Carlile Pollock Patterson

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Carlile Pollock Patterson

Birthdate: (64)
Death: August 15, 1881 (64)
Immediate Family:

Son of Captain Daniel Todd Patterson (USN) and Georgianna Patterson
Husband of Elizabeth Patterson
Father of Harriet Livingston Winslow
Brother of Rear Admiral Thomas H. Patterson (USN) and Eliza Catherine Bache

Managed by: Private User
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About Carlile Pollock Patterson

Carlile Pollock Patterson (August 24, 1816 – August 15, 1881) was the fourth superintendent of the United States Coast Survey. He was born in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, the son of Commodore Daniel Todd Patterson. He was appointed a midshipman in the United States Navy in 1830. He studied Civil Engineering at Georgetown College in Kentucky, graduating in 1838, and returned to the Navy, assigned to work with the Coast Survey. He left the Navy in 1853 and captained mail steamers in the Pacific Ocean. In 1861, as a civilian, he was appointed as Hydrographic Inspector of the Coast Survey. In 1874, he was made Superintendent of the Coast Survey (and then the successor United States Coast and Geodetic Survey), a position he held until his death.


Patterson was born in Shieldsboro (now Bay St. Louis, Mississippi), the son of Captain Daniel Patterson, and the brother of Admiral Thomas H. Patterson and of George Ann Patterson who married Admiral David Dixon Porter.

Navy service

Patterson was appointed midshipman in 1830 and served in the Mediterranean Sea. He graduated from Georgetown College as a civil engineer in 1838, and was attached to the Coast Survey from 1838–1841. In 1839 he was an officer of the Coast Survey brig Washington when it captured the Spanish slave ship La Amistad, which the slaves had taken over, off Montauk, New York. (This incident became the subject of the film Amistad). Patterson then led a hydrographic expedition to the Gulf of Mexico in 1845.

Steamer captain

Leaving Naval service for the commercial world, he commanded steamers of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, such as the Oregon and the Golden Gate from 1849 to about 1853, primarily running between the West Coast of Panama and San Francisco. His ships sometimes carried as many as a thousand gold-seeking men per voyage north during the California Gold Rush. He appears frequently as ship-captain in the reports of the newspaper The Daily Alta California. When California was made a state by Act of Congress, it was Patterson who brought the news to San Francisco, arriving on October 18, 1850, resulting in city-wide celebrations lasting well into the night.

Shortly after this, Patterson moved his wife, Elizabeth Pearson Patterson (daughter of Congressman Joseph Pearson of North Carolina) and child from Washington, D.C., to Oakland. With James B. LaRue and John R. Fouratt he sought to found one of the first ferry services across San Francisco Bay, fighting all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to win the right to provide service against a competitor. It is unclear, however, if he and his partners actually started a separate ferry line, and if so, how long it operated before being sold to another operator or shut down. He also engaged in real estate investments in San Francisco and San Diego. Several more children were born during this time in the Bay Area.

Civil War

In 1861, on the outbreak of the Civil War, the family returned to Washington, D.C. and Patterson returned to federal service, this time as a civilian hydrographic inspector in the Coast Survey, preparing charts and other material to aid Naval ships execute the blockade of Southern ports (the strategy known as the "Anaconda Plan"). He remained in that service after the war, eventually becoming superintendent of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1874.

Friendship with President Grant

Patterson first met Ulysses S. Grant in mid-1852, when Grant was taking a detachment of troops across Panama for eventual posting in Oregon, and Patterson commanded the steamer that took most of Grant's troops north to San Francisco. It was during that posting in Oregon that Grant eventually, in 1854, decided to resign from the Army. During the Civil War, Grant coordinated with Patterson's brother-in-law, David Dixon Porter, in the Vicksburg Campaign, and may have met Patterson's brother, Thomas H. Patterson, who was a naval officer fighting in the Civil War. As a result of these pre-war and wartime connections, the Pattersons were well-known to Grant and other leading Union officers. From 1861 through the 1880s, the Pattersons occupied the Brentwood Mansion, designed by Benjamin Latrobe and inherited by Patterson's wife, in Brentwood, Washington, D.C., (since demolished), and it became a social center during the administration of President Grant.

Patterson was one of the early members of Washington's Metropolitan Club, which included numerous Union generals, admirals, and other officers. A large oil portrait of Patterson's brother-in-law, David Dixon Porter, hangs in the first-floor lobby (as of 2007). Many of Patterson's papers can be found in the Manuscript Division of the U.S. Library of Congress.

Death and honors

Patterson died in-office in mid-1881. He, along with his wife, mother-in-law, and infant children who died in California, are buried in the Worthington vault of Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington D.C. His father, Commodore Daniel Patterson, and mother, and brother Thomas H. Patterson, are buried at Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C. His sister George Ann and her husband David Dixon Porter are buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

The survey ship USC&GS Carlile P. Patterson, in service from 1884-1919, was named in his honor. The Patterson Glacier, and the Patterson River that runs from it, located south of Juneau, Alaska, near the town of Petersburg, a spectacular valley glacier featured in helicopter tours, are named for him. Patterson Street in northeast Washington, D.C., near his Brentwood estate, may also have been named for him.

A bill for Patterson's widow

On June 6, 1884, three years after Patterson's death, Congress enacted a private bill, House bill No. 4689, entitled "An act for the relief of Eliza W. Patterson", Patterson's widow, excusing accumulated District of Columbia property taxes on the Patterson land, in light of the fact that Patterson had served as Superintendent without taking a salary and had, through inattention, placed the family finances in jeopardy. President Chester A. Arthur neither signed nor vetoed the bill, but held it ten days and allowed it to become law without his signature. In a message dated June 21, 1884, the President explained "I do not question the constitutional right of Congress to pass a law relieving the family of an officer, in view of the services he had rendered his country, from the burdens of taxation, but I submit to Congress that this just gift of the nation to the family of such faithful officer should come from the National Treasury rather than from that of this District, and I therefore recommend that an appropriation be made to reimburse the District for the amount of taxes which would have been due to it had this act not become a law." A portion of this property later became the subject of a lawsuit that reached the Supreme Court, Winslow v. Baltimore & O R Co, 188 U.S. 646 (1903), which includes excerpts of the will by which Mrs. Patterson came into the property on the death of her mother, Catherine Worthington Pearson, in 1868. The suit, which the Patterson family won, involved renewal of a lease of some of the land to a railroad.


In 1881, shortly after Patterson's death, his daughter, Harriet Livingston Patterson, married Lt. Francis Winslow USN, the brother of Rear Admiral Cameron McRae Winslow, a first cousin once removed of Rear Admiral John Ancrum Winslow, and great-uncle of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Robert Lowell. The six children of Harriet Patterson and Francis Winslow included Harriet Winslow, longtime owner of the Georgetown mansion at 3051 Q Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., one of Robert Lowell's favorite relatives, for whom Lowell named his daughter Harriet, about whom he wrote the poem Soft Wood, and whose summer home in Castine, Maine was one of his favorite writing-places. Harriet Winslow was a first-cousin of Lowell's mother Charlotte Winslow, making Lowell Harriet's first cousin once removed. Harriet Winslow, who never married or had children, originally planned to will the Castine house to Lowell, but in light of his recurring mental illness, she changed the will and left the property to Lowell's then-wife, Elizabeth Hardwick, with the intention that Hardwick make the property available to Lowell to use as a writing retreat. Hardwick honored Harriet's intention.

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Carlile Pollock Patterson's Timeline

August 24, 1816
August 15, 1881
Age 64