Mr Robert Williams Daniel

Robert Williams Daniel

Robert Williams Daniel was born 11 September 1884 in Richmond, Virginia to James Robertson Vivian and Hallie Wise Daniel (née Williams).  Robert was the great-grand-grandson of Edward Randolph, the first Attorney General of the United States.

Robert graduated from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in 1903 and embarked on a career in banking and management.  He was first employed in the traffic manager’s office of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad.  He then entered the insurance business around 1905, becoming attached to the firm of Williams and Hart.  He would eventually succeed Mr. Williams as district superintendent for the Maryland Life Insurance Company.

In 1906, Robert and a fellow district manager of Maryland Life, Charles Palmer Stearns, formed the insurance firm Daniel and Stearns.  

By 1911, Robert Daniel was working as a banker and living in Philadelphia.  Business would sometimes cause him to go to Europe.  In late 1911 or early 1912, while he was staying at the Carlton Hotel in London, the building caught fire.  Robert managed to save the life of a friend who was also staying there.

Robert Williams Daniel Robert was en route back to Philadelphia with a newly-purchased French bulldog when he boarded the Titanic in Southampton as a first-class passenger on the morning of 10 April 1912.  He survived the tragedy which followed, though the precise manner of his escape remains a controversial matter.  Descriptions varied in the press that followed; in at least one account it was claimed he swam completely nude in the North Atlantic for a number of hours before being picked up by a lifeboat.  It is possible – and much more plausible – that he simply boarded one of the early lifeboats launched from the starboard side of the stricken liner.  His new dog was lost in the sinking.

Robert Daniel, a Philadelphia passenger, told of terrible scenes at this period of the disaster. He said men fought and bit and struck one another like madmen, and exhibited wounds upon his face to prove the assertion. Mr Daniel said that he was picked up naked from the ice-cold water and almost perished from exposure before he was rescued. He and others told how the Titanic's bow was completely torn away by the impact with the berg.

"George D. Widener and Harry Elkins Widener were among those who jumped at the last minute. So did Robert Williams Daniel. The three of them went down together. Daniel struck out, lashing the water with his arms until he had made a point far distant from the sinking monster of the sea. Later he was picked up by one of the passing life-boats.

Sometime during the remainder of the crossing spent aboard the rescue-ship Carpathia, Robert befriended the eighteen-year-old widow Eloise Hughes Smith of Huntington, West Virginia, whose husband of two months had died in the sinking.  At Pier 54 in New York, he reportedly carried the young widow down the gangway and handed her over to her father, Congressman James Anthony Hughes.

Robert and Eloise would continue to meet on occasion.  The two Titanic survivors would ultimately marry on 18 August 1914.  Eloise asked for and was granted a divorce from him in March 1923, citing an “unknown blonde woman” in her claim.

Robert Daniel would go on to marry Margery Pitt Durant later that same year.  Margery was the daughter of automobile king William Durant, who formed General Motors in 1908, created Chevrolet in 1910, and founded the Durant Car Company in 1921.  Robert became president of Liberty National Bank in New York, which was also owned by his father-in-law.  A daughter, also named Margery, was born to the couple around 1925.

Robert and Margery purchased the plantation home Brandon-on-the-James, located along the banks of the James River in Virginia.  The history of the plantation dates back to 1616.  The main house was reportedly designed by Thomas Jefferson.

The marriage eventually deteriorated, and in July 1928, Margery sued for divorce.  The business relationship between Robert and his former father-in-law carried on as usual, with Robert remaining president of the New York branch of Liberty National Bank.

Robert would go on to marry Charlotte Randolph Williams Bemiss in 1929.  She bore him a son, Robert Williams Daniel Jr., on 17 March 1936.

Robert Williams Daniel Sr. would not live to see his son become a successful and well-respected politician.  He succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver on the 20 December 1940.  His first wife, fellow Titanic survivor Eloise Hughes Smith, had preceded him in death that May.  He was interred in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.

Robert Williams Daniel Jr. would go on to graduate from the University of Virginia in 1958.  He worked for a time as a financial analyst, later teaching Economics at the University of Richmond.  He also spent four years working for the Central Intelligence Agency.  Robert Jr. would go on to serve five terms in Congress representing Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District.  He died 4 February 2012 at the age of seventy-five.  He too was laid to rest in Hollywood Cemetery.

Daniels Mausoleum Daniels Mausoleum

Crypt of Robert Williams Daniel in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia.
(Courtesy of Brandon Whited)



Robert Williams Daniel at a political meeting
State Senator Robert Williams Daniel
Daily Press (VA)  (1940) 
Robert Williams Daniel in 1937
The Bee, (VA)  (1937) 
Robert W. Daniel passport picture 1916
Robert Daniel
Robert W. Daniel
Pittston Gazette  (1912) 
Robert Williams Daniel

Articles and Stories

New York Times (1940) 
New York Times (1929) 
Thomasville Times-Enterprise (1928) 
New York Times (1923) 
New York Times (1923) 
Philadelphia Record (1915) 
Evening Ledger (Philadelphia) (1915) 
New York Herald (1914) 
New-York Tribune (1912) 
New York Times (1912) 
Washington Times (1912) 
New York Times (1912) 
The Times (1912) 
Worcester Evening Gazette (1912) 
Washington Times (1912) 
Washington Times (1912) 
New York Herald (1912) 

Comment and discuss

Lucian Philip Smith (10 posts)
Robert Williams Daniel (7 posts)
Mrs Eloise Hughes Smith (4 posts)
Mrs Lucian P Smith (4 posts)
Eloise Smith/Robert Daniel (2 posts)


Peter Engberg-Klarström, Sweden
Phillip Gowan, USA
Brandon Whited, USA
Tim Williams

References and Sources

Commonwealth of Virginia Certificate of Death
Unidentified Newspaper (Richmond, Virginia), 21 December 1940, Obituary
Contract Ticket List, White Star Line 1912 (National Archives, New York; NRAN-21-SDNYCIVCAS-55[279]).
Walter Lord (1986) The Night Lives On: Thoughts, Theories and Revelations about the Titanic. London, Penguin. ISBN 0 140 27900 8
Logan Marshall (1912) The Sinking of the Titanic and Great Sea Disasters
The Insurance Times
, Volume 39, February 1906
The Insurance Times, Volume 39, October 1906
The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 6 November 1914
University of Virginia Alumni News, Volume III, Number 5, 11 November 1914
The Philadelphia Record, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 9 May 1915
Charleston Daily Mail, Charleston, West Virginia, 21 March 1923
Thomasville Times Enterprise, Thomasville, Georgia, 16 July 1928
Virginia Plantation Homes, David King Gleason, 1989, Louisiana State University Press
The Huntington Quarterly, Issue 29, Autumn 1997
The Progress-Index, Petersburg, Virginia, 10 February 2012
Descendants of Robert Williams Daniel via
Descendants of Margery Pitt Durant via
Search archive British and Irish newspapers online

Link and cite this biography

Encyclopedia Titanica (2015) Robert Williams Daniel (ref: #88, last updated: 25th July 2015, accessed 11th April 2021 23:01:39 PM)

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