He was appointed midshipman in 1830, served in the Mediterranean Sea, graduated at Georgetown College as a civil engineer in 1838, was attached to the Coast Survey 1838–1841. In 1839 he was assigned as a young officer to the Coast Survey brig USS Washington (1837) when the Washington found the Spanish slave ship La Amistad, which the slaves had taken over (this incident became the subject of a major motion picture Amistad (1997 film)). C.P. Patterson then led a hydrographic expedition to the Gulf of Mexico in 1845. He was the first son of War of 1812 Naval hero Capt. Daniel Patterson (Daniel Todd Patterson), and brother of Admiral Thomas H. Patterson and of George Ann Patterson who married Civil War Naval hero Admiral David Dixon Porter.
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, summarized on the web on the Maritime Heritage Project at http://www.maritimeheritage.org/log.htm.)
When California was made a state by Act of Congress, it was Patterson who brought the news to San Francisco, arriving October 18, 1850, resulting in city-wide celebrations lasting well into the night. The Maritime Heritage Project presents a vivid description: http://www.maritimeheritage.org/PassLists/or101850.html. As one eyewitness, Sarah Royce, wrote in her book "A Frontier Lady:"
"We were all excitement to hear the result of California’s knock at the door of the Union; and as the day approached when the steamer would bring the decision, many eyes were strained toward Telegraph Hill. At length the signal went up – the Oregon was outside the heads and would soon be in the harbor. As she neared, another signal indicated that she carried flying colors, implying good news, and presently she appeared in sight of those, who like ourselves, overlooked North Beach, gay with streamers and flags of all nations, -- the Stars and Stripes most prominent, and above them, straightened out by the generous wind which seemed to blow a long breath on purpose, floated the longest streamer of all, displaying the words "California Admitted!" The roar of cannon rolled over the waters, and met answering roars from forts and ships."
And the newspaper Alta California reported:
"When, on the 18th instant, the mail steamer Oregon was entering the bay, she fired repeated preconcerted signal guns which warned the citizens of the glorious news. Immediately the whole of the inhabitants were afoot, and grew half wild with excitement until they heard definitely that the tidings were as they had expected. Business of almost every description was instantly suspended, the courts adjourned in the midst of their work, and men rushed from every house into the streets and towards the wharves, to hail the harbinger of the welcome news. When the steamer rounded Clark’s Point and came in front of the city, her masts literally covered with flags and signals, a universal shout arose from ten thousand voices on the wharves, in the streets, upon the hills, house-tops, and the world of shipping in the bay.
"Again and again were huzzas repeated, adding more and more every moment to the intense excitement and unprecedented enthusiasm. Every public place was soon crowded with eager seekers after the particulars of the news, and the first papers issued an hour after the appearance of the Oregon were sold by the newsboys at from one to five dollars each. The enthusiasm increased as the day advanced. Flags of every nation were run up on a thousand masts and peaks and staffs, and a couple of large guns placed upon the plaza were constantly discharged. At night every public thoroughfare was crowded with the rejoicing populace. Almost every large building, all the public saloons and places of amusement were brilliantly illuminated—music from a hundred bands assisted the excitement—numerous balls and parties were hastily got up—bonfires blazed upon the hills, and rockets were incessantly thrown into the air, until the dawn of the following day. Many difficulties had occurred to delay this happy event, and the people had become sick at heart with the “hope deferred” of calling themselves, and of being in reality citizens of the great American Union. It is only necessary to state here, without going into particulars, that the delay had arisen from the jealousy of the proslavery party in Congress, at a time when they and the abolitionists were nicely balanced in number, to admit an additional free State into the Union, whereby so many more votes would be given against the peculiar and obnoxious “domestic institution” of the South. Several compromises had been occasionally attempted to be effected by statesmen of each great party, but without success. In the end, however, the bill for the admission of California passed through Congress by large majorities.
"Such an occasion beyond all others demanded a proper celebration at San Francisco; and the citizens, accordingly, one and all, united to make the day memorable. A procession of the various public bodies and inhabitants of the city, with appropriate banners, devices, music and the like, marched through the principal streets to the plaza. The Chinese turned out in large numbers on this occasion, and formed a striking feature in the ceremonies of the day. The Honorable Nathaniel Bennett, of the Supreme Court, delivered a suitable oration to the people on the plaza, and an ode, composed for the occasion by Mrs. Wills, was sung by a full choir. During the day repeated discharges of fire-arms and a proper salute from great guns carried off some of the popular excitement, while the shipping displayed innumerable flags. In the evening, public bonfires and fireworks were exhibited from Telegraph Hill, Rincon Point, and the islands in the bay. The houses were likewise brilliantly illuminated, and the rejoicings were every where loudly continued during the night. Some five hundred gentlemen and three hundred ladies met at the grandest public ball that had yet been witnessed in the city, and danced and made merry, till daylight, in the pride and joy of their hearts that California was truly now the thirty-first State of the Union."
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. See Minturn v. LaRue, Patterson & Fouratt, 64 U.S. 435 (1860), http://supreme.justia.com/us/64/435/case.html. 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. 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 1874 (US National Geodetic Survey). He died in-office in summer, 1881. In his honor, the US Coast and Geodetic Survey Steamer Patterson, in service 1884 -1919, was named after him (see New York Times story on the launching, Wednesday, January 16, 1884,) and Patterson Street, in Northeast Washington, D.C. near Patterson's Brentwood estate, may also be named for him.
C. P. Patterson first met future Pres. & Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in summer 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, now-Gen. Grant coordinated with C.P. Patterson's brother-in-law, David Dixon Porter, in the Vicksburg Campaign, and may have met C.P. 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 top 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. (Extensive materials on Brentwood Mansion, including a history, architectural plans, photos, and paintings, are on-line in an "album" titled Worthington House & Brentwood Mansion, posted by Patterson descendant Edward Sisson at http://gallery.mac.com/sissoed#gallery. Included is an anecdote about an 1873 reception attended by explorer Henry Morton Stanley, Gen. Wm. T. Sherman, and a young African man, Kalulu, who joined Stanley's famous expedition to find Livingston, and who later died on a subsequent Stanley expedition on the Congo River).
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", C.P. 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), (see http://supreme.justia.com/us/188/646/case.html), 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.
C.P. 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 C.P. Patterson's brother-in-law, David Dixon Porter, hangs in the first-floor lobby (as of 2007). Many of C.P. Patterson's papers can be found in the Manuscript Division of the U.S. Library of Congress. He, along with his wife, mother-in-law, and infant children who died in California, is 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.
In 1881, shortly after C.P. Patterson's death, his daughter, Harriet Livingston Patterson, married Lt. Francis Winslow (II) USN, 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 (II) 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.