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Duval Co. Biographies

BISBEE, William A.

Transcribed from:  The History of Florida:  Past & Present, The Lewis Publishing Co., Vol. 
II, page 121, 1923.

BISBEE, WILLIAM A., whose death occurred in the year 1911, was a man of splendid initiative
and constructive genius and did much to advance the civic and material progress of his native
City of Jacksonville, besides which his activities touch also, and in influential way, the
city of Savannah, Georgia.

Mr. BISBEE was born at Jacksonville, Florida, on the 13th of December, 1861, and was a son
of CYRUS and VIRGINIA JOSEFA (ROBIOU) BISBEE. He was descended from the well known family
of BUSBRIDGE, long established at Echingham, Essexshire, England. THOMAS BESBEDGE, who varied
the original spelling of the family patronymic, became the founder of the American Branch of
the family, a later generation of which adopted the present orthography of BISBEE. THOMAS
BESBEDGE came to New England in the spring of 1634, in company with his wife and their six
children, as well as three servants, the voyage having been made on the ship "Hercules".
Records show that he had been a man of wealth and influence in his native land and he became
prominent as a pioneer in New England, that cradle of much of American history. He landed
at Scituate Harbor, Massachusetts, and became one of the first deacons of the Lothrops' Church
at that place. In 1638 he removed to Duxbury, which place he represented in the general
court in 1643. He was one of the grantees of Seipicon, and eventually he removed to Sudbury,
where his death occurred in 1674.

In later generations the family name has been spelled in fully six different forms. The
family coat of arms, duly recorded in the College of Heraldry in England, has been preserved
by the American representatives. Twenty-five descendants of this sterling Puritan ancestor
represented Massachusetts as patriot soldiers in the War of the Revolution.

CYRUS BISBEE, father of the subject of this memoir, was born at Bridgewater, Massachusetts,
and was a young man when he came to Florida, in 1835, and numbered himself among the very
early settlers of Jacksonville. Here he became associated with Colonel Conova in conducting
a large trading post, besides which he did a large commission business and was agent for the
first line of steamers and also the first railroad that came to Jacksonville. His business,
like all others in the South, was virtually destroyed when the Civil war was precipitated,
and with his family he found refuge at Lake City. He was one of the honored pioneer citizens
of Jacksonville at the time of his death, June 17, 1889. His wife was a daughter of CHARLES
MARIA NICHOLAS ROBIOU DE MAREUIL, who was born on the Island of San Domingo, in 1782, and
who, with an older sister and her colored maid, escaped when the Negro uprising on the island,
in 1795, led to the massacre of the white settlers. His father, five of his uncles and other
members of the family having lost their lives in this massacre. With his sister he finally
landed at Charleston, South Carolina. He was descended from the ancient French family of
ROBIOU, the ancestral castle, "Portheau", at Vendee, France, being still in possession of a
representative of the name. As a very young man CHARLES ROBIOU DE MAREUIL married MELLANIE
NEAL, of Charleston, and her death occurred in 1808. He served as a soldier in the War of
1812, and thereafter he established his home in Florida, where, in 1822, he wedded RUFINA
MIRANDA, of St Augustine. Later on CHARLES ROBIOU, who had dropped his title and also the
DE MARIEUL from his name, served as a quartermaster in the Florida Indian war, from 1835 to
1837. Of the five children of his second marriage three died in infancy, and the two who
survived were VIRGINIA JOSEFA and SIDNEY GABRIEL. RUFINA (MIRANDA) ROBIOU was a daughter
of Don PEDRO and Dona JOSEFA (ARREDONDA) MIRANDA, of Spain. As Florida was at that time a
Spanish possession Don PEDRO MIRANDA settled at St Augustine, large grants of land in Florida
having been given him by the Spanish government, and the original documents of transfer being
still in possession of his descendants. After Florida became a part of the United States Don
PEDRO and his wife returned to Spain, leaving their daughter RUFINA, who had become the wife
of CHARLES ROBIOU. She was only fifteen years of age at the time of her marriage, and survived
her husband by fifty-two years, dying April 26, 1899. She retained remarkable mental and
physical vitality until the closing hours of her singularly gracious and interesting life,
and her remains rest in the old Catholic cemetery at Jacksonville. VIRGINIA JOSEFA ROBIOU
was born March 27, 1829, and at St. Augustine, on the 1st of June, 1847, was solemnized her
marriage to CYRUS BISBEE, of Jacksonville. She was possessed of many graces of mind and heart
and was instant in works of charity and kindly benevolence. She died April 25, 1888, and her
husband, who was twelve years her senior, survived her by about one year, his death having
occurred June 1, 1889. Of their twelve children seven died in childhood. WILLIAM ADOLPHUS,
of this memoir, was the tenth child.

WILLIAM A. BISBEE, born December 13, 1861, passed his earlier years under that cloud of
depression and misfortune which enveloped every interest in the South during and following
the Civil war. He attended the public schools of Jacksonville and thereafter was a student
one year in the Florida Military Academy at Gainesville. At the age of seventeen years he
took a clerical position in a mercantile establishment, and shortly afterward became a clerk
in a drug store. The confinement being injurious to his health, he turned his attention to
the real estate business, in which he made a record of success. At the age of twenty-seven
years he was elected city treasurer of Jacksonville, and after serving several years in this
office he resigned, and left the city for a year of recreation and recuperation. Upon his
return to Jacksonville he resumed operations in the real-estate business and made some very
important transactions, including the sale of the present site of the City Hall. Of a
remarkable and interesting phase of his career the following record has been written: "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 actuated by that sentiment which, underneath the cold Puritan
exterior, has always burned as an ardent love of liberty, Mr. BISBEE put his sympathy with
the Cubans into the form of active effort. He assisted in planning and executing a number
of filibustering expeditions to Cuba, and later purchased the steam tug 'Dauntless' and
used it for that purpose. For about two years thereafter the 'Dauntless' gave more news
items to the press of the United States than any other matter of that 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
reach of the United States District Attorney was used to make them desist from their
operations against Spain; but along with the cool caution and resolute purpose 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 United
States government chartered the 'Dauntless', which then had a world-wide reputation, as a
dispatch boat to follow Sampson's fleet in Cuban waters. When Cuban independence had been
won the 'Dauntless' was given the honor of leading the procession of boats that met the
newly elected President Palma in the harbor of Havana, and at the reception which followed,
the President embraced Mr. BISBEE and acknowledged the indebtedness of the Cuban people for
the great services rendered them."

In 1899 Mr. BISBEE established at Savannah, Georgia, an independent telephone company, in
opposition to the powerful Bell Company, and the enterprise was made a most prosperous one
from the start. Mr. BISBEE's company, the Georgia Telephone & Telegraph Company, was the
only underground system south of the Mason and Dixon Line. When Mr. BISBEE disposed of his
interest in this corporation, the Georgia Telephone & Telegraph Company, in 1907, it had
over 3,000 telephones in operation. Of later activities of this vigorous and resourceful
citizen an interesting estimate has been given and is worthy of preservation in this
connection:

"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 offices.
He saw, however, that there was yet a 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 office building in Florida. He later completed a duplicate office building
that is a part of the original building."

Prior to the death of Mr. BISBEE the following statements concerning him found publication:
"Not yet fifty years old, he has lived a life full of dramatic incident, is one of the best
known men in his section, recognized as a strong and capable financier, and ready to invest
his money and assists in the up building and advancement of the section in which his life has
been passed."

On the 12th of May, 1888, was solemnized the marriage of Mr. BISBEE to Miss HARRIET ANN BACKUS,
who was born at Burlington, Iowa, July 13, 1865, a daughter of NATHANIEL and CECELIA (CALKINS)
BACKUS. Mrs. BISBEE survives her husband, as do also two of their children-VIRGINIA JOSEFA, who
is now the wife of L. H. BOGGS, of Jacksonville, and FRANK DOAN, of whom specific mention is
made in following sketch.

Transcribed by Nancy Rayburn

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This page presented August 19, 2010