It was New York City, Not Mexico City

A few years after the death of his first wife, James Monroe Dobbs married Helen D. Spiegel, daughter of George C. Spiegel and Sophia B. ___. According to family legend they were married in Mexico City, Mexico; however this turns out to not be true.

In doing a search of the archives of the "Atlanta Constitution" for any articles regarding James M Dobbs I came across the following on the society page of the 9 September 1901 issue of the newspaper.


This is consistent with the fact that Helen and James were married sometime between 1900 (when Helen appeared in the Dallas Co., Texas census) and 1902 (when her son James M Dobbs, Jr was born). What is puzzling here is the question of how the couple came to meet and what were they doing in New York City. Did either of them have any prior connections to New York City?

As mention here, it is known that J. M. Dobbs did pass through New York City on more than one occasion as he returned from his many trips to South America. Helen was born in Dallas, Texas in 1871 and does appear in that city in the 1900 census. The only known New York City-connection for Helen is through her mother Sophie. In the two census records where Sophie appears (1870 & 1880), her birthplace is shown as New York.

Another mystery is solved, but, as it seems to always be the case, the solved mystery spawns new mysteries.

After finding a "blurb" on the society page of the Atlanta Constitution regarding the marriage of my great grandparents, I wondered what other mentions of my great grandfather, James Monroe Dobbs, Sr., might be found within the archives of Atlanta’s daily newspaper. So I went about searching through the historical newspapers collection at and with a little bit of detective work and some luck I did manage to find him mentioned in few other editions of the Atlanta Constitution and some out-of-state papers.

When he received an appointment from President Cleveland as consul general to Valparaiso, Chile in 1893, there was a large article about him that appeared in the Atlanta Constitution. Also, when he returned from Chile in 1896 there was another lengthy article in the same newspaper (see above).

Searching through the historical newspapers collection, I found that his name appeared in other newspapers in articles regarding the Senate confirmation hearings for all of President Cleveland’s appointments. I found him listed in the April, 4 1893 edition of The Daily Northwestern (Oshkosh, Wisconsin) and in the April 15, 1893 edition of the Hornellsville Weekly Tribune (Hornellsville, NY).

None of this was news to me, but it was interesting to find his name in print. I did, however, find some new information – one item that I was not surprised to see and another item that does raise some questions.

The not-so-surprising discovery was that my great-grandfather was a delegate to the 1912 Democratic National Convention in Baltimore. This was the convention that nominated Woodrow Wilson over William Jennings Bryan. The Georgia delegation was there to support the nomination of Alabama congressman Oscar Underwood – who, although was a southern Democrat, was noted for being anti-Prohibition and anti-Klan. The article title is "1,000 Boosters For Underwood Go To Baltimore".

As a sign of times two other articles on that same page have headlines that read "Negro Rebellion In Cuba Forces The United States To Prepare To Intervene" and "Negro ‘Firebug’ Shot In Act". The first article tells of the US government preparing to send 15,000 marines to Cuba to intervene in the labor unrest that was taking place there (why it is refered to as a "Negro rebellion" is not explained in the article), and the second article describes an incident in Tampa, Florida where a black man was shot three times in the back while allegedly attempting to set fire to a vacant home in that city.

Knowing that my great grandfather had traveled throughout South and Central America for about ten years from the late 1870′s to the late 1880′s and knowing that he arrived at New York on 23 February 1889 from Aspinwall, Panama on-board SS City Of Para on what would be the end of his lengthy travels, I wondered if there was any mention of his return home in the local papers. Sure enough I found another "blurb" on the society page of the March 11, 1889 edition of the Atlanta Constitution that speaks of "Major" James M. Dobbs visiting his mother in Marietta.

A few lines below is another "blurb" that tells of James’ sister (Mrs. Joseph Clifton) throwing a party at the home of her mother (M. J. Dobbs) where there was dancing and "tropical fruits" served. I imagine that my great grandfather must have brought back a bunch of bananas from Panama.

The March 11, 1889 entry raises a new question – Why did the newspaper refer to him as "Major" James M. Dobbs? I have no previous information of my great grandfather having served in the military. The passenger list entry of 23 Feb 1889 lists his occupation as "conductor" and the passenger list entry of 8 June 1886 which shows him arriving in New York from Aspinwall, Panama on-board the SS Newport shows his occupation as "employed by railroad". A niece of his (Louise Dobbs Younger) writing back in the 1950′s, said that he worked on the Panama Canal, but I am thinking that she might have gotten that wrong and that he actually worked for the Panama Railway, which back in the 1880′s was operated by a New York City-based company (this would have been during the time of the failed French attempt at digging the canal across the isthmus (1881 – 1889) and when the French held a controlling interest in the company).

As I said have said before, each new discovery spawns new mysteries.