Gen. James Watson Webb

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About Gen. James Watson Webb

So much has been written about the life of James Watson Webb, it's hard to know where to start. James L. Crouthamel wrote a biography titled "James Watson Webb" in 1969. James Watson was raised as an orphan--his mother died in 1807 and his father died in 1805. He was raised by an aunt, Mary Hogeboom and her husband David Thomas, who was a member of Congress from 1801 to 1808. David Thomas was also the executor of James Watson's father's estate. At age 11, James Watson was sent to live with his older sister Maria, who had married an attorney, George Morrell. Morrell eventually became Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. In early adulthood, James Watson entered the military and served 8 years in a variety of roles. In the middle of his military service, he married Helen Lisendard Stewart daughter of a wealthy Manhattan merchant. Their first child was born on the then frontier garrison army outpost called Detroit, in Michigan Territory. Wife Helen died in 1848 and in 1849, he married the daughter of a wealthy brewer, Laura Virginia Cram. James Watson Webb's accomplishments as an adult are numerous and they are highlighted below.

Became editor of the New York Courier in 1827. Purchase the Enquirer in 1829 and merged the two into the Morning Courier and New York Enquirer. At a cost of $7,500 per month, established a daily horse express between Washington and New York so he could get Washington news 24 hour before any other newspaper. Began what was called the 'political press'--newspaper reporting that took a political position. In 1842, fought a duel with Thomas F. Marshall, a member of congress from Kentucky. Duels were illegal, he was convicted and served two months of his sentence and was pardoned by NY Governor William Seward. Later named one of his sons, William Seward Webb, after the NY Governor. Was a friend and supporter of Abraham Lincoln. He and his wife attended Lincoln's inaugural. Supported William Seward's failed bid for the presidency in 1860. On at least two occasions, physically beat his newspaper competitors on the street. Was a founder of the Whig party and his newspapers were the chief advocates of the whigs. Sold his newspapers to The World in 1861 and left the newspaper business. Was appointed Engineer in Chief of New York State with a rank of Major General, but refused the appointment. In 1849, was appointed Minister to Austria, but the appointment was rejected in the Senate. At the outset of the Civil War, applied for appointment as Major General for volunteers, but was refused. Was instead offered the position of Brigadier General, which he refused. Was offered the Ambassadorship to Turkey, which he refused. Instead, he was appointed Ambassador to Brazil. His personal friendship with Napolean III aided in the withdrawal of the French from Mexico. Published a two volume book in 1846 and another single volume on slavery in 1856. A google search on 'James Watson Webb' will return many references. This one is of particular interest and is very informative: Mr. Lincoln & James Watson Webb

The Prolific Mr. James Watson Webb

	 Mr. James Watson Webb had 14 children, 10 of whom survived to adulthood.

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.


Webb was born in Claverack, New York to Catherine (Hogeboom) and Gen. Samuel Blatchley Webb, a Revolutionary officer of distinction. At age 12 he moved to Cooperstown, New York to live with his brother-in-law and guardian, Judge George Morrill. 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.

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. 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 extravagance 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.

In 1849 he was appointed minister to Austria, but the appointment was not confirmed. That same year he married Laura Virginia Cram (on November 9, 1849). 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. As Glyndon Van Deusen wrote: "Webb, an inveterate beggar for office, wanted a diplomatic appointment that would be lucrative."

Shortly afterwards he was appointed minister to Brazil and served in that position for eight years. At Paris in 1864 he negotiated a secret treaty with the Emperor Napoleon III for the removal of French troops from Mexico.

"In Paris and Rio de Janeiro, on land or sea", wrote Abraham Lincoln's biographer, Carl Sandburg, 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."

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)

In 1869 he resigned the mission to Brazil and returned to live in New York. Webb died in 1884 and was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx.


Two sons, H. Walter Webb and William Seward Webb, were noteworthy railway executives. Another son, Alexander Stewart Webb, was a noted Civil War general.

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Gen. James Watson Webb's Timeline

February 8, 1802
New York, NY
August 12, 1824
Age 22
Age 22
November 30, 1827
Age 25
Age 26
December 14, 1830
Age 28
Age 29
Age 29
November 10, 1833
Age 31