Robert Williams Daniel

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For his son, see Robert Daniel.
Robert Williams Daniel
Robert W. Daniel.jpg
Robert W. Daniel, Sr.
Member of the Virginia Senate
from the 6th district
In office
1936 – December 20, 1940
Preceded by W. O. Rogers
Succeeded by Garland Gray
Personal details
Born September 11, 1884
Richmond, Virginia
Died December 20, 1940(1940-12-20) (aged 56)
Richmond, Virginia
Resting place Hollywood Cemetery
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Mrs. Eloise Hughes Smith (1914 – div. 1923)
Mrs. Margery Durant Campbell (1923 – div. 1928)
Mrs. Charlotte Bemiss Christian (1929–1940)
Children Margery Randolph Daniel
Robert Williams Daniel, Jr.
Residence Lower Brandon Plantation, Prince George County, Virginia
Alma mater University of Virginia
Occupation banker, farmer
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1916–1919
Rank Major
Battles/wars World War I

Robert Williams Daniel (September 11, 1884 – December 20, 1940) was an American banker who survived the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912, and later became a gentleman farmer and served in the Virginia Senate.[1]

Early and family life[edit]

Daniel was born on September 11, 1884 in Richmond, Virginia, the son of James Robertson Vivian Daniel, a Richmond lawyer, and Hallie Wise Williams.[2] Daniel was educated in the local schools and graduated from the University of Virginia in 1903. He married fellow Titanic survivor Eloise Hughes Smith, as discussed below, they later divorced. On December 6, 1923, Daniel married Margery Durant, daughter of automobile executive William C. Durant, and they had one daughter, Margery Randolph Daniel (November 2, 1924 – May 23, 2013). They too divorced and Daniel married Charlotte Bemiss Christian, a widow, who survived him.

A descendant of William Randolph, his great-grandfather Peter V. Daniel, was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, and his great-great-grandfather, Edmund Randolph, was the seventh Governor of Virginia, the first Attorney General of the United States and later served as Secretary of State.


Daniel first embarked on a career in banking and management. He first job was in the traffic manager’s office of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad, where his grandfather Peter V. Daniel, Jr. had been president from 1860 to 1871. Around 1905 Daniel left RF&P and entered the insurance business, 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, Daniel and a fellow district manager of Maryland Life, Charles Palmer Stearns, formed the insurance firm Daniel and Stearns.

By 1911, Daniel was employed as a banker and living in Philadelphia. Business travel would sometimes take him to Europe. In late 1911 while he was staying at the Carlton Hotel in London, the building caught fire and Daniel managed to save the life of a friend who was also staying at the hotel.[2]

Survivor of the RMS Titanic[edit]

Daniel boarded the HMS Titanic in Southampton as a first-class passenger on the morning of 10 April 1912 in order to return to Philadelphia from another European business trip. He brought his champion French bulldog, named Gamin de Pycombe, which he had recently purchased for £150 (the equivalent of $17,000 in today’s dollars).[3][4][5][6] His dog was lost in the sinking.[2]

Daniel survived the tragedy, though the exact manner of his escape from the Titanic remains disputed and there is confusion over what lifeboat Daniel was rescued in. Press reports varied. At least one account claimed that he swam completely nude in the frigid North Atlantic for a number of hours before being hauled aboard a lifeboat barely conscious. It is much more plausible - given the below freezing water temperature – that Daniel simply climbed into one of the early lifeboats being launched from the starboard side of the stricken liner.

At that point few passengers thought the ship would actually sink and many were reluctant to enter the lifeboats. As a result, seats in the lifeboats found few takers and some left the ship half-full. Some men were allowed into lifeboats filled with women and children ostensibly to man the oars.[7] Daniel himself never said which lifeboat he was in but other survivors reported seeing him in Lifeboat 5, launched at 12:43 A.M., the second one to leave the sinking ship. Third Officer, Herbert Pitman, who was in charge of Lifeboat 5 said that after the sinking he wanted to row back to look for survivors in the water but the passengers fearful of being mobbed and capsized persuaded him not to do this.[8]

Other accounts place Daniel in Lifeboat 3.[9] Lifeboat 3 was kept on davits at the forward end of Titanic's starboard side. Even though it had a maximum capacity of 65 people, only around 32 people were in the lifeboat at both the time it was lowered from Titanic and when it arrived at the Carpathia. Once all the available women and children had been put into the boat, men, including a handful of the ship's stokers, were allowed to jump in. Then at around 12:55 A.M, First Officer William Murdoch supervised the lowering of the boat, which is believed to have been the fourth to leave the ship and the third to be lowered from the starboard side.[10] The Sinking of the Titanic quotes Charles Lightoller as saying that after the sinking Daniel was rescued from the water by "a passing lifeboat".[11]

Multiple New York newspapers interviewed Daniel about the ship's last moments. The April 20, 1912 edition of the New York Times stated that Daniel saw First Officer Murdoch commit suicide: he [Daniel] jumped, struggling among the ice-floes until rescued. He was articulate and adamant; it was Murdoch, he said, who had shot himself in the temple.

"I was not more than ten feet away, I do not believe the stories that Captain Smith ended his life. He stuck to his post to the last. He was a brave man."

The New York Herald quoted Daniel in its April 19, 1912 edition as claiming to have seen Titanic's Captain Edward John Smith drown in the wheelhouse on the bridge when it was engulfed by the icy sea:

"Captain Smith was the biggest hero I ever saw. He stood on the bridge and shouted through a megaphone, trying to make himself heard.':[12] I saw Captain Smith on the bridge. My eyes seemingly clung to him. The deck from which I had leapt was immersed. The water had risen slowly, and was now to the floor of the bridge. Then it was to Captain Smith's waist. I saw him no more. He died a hero."[13]

This account corroborates those of several other survivors[14][15] who said they saw Smith enter the ship's wheelhouse on the bridge, and die there when it was engulfed.

While aboard the rescue ship, RMS Carpathia, Daniel met fellow Titanic survivor, Eloise Hughes Smith, daughter of U.S. Representative James A. Hughes, whose husband, Lucian P. Smith, had died during the disaster. Daniel and Mrs. Smith were wed in a quiet ceremony in August 1914, but Daniel soon left for London on business and became stranded in England for two months when the war broke out in Europe. Upon his return the couple settled in a stately house called Rosemont in Philadelphia. By 1918 the couple had separated.[16]

In contrast to his willingness to speak to reporters immediately after the sinking in 1912, in later years Daniel refused to talk about the Titanic disaster. Perhaps it was the traumatic nature of the event, or it could have been related to the stigma that many surviving male passengers felt as survivors of a tragedy that had claimed the lives of so many women and children.[17]

Military service[edit]

When the United States became involved in World War I Daniel received an officer's commission in the U.S. Army. He rose to the rank of Major.[18]

Bank executive, gentleman farmer and subsequent marriages[edit]

Daniel was later Vice President of Liberty National Bank in New York City and later became president and chairman of the board. Sometime before 1923, Daniel and his first wife divorced. On December 6, 1923, Daniel married Mrs. Edwin Rutheven Campbell (née Margery Pitt Durant; 1887-1969), daughter of William C. Durant, an automobile manufacturer who founded General Motors, in the Halsey Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Newark, New Jersey. This marriage produced one daughter, Margery Randolph Daniel (November 2, 1924 – May 23, 2013). The Daniels purchased Brandon one of the James River Plantations in Prince George County, Virginia in 1926, and restored the 18th century mansion. The couple divorced in September 1928, but Daniel who by this time was chairman of the board of the Richmond Trust Company kept the historic estate where he operated a dairy farm and maintained a stable of horses.

Daniel ascribed his second divorce to a charm which he had unintentionally broken at the old estate. According to a Harrison family legend a bride of long ago who was married beneath the chandelier in the stately main room of the mansion died on her wedding night. Her wedding ring was embedded in the plaster ceiling and the legend was created that whoever disturbed it would meet with bad luck in love. After purchasing Brandon 1926, Daniel ordered renovations made to the dilapidated 160-year-old mansion. While workmen were repairing the ceiling a piece of plaster fell to the floor containing a wedding ring. The workmen took it to Daniel, who had it cleaned and polished and placed back beneath the chandelier. He said he was aware of the legend and feared the results of disturbing the ring. Two years later he was divorced.[19]

On October 10, 1929, Daniel married, for the third and final time, his distant cousin, Mrs. Frank Palmer Christian (née Charlotte Randolph Bemiss; 1890-1968) of Richmond, Virginia. Mrs. Christian's first husband had died in 1918 while in the service[18] At this time, Daniel was chairman of the board of the Richmond Trust Company. Their son, Robert Williams Daniel, Jr. was born in Richmond in March 1936.

Political career[edit]

Daniel served on the Governor's Advisory Board on the Budget and for ten years (appointed by three governors, Pollard, Peery and Price) served on the State Board of Education until he resigned in 1937 to run for Lieutenant Governor. He later (in 1939) was appointed to the University of Virginia's Board of Visitors.

In 1935 Daniel was elected to the Senate of Virginia representing the 6th District, a part-time position. Daniel, a Democrat, was a political ally of Harry Flood Byrd and a close friend of his brother Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd. He held the seat until his death.[20]

Death and burial[edit]

Daniel died of cirrhosis of the liver on December 20, 1940 in Richmond and was buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.[21] His son would later serve in the United States Congress.


  1. ^ E. Griffith Dodson: The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia, 1940–1960 (Richmond: Virginia State Publication, 1961) p. 520
  2. ^ a b c "Mr Robert Williams Daniel". Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  3. ^ Lynch 1992, p. 100.
  4. ^ "Titanic animals". 2 May 2010. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  5. ^ "Frenchies and the Titanic". French Bulldog Club of America. Retrieved 13 December 2012. 
  6. ^ Coren, Stanley. "The Heroic Dog on the Titanic". Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  7. ^ "Smith Called Back Half-filled Boats". Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  8. ^ "Titanic's Third Officer Herbert John Pitman". Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  9. ^ "Titanic Lifeboat No. 3 - Encyclopedia Titanica". Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  10. ^ "Titanic Lifeboat 3". Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  11. ^ Caplan, Bruce; Logan Marshall (1997). The Sinking of the Titanic. Seattle Miracle Press. p. 89. 
  12. ^ "Robert Williams Daniel". Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  13. ^ Spignesi, Stephen (2012). The Titanic for Dummies. John Wiley & Sons. p. 207. Retrieved November 6, 2012. 
  14. ^ Ballard, pp. 40–41
  15. ^ (Mark Chirnside 2004, p. 177)
  16. ^ "A Richmond Titanic Survivor". 18 April 2011. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  17. ^ Society, Virginia Historical (13 April 2012). ""On Board Titanic" – 100 years ago". Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  18. ^ a b "President of Liberty National Bank Weds as Third Wife Distant Relative in Virginia". New York Times. October 11, 1929. 
  19. ^ "Robert W. Daniel, Ex-Banker Here, 56". Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  20. ^ (1940) ROBERT W. DANIEL, EX-BANKER HERE, 56 New York Times (ref: #2542, accessed 27th February 2016 08:18:39 AM) URL :
  21. ^ "Mr Robert Williams Daniel". Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
Senate of Virginia
Preceded by
W. O. Rogers
Virginia Senate, District 6
1936 - 1940
Succeeded by
Garland Gray