"From Shamrocks to Serapes"
(Kelly Tobin O'Donnell - Masters Thesis USD 1995)
Joshua Sloane, perhaps one of the most colorful characters in San Diego history was born in Ireland in
1814. Although research has not uncovered the date of his arrival in the United States, he arrived in San Diego sometime in the early 1850s.Described as a small Irishman, he had an “open face, light brown hair and sideburns that ended in chin whiskers. Possessed of one ‘wall’ eye, the other was sparkling blue.”Reportedly from a good Irish family, Sloane earned his livelihood through various pursuits in San Diego.
One of the eccentric Irishman’s first positions in San Diego was that of schoolteacher. On January 26, 1856, Sloane began his short-lived but well-known teaching career at the school house on the plaza in Old Town.The School Board expelled Sloaneon March 1,1856, however, "due to his questionable disciplinary measures". In one of his methods, Sloane removed his shoe and held the misbehaving student’s nose up to his “fetid stocking ”. In order to terminate him, the school board charged him with brutality.
Despite this early negative notoriety, Sloane did contribute to the well—being of his community. One of his most noted contributions was a windmill Sloane owned, located on the summit of the Old Mission grounds. John Judson Ames,writer and editor for theSan Diego Herald
, took special note of the location of Sloane’s windmill in 1859:
"On this elevation and beautiful spot, commanding as it does a fine view of Mission Valley, the plateau below, False Bay, the City full and our magnificent harbor-a sight at once picturesque and grand-the wind sweeps in graceful currents and fitful gusts from ten to twelve hours out of twenty-four each day and night, affording motive power sufficient for grinding purposes."
In the center of the mill rose a shaft forty feet high and twenty inches in diameter. To the shaft six wings, twenty feet long by nine inches wide, were attached. The mill also had a French burr stone and superior bolting cloth.
Originally built by an engineer from Texas in 1857 or 1858, the mill manufactured flour-superfine, fine and middling - of an excellent quality, as well as shorts and bran. As no other flour mills operated within 75 to 100 miles of Joshua Sloane’s, the property it sat on could be considered quite valuable.In February, 1859, a severe storm blew three wings off of the windmill, but Sloane repaired it and within a week the mill produced its excellent flour once more.
In early April 1859, Sloane sold his windmill to Mssrs. Ware and Parks for $900. The San Diego Herald claimed that the value of the mill was actually three times greater than the amount accepted by Sloane. The Herald supposed that with the addition of an Archimidean Lever the mill could grind all of the wheat in San Diego County.
In the Irish-American tradition, Sloane entered the realm of civil service. In the fall of 1857, Sloane received an appointment as Deputy County Treasurer in the absence of Judge Morse to Baja California. Despite Sloane’s errorinjudgement as a schoolteacher, the San Diego Herald called the selection “a judicious one.”Perhaps the citizens of San Diego forgave him the early mistake he made as a teacher.
Sloane moved further into public office when he received an appointment as Deputy Postmaster and, in 1859, Sloane moved into the position of Postmaster.Near the expiration of his term, the citizens of San Diego, who almost unanimously opposed Sloane’s politics, signed a protest against his reappointment. When the letter arrived at the post office, a curious Sloane opened it and read the contents. Promptly, he cut off the remonstrance, wrote a petition for his reappointment on a similar piece of paper, pasted the original signatures back on it, and forwarded it in a new envelope! When Sloane received the reappointment, a perplexed San Diego community could only wonder about the outcome of their practically unanimous petitionagainsthim.
Sloane’s politics, however disliked by his fellow San Diegans, would win him another appointment in San Diego’s public offices. In the 1856 Presidential election, Sloane backed the Republican Party. Despite the predominance of Democrats in San Diego, Sloane supported Republican dedication to stop the extension of slavery into the territories.To further his cause, Sloane called for a Republican rally in San Diego. Only two participants showed up.Sloane and his dog Patrick. Sloane promptly wrote to the Republican Party National Headquarters and announced that he had been unanimously chosen as party chairman in San Diego and that “Mr. Patrick” had been chosen as secretary.
After the election of Abraham Lincoln, the Republican-led government wanted to show its appreciation for Sloane’s efforts. He received an appointment as Collector of Customs of San Diego from 1861 to 1862, at a salary of $75 per month. Legend has it that Sloane actually appointed “Mr. Patrick (his dog) as Deputy Collector and put him on the payroll.” Original public records indicate, however, that Andrew Cassidy served as Deputy Collector of Customs for that year.
Old Joshua could not avoid trouble even in this post, however. One story relates that Sloane would peep at disembarking females through binoculars while he allowed his “Deputy"Patrick, to inspect cargo for loose pork chops.
Disapproving citizens noticed Sloane’s behavior and suggested that he court one of the elderly widows in town. To this advice, Sloane reportedly replied, “Rather kiss a rat trap than an old woman".
Although his actions indicate an outspoken personality, Sloane, in reality was a shy man. He lived in boarding houses and preferred the company of cats and dogs to that of humans. When he drank, however, he found “Dutch” courage and voiced his strong convictions.This is perhaps why most information available on his life is replete with such colorful anecdotes.
Possibly the most durable contribution Sloane made to the development of San Diego was his involvement with the creation of Balboa Park, San Diego’s crown jewel. Perhaps one of the oldest tracts of land in the United States set aside for recreational usage, the site of Balboa park represents Sloane’s determination that land be set aside as a public park. In 1789, King Charles of Spain designated the site as “commercial land held for the people, in common, for pasturage or for recreational purposes.” Although incorporated under the first state legislature in 1851, the citizens of San Diego did not request that the pueblo lands, which comprised the future park, be set aside for that purpose until1868.
On February 15, 1868, Ephraim Morse presented a resolution to the Board of Trustees of San Diego, of which Sloane was the secretary, to reserve two, one hundred and sixty acre tracts of city lands for the purpose of creating a park for the residents of San Diego. The city set aside 1,400 acres for a park largely because Sloane’s adamant insistence that the park be formed. A tireless advocate of the resolution, Sloane urged Morse’s idea upon the Trustees until they allowed him to have his way. As the debate ensued, Sloane reportedly said: “They want to cut up the park, but I’m damned if they shall do it!”
In addition to public office and his windmill, Sloane dabbled in trade. Although unclear whether he owned ranch land and raised sheep, or if he simply became interested in the trade, it is evident that he had some dealings in the sheep business. A November 7, 1868 article in the.aanDiego Union
reported that Sloane had made the heaviest shipment ever recorded from the port of San Diego. He shipped between $6000-$8000 worth of sheeps’ wool, goat hides and tallow to an R. A. Raimond of San Francisco.
Financial records for Sloane indicate that he probably lived a moderately comfortable life. Most of the available assessment rolls for Sloane include only personal property and some cash on hand. In 1858, however, he was assessed on quite a few lots in both Old Town and La Playa. Perhaps he rented or leased these to tenants. The lots do not appear again on later records, however.
To the end, Joshua Sloane was an Irishman marked by eccentricities, a gift for "blarney" and an affinity for alcohol. Reportedly, in his declining years, Sloane had the audacity to talk back to a minister he met on the street. According to the story, Sloane meandered his way home one night in an inebriated state when a minister inquired what he would do if“..the Lord called for [him] now.” Sloane purportedly thought for a moment before he replied, “I don’t think I’d go.”
Sloane’s time did come when, on January 6, 1879, he died, still a bachelor. The question of his estate continued until May 13, 1882, when it was ordered to be sold at auction. On June 20, 1882, Patrick O’Neill of Old Town purchased approximately 30 city lots and 800 acres of Pueblo land of Sloane s estate. Deputy Sheriff Christian served as auctioneer and even though bidding was slow, the real estate sold for a fair price.
Joshua Sloane’s most lasting contributions to San Diego include his efforts to set aside the park lands and the colorful anecdotes about his life. These may not be of the same civic significance as James McCoy’s or George Lyons’ contributions, but Sloane’s actions made an impact on the history of San Diego.
The anecdotes about his eccentric behavior reflect a disapproving acceptance of Sloane by his fellow San Diegans. They must have tolerated him nonetheless, for there is little evidence in the newspapers or public records that the citizenry disliked him on a large scale.
As with the other immigrants, San Diegans accepted Sloane and allowed him to pursue the opportunities available to succeed.