidy also applied to lease some Pueblo lots in June, 1884. The City Board of Trustees reviewed his request and pended it until July. (118)

By all indications, Andrew Cassidy established himself as a well-respected citizen of Old Town. San Diego became his home and he was an integral member of the community. He was apparently thought of as a kind, generous man. In a letter datedOctober 11, 1882, a Mrs. T. F. Squires of San Francisco implores Cassidy to use his influence to assist her husband in finding employment in San Diego. Cassidy and Mrs. Squires were fellow passengers on a trip prior to her marriage, and he left such an impression on her that she felt compelled to write:

"knowing from my short.. .acquaintance with you that you are kind and good, I thought that you might interest yourself in our behalf, and assure you that we would prove...worthy of anything you could do on our behalf." (119)

When Andrew Cassidy died on November 25, 1907 from “senile debility,” he had resided in San Diego for fifty-four years. (120) He lived “a long life of usefulness in a humble, kindly, loveable way.” (121) His quiet legacy remains in the form of “Cassidy Street” (122) in Oceanside, California, and a historic marker which indicates the site of the first tide gauge.

Andrew Cassidy’s life is not representative of what became of his fellow countrymen on the East Coast, however. As evidenced byhisaccomplishments in San Diego, Andrew managed to overcome whatever obstacles which surfaced. Respected by his fellow San Diegans, he became an integral member of the community, unhindered by his heritage or religion.

Success may have favored Cassidy even had he remained on the East Coast. However, when he arrived in San Diego, opportunity abounded. Land ownership and public office probably would have eluded Cassidy in the congested Eastern cities. Between the “society families” and Anglo prejudice found in the East, the potential for success there remains questionable.

The result of Andrew Cassidy’s success in San Diego is two-fold. It reflects the immense opportunities available in Southern California to achieve personal wealth and stature in the community. More important, however, are the durable contributions Cassidy made to the development of his adopted city.

Interview with Michael Normandin, Oceanside Historical Society, December 2, 1994.


(73)  McGrew, City of San Diego p. 88.

(74)  County Cavan is situate in the Irish Republic near the border of Northern Ireland.

(75)  Death Certificate 7-028068, reel 3, San Diego County Administration Building

(76)  William E. Smythe, History of San Diego 1542—1908 (New York: Penguin Books, 1962) p. 267.

(77)  Once the site of the Mexican customs houses, La Playa is located on the San Diego Bay side of Point Loma. Here, the Boston clippers also built their hide houses and the sailors cleaned and cured thousands of cattle hides collected from up and down the coast. By Andrew Cassidy’s arrival, however, La Playa had been laid out as a subdivision but remained largely uninhabited. La Playa vertical file, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

(78)  Andrew Cassidy, “Miscellaneous Notes on the Tide Guage; Tidal and Observations at Sari Diego, Cal. 1853/4,” San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

(79)  Cassidy, “Miscellaneous Notes.” 

(80)  Andrew Cassidy, Meteorological Journals, 1853-1860, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives. 

(81)  Smythe, History  of  San  Diego p. 267; Jerry MacMullen, “They Owe Him a Debt: Andrew Cassidy Conducted the First Tide Studies.” San Diego Union 8 April l962:H2.

(82)  A native of Ireland, perhaps Bridget Knowles traveled from the East Coast with Cassidy.

(83)  Benjamin I. Hayes, Pioneer Notes from the Diaries of Judge Benjamin Hayes.  1849—1875 (Los Angeles, 1929) p. 230.

(84)  Hayes, Pioneer Notes p. 230.

(85)  Jose Antonio Serrano lived in Old Town and became one of its well-known citizens. A superior horseman, Serrano rode in many bullfights and showed off his fast and beautiful riding on a daily basis. He owned hundreds of horses on his Pauma ranch, and taught his sons how to ride. Prior to the American conquest of California, the Mexican government pressed Serrano into service to fight in the war. He survived the Battle of San Pasqual, even though the only weapon he took into battle was his riata. Serrano biographical file, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

(86)  Register of deaths, book Al, p. 14, San Diego County Administration Building. In her “Notes,” Lucy Wentworth recalls that Rosa died on September 10, 1869. The official records contradict this however.

(87)  Albert Smith came to San Diego, before the Mexican American War, from Long Island, New York as a young man and lived at La Playa. A stock raiser, Smith came to know San Diego and its inhabitants very well. During the Mexican American War, when the Mexicans took San Diego back from the Americans, Smith volunteered to spike the Mexican guns at the Presidio for fear they would shell a whaleboat with American refugees in the harbor. Smith succeeded in his mission. Legend has it that Smith raised the American flag in Old Town on July 29, 1846, this claim, however, cannot be substantiated. Grace Monfort, “Few Celebrate Where Many Once Feted San Diego Hero Who Spiked Guns,” San Diego Union, November 14, 1938.

(88)  Smythe, History of San Diego p. 268; Wentworth, “Notes,” p. 10; Cassidy biographical file, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

(89)  Smith Biographical File, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

(90)  Register of deaths, book Al, p. 25, San Diego County Administration Building. 

(91)  Albert H. Smith, Mary Smith Cassidy’s brother, erroneously believed Andrew took Mary as his first wife. Smith may have thought this if Cassidy took a third bride, however no evidence to support this could be located. Smith Biographical File, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

(92)  Smythe, History of San Diego p. 267—8; Pourade, History of San Diego v. 3, p. 261

(93)  Today, the town of Sorrento stands on the site of the Soledad Rancho. Smythe, History of San Diego pp. 267-8; Pourade, History of San Diego v. 3, p. 261.

(94)  Miguel Costanso. Diary excerpt. 15 July 1769.

(95)  Smith Biographical File, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

(96)  Charles Kelly, “Recollections,” 1935, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

(97)  San Diego Union, 20 August 1878, 1:5.

(98)  San Diego Union, 15 February 1882, 3:1.

(99)  San Diego Union, 18 April 1882, 3:1.

(100)  “Report of the Grand Jury for the June Term, 1857,” San Diego Herald, 2:2. 

(101)  For more information on Joshua Sloane, please refer to chapter 7.

(102)  "Appointment of Andrew Cassidy to the post of Deputy Collector of Customs, June 4, 1860” signed by Henry Hancock; “Appointment of Andrew Cassidy to the post of Deputy Collector of Customs, July 8, 1861” signed by Joshua Sloane, Cassidy vertical file, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

(103)  Captain Knapp of San Francisco replaced Andrew Cassidy as Tide Guage Keeper on September 8, 1869. San Diego Union Weekly, September 8, 1869, 3:2. 

(104)  A favorite camping place for travelers to feed and water their horses and rest, the canyon was named for Old Town resident, Louis Rose. Kelly, “Recollections".

(105)  San Diego Union Weekly, June 30, 1869, 3:2.

(106)  San Diego Union, September 21, 1871, 2:4

(107)  San Diego Union, August 9, 1873, 3:3; San Diego  .DLLQII, September 5, 1873, 3:2. 

(108)  Noted from the 1855 tax return, Cassidy vertical file, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

(109)  Noted from the 1858 tax return, Cassidy vertical file, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

(110)  Assessment rolls, June 2, 1863 and July 26, 1864, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

(111)  Pourade, History of San Diego v. 3, p. 262.

(112)  Assessment rolls, July 26, 1869, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives. 

(113)  Noted from the original receipt, December 18, 1871, Cassidy vertical file, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

(114)  Noted from the original receipt, January 4, 1873, Cassidy vertical file, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

(115)  Noted from the original city tax receipts, Cassidy vertical file, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

(116)  Noted from the original receipt, November 12, 1876, Cassidy vertical file, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

(117) 1864 Assessment Rolls, San Diego County, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

(118) San Diego Union, June 29, 1884, 3:4. 

(119)  Mrs. T. F. Squires, Letter to Andrew Cassidy, Oct. 11, 1882, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

(120) Death certificate 7—028068, San Diego County Administration Building.

(121)  McGrew City of San Diego p. 88.

(122)  Cassidy Street first appeared on a January 1887 map of Oceanside. It is more than likely that the developer of South Oceanside, John Chauncy Hayes, named the street for Cassidy due to family ties and Cassidy’s position within the San Diego community. The son of Judge Benjamin Hayes, Chauncy was a step-nephew to Andrew Cassidy. Judge Hayes took Adelaide Serrano, the sister of Andrew’s wife Rosa, as his second wife, thereby uniting the Hayes’ and the Cassidys. When Chauncy developed Oceanside, he named many of the streets for prominent citizens of San Diego, and felt inclined to include his uncle.