Captain James Mowatt
Captain James Mowatt, a prominent citizen of Chicago, who has been identified with the marine and other interests of the city for some thirty-five years, is endowed with many of the sturdy traits of his Scotch ancestors. He has succeeded in acquiring a fair competence by good business methods and close attention to the detail duties of his office as owner and manager of dry docks.
A native of Scotland, Captain Mowatt was born, September 26, 1840, in Duncans-bay, John O'Groats, in the northeast corner of Caithness-shire, on the shores of the Pentland Firth. At the age of sixteen he removed to Wick, in the same county, and there entered into a four-years' apprenticeship to the trade of boat-builder, during which time in the herring- fishing season, he, as was customary in those days with apprentices at the boat-building trade, went out to sea with the herring boats from six to eight weeks in each year, those weeks being the "own time" of the apprentices. At the age of eighteen he was given charge, as captain, of one of the boats belonging to his employer, which arrangement continued for two years, or fishing seasons, at the end of which time he commenced building fishing boats in a yard of his own at Wick. About the year 1860 he left that village for Montrose, in Forfarshire, and was there employed about one year in a shipyard, thence removing to Aberdeen, where for some twelve months he found employment at his trade in one of the largest shipyards, during those two years returning to Wick for the herring fishery.
In 1863 Captain Mowatt came to the United States, proceeding at once to Chicago, where he has ever since made his home. His first employment in that city was with Doolittle & Alcott, as ship-carpenter, and while with them he assisted in the constructon of the steamer G.J. Truesdell. With that firm he remained about a year, after which he passed some twelve months with W.W. Bates, at the Mechanics dry dock, in general repair work. It was in 1865 that he established himself in business at the Randolph street bridge, afterward removing his plant to the South Halsted street bridge, where business was carried on under the firm name of Mowatt & Rice for eleven years. In 1868, however, when work was slack in the yard, he sailed as carpenter, wheelsman and mate on the steamer Boscobel, Captain Finefield, plying between Chicago and Buffalo. In 1877, for business reasons the firm of Mowatt & Rice removed their shipyard to Lighthouse slip, where they continued to carry on business in the same line for three years. In 1880 the Chicago Dry Dock Co., of which Captain Mowatt became a stockholder, bought their yard, and rebuilt the dry dock on the east side of the river, between Polk and Harrison streets (which dock had been destroyed in the great fire), and purchased the one on the west side, which lay between Harrison and Van Buren streets, our subject being given the position of manager. When the Wisconsin Central Railroad Company's depot was built, that company bought the Chicago Dry Dock Company's lease of land belonging to the school board, on the east side of the river, but the latter company continued operations on the west side until 1892, when the site was sold to the Edison Electric Light Company, who erected their extensive plant thereon. After the sale of the dry docks, of which he had been manager some twelve years, Captain Mowatt spent a year settling up the affairs of the company. In 1884, Wolf & Davidson, shipbuilders of Milwaukee, Wis., and large stockholders in Chicago Dry Dock Company, built a fine schooner, which out of compliment to Captain Mowatt, and in recognition of his able and faithful management of the concern, they named the James Mowatt. Although our subject did not own any of the new vessel at the time, he purchased an interest later.
In 1893 the captain associated himself with the Chicago Ship Building Company, of South Chicago, and assisted in the construction of the large dry dock for that company, in which he is a stock holder. Upon completion of the work he became superintendent of repairs and dry dock agent, his duties consisting of negotiating work and looking after interests of the wood department of the business. He is often in demand to serve on surveys, his extensive knowledge of the cost of repair work being well known to the maritime public. In addition to his other stock, he is managing owner of the steamers W. H. Wolf and Fred Pabst, and owns interests in other vessels.
Captain Mowatt is a Master Mason, and a life member of Cleveland Lodge No. 211, F. and A. M.; of Washington Chapter No. 43, R. A .M.; and of Chicago Commandery No. 19, K. T.; and he is a Noble of the Mystic Shrine-all of Chicago. The family residence is at No. 4812 Vincennes Avenue, 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.