Joshua Bean was born c. 1818 in Mason County, Kentucky to Phantly Roy Bean (November 21, 1804 – June 13, 1844) and his wife Anna Gore.
His paternal grandparents were Benjamin Bean and his wife Fernetta Johnston, daughter of Archibald Johnston. Both grandparents were born in Virginia. Bean's brother would later be known as Judge Roy Bean.
Joshua Bean served with future president Zachary Taylor in the Mexican-American War and came to California in 1849. He arrived in San Diego in 1850, where he was a trader and saloon owner.
While in San Diego, Joshua Bean was appointed Major General of the State Militia and served to crush the Antonio Garra revolt in 1851. Later he had a small role in preventing the massacre of John Edward Irvine near Redlands, California.
Joshua Bean served as the last Alcalde of San Diego prior to its incorporation. He was elected mayor in the first election under the charter on June 16, 1850. Bean served as the first U.S. mayor of San Diego and served from 1850 until 1851.
While mayor, Joshua Bean attempted to illegally sell City Hall and city pueblo lands to himself and his drinking buddy Cave Couts. City Hall was eventually recovered.
In 1851 Bean moved to Los Angeles, where he kept a saloon, and store, in Mission San Gabriel, called the Headquarters. He was ambushed and killed, just outside Mission San Gabriel, in 1852 during an argument over a woman.