Captain John M. Mitchell
Captain John M. Mitchell, who served in the United States navy during the war of the Rebellion, and has for many years been a courteous and popular master of passenger steamers plying on Lake Michigan, was born in Rochester, N. Y., October 1, 1846, a son of William and Rose (Conway) Mitchell, the former a native of Queen's county, Ireland, the latter of the city of Armagh, of that country. Their respective families came to the United States about the same time, one locating in Rochester and the other in Lewiston, N. Y., the paternal grandmother dying at Rochester, N. Y., at the extreme old age of one hundred and six years.
When our subject was a lad of seven years the family removed to Buffalo, N. Y. In June, 1857, he began his career on the lakes as cabin boy on the schooner Cairo with Capt. W. P. Bryan, his brother-in-law. The next season he shipped with the same captain on the schooner Vernon, remaining on her two seasons, with the exception of the short time he was on the Racer. On September 9, 1862, Captain Mitchell enlisted in the United States navy, went to Boston, and was received on the old guard ship Ohio, then used by the government as a receiving ship, and after the necessary gun practice was transferred to the full-rigged frigate Sabine. During the time he was on the Sabine she was engaged in cruising for Confederate privateers and blockade runners, and visited the waters of the Azores, Canaries, Cape de Verde - the localities made historic thirty-five years later by the operations of the American and Spanish fleets - also St. Helena and Cape Town. While in the navy Captain Mitchell served under Commodore Cadwallader, Ringgold and Lieutenant Kelley, the last named officer being killed during the naval engagement at Mobile, Ala. On one occasion, while on a stern chase after a suspicious looking vessel, the Sabine fired forty-four shots, all of which fell short of the mark but the last, which passed across the decks of the stranger, and she hove to. She proved to be the bark Leo, hailing from Bath, England. On discovering her nationality the commander of the Sabine advised her skipper to proceed on her voyage, telling him that he was only doing some target practice. Captain Mitchell was honorably discharged from the navy September 9, 1862, at Provincetown, Cape Cod, where he with others reported that their enlistment had expired, as was customary. He then returned to the lakes, two of his shipmates - Andrew J. Kirk and Adolph Vincent- going with him, and again took up his line of duty on the Racer.
In the spring of 1864 Captain Mitchell was appointed master of the schooner Pacific of Erie, owned by E. F. Freer, who had also been in the navy. That fall she broke away from the pier and drifted on the beach. The next season he shipped as mate on the brig David Ferguson, and remained on her until October, when he was appointed sailing master of the schooner R. N. Brown. She took a cargo of black walnut lumber from Toledo to Boston by way of the St. Lawrence canals. On November 27, while off Nova Scotia, a living gale sprang up, which lasted four days, blowing the schooner out of her course, but she finally made her port of destination. The Captain passed the winter months up to this period on the Mississippi river. He sailed as mate on the schooner Eliza Logan in 1886, and the next season went to South Haven, Mich., in the employ of Captain Bryan, who had purchased some vessel property. In April he transferred the Rose Douseman's rigging to the George L. Seaver, at Chicago. In the spring of 1868 he went to Detroit and took command of the schooner Caledonia, and later on transferred from one schooner to another until 1874, when he was appointed master of the Harmonia, which was sold under him in July. He then turned his attention to steam vessels, shipping as second mate on the Huron with Capt. Robert Jones, of St. Joseph. The next season he was mate of the same boat with Captain Elton, plying between Holland, Saugatuck, South Haven, and Chicago. In the spring of 1876 he was appointed master of the Huron, and sailed her until she was taken out of commission, after which he was master of the steamer Riverside on the same route. In 1878 he sailed the steamer Metropolis; 1879 the Grace Grummond, and then stopped ashore the next season for a well-earned rest.
In 1883 Captain Mitchell went to Buffalo and purchased the passenger steamer Huntress and sailed her; then became master of the steamer Grace Grummond, which he held to the close of the season. In 1885 he chartered the steamers A.J. Wright, Cyclone, City of St. Joseph, and Gazelle, for passenger traffic during the World's Pastime Exposition at Chicago, having contracted to furnish transportation to that city. During the season of 1886 he sailed the side-wheel steamer Saginaw in the excursion business out of Chicago. The next season he took the same steamer to Toledo, and plied her between that port and Presque Isle. In 1888 he was elected superintendent of Presque Isle Park, a pleasant summer resort, which he conducted with good business success for four seasons, meanwhile, during the winter months, traveling for a firm which manufactured alabastine.
In 1892 he built the stern-wheel steamer Valley City, to ply on Grand river between Grand Haven and Grand Rapids, and sailed her, going the next year as master of the steamer Wilson on the route between Sheboygan and Mackinaw; in 1894 he sailed the steamer Grand Island, and in 1895 the Harvey Watson. During the seasons of 1896-97 the Captain sailed the passenger steamer Music out of Holland, Mich., to various summer resorts. In the spring of 1898 he was appointed master of the passenger steamer City of Holland, plying between Holland and Chicago, and it is interesting to mention here that it was Captain Mitchell who first suggested and carried out on the steamer Riverside the advisability of placing names of minor ports before that of Chicago on the various passenger steamers, in order that travelers might then more readily find the steamer they wanted to take passage on. This departure has now been generally adopted by the transportation lines out of Chicago. Socially, the Captain is a member of Zach Chandler Post No. 35, G.A.R., Department of Michigan, and a charter member of the Calumet Council No. 24, Royal League of Chicago.
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This version of Volume II is based, with permission, on the work of the great volunteers at the Marine Captains Biographies site. To them goes the credit for reorganizing the content into some coherent order. The biographies in the original volume are in essentially random order.
Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.