Captain Charles Roach
Captain Charles Roach, one of the early lake captains, and now one of the prosperous and successful citizens of Chicago, has spent forty of his sixty years upon the Great Lakes. During that time he has experienced many perils, and has undertaken many hazards in the rescue of human life, and in the preservation of lake property. It is an evidence of his skillful seamanship that he has never lost a man on any vessel which he has commanded, and of his daring and bravery he now possesses fitting testimonials.
Captain Roach was born at Medoxville, Canada, January 23, 1838, the son of Garrett and Elizabeth (Donohue) Roach, natives of Ireland, who became early settlers in Canada, where the father for many years was an industrious and successful farmer. Our subject received his education in the common schools, but at the age of fifteen years became identified with the interests of the Great Lakes. He then entered a shipyard at Oswego, N. Y., and served a three-years' apprenticeship. Subsequently he was for two years employed in the same yards.
At the age of twenty he forsook the shipyards for the more active life of the water. In the same year, 1858, he came to Chicago as a ship carpenter aboard the H. C. Winslow, which is yet on the lakes. In August of that year he began tugging in this city on board the wrecking tug McQueen. In 1859 he became master of the tug Mulford, comman- ding her one season. In 1860 he commanded the tug Rumsey, which later, during the Civil war, was confiscated by the United States Government. In 1861 Captain Roach superintended at Miller's yards, Chicago, the construction of the tug Monitor, and when she was launched became her captain. He sailed her for the season, then bought a two-thirds interest in the tug Union, which had blown up, and which he rebuilt, and sailed for many years. About fifteen years ago Captain Roach sold the Union, and since then has been in the employ of the Dunham Towing and Wrecking Company, commanding various boats of that line. He has had an active life upon the lakes, and participated in many rescues of crews.
On December 12, 1867, during a furious, blinding snowstorm from the northeast, the bark David Morris went ashore at Glencoe, north of Evanston. Captain Roach, with his tug Union, took a lifeboat and volunteer crew (Calvin Carr, now insurance and vessel agent in Chicago, being captain of same) out to the wreck, and Captain Carr succeeded in taking off the entire crew, including the female cook - nine persons in all - and landing them safely at Glencoe. For meritorious services rendered on this occasion our subject received a gold watch worth $575 which he still has in his possession. It bears the following inscription:
In Traverse bay, many years ago, occurred one of the most protracted efforts to save life and property, in the wrecking of the schooner Kate Richmond, by Captain Roach and crew of the tug Union. He had pumped out the schooner to relieve her, but when about complete a northeasterly squall coming on, she left her bed. The anchors were swung and she went on the beach again, the hawser breaking. Her spars were chopped down within four hours, but the tug, because of the high seas, could not keep alongside. The next morning after two attempts the lifeboat was sent to her, which failed, however. The captain went fifteen miles for another lifeboat, which took off four of the crew under the captain's direction; four others escaped on a raft made of booms and spars. The steamer Ironsides, bound for Milwaukee, came along and was paid forty dollars an hour to help; she held on till they reached the west shore.
In 1894 the Rainbow went down off Chicago. Captain Roach went in the tug Mollie Spencer, and took off four men, one of whom was in the water at the time. A sea struck the tug, broke in the windows and filled her with water. She had to get away for her own preservation, leaving two men on the wreck, the captain and mate, who finally drifted ashore, at Thirty-first street, more dead than alive.
Another rescue occurred some years when the Monticello missed the piers and went on the bars during a heavy northeaster. Captain Roach organized a crew and went to the rescue, bringing off all the men.
In 1869 Captain Roach was married at Chicago, to Miss Eliza Dee, and to them have been born five children: William, Joseph, Mrs. George Dempsey, Mrs. William Scully, and Genevieve. Mrs. Roach died in May, 1897. Chicago has been the home of Captain Roach since 1858. During the big fire in 1871, he was burned out on Ohio street between State and Dearborn streets. He is a member of the Ship Master Association, and for years has been connected with the order of Foresters. In person he is a tall and straight as an arrow, and active far beyond his years. In manner he has the bluff, crisp address of the typical mariner, but is courteous and considerate. Few if any of the men now sailing the lakes have passed through so many perils as he; few if any have a record so clear and untarnished. He has never been injured in the forty years of his lake service, and never has lost a man. He has amassed a comfortable property, and is in every sense a worthy and conspicuous representative of the great inland marine.
Return to Home Port
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.