New Orleans Public Library
|Administrations of the Mayors of New Orleans|
Edward Pilsbury (1824-1882)
Edward Pilsbury was born in Eastport, Maine, and was the son of Timothy Pilsbury, a ship owner and largely engaged in maritime enterprises. Accompanied by his son Edward, he sailed for Honduras in a coasting vessel about the year 1834. The vessel was wrecked on a key off the coast of Central America and the passengers and crew remained forty days on an island before they were rescued. Young Pilsbury lay ill for days in a hospital in Belize, British Honduras. He made many voyages afterwards and frequently referred to his experiences at sea, for which he had a great interest in his youth. He attributed his robust health in later years to the beneficial effects of the trips he made when a small sickly boy. His father later went to Texas when that state was still a republic and became Chief Justice. He also, in later years, represented that State in Congress where he was affectionately called “Eyes and Nose” on account of the large size of those features.|
When quite young, Edward Pilsbury entered the counting room of the eminent citizen and merchant, Mr. J. W. Zacharie. He came “Consigned” to Mr. Zacharie after the Honduras shipwreck and often related with zest the particulars of his reception by the noted merchant and the early experiences of his mercantile career.
Having a natural aptitude for business, he rose rapidly from position to position until he became manager of the firm and obtained an interest in the business. About that time he married Miss Perret, a Creole, who with two sons and a daughter survived him.
Subsequently he established himself in business as a commission merchant and cotton factor and was accumulating a fortune at the beginning of the War between the States, when he entered the Confederate Service. At the conclusion of the war he resumed his business occupations with the energy that was a distinguished trait of his character. At the time of his death he was successfully conducting a cotton factorage and commission business and was largely engaged in trade with Honduras and other southern countries.
He was a prominent member of the Order of Odd Fellows having been three times elected Grand Master. He was also at one time a member of the Pickwick Club.
His political career was comparatively brief, but it was creditable to him and advantageous to the community. He had been repeatedly requested to run for office, but had always declined until the campaign of 1874 when he became a candidate of Mr. Leed’s ticket, for the position of Administrator of Finance. It was an indication of his popularity and the general belief in his fitness for the office, that he received 1,000 more votes than the opponent. He made an excellent financial officer, the chief act of his term was the inauguration of the premium bond plan, which he earnestly advocated and which proved very successful in retiring the bonded debt relieving the tax payers of a portion of the burden then oppressing them.
In 1876 he was elected to the Mayoralty. He entered upon this important office at a time when the municipal government was surrounded by many difficulties. His inaugural address of December 1876 was short, pointed and forcibly, the plain practical statement of a business man who had the same view of the city’s affairs as a private business which was in financial distress. The following extract indicates the tone of the address:
“It is evident to me that the only way to prevent a continuance of such a state of affairs is to bring the expenditures within the lowest estimate of actual receipts, and under no circumstances to overstep the bonds thus fixed. A most rigid and unsparing economy should prevail in every department; the compensation of every officer should be fixed at the lowest figure compatible with the service demanded and no employee engaged whose services are not absolutely required.”
His administration reduced the budget appropriations from four million to two million dollars. He was also an advocate of the contract system in works of public improvement, such as cleaning of the streets, gutters, etc. He abolished the secret meetings of Administrators known as “Committees of the Whole,” and opened the doors to the press and public. He strongly fought the idea that the head of each department or bureau was independent of his associates and insisted that the Council alone was vested with the powers of originating measures and authorizing expenditures. He contended that it was the function of each administrator simply to carry into effect the ordinances of the general body.
It was during his administration that the construction of the Lee Monument was started. In July, 1877, the City Council adopted an ordinance placing the Lee Monument Association in possession of Tivoli Circle as the site for the great marble shaft which a few years later became a conspicuous landmark of the city.
Mayor Pilsbury had a bluff, hearty manner – the air of an old sea captain – but his heart was warm, generous and brave. After having resided in New Orleans for 48 years, he died at his residence, corner of Broad and Esplanade on August 10th, 1882, at the age of 59 and was buried in Esplanade Cemetery No. 3.
|Members of the Pilsbury Administration|
December 19, 1876-November 18, 1878
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