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)

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 Ancestry.com
Descendants of Margery Pitt Durant via Ancestry.com
 

Research Articles

Randy Bryan Bigham, Richard Edwards and Brandon Whited Titanica! (2021) A Titanic Mystery: Exploring the Escape of Robert W. Daniel
The rescue of one of the Titanic disaster's most prominent first-class survivors

Newspaper Articles

Worcester Evening Gazette (19 April 1912) Gazette Staff Man On Carpathia's Pier
Report describes Carpathia arrival.
Washington Times (19 April 1912) J. J. ASTOR ACTED BRAVELY, DECLARE MANY WHO SAW HIM
Col. John Jacob Astor kissed his bride good-by as he placed her in the waiting lifeboat.
New York Herald (19 April 1912) Lady Duff Gordon Saw Men Shot by Captain Smith
A man made a rush to get aboard and was shot.
Washington Times (19 April 1912) WIDENER WAS HEROIC TO END, SAYS FRIEND
Traction Magnate Kissed Wife Good-By, Then Went Back To Die
New York Times (20 April 1912) MRS. ASTOR IS ILL, BUT NOT CRITICALLY
No alarm felt by relatives and friends
The Times (20 April 1912) OTHER STATEMENTS BY SURVIVORS
Washington Times (22 April 1912) SURVIVOR TELLS OF THE HEROISM OF CLARENCE MOORE
Banker Went to His Death Like a Man
New York Times (23 April 1912) GIRL SURVIVOR HAS PRAISE FOR ISMAY
Forced her into a lifeboat
New-York Tribune (8 December 1912) CAME TO SEE COL. GRACIE
Survivor Learns of Friend's Death on Landing
New York Herald (27 October 1914) Titanic Survivors Keep Their Wedding Quiet
News of the wedding created surprise in social circles
(8 May 1915) PHILADELPHIANS WILL BRAVE OCEAN TRIP
Two of those determined to risk the danger of a voyage are survivors of the Titanic disaster
Philadelphia Record (9 May 1915) OTHERS SAIL FOR EUROPE
Philadelphians Leave on American and French liners.
New York Times (11 April 1923) Mrs. Eloise Hughes Smith Reweds
Prominent in Washington society
New York Times (7 December 1923) R. W. DANIEL WED TO MRS. CAMPBELL
Spend honeymoon in Atlantic City.
Thomasville Times-Enterprise (16 July 1928) Durant's Daughter in Nevada
In Nevada with the intention of suing for a divorce
New York Times (11 October 1929) R. W. DANIEL MARRIES MRS. C. B. CHRISTIAN
Third Wife Distant Relative in Virginia
New York Times (21 December 1940) ROBERT W. DANIEL, EX-BANKER HERE, 56
Was Survivor of the Titanic

Images

Robert Williams Daniel
Pittston Gazette (1912) Robert W. Daniel
(1915) Robert Daniel
(1916) Robert W. Daniel passport picture 1916
(1937) Robert Williams Daniel in 1937
(1940) Robert Williams Daniel at a political meeting
(1940) State Senator Robert Williams Daniel

Documents and Certificates

(1940) Robert Williams Daniel (Death Certificate)
Search archive online

Comment and discuss

  1. Patrick Fulton said:

    Does anyone know the real story of what happened to first-class passenger Robert Williams Daniel during the sinking? He talked to the press a great deal after the disaster, and he spun a fantastic tale that is, quite frankly, full of holes. I've been working from the New York Times and Washington Times articles on this site, as well as records from the Virginia Historical Society: ... Read full post

  2. John O'Malley said:

    Robert Daniel has been the most difficult to me in terms of lifeboat placement in my research. Apart from what you said, he also gave other accounts. In two, he claims to have been on the overturned boat with Jack Thayer, and that they were rescued by 2 lifeboats at dawn. In one, he claims to have been picked up clinging to a chunk of ice by a boat which had come back to search for survivors, and which was in command of an officer who earlier during the sinking he had seen firing warning shots at a group of men who tried to board the boat, before stepping into the boat himself. The latter... Read full post

  3. avatar

    Mike Poirier said:

    The one problem with Williams account is he wrote about the dog later in life... The shock of being in the water and the pitch black dark... He may have seen a dog, but with what the cold did to his brain, it's hard to describe an actual dog... Or Daniel may have brought him on deck before he got in boat 3. He may have seen that there was no letting a decent size dog in and chose his life.

  4. Ioannis Georgiou said:

    I see several more problems. Jack Thayer never mentioned him in his 1912 report and as far as I know he also did not mentioned him in the 1940s. (Interesting how the conclusion was made he was referring to Daniel even it does not really match.) Dillon is another problem. If he really saw him why no mention in his 1912 reports or even 1912 BOT testimony? In complete dark at the poop he was able to make out Daniel? Very strange... Remembers me somehow to the reports of steward Whiteley who gave three different reports to the press about the events of the sinking.

  5. John O'Malley said:

    The mention of Daniel by Jack Thayer comes from his 1940 memoirs "Sinking of the SS Titanic." While he and Milton Long are waiting by Collapsible C, Thayer describes: "I did see one man come through the door out onto the deck with a full bottle of Gordon Gin. He put it to his mouth and practically drained it. If ever I get out of this alive, I thought, there is one man I will never see again. He apparently fought his way into one of the last two boats, for he was one of the first men I recognized upon reaching the deck of the S.S. "Carpathia." Someone told me afterwards that he was a State... Read full post

  6. avatar

    Mike Poirier said:

    Also, Thayer doesn't give the time frame of seeing Mr. Daniels... If he had said, "all the boats are gone and as I looked around I saw a man drain a bottle of gin." But he worded it in a way that it seems like an after thought.

  7. Daniel Klistorner said:

    John The problem I have with the dogs is that Daniel said he went below to release them. While I think we can be fairly confident that the kennels were indeed located below on F Deck, I can account for most of the known dogs actually staying in the staterooms with their owners — including Astor's airedale and Daniel’s own bulldog. As far as I can tell, the only animal occupants of the kennels were Marie Young’s prized chickens! I don’t have Rosenbaum’s accounts with me, but from memory, she merely mentioned seeing the dog while visiting Daniel in his stateroom, apparently... Read full post

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Credits

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

Link and cite this biography

Encyclopedia Titanica (2015) Robert Williams Daniel (ref: #88, last updated: 25th July 2015, accessed 31st July 2021 19:38:42 PM)
URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/robert-williams-daniel.html

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