James Watson Webb

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
James Watson Webb
Webb, between 1855 and 1865
United States Minister to Brazil
In office
October 21, 1861 – May 26, 1869
PresidentAbraham Lincoln
Andrew Johnson
Ulysses S. Grant
Preceded byRichard K. Meade
Succeeded byHenry T. Blow
United States Chargé d'Affaires to Austria
In office
February 6, 1850 – May 8, 1850
PresidentZachary Taylor
Preceded byWilliam H. Stiles
Succeeded byCharles J. McCurdy
Personal details
Born(1802-02-08)February 8, 1802
Claverack, New York, U.S.
DiedJune 7, 1884(1884-06-07) (aged 82)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political partyWhig; Republican
Helen Lispenard Stewart
(m. 1823; died 1848)
Laura Virginia Cram
(m. 1849)
Children13, including Alexander, William, Walter
Parent(s)Samuel Blachley Webb
Catherine Louisa Hogeboom
OccupationDiplomat, newspaper publisher

General James Watson Webb (February 8, 1802 – June 7, 1884) was a United States diplomat, newspaper publisher and a New York politician in the Whig and Republican parties.[1]

Early life[edit]

Webb was born in Claverack, New York to Catherine Louisa (née Hogeboom) Webb (1765–1805) and Gen. Samuel Blachley Webb (1753–1807), a Revolutionary officer of distinction.[2] At age 12, he moved to Cooperstown, New York to live with his brother-in-law and guardian, Judge George Morrell.[1]

He entered the United States Army in August 1819, advanced to the grade of first lieutenant in 1823, and in the following year became assistant commissary of subsistence.[1]


In September 1820, a party led by Lewis Cass, governor of the Michigan Territory, on its return from the exploration of the source waters of the Mississippi River, encountered Lt. Webb and a small group of soldiers at the mouth of the Black River in what is now Port Huron, Michigan. H.R. Schoolcraft, historian of the trip, said Webb and his men were returning to Fort Gratiot, a frontier outpost, with a boat full of freshly harvested watermelon.

In the fall of 1827, he resigned from the army to become a newspaper publisher, purchasing the Morning Courier which he published in the interest of General Jackson.[1] In 1829, he purchased the New York Enquirer, which he consolidated with the Courier under the title of the New York Courier and Enquirer. He remained connected with this paper for more than 30 years. Historian Don C. Seitz wrote of those days:

James Watson Webb, of the horrendous Courier and Enquirer, who was a good deal of what was known in that day as a 'lady-killer' and Beau Brummel, sneered editorially, for example, at Greeley's ill-worn clothes. Just before indulging in this persiflage, Webb had been indicted, convicted and sentenced for acting as a second to Henry Clay in a duel with Tom Marshall. The term of duress was two years in Sing Sing, but Governor William H. Seward pardoned him before he went behind bars, in return for which Webb named one of his sons "William Seward Webb".

In 1834, Webb used the Courier and Enquirer to coin the name of a new political party: the Whigs. Webb had formerly been a supporter of Jackson, but no longer. That same year he recycled or invented extravagant rumors of miscegenation, that the abolitionists had counselled their daughters to marry blacks, and Lewis Tappan had divorced his wife to marry a black woman, and that the Presbyterian minister Henry Ludlow was conducting interracial marriages, which fueled the organized mob violence of New York's anti-abolitionist riots that June.[3]

Diplomatic career[edit]

In 1849, Webb was appointed minister to Austria, but the appointment was not confirmed. In 1851, he was appointed engineer-in-chief for the State of New York with the rank of Brigadier General, but refused to accept the appointment.

In 1861, he was appointed minister to Turkey, but even though it had been confirmed by the United States Senate, he declined. According to biographer Glyndon Van Deusen, "Webb, an inveterate beggar for office, wanted a diplomatic appointment that would be lucrative."[4]

Shortly afterward, Webb was appointed minister to Brazil and served in that position for eight years, resigning when he was accused of extorting a large sum of money from the Brazilian government.[5] He tried to sever US ties with the country without Washington's knowledge. At Paris in 1864, Webb claimed he was instrumental to negotiating a secret treaty with Emperor Napoleon III for the removal of French troops from Mexico.

Abraham Lincoln's biographer, Carl Sandburg, wrote that Webb "believed that Lincoln should have appointed him major general, rating himself a grand strategist, having fought white men in duels and red men in frontier war."[6] In 1869, he resigned the mission to Brazil and returned to live in New York.[7]

Personal life[edit]

On July 1, 1823, Webb was married to Helen Lispenard Stewart (1805–1848).[2] Helen was the daughter of Irish born merchant Alexander L. Stewart and Sarah Amelia (née Lispenard) Stewart (the granddaughter of Leonard Lispenard). Before her death in 1848, they were the parents of:[2]

  • Robert Stewart Webb (1824–1899),[8][9] a publisher who married Mary Van Horne Clarkson (d. 1880) and Frances (née Morgan) Starkweather.(d. 1912).[2]
  • Lispenard Stewart (1825–1828), who died young.[2]
  • Helen Matilda Webb (1827–1896), who married Nathan Denison Morgan (d. 1895).[2]
  • Artemesia Barclay Webb (1829–1830), who died young.[2]
  • Catherine Louisa Webb (1830–1918), who married James Gilchrist Benton (1820–1881)[10] in 1859.[2]
  • Francis Watson Webb (1832–1832), who died young.[2]
  • Watson Webb (1833–1876),[11] the chief of staff to Union Army General Henry Jackson Hunt. He married Mary Parsons of Hartford.[2]
  • Alexander Stewart Webb (1835–1911),[12] who was a noted Civil War general who married Anna Elizabeth Remsen (1837–1912).[2][13]

On November 9, 1849, he married Laura Virginia Cram (1826–1890), the daughter of Jacob and Lydia (née Tucker) Cram.[2] Webb lived for a time at the present-day 7 Pokahoe Drive in Sleepy Hollow, New York, a house that was later owned by John C. Frémont[14] (the house is currently a private residence).[15] Together, they were the parents of:[2]

Webb died in New York City on June 7, 1884, surrounded by his children.[1] Webb was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx.[25][26]

Published works[edit]

Webb published the following:

  • Altowan, or Incidents of Life and Adventure in the Rocky Mountains (1846)
  • Slavery and its Tendencies (1856)
  • National Currency, a pamphlet (1875)


  1. ^ a b c d e "An Old Journalist Dead; Gen. Webb Passes Away Quietly at His Home" (PDF). The New York Times. June 8, 1884. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2018-11-02.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Reynolds, Cuyler (1914). Genealogical and Family History of Southern New York and the Hudson River Valley: A Record of the Achievements of Her People in the Making of a Commonwealth and the Building of a Nation. Lewis Historical Publishing Company. pp. 1454–1459. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  3. ^ Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: a history of New York City to 1898, 1999:556.
  4. ^ Van Deusen, Glyndon Garlock (1967). William Henry Seward. Oxford University Press. p. 272.
  5. ^ Crouthhamel, James L. “JAMES WATSON WEBB: MERCANTILE EDITOR.” New York History, vol. 41, no. 4, 1960, pp. 400–422. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23153652. Accessed 19 Feb. 2020.
  6. ^ Sandburg, Carl (1939). Abraham Lincoln: The War Years. Vol. 2. Harcourt, Brace. p. 35.
  7. ^ "The Case of Gen. Webb.; His Refusal to Answer Certain Interrogatories, Sustained by the Court". The New York Times. February 6, 1876. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  8. ^ a b "H. WALTER WEBB IS VERY ILL.; Brother of Dr. W. Seward Webb Stricken at H. McK. Twombly's Camp on Upper St. Regis Lake". The New York Times. August 25, 1899. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  9. ^ "Robert Stewart Webb Buried". The New York Times. August 28, 1899. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  10. ^ "Obituary | Col. James G. Benson". The New York Times. August 24, 1881. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  11. ^ "Obituary | Captain Watson Webb". New York Daily Herald. December 13, 1876. p. 10. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  12. ^ "GEN. A. S. WEBB DIES.; Officer Who Held the Bloody Angle at Gettysburg Succumbs to Old Age". The New York Times. February 13, 1911. Retrieved 2018-03-05.
  13. ^ Moffat, R. Burnham (1904). The Barclays of New York: Who They Are And Who They Are Not,--And Some Other Barclays. R. G. Cooke & Company. p. 182. Retrieved 2018-03-05.
  14. ^ Denton, Sally (2007). Passion and Principle, John and Jessie Fremont, The Couple whose Power, Politics, and Love Shaped Nineteenth-Century America. Bloomsbury. p. 347. ISBN 978-1-59691-019-5.
  15. ^ Cary, Bill (January 16, 2015). "Historic Sleepy Hollow stone manor, $3.4 million". lohud.com. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  16. ^ "DR. W. SEWARD WEBB DEAD IN VERMONT; Retired New York Capitalist Succumbs at Shelburne in His 76th Year. ONCE A RAILROAD BUILDER Husband of Former Eliza Osgood Vanderbilt Early Forsook Medicine for Finance". The New York Times. October 30, 1926. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  17. ^ "MRS. SEWARD WEBB DEAD IN VERMONT N; Daughter of W. H. Vanderbilt and Widow of Physician and Railroad Financier". The New York Times. July 11, 1936. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  18. ^ "DEATH OF H. WALTER WEBB.; Succumbs Unexpectedly to Heart Disease at Country Home". The New York Times. June 19, 1900. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  19. ^ "H. WALTER WEBB'S WILL.; Sent to Chicago to be Proved -- Guardian for Children Denied". The New York Times. July 19, 1900. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  20. ^ "G. CREIGHTON WEBB. SOLDIER, DIPLOMAT; Member of Noted Family Dies in Home Here at 94--Known as Amateur Musician". The New York Times. March 20, 1948. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  21. ^ Yale University Class of 1880 (1910). A History of the Class of Eighty, Yale College, 1876-1910. Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor, Press. p. 337. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  22. ^ "F. EGERTON WEBB, BANKER, DIES AT 83; Retired President of Lincoln Safe and Deposit Company Crossed Atlantic 72 Times IN SIDEWHEELER AS A BOY In Recent Years Used Plane-Was Son of Envoy to Brazil and Kin of Washington Aide". The New York Times. February 27, 1942. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  23. ^ "DIED. WEBB--Francis Egerton". The New York Times. February 28, 1942. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  24. ^ "DIED. WEBB". The New York Times. February 13, 1962. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  25. ^ "The Funeral of Gen. Webb". The New York Times. June 10, 1884. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  26. ^ "Burial of an Old Journalist.; Funeral Services Over the Late Gen. James Watson Webb". The New York Times. June 11, 1884. Retrieved 2018-05-19.

External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by United States Minister to Brazil
October 21, 1861 – May 26, 1869
Succeeded by