Mr. William McMillan Adams

William McMillan Adams Saloon Passenger Saved
William Adams in 1923 William McMillan Adams in 1918. Image Michael Poirier/US National Archives.
Born William McMillan Adams 5 September 1895 Paris, France
Died 10 May 1986 (age 90) Princeton, New Jersey, United States
Age on Lusitania 19
Ticket number 46102
Cabin number D 45
Traveling with Arthur Adams (father)
Lifeboat 17
Rescued by ?
Occupation Student
Citizenship United States
Residence Cambridge, England, United Kingdom
Spouse(s) - Julia McDonald Davis (1923 - 1932, divorced) - Eleanor Perry Herman (? - ?, her death) - Julia McDonald Davis Adams West Healy (1974 - 1986, his death)
William MacMillan Adams (1895 - 1986), age 19, was traveling with his father Arthur Henry Adams.  He was a student at the University of Cambridge in England. The family lived in Paris, France, and London, England.  Arthur had taken his son to New York for William to think over his decision to join the British Army.  During the Lusitania sinking, they both entered lifeboat 17, which upset while lowering. William survived the Lusitania sinking. Arthur did not.
  1. Family background
  2. Lusitania
  3. Love and business
  4. Related pages
  5. Links of interest

Family background

William was the son of Arthur and Gertrude Adams of Boston, Massachusetts, United States. Hickey and Smith state that the family was descended from the American Revolutionary Samuel Adams, but the family of Arthur and William say that this is not the case. As of 1915, the Adams Family lived in Paris, France, but the family moved to London, England, so that William could attend Eton. After Eton, William attended Trinity College at the University of Cambridge in England.


Arthur had taken his son to New York for William to think over his decision to join the British Army.  William's cabin on the Lusitania was D-37.  His father was in D-45. They shared ticket 46102. At the time of impact, William was in the lounge; Arthur was in his cabin.  William then ran into the corridor where he believed he saw a second torpedo.
I was in the lounge on A Deck when suddenly the ship shook from stem to stem, and immediately started to list to starboard. I rushed out into the companionway. While standing there, a second, and much greater explosion occurred. At first I thought the mast had fallen down. This was followed by the falling on the deck of the water spout that had been made by the impact of the torpedo with the ship. My father came up and took me by the arm. We went to the port side and started to help in the launching of the lifeboats. Owing to the list of the ship, the lifeboats had a tendency to swing inwards across the deck and before they could be launched, it was necessary to push them over the side of the ship. While working there, the staff Captain told us that the boat was not going to sink, and ordered the lifeboats not to be lowered. He also asked the gentlemen to help in clearing the passengers from the boat deck [A Deck]. it was impossible to lower the lifeboats safely at the speed at which the Lusitania was still going. I saw only two boats launched from this side. The first boat to be launched, for the most part full of women, fell sixty or seventy feet into the water, all the occupants being drowned. This was owing to the fact that the crew could not work the davits and falls properly, so let them slip out of their hands, and sent the lifeboats to destruction. I said to my father "We shall have to swim for it. We had better go below and get our lifebelts."
When we got down to Deck D, our cabin deck, we found it was impossible to leave the stairs, as the water was [was within four feet of the newel posts and] pouring in at all the port holes. Finally, we reached the boat deck again, this time on the starboard side, and after filling a lifeboat with women and children, we jumped into it. The lifeboat [#17] was successfully lowered until we were about twelve feet from the water, when the man at the bow davit lost his nerve, and let the rope go. Most of the occupants were thrown into the water, but we, being in the stern, managed to stay in. The lifeboat was full of water, but the sailors said it would float if only we could get it away from the Lusitania which was now not far from sinking. My father threw off his overcoat, and worked like a slave trying to help loose the falls from the boat. This, however, was impossible. B Deck was then level with the water, and I suggested to my father we should climb up and get into another lifeboat. He, however, looked up, saw the Lusitania was very near its end, and was likely to come over on us, and pin us beneath. He shouted to me to jump, which I did. We were both swimming together in the water, a few yards from the ship, when something separated us. That was the last I saw of him.
Arthur did not survive. William found a collapsible floating and tried to climb in. At that moment he claimed the mast came over and cut the boat in two and he was thrown into the water.  He made it to another boat despite his injuries.
After about an hour I was helped on to a collapsible boat which was upside down. It was at this time that we saw smoke coming towards us on the horizon out to sea, but as soon as the funnel was just in sight, it went away again from us. This must have been one of the boats that the German submarine stopped from coming to our rescue.
William sustained a fracture of the lower end of the right radius associated with functional paresis of the right forearm which persisted for a period of six months. He had to wear a splint molded to the hand and wrist for more than a year. He also developed a hernia, as a result of the strain to which he was subjected, which needed surgery to remedy. However, he completely recovered from the injuries which he sustained.

Love and business

After the Lusitania disaster, William joined the army.  After the war, in 1923, he married Julia McDonald Davis, the daughter of Woodrow Wilson's second-term Ambassador to the United Kingdom, John W. Davis. That year, William and Julia moved to Copenhagen, Denmark, where William managed the Scandinavian branch of the American Rubber Company. In Copenhagen, William introduced Julia to his friends and nurtured her writing abilities. Julia would later become a renowned novelist. The Adamses returned to the United States in 1926, where Julia went to look for a publisher for her first book and became the second female reporter hired by the Associated Press. In the following five years, William and Julia's marriage was rocked by a miscarriage and Julia's fall from a horse that fractured her vertebrae, rendering her an invalid for much of that time. Julia published 6 books in that period, but the stress on their marriage was such that William and Julia divorced in Reno, Nevada, in 1932. William subsequently remarried to Eleanor Perry Herman and had two sons, John Perry Adams and Arthur Henry Adams II. William also became president of Sprague International, an export subsidiary of the Sprague Electric Company of North Adams, Massachusetts.  Eleanor predeceased him. In his retirement, Adams split his time between Canaan, New York, and Princeton, New Jersey. In 1974, William and Julia remarried, both of them now in their 70s. In the intervening years, Julia had married twice (one ending in divorce, the other in her third husband's death) and published many more novels, short stories, and plays. Julia reflected on their remarriage in her short story, "Full Circle," where the main character of her 1940 novel, The Sun Climbs Slow, Jean Moffat, reunites with her first husband. Julia concludes the story by saying:
The issues that once had divided them so fiercely now appeared like toys that children drop and forget to put away. There would be details to work out, adjustments to make, but nothing that reasonable adults could not adapt to. The broken vows could be repeated, never to be broken again, for this time they would be conscious promises such as the young cannot make, for they do not know what lies ahead.
William and Julia stayed married until his death on Saturday, 10 May 1986 in Princeton, New Jersey, at the age of 90. Julia moved back to her home state of West Virginia after William's death and died in Ranson, West Virginia, on Saturday, 30 January 1993 at the age of 93.

Related pages

Arthur and William Adams at the Mixed Claims Commission

Links of interest

Julia Davis: A Literary Biography
Contributors: Nicolas Adams (grandson of William Adams) Philip Fazzini Michael Poirier William D. Theriault References: Hickey, Des and Gus Smith.  Seven Days to Disaster.  G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1981. "Julia Davis Adams, 92, West Virginia Writer." New York Times. Tuesday, 2 February 1993. Online. Accessed 10 May 2013. <>. "William McM. Adams." New York Times. Tuesday, 13 May 1986. Online. Accessed 10 May 2013. <>. "Lusitania." Spartacus Educational. Online. Accessed 10 May 2013. <>. Theriault, William D. Julia Davis: A Literary Biography. Online. Accessed 10 May 2013. <>. "John W. Davis." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Online. Accessed 10 May 2013. <>.

About the Author