Captain John J. Roberts
Captain John J. Roberts, a man of strong personality, good judgment and logical convictions, performs the duties of harbor master at the port of Chicago with rare tact and wisdom, and consequently is highly esteemed both by owners and captains of craft entering that harbor. He has corrected many evils existing on the river previous to his appointment, especially as regards the bridge ordinances.
He was born in County Limerick, Ireland, September 19, 1844, and is a son of Thomas and Mary (Mead) Roberts, who brought their family to America about 1849, and located at St. Catharines, Ont., where our subject attended school until he reached the age of twelve years. He then went to Oswego, N. Y., and shipped as cabin boy on the brig E. W. Cross, with Captain Moore, and remained with her continuously until 1861. That year he went to Montreal and shipped as seaman in the brig Danube, bound for Dundee, making a good passage, and going thence to Liverpool, where he joined the barque Oriole for Callao, thence to New York. He then returned to the lakes, and shipped out of Buffalo. On August 28, 1862, the Captain enlisted in the 164th N.Y.V.I., serving four months in that regiment with the Army of the James. He was then transferred to Battery D. Fourth United States Artillery, and served with honor in the great battles of the Wilderness, Fair Oaks, Cold Harbor, Gettysburg, the sieges of Suffolk and Petersburg, entering Richmond, Va., with his battery, on April 3, 1865. It was at this time that Archduke Maximilian entered Mexico to subvert the government in defiance of the Monroe Doctrine, and the Fourth United States Artillery was dispatched with other forces to the Rio Grande for the purpose of driving the invaders out of the Republic. This movement had the desired effect, and as all the warring elements had become quelled Mr. Roberts received his honorable discharge at Fort Pickens, Texas, December 28, 1865.
Captain Roberts then returned to his home in St. Catharines, Ont., and passed some time on Canadian vessels. In 1867 he went to Oswego and shipped in the schooner Russia with Captain Clement, closing the season as mate of the schooner Coquette. The next spring he was appointed mate of the schooner Granada, followed by a season as mate in the Madeira with Capt. William Mack. In 1870 he was appointed master of the Canadian bark Gibraltar, sailing her until August, when he resigned to bring out new the schooner Grantham. During the winter of 1870-71 he superintended the construction of the schooner Shandon, and brought her out new. He sailed her ten consecutive seasons, and lost her off Cabot's head, Georgian Bay, in a blinding snowstorm. In the spring of 1881 Captain Roberts was appointed master of the schooner Jessie Scarth, and after sailing her two seasons she foundered off Portage, Lake Michigan, in an October gale, the crew being saved. The next season he sailed the schooner Flying Cloud for Scott & Channon. In 1883 he entered the employ of the Watson & Little Fuel Company as agent and manager of their coal docks, remaining with that corporation four years. Resigning that position in 1887, he accepted the surperintendency of the O.S. Richardson Fueling Company. It was on April 27, 1897, that he was appointed harbormaster at Chicago by Mayor Harrison, and confirmed by the council of Chicago.
In January, 1877, Captain Roberts was married to Miss Sarah V., Daughter of Owen and Elizabeth Sleavine, of St. Catharines, Ont., and the children born to this union are: Agnes Maude and Frederick George, who are both graduates of the Chicago High School, having also taken a two-years' course in the Chicago Business College. The family residence is at No. 365 East Ohio Street, Chicago, Illinois.
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.