Robert Williams Daniel

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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 byW. O. Rogers
Succeeded byGarland Gray
Personal details
BornSeptember 11, 1884
Richmond, Virginia
DiedDecember 20, 1940(1940-12-20) (aged 56)
Richmond, Virginia
Resting placeHollywood Cemetery
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Mrs. Eloise Hughes Smith (m. 1914 – div. 1923)
Mrs. Margery Durant Campbell (m. 1923 – div. 1928)
Mrs. Charlotte Bemiss Christian (m. 1929– wid. 1940)
ChildrenMargery Randolph Daniel
Robert Williams Daniel, Jr.
ResidenceLower Brandon Plantation, Prince George County, Virginia
Alma materUniversity of Virginia
OccupationBanker, Farmer, Politician
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1916–1919
Battles/warsWorld 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 Daniel (née 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 in 1914, but divorced in 1923. [3] 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. They had one son, Robert Williams Daniel, Jr. (March 17, 1936 – February 4, 2012).

A descendant of William Randolph, his great-grandfather Peter V. Daniel, was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, 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.


After graduating from the University of Virginia, Daniel embarked on a career in banking and management. His first job was in the traffic manager's office of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad. His grandfather, Peter V. Daniel, Jr., had been president of the railroad from 1860 to 1871. About 1905, Daniel left RF&P and entered the insurance business, becoming attached to the firm of Williams and Hart. He eventually succeeded 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 sometimes took him to Europe. In late 1911 while 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 RMS Titanic in Southampton as a first-class passenger on the morning of 10 April 1912 to return to Philadelphia from a business trip to London. He paid £30 10s (approximately USD$3,855 in 2020) for his ticket and was assigned one of the first-class staterooms at the forward end of Titanic's A-Deck.[4] He brought along his champion French bulldog, named Gamin de Pycombe, which he had recently purchased for £150 (the equivalent of about $18,960 in 2020).[5][6][7][8] Later that evening when the ship stopped in Cherbourg, Daniel sent a brief three word telegram to his mother in Richmond to let her know he was "on board Titanic."[9] His dog was lost in the sinking.[2]

Daniel survived the tragedy, though the exact manner of his escape from Titanic remains a mystery 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 board the lifeboats. As a result, seats in the lifeboats found few takers and some left the ship less than half-full.[10] Some men were allowed into lifeboats filled with women and children ostensibly to man the oars.[11]

Daniel himself never said which lifeboat he was rescued in, if he even knew. It is possible that he was in more than one lifeboat between the time the ship sank and the arrival of the Carpathia which could account for the confusion over which lifeboat he was in. Some 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 were fearful of being mobbed and capsized and persuaded him not to do this.[12]

Other accounts place Daniel in Lifeboat 3.[13] 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 several 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.[14]

It is possible that Daniel jumped from the sinking ship and found refuge on one of the collapsible lifeboats and was later transferred into another lifeboat such as lifeboat 4 which rescued five survivors directly from the sea after the sinking. When lifeboat 4, was lowered from Titanic it had approximately 30 people aboard; by the end of the night it had perhaps around 60 people aboard most of whom were transferred into it from other boats.[15] The Sinking of the Titanic quotes Charles Lightoller who survived by clinging to overturned collapsible lifeboat B, as saying that after the sinking Daniel was rescued from the water by "a passing lifeboat".[16]

According to Daniel 's family lore, he was rescued by the "Unsinkable Molly Brown" (activist and philanthropist Margaret Tobin Brown of Denver) in Lifeboat 6, but there is no record of him being in that boat.[17] A news article published in 1915 stated that Daniel was picked up by the lifeboat containing the woman who is now his wife.[18] Mrs. Smith, whom he later married, is known to have been rescued in lifeboat 6.[19]

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."

At a time when survivors were being lauded for heroism and self-sacrifice, and the men who had gone down with the ship were receiving lavish praise, a New York Times reporter added a curious observation to Daniel's account of the disaster.

"Mr. Daniel seemed little the worse for his experience, and in the afternoon entertained a score or more of his friends at the Waldorf.":[20]

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.':[21] 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."[22]

This account corroborates those of several other survivors[23][24] 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 World War I broke out in Europe. Upon his return they settled in a stately home in Philadelphia's fashionable Rosemont neighborhood, and Daniel became stepfather to her son Lucian Jr. who was born eight months after the sinking. In 1916, Daniel left for military service, receiving an officer's commission in the U.S. Army. He rose to the rank of Major.[25] By the time the war ended in 1918, the couple had separated.[26]

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. This could have been due to the traumatic nature of the event, or due 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. It is also possible that the fantastic account of his survival that he gave reporters as a young man was a tall tale and Daniel, by then a prominent Virginia politician, did not want to answer questions.[27] In a 1993 article by Daniel's granddaughter, she said that "he never talked about the Titanic disaster because, after all, he was a man, 28 years old, a very athletic and healthy man who survived, and the whole thing about women and children first was a stigma. So he never talked about it."[17]

Bank executive, gentleman farmer and subsequent marriages[edit]

Daniel was later named Vice President of Liberty National Bank in New York City and later became president and chairman of the board. After learning that Daniel was spending time with another woman in New York, his estranged wife, Eloise, asked for and was granted a divorce from him in March 1923, citing an "unknown blonde woman" in her claim.[28] 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 kept the historic estate where he operated a dairy farm, maintained a stable of horses, and enjoyed hunting and shooting.

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 in 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 Margery sued for divorce.[29]

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. At this time Daniel was president of Liberty National Bank in New York City. Mrs. Christian's first husband had died in 1918 during military service.[25] Later, Daniel became chairman of the board of the Richmond Trust Company. Their son, Robert Williams Daniel, Jr. was born in Richmond in March 1936.

Daniel was a longtime parishioner of the Martin's Brandon Episcopal Church and donated several stained glass windows by Tiffany. He reportedly asked the church vestry to never play the hymn "Nearer, My God, to Thee" during services. The hymn is often cited as the last song played by the Titanic's band as the ship sank.[17]

Political career[edit]

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.[29]

Daniel served on the Governor's Advisory Board on the Budget and for ten years (appointed by three governors, Pollard, Peery and Price) and 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.

Death and burial[edit]

Although successful professionally and politically, Daniel privately struggled with alcoholism, failed marriages, post-traumatic stress and the stigma associated with having survived the Titanic disaster for much of his life. He died of cirrhosis of the liver on December 20, 1940 in Richmond and was interred in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.[30][31] Daniel's first wife and fellow Titanic Survivor, Eloise Smith, had died earlier the same year at the age of 46 in a sanitarium in Cincinnati.[32]

Daniel's son and namesake would later serve five terms 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 September 12, 2016.
  3. ^ "Mrs. Eloise Hughes Smith Reweds". New York Times. 11 April 1923. Retrieved 2007-06-21. Mrs. Smith's first husband, Lucien P. Smith of Uniontown, Pa., was drowned when the Titanic sunk [sic] and the encounter in mid-ocean between Daniel and his widow culminated several years later in their marriage.
  4. ^ "Robert Williams Daniel : Titanic Survivor".
  5. ^ Lynch 1992, p. 100.
  6. ^ "Titanic animals". 2 May 2010. Archived from the original on 2015-06-29. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  7. ^ "Frenchies and the Titanic". French Bulldog Club of America. Archived from the original on 2012-12-31. Retrieved 13 December 2012.
  8. ^ Coren, Stanley. "The Heroic Dog on the Titanic". Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  9. ^ SOCIETY, VIRGINIA HISTORICAL. "Robert Daniel telegram - on the Titanic".
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Smith Called Back Half-filled Boats". Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  12. ^ "Titanic's Third Officer Herbert John Pitman". Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  13. ^ "Titanic Lifeboat No. 3 - Encyclopedia Titanica". Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  14. ^ "Titanic Lifeboat 3". Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  15. ^ "Titanic Lifeboat 4 - Titanic Pages - Titanic History Website".
  16. ^ Caplan, Bruce; Logan Marshall (1997). The Sinking of the Titanic. Seattle Miracle Press. p. 89.
  17. ^ a b c "Mark Holmberg: Wealthy Richmonder was one of the most remarkable and mysterious Titanic survivors". 14 April 2012.
  18. ^ "Philadelphians Will Brave Ocean Trip".
  19. ^ "Mary Eloise Smith: Titanic Survivor".
  20. ^ "To The Bitter End, by Elizabeth Gibbons - William Murdoch".
  21. ^ "Robert Williams Daniel". Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  22. ^ Spignesi, Stephen (2012). The Titanic for Dummies. John Wiley & Sons. p. 207. Retrieved November 6, 2012.
  23. ^ Ballard, pp. 40–41
  24. ^ (Mark Chirnside 2004, p. 177)
  25. ^ a b "President of Liberty National Bank Weds as Third Wife Distant Relative in Virginia". New York Times. October 11, 1929.
  26. ^ "A Richmond Titanic Survivor". 18 April 2011. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  27. ^ ""On Board Titanic" – 100 years ago". 13 April 2012. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  28. ^ "Robert Williams Daniel : Titanic Survivor".
  29. ^ a b "Robert W. Daniel, Ex-Banker Here, 56". Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  30. ^ "Mr Robert Williams Daniel". Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  31. ^ "Titanic's Real Rose". 30 April 2013.
  32. ^ Truman, Cheryl (3 October 2013). "What happened to Titanic passengers with Lexington ties?". Lexington Herald-Leader. Retrieved 31 December 2017.
Senate of Virginia
Preceded by
W. O. Rogers
Virginia Senate, District 6
1936 - 1940
Succeeded by
Garland Gray