From Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, Volumes 1-7, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 1979-1996 by The University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher.
Cobb, John Blackwell (5 Oct. 1857 - 9 Apr. 1923), tobacconist and capitalist, was born in Caswell County, the son of Henry Wellington and Mary Howard Cobb. He was educated in the private schools in his native county, and at the age of nineteen, with a borrowed five hundred dollars, he engaged in the leaf tobacco business as a pinhooker in Danville, Va. His initial profits were lost, but he eventually recovered and set out on a significant business career.
In 1890 he joined the American Tobacco Company as a buyer of leaf tobacco. He moved to New York in 1894 and by 1896 was a vice-president of the firm, a position he held until his retirement in 1908. During the course of a busy life he also served as president and director of the American Cigar Company, the Cuban Land and Leaf Tobacco Company, the Havana Commercial Company; as first vice-president and director of H. de Cabanas y Carbajal; as director of the American Snuff Company, American Stogie Company, Blackwell's Durham Company, the British American Tobacco Company, F. Garcia Brothers and Company, Havana Tobacco Company, the Industrial Company of Porto Rico, the International Cigar Machinery Company, Lurhman and Wilbern Tobacco Company, the Porto Rican American Tobacco Company, and the Louis K. Liggett Company; and as director and member of the executive committee of the United Drug Compay.
Cobb owned nearly forty-four thousand acres of land between Greensboro and High Point and during the course of his life lived in Durham, St. Louis, Mo., and Stamford, Conn. He was married on 4 Jan. 1881 to Pricie Perkins Millner; they had two daughters, Mrs. Mary Howard Gilmour and Mrs. Lucy Langhorne Hill, both of whom lived in New York City at the time of his death. Cobb was in poor health for the last year of his life and was found dead in his stateroom aboard a train several hours out of Hot Springs, Ark. He was a Methodist and was generous to his childhood church in Caswell County. He provided funds for a private school in the county, now the John B. Cobb Memorial School, incorporated into the public school system, and he also left money to the University of Virginia and to members of his family. His estate was estimated at $50 million.
He provided funding during his lifetime for a school in Locust Hill Township of Caswell County, North Carolina, that was named the Cobb Memorial School. The original building burned in 1948, and in 1950 a new Cobb Memorial School was constructed on the Park Springs Road, Locust Hill Township, Caswell County, North Carolina. Whether this was erected on the same site as the original John B. Cobb Memorial School is not known.
Cobb - On April 9 (1923) in route from Hot Springs, Ark., to New York, John Blackwell Cobb, born in Caswell County, North Carolina, son of Henry Wellington and Mary Howard Cobb, in his 66th year. Funeral from his late residence, 28 West 74th, at 11 A. M. Wednesday, April 11. Interment private.
. . . . The county board of education and especially the county superintendent were harshly criticized for advocating the elimination of small neighborhood schools. Nevertheless by 1924 Cobb Memorial, Milton, and Semora were already offering instruction in consolidated schools from the first grade through high school. New consolidated schools were built for Anderson and Prospect Hill in 1924. In 1935 Bartlett Yancey and Caswell County High School [Caswell County Training School] joined the list.
Perhaps the longest-lived and influential school of this period was the Rock Academy and its successor. In 1867 James S. Dameron opened a school in northwestern Caswell County which he called the Rufin Select School. Shortly afterwards a permanent building was erected and it came to be called the Rock Academy because it was constructed of rock. Associated with Dameron at one time or another in the operation of this school were Miss Jennie Roberts, Miss Alden Combs, Miss Allen Courts, Elder P. D. Gold, and John W. Gilliam.
A large number of young people in the neighborhood were educated here. Among them was John B. Cobb who afterwards left the county to seek his fortune. In 1921 he provided $20,000 for a school building nearby which became the first consolidated school in the county. The building was dedicated to the memory of Cobb's parents and was known as the Cobb Memorial School. Cobb and his daughters made further gifts to the school and the plant was enlarged. The original building burned in 1948 but was shortly replaced. With integration in 1969 Cobb Memorial School's role in the county system was changed leaving only grades four through seven there. In 1971, however, an Occupational Education Program was established there and its service to the community thereby enlarged.