John N. Phillips
It is a pleasure to chronicle the integrity of purpose and honest, lifelong service of any one connected with the marine interests of the Great Lakes, but the record of a well-known pioneer engineer like Mr. Phillips is of more than ordinary interest to the able class of skilled mechanics now carrying out in their own sphere the grand destiny of the commerce of the Great Lakes. With such an unbroken and satisfactory record and the present indications of a rugged constitution, it is quite likely that Mr. Phillips has many years of active service before him, at least until he reaches the half-century mark; and it is certainly the wish of his many friends that in the autumn of his life he may be permitted to rest beneath his own vine and fig tree, which his thrifty and abstemious habits have permitted him to grow in his native town of Alexandria, with his trusting consort, who for many years has anticipated the opening and patiently awaited the close of each season of navigation.
Personally, he is a man of great good nature, an enjoyable companion, and a shipmate above reproach. He is the son of Eden and Sarah (Dresser) Phillips, and was born in Parmelia, Jefferson Co., N. Y., October 18, 1831. His father was born in Salem, Mass., and is a descendant of old Puritan stock. In 1834 John N. removed with his parents to Alexandria Bay, N. Y., the family being numbered among the pioneers of that charming locality, as there were but three or four houses in Alexandria at that time, and it was there that young Phillips received his public-school education. After leaving school he went to work with his father in the carpenter shop, but he soon discovered the benches were too high for a boy of his inches, and he exchanged this berth for a place in a sawmill, where he remained for years, during which time he gained a good general knowledge of machinery.
Hence we find Mr. Phillips, in 1853, second engineer on the steamer Cincinnati, of the old Oswego Steamboat line, plying between Oswego and Chicago. The next spring he shipped as second engineer on the steamer St. Nicholas, holding that berth until May, when he was appointed chief. In the spring of 1855 he was placed in charge of the machinery of the steamer Kentucky, and remained in that position three years, transferring, in 1858, to the steamer Dubuque, of the same line. In the spring of 1859 he entered the employ of the old Northern Transportation Company as chief engineer of the propeller Ogdensburg, plying between Ogdensburg and Chicago. During the next four years he had charge of the machinery of the propeller Empire, followed by three seasons on the propeller Maine. In the spring of 1867 he was transferred to the propeller City of Toledo, and ran her two seasons. When disaster overtook this fine old line of propellers in 1869, Mr. Phillips went to work for Mr. Merrick, of Detroit, as chief engineer on the lake tug Samson, retaining that berth two seasons. In the spring of 1871 he was made chief of the steamer Glasgow, plying in the lumber trade and owned by D. C. Whitney, of Detroit, remaining on her three seasons. His next steamer was the Inter-Ocean, also belonging to Mr. Merrick, which he ran five seasons, transferring in 1879 to the Glasgow, on which he passed three seasons, and bringing out new the steamer D. C. Whitney, in 1882, as chief, retaining that berth seven successive seasons, thus rounding out thirteen years in the D. C. Whitney employ, while he was seven years in the Merrick employ.
In the spring of 1889 Mr. Phillips entered the employ of the Ogdensburg Transportation Company as chief engineer of the steamer William J. Averill, transferring the next season to the James R. Langden, on which boat he served five seasons. In the spring of 1895 he was appointed chief engineer of the Governor Smith, which berth he was holding at the close of 1898. As Mr. Phillips has never had any severe accident to his machinery, and has never been discharged from any berth, it is needless to say that he has given universal satisfaction to the people for whom he has worked. He has issues of forty-one marine engineer licenses, and was engineer for three years before such papers were required by the government.
Socially he is a Master Mason, his lodge being No. 297, of Alexandria Bay, which he joined in 1858, and has therefore been a veteran for forty years. On March 23, 1851, Mr. Phillips was united in marriage to Miss Nancy Seaman, and their only daughter, May, is now Mrs. William T. Bascom, a druggist at Alexandra Bay.
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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.