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William Adolphus Bisbee

A Newspaper Biography


This appears to be from a newspaper article published about 1910 in Jacksonville, Florida.

WILLIAM A. BISBEE of Jacksonville, Florida and Savannah, Ga.; a well-known business leader of both of those prosperous cities, has a combination of ancestry most unusual for an American.

On the paternal side, he is of that redoubtable Puritan stock, which, settling first in Massachusetts, has made so large a figure in the history of our country. On the maternal side, he is of French and Spanish origin. The Puritan was a strange mixture. Possessed of a strong religious sense, he was a man of alertness in business, preferring the ways of peace, yet a resolute soldier when the situation demanded fighting; and, coupled with all that, a hardy spirit of adventure which made him willing to penetrate into the outermost corners of the earth.

The Frenchman and Spaniard, in many things similar, and equally, courageous with the Puritan, and not less religious, although their adherence was given to a different form of Faith, loyal to country, devoted to friends, a good hater of their enemies, hospitable always, lovers of home and family, while having some traits in common with the Puritan, were in many things his antitheses. Of these three diverse strains comes William A. Bisbee. Knowing, this, it is not surprising that he possesses an adventurous and daring spirit:, which made him a leading figure in one of the most dramatic episodes in the history of the last twenty years, in which he won a reputation, struggling for the freedom of people of Spanish blood, against other people of Spanish blood.

He is a native of Jacksonville, in which city he was born, Dec.13,1861. Son of Cyrus, and Virginia Josefa (Robiou) Bisbee.

On the paternal side, Mr. Bisbee is descended from the well known family of Busbridge of Echingham, County Essex, England

His first American ancestor was Thomas Besbedge, who varied from the original spelling of the name. He was the common ancestor of the New England family of Bisbee. He came to New England in the spring of 1634-5. The records show he was a man of wealth and position in England, and sailed from Sandwich England, in the ship ?Hercules? with his wife, six children, and three servants. He landed at Scituate Harbor, Mass., and became a member of Lothrop?s church, being one of its first deacons.

In 1638 he removed to Duxbury and in 1643 he represented Duxbury at the General Court. He was one of the grantees of Seipicon. Later he Moved to Sudbury, where he died in 1674. For some reason the spelling of the name varied among the different families of his descendants in different parts of New England; probably to conform more closely to the pronunciation. In 1790 the descendants of Thomas Besbedge numbered forty families; twenty?six of which were located in Massachusetts, eight in Maine, five in Vermont, and one in Pennsylvania. It is of interest to note some of the various ways of spelling the name found among these forty families of New England. We find Besbedge, Besbeech, Besbitch, Besbie, Bisbey, and finally Bisbee. This illustrates the fact that our forefathers did not attach great importance to spelling, even of their own names. The history of English families, shows many variations as wide as this. The Coat of Arms borne by this family is described as follows. Ermine, six roses; gules three two and one; crest erect in mail, holding in the hand a cutlass.

In the Revolutionary war the descendants of the old Puritan settler sent to the patriot armies, twenty five soldiers from the state of Massachusetts alone.

Cyrus Bisbee, father of W.A. Bisbee, was born at Bridgewater, Mass., and came to Florida in 1835 when a young man, becoming one of the very early settlers of Jacksonville. He was a man of great energy, and large enterprise, and in partnership with Col. Conova, conducted a large trading post, and it was no unusual thing in those days of difficult travel for people to go by wagon from points many days distant from home to do their trading there. He also did a large commission business, and was agent for the first line of steamers and steam cars that came to Jacksonville.

At the beginning of the civil war, his business was necessarily broken up, and he refugeed with his family at Lake City. He died at Jacksonville, June 17,1889. -

The paternal ancestry of the mother of W.A. Bisbee, has an interest as great as the paternal side of his father. Her father, Charles Maria Nicholas Robiou de Mareuil, was born in 1782 on the island of Santo Domingo; and when the blacks rose in 1795 and massacred the white French settlers, he made his escape with an older sister and her colored maid, and landed at Charleston, South Carolina. His father, five uncles, and other members of the family perished in that massacre.

He was descended from the Robiou family of France, whose ancestral castle is called ?Portheau? at Vendee, France, and where the representative of the family still reside. Charles Robiou de Mareuil as a very young man, married Mellanie Neal of Charleston. She Died in 1808. During the war of 1812 he served in the United States Armies, and after that war, settled in Florida, where in 1832 he married Rufina Miranda of St. Augustine. Later on, Charles Robiou, (as he now called, himself, having dropped the title, and the de Marleul from his name) served as a quartermaster in the Florida Indian War from 1835 to 1837. Of his marriage were born five children; three of whom died in infancy, his daughter Virginia Josefa, and son Sidney Gabriel, being the survivors.

His wife, Rufina Miranda, was the daughter of Don Pedro and Dona Josefa (Arredonda) Miranda of Spain. As Florida was at that time a Spanish possession, they settled in St. Augustine, and large grants of Florida land were given Don Pedro Miranda by the Spanish government, and the original documents are now in the possession of his descendants. After Florida became a part of the United States, he with his wife, returned to Spain, leaving his daughter Rufina, now the wife of Charles Robiou in St. Augustine. She was a remarkable woman in many ways; only fifteen years old at the time of her marriage, she survived her husband fifty years. She died April 26,1899. She was alert, active in mind and body, and retained her full mental faculties up to the last hours of her life, and now lies buried in the old Catholic Cemetery at Jacksonville. Virginia Josef a Robiou, born March 27,1829, was married at St. Augustine, Fl., on June 1,1847 to Cyrus Bisbee of Jacksonville.

She was possessed of many graces of mind and heart, and noted for her acts of charity. She died April 25,1888. Her husband who was twelve years her elder, followed her within a year, dying June 17,1889.

Of this marriage there were twelve children, of whom seven died in youth. William Adolphus Bisbee, was the tenth child of his parents, born December 13,1861. He married Harriet Ann Backus, in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 12,1888. She is the daughter of Nathaniel and Cecelia (Calkins) Backus, and was born at Birlington, Iowa, July 13,1865. She is of old English stock, whose family also, show several different forms of spelling the name. Of this marriage three children have been born, of whom two are now living; Virginia Josefa, born April 16,1889, And Francis Dean, born Nov. 13, 1891. William A. Bisbee, born in 1861, when the Civil war was just beginning, passed his earlier years under that cloud of misfortune which enveloped every interest in the South. He attended the public schools of Jacksonville, such as they were at that time, and later, for a year was at the Gainesville, Florida Military Academy. As a youth of seventeen he engaged in business first as clerk in a merchantile house, and a short time later as prescription clerk in a drug store.

This work being too confining for his health, he decided to engage in the real estate business. This change proved very congenial, and his capabilities in this direction soon became apparent. He continued in this and his business qualifications and personal characteristics becoming well known, at the age of twenty-seven he was elected to the office of City Treasurer, on a popular vote. After serving several years in that capacity, he resigned the office, also giving up the real estate work, and left the city for a year of recuperation. Upon his return to Jacksonville, he took up the Real Estate, and made some very important transactions, among them being the site of the present City Hall, winning after spirited competition with other agents. In 1905 the slumbering fires of discontent in oppressed Cuba broke forth into insurrection. Possibly impelled by a feeling of sympathy for men who were in a sense at least, partially his countrymen, and possibly impelled by that sentiment which underneath the cold Puritan exterior has always burned an ardent love of liberty, Mr. Bisbee became a sympathizer with the Cubans, and put his sympathy in the shape of active effort. He assisted in planning and executing a number of filibustering expeditions to Cuba, and later purchased the tug ?Dauntless? and used it for that purpose. For a couple of years afterward, the ?Dauntless? gave more news to the press of the United States government than any matter of the day. All of the power of the United States government was brought to bear to break up the operations of this little vessel. Time and again, Mr. Bisbee and his notable Captain, James Floyd, and his pilot John O?Brien, were haled into court, the vessel libeled, and every effort within the reach of the United States District Attorney, was used to make them desist their operations against Spain; but along with cool caution and resolute spirit of the Puritan, William A. Bisbee possessed also the fiery ardor of the Spaniard, and he would not be downed. The result of his efforts was the landing of thirteen successful expeditions on the island of Cuba, and the arms and ammunition thus run through the lines were of priceless value to the struggling patriots.

When war with Spain was declared, the Associated Press, chartered the ?Dauntless? which then had a world wide reputation, as a dispatch boat to follow Sampson?s fleet in Cuban waters. It was especially desirable for this, on account of its great speed. When Cuban independence had been won, the newly elected President Palma arrived at Havana, all the boats at anchor in the harbor, went out to meet his boat, to escort it to the landing. Many of the boats, and the ?Dauntless? among the number, were there especially for this occasion, and to her was given the honor of leading the procession. At the reception given the veteran old patriot by the people upon his arrival, the President embraced Mr. Bisbee, and acknowledged the indebtedness of the Cuban people for the great service rendered them. In 1899, the piping times of peace having returned, Mr. Bisbee established at Savannah, an independent telephone company, in opposition to the powerful Bell Co. It was the only underground system south of the Mason and Dixon line; and this young company known as the Georgia Telephone & Telegraph Co., located in a city of great conservatism, and in which he was a stranger, was only made possible by his characteristic perseverance, and indomitable will power to overcome all obstacles. The young company, although it had a modest beginning was prosperous from the start, and when Mr. Bisbee disposed of it in 1907, there were over 3000 telephones in operation.

In the meantime, he had never lost interest in Jacksonville, and after the fire in 1901 he purchased from his brothers and sisters their interest in the property which had belonged to his family in the previous generation, and erected a handsome building of stores and office. He saw, however that there was a yet greater opportunity and returning to Jacksonville after disposing of his telephone plant in Savannah, he erected the ?Bisbee Building?, which has the distinction of being the first reinforced concrete and steel fire-proof building, as well as the first ten story building in Florida. He has just completed a duplicate of this office building which adjoins, and is now a part of the original building. His restless energy is now planning for even larger things in Jacksonville, as he has an abiding faith in the future prosperity of his native city. Not yet fifty years old, he has lived a life full of dramatic incident, is one of the best known man in his section, recognized as a strong and capable financier, and ready to invest his money and assist in any way to the upbuilding of the section in which his life has been spent.


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