New Orleans Public Library
|Administrations of the Mayors of New Orleans|
Joseph A. Shakspeare (1837-1896)
Joseph Ansoetegui Shakspeare, a native of New Orleans, was born April 12, 1837. His father was Samuel Shakspeare, a Quaker, and his mother, Mariana Mathias, a native of Switzerland. Joseph was the eldest of seven children.|
He received a practical education and having early developed a taste for mechanical work, followed in the footsteps of his father and started work in his shop. He applied himself closely and gained a thorough and practical knowledge of the many intricate and diversified branches of iron founding. For many years he worked in the same institution at whose head he was at the the of his death. In order to gain greater knowledge of the craft, he apprenticed himself to the Novelty Iron Works of New York City and after two years he returned to his native city and again entered the employ of his father.
In 1863, he married Miss Antoinette Kroos, a native of Berlin, Germany. This union was blessed with five children, Mrs. W. H. Henderson, Mrs. F. F. Fairchild, Mrs. John Dymond, Jr., and Mrs. Nelvil Peuch; his only son, Joseph, Jr., died at the age of twelve.
On December 16, 1880, he was elected Mayor. The census at that time showed a population of 216,000 and in spite of many obstacles the city continued to grow. Mayor Shakspeare was a man of unusual strength of character and he was known for his sincere desire to promote public welfare; he was very intellectual and had exceptional executive ability.
The principal events during his administration were: A contract with the New Orleans & Pacific Railroad permitting the line to use the “batture” facing the city; the sale of the franchise to the New Orleans, Carrollton Railroad Company for a period of twenty-five years for the sum of $271,000. He also advocated the establishment of a paid Fire Department instead of the contract system. He was not able to make this possible during his time, but kept the idea before the public. His administration was one of reform and improvement. The Shakspeare Almshouse was built with the proceeds of high licenses collected from the gambling houses which were reduced in number from approximately eighty to about sixteen.
As previously narrated, Joseph Shakspeare served this city as Mayor from 1880 to 1882. He was again called to serve the city as Mayor for a term of four years. He did so from 1888 to 1892. Only once before had a Mayor of New Orleans served two terms and that was John T. Monroe who served from 1860 to 1862 and again in 1866.
Notwithstandng the financial difficulties encountered by him upon taking office, considerable public work was done during this regime, most especially paving of the streets for which purpose gravel and chert were used, asphalt being little known at that time. Coliseum Street was the first one to be paved with chert and gravel, in fact, the first street in New Orleans on which these materials were used. The Coliseum Street car line was built, using electricity for motive power. It was not, however, until 1894 that electricity was used generally, when it was adopted by the St. Charles Street car line. – Electric light was another great improvement which made its first appearance under Shakspeare’s term. The first electric lights were located on Magazine and Dryades Streets.
It was during his administration that Jefferson Davis, ex-president of the Confederacy, died in New Orleans at the home of the Associate Justice Charles E. Fenner, at the corner of First and Camp Streets, on the night of December 6, 1889. – The body was sent to the City Hall where it lay in state and thousands of people filed past the coffin to look for a last time upon the face of the man who had presided over the destinies of the Confederacy during the entire period of its brief existence. The deceased was dressed in a suit of Confederate gray and the council chamber was profusely decorated with the somber trappings bespeaking the gloom that dwelt in the hearts of the thousands to whom he was dear. The funeral services were held the following Wednesday morning at the entrance to the City Hall and it was one of the most impressive ever held in the United States. He was buried in the Metairie Cemetery and a few years later his body was transferred to Richmond, Virginia, where it now lies.
The Howard Library, donated to the city by Mrs. Annie Howard Parrat, was formally opened on March 4, 1889. William Beer was appointed librarian. The Louisiana Historical Society was organized in March 1889, to collect and preserve relics of the Southern Confederacy. In January 1891, this organization occupied an annex to the Howard Library erected for this use through the generosity of Mr. Frank T. Howard, the gift of Mrs. J. L. Harris. A beautiful chapel was erected alongside Christ Church on St. Charles Avenue and in July 1890, the Sophia Newcomb Memorial College for young women was built on Washington Avenue, the gift of another generous woman, Mrs. J. L. Newcomb.
A most sensational episode during his administration was the assassination of Chief of Police, D. C. Hennessy, the arrest and trial of a number of Italians at the hands of a mob. The Italian Government, through Foreign Minister, Marquis Budini immediately took action to bring the matter before the Department of State in Washington. It removed its Minister from Washington and this step led to the withdrawal of the American Ambassador from Rome. Later, however, the United States Government paid an indemnity to the Italian Government of $125,000 francs.
As a member of the legislature during very unsettled times, he commanded the respect and admiration not only of his friends, but of his opponents as well, who were forced to recognize his ability. Notwithstanding all these qualities, he was modest and of a retiring nature and shrank from notoriety and publicity. In appearance he was a man of commanding presence, splendidly proportioned and of noble bearing. He was an entertaining conversationalist, possessing an inexhaustible stock of anecdotes and when relating some amusing incident, his eyes would sparkle with great merriment.
He died January 22, 1896 and was buried from his residence No. 1616 Carondelet Street.
|Members of the Shakspeare Administration|
April 24, 1888-April 25, 1892
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