William Backhouse Astor, Jr. (July 12, 1829 – April 25, 1892) was a businessman and a member of the prominent Astor family. He was the ancestor of the U.S. branch of the Astor family, which came to an end in the male line at the end of the 20th century.


The younger son of William Backhouse Astor, Sr., he was joint heir to the Astor real estate empire, though he left its active management to his elder brother John Jacob Astor III (1822–1890).

Astor graduated from Columbia College in 1849. In 1853 he married the socially ambitious Caroline Webster Schermerhorn, who reigned over New York and Newport society as simply "the Mrs. Astor." William, however, had little interest in society parties, and his wife would try to have him kept late at his club to prevent him coming home and throwing the orchestra out and sending his children to bed.

He supported the abolition of slavery before the American Civil War, and during the war, he personally bore the cost to equip an entire Union Army regiment.

Unlike his business oriented father, William Backhouse Astor, Jr. did not aggressively pursue an expansion of his inherited fortune, preferring life aboard the "Ambassadress," at the time the largest private yacht in the world, or horseback riding at Ferncliff, the large estate he had built on the Hudson River. Astor's horse "Vagrant" won the 1876 running of the Kentucky Derby.

William Astor often spent winters in Jacksonville, Florida aboard his yacht and was responsible for the construction of a number of prominent buildings in the city. Liking the area, in 1874, he purchased a land tract of around 80,000 acres (320 km²) along the St. Johns River north of Orlando in an area now called Lake County, Florida. There, on what had once been a 16th century Huguenot settlement destroyed by the Spanish, he and two partners used 12,000 acres (49 km²) to build an entire town that he named Manhattan but was later changed to Astor in his honor.

His project, which would come to include several hotels, began with the construction of wharves on the river to accommodate steamboats. These steamboats attracted a steamship agency that could bring in the necessary materials and supplies. William Astor enjoyed his development and purchased a railroad that connected the town to the "Great Lakes Region" of Florida. He donated the town's first church and the land for the local non-denominational cemetery, and he also helped build a schoolhouse, both of which are still standing today. In 1875, one of the many nearby lakes was named Lake Schermerhorn after William Astor's wife, Caroline Schermerhorn Astor.

The town of Manhattan, Florida boomed, and William Astor, with an eye on the large New York market, expanded his interests to a grapefruit grove, a fruit that at the time was only available on a very limited basis in other parts of the United States. But William Astor did not live long enough to see the orchard grow to production. Following his death in 1892, the property fell to his only son, John Jacob Astor IV. By then though, rapid changes were taking place throughout Florida. New railroads had been built in 1885 through the central and western part of the state, and in the late 1890s, Henry Flagler built a railroad line running down Florida's east coast from Daytona Beach. All this expansion left the town of Astor isolated and it was all but abandoned after train service to Astor was discontinued.

William Backhouse Astor, Jr. died of a aneurysm in 1892 in Paris, France. He was buried in Trinity Cemetery in Washington Heights, New York.[1]


William Backhouse Astor, Jr. married 1853 Caroline Webster Schermerhorn (1830 - 1908) with whom he had 5 children:

1. Emily Astor (1854-1881), m.1876 James John Van Alen (1846-1923) They had 3 children:

    (1) Mary Van Alen (1876-1959), m. Griswold A. Thompson (1875-1945) (no issue)
    (2) James Laurens Van Alen (1878-1927), m.1910 Margaret Louise Post (1876-1969) (3 children)
    (3) Sarah Steward Van Alen (1881-1963), m.1902 Robert Joseph Collier (*1876-1918) (no issue)

2. Helen Schermerhorn Astor (1855-1893), m.1878 James Roosevelt (1854-1927). They had 2 children:

   (1) James Roosevelt Roosevelt (1879-1958), m.1900 Sarah Messinger (ca 1875-1940) (no issue)
   (2) Helen Rebecca Roosevelt (1881-1962), m.1904 Theodore Douglas Robinson (1883-1934) (4 children)

3. Charlotte Augusta Astor (1858-1920). She had 4 children from her 1st marriage. She m.1st 1879 (div.1896) James Coleman Drayton (1852-…), m.2nd 1896 George Ogilvy Haig (*1859) [brother of the 1st Earl Haig]

   (1) Caroline Astor Drayton (1880-1965), m.1910 William Phillips (1878-1968) [U.S. Ambassador] (4 children)
   (2) Henry Coleman Drayton (1883-1942), m 1905 (Mary) Constance Knower (*1884), m.1922 (div 1928) Catherine Livingston Hamersley (*1891)
   (3) William Astor Drayton (1888-1973), m.1912 Helen Fargo Squiers (2 children)
   (4) Alida Livingston Drayton (1890-1898) (died in infancy)

4. Caroline Schermerhorn Astor (1861-1948), m. 1884 Marshall Orme Wilson (1861-1926). They had 2 sons:

   (1) Marshall Orme Wilson (1885-1966), m. Alice Borland (1887-1987) (1 son)
   (2) Richard Thornton Wilson (1886-1977) (no issue)

5. John Jacob Astor IV (1864-on board of the Titanic 1912). He had 2 children from his 1st, and 1 son from his 2nd marriage. He m.1st 1891 (div 1910) Ava Lowle Willing (1868-1958), m.2nd 1911 Madeleine Talmadge Force (1893-1940)

   (1) William Vincent Astor (1891-1959) (no issue), m.1st 1914 (div) Helen Dinsmore Huntington, m.2nd 1940 (div 1953) Mary Benedict Cushing, m.3rd 1953 Mary Brooke Russell Marshall (1905-2007) 
   (2) Alice Ava Muriel Astor (1902-1956). She had 2 children from her 1st, 1 daughter from her 2nd, and 1 daughter from her 3rd marriage. She m.1st 1924 (div.1932) Sergei Platonovitch, Prince Obolensky-Neledinsky-Meletzky (1890-1978),  m.2nd ca 1933 (div.before 1939) Raimund Hoffmann, Edler von Hofmannsthal, m.3rd 1940 (div.before 1946) Philip Harding, m.4th 1946 (div.1952) David Pleydell-Bouverie, of the earls of Radnor (*1911)
   (3) John Jacob Astor VI (1912-1992). He had 1 son from his 1st, and 1 daughter from his 2nd marriage. He m.1st 1934 (div 1943) Ellen Tuck French (*1916), m.2nd 1946 (div 1954) Gertrude Gretsch, m.3rd 1954 Dolores Fullman (*1929)


  1. ^ "William Astor is Dead". New York Times. April 27, 1892. Retrieved 2010-06-10. "Word reached this city yesterday of the death of William Astor at the Hotel Liverpool, Paris, Monday night. He had been in poor health for some time. The immediate cause of death was the rupture of an aneurism. The body will be embalmed and brought on a steamer sailing from Havre on Saturday to this city for burial. The Astor plot in Trinity Cemetery on Washington Heights will be its final resting place." 

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