CAPTAIN JOHN WILLIAM TOBIN
BIOGRAPHY and GENEALOGY
CLARKE COUNTY, ALABAMA
Captain John William Tobin was born on April 21, 1827, in Clarke county, Ala.; the son of John Tobin and Emily Elizabeth Phelps. His father’s grandfather came from Dublin and settled in Barnwell district, South Carolina. His mother’s family originally came from England and settled in Georgia. Both families were loyal to the Colonies and took a prominent part in the early affairs of these colonies. Captain Tobin’s father first lived in Georgia and finally settled in Alabama, where he engaged in cotton planting. He was successful, dying early and leaving an immense fortune, which was dissipated after his death by misfortune and disaster.
Meanwhile, young John W. Tobin had been thoroughly educated at Oxford, O., in the full curriculum, thereby acquiring a love for literature, especially history. Upon his leaving college, in 1846, young Tobin returned to Mobile, enlisted as a lieutenant in the Gaines Rifles for service in the Mexican war, but, before the regiment reached Mexico, peace was declared. Upon his return, he decided to settle in New Orleans, and, in 1847, at the age of 20 years, he began steamboating, which was then in its infancy. He was not successful and lost all he possessed. In 1848 he went to California, by way of Panama, to seek gold. He was fairly successful and returned to New Orleans in 1853, where he settled permanently, and again essayed steam boating, buying a boat and operating her in Ouachita and Mississippi rivers. He was successful and, when the Civil war began, had made quite a snug fortune, which was swept away by the war.
Served in Confederate army
He served through the Civil war as a member of the Confederate army, first in Virginia, being present at the Battle of Manassas; second, in the naval warfare in the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers, and finally in the secret service in Mississippi, under Gen. Forrest. During the war, nearly all the steamboats were either burned or destroyed to prevent their falling into the hands of the Federals. Capt. Tobin was always proud of having spurned an offer from the Federals of $300,000 cash for his boat, the J. F. Paargoud, preferring poverty to treachery; his reply was his own order “to burn his boat to prevent her falling into the hands of the enemy.”
After the war, Capt. Tobin again returned to the river and engaged successfully for over 20 years in steam boating, up to the time of his death, on Sept.13, 1888. In those days, when there were few if any, railroads, steamboats were popular and river travel was delightful; when the railroads came the boats began to dwindle; now, there are few left. During his career, Capt. Tobin was widely known, universally admired and generally recognized as a master mind, bold and fearless as he was kind-hearted and generous. He was a man of polish and refinement, of fine sensibilities and dignified reserve, keen wit and humor. He was universally loved and respected by everyone who knew him. He had lofty ideals and bold conceptions, which he seldom failed to execute. He had a fine physique, and to him fear was unknown; he was generally recognized as a leader of men; a captain of industry.
Owned over 60 steamboats
During his life, he owned, or managed, over 60 steamboats, and only upon one occasion was a single life lost upon any boat of his. His boats were floating palaces, as fine and as fast as money could produce. He never stinted but gave bountifully; his cuisine and appointments were perfect. He prided himself on having the largest, finest and fastest boat upon the Mississippi river, the famous J. M. WHITE, the climax, and queen of the great river craft. Among other boats owned by him were the 3 Pargouds, Vicksburg, R. W McRae, Wade Hampton, Katie, Thompson Dean, Ed Richardson and others. Ministers, priests and sisters of charity were always welcome and carried free on his boats. He was the first to install electricity for general lighting of boats. Besides the boat business, CAPT. Tobin was a pioneer in the manufacture of cotton and cotton seed products. He helped to found the first cotton factory in New Orleans and was the principal founder and first president of the Planters oil mill, the pioneer cottonseed oil plant in this state.
In politics, he was a loyal democrat. He never held an office but was often urged for congress. In religion, was a Protestant. On July 18, 1854, he married Miss Mary Frances Scott, the young and beautiful daughter of Judge C. C. Scott, of the supreme court of Arkansas, and his talented wife, Elizabeth Smith both of whose ancestry hold places in the colonial, revolutionary and judicial fame of this country. MRS. JOHN W. Tobin(1914) still lives and is universally beloved and admired for her rare charms and lovable qualities that endear her to all. Their union was blessed with 7 children, of whom 2 died in infancy 5 living, who are:
- Mary Gaillard, widow of Charles P. McCan since remarried;
- Fanny John Tobin, wife of Capt. Thomas H. Underwood;
- Maude Emily Elizabeth Tobin, wife of Leon G. Gilbert
- Ellen Virginia Tobin, wife of Albert Sidney White;
- John Francis Tobin, who married Miss Eliska Provosty
Capt. Tobin was a man of truth and highest integrity; consecrated to duty and fair dealing. He was a lover of his home, his family and his flowers. While he was one of the founders of the Rex and Proteus carnival societies and a member of the Boston club, the Southern Yacht club and other clubs, he did not care for club life. In his younger days he was a lover of horses; was a charter member of the celebrated Metairie and Louisiana race course clubs. He was one of the founders of the Fair Grounds and the Cotton Centennial exposition. He was always for general good. He contributed liberally to the rebuilding of several churches. His charities were unbounded; he had a heart that always responded.
- Louisiana: Comprising Sketches of Parishes, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form, volume 3, pp. 431-433. Edited by A. Fortier, Lit. D. Published in 1914, by Century Historical Association.
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