Captain George H. Clarke
Captain Clarke was the eldest son in a family of ten children, four of whom are now living: Samuel, a millwright by trade, who is a resident of Oneida county, N.Y.; Hannah M., wife of George E. Stevens, who operates a fruit farm at St. Joe, Mich.; Mary, wife of Gifford Post, a farmer residing at Palmyra, N.Y.; and our subject. In 1845 the Captain shipped from New York on an ocean vessel bound for China and other ports, and for a period of ten years was on ocean vessels, occupying every berth from boy to mate, including a term of four-and-one-half-years' service in the United States navy. On August 22, 1855, he shipped from Buffalo as mate of the Tuscola, remaining on her until September of that season. He then fitted out the Wings of the Wind, Millard Fillmore and William B. Ogden, but finished the season as mate of the Florence. In the following spring he became mate of the International, during the season fitted out the brig William Treat and schooner Lively, and closed the season as mate of the schooner Quickstep. In 1857 he was mate of the Yankee Blade for a couple of trips, fitted out the Zenobia and Annie C. Rayner, and was also mate and master respectively of the brig Banner.
During the season of 1858 he was master of the schooner Excelsior until August, when he brought out the schooner Grey Eagle, of which he was master the full season of 1859. In 1860-61-62 he was master of the schooner Perseverance, and the following season mate of the schooners Cornelia and Racer, respectively, and next season he was mate of the bark Sunrise. In 1865 he became master of the bark L.H. Cotton, in which he remained until September, 1866, when he brought out the bark James F. Joy, which was the first boat of her kind that carried a thousand tons of coal, and he remained in this vessel until the close of 1867. In 1868 Captain Clarke was made master of the Erastus Corning, and continued as such for sixteen consecutive seasons. From 1884 until 1889 he was engaged in business on shore, and then was on various propellers and steamers from the spring of the latter year until that of 1896, during which season he was mate of the steamer A.G. Lindsay, of Detroit. In all his experience Captain Clarke never was in a shipwreck or disaster of any description while he was in command, and all his vessels made profitable trips. During the season of 1861 he left the schooner Perseverance, becoming master's mate in the United States navy, and while in that service he was executive officer of the United States gunboat St. Louis, when, in November of that year, a shot burst the steam chest and scalded sixteen men.
Captain Clarke was first married, in 1857, at Buffalo, in St. Paul's church, by Rev. Dr. Shelton, to Miss Kate Cronin, who died in 1883. The children now living by this wife are William E., of Buffalo, N.Y., who was master of the Saginaw Valley during the seasons of 1894-95-96; John C. of Sheridan, who was mate of the Chili in 1895 and part of the season of 1896, and mate of the Tuscarora for the remainder of the latter season; George A., of Springville, N.Y.; James, who was watchman on the Alva during 1896; and Hannah E., wife of A.H. Reed, of Sheridan, N.Y., captain of the steamer Maricopa, of the Minnesota line, during 1896. In November, 1883, Captain Clarke was married in Kansas to Eliza Jane Arnold, and they reside at No. 23 Wadsworth street, Buffalo.
Although never in a shipwreck during his long experience on the water, Captain Clarke has had several interesting experiences which are well worth relating, the most important of which was in 1848 while he was in the ship Jefferson on the trip from New York to China. The ship left port early in July, and in attempting to go to the westward while rounding Cape Horn they were overtaken by a gale, so that for forty-three successive days they were under close-reefed topsails and for the most part storm-trysails. Instead of being able to keep to their course they drifted to the southward of Crozette islands; in that locality they encountered large floes of ice and saw one iceberg not less than five miles long, two hundred feet of which was out of water, seven-eighths of it being under the surface. After a cruise of about ten days in the ice they finally reached New Zealand, at Akaroa harbor, where they made repairs. They got new top-gallant mast, fore-yard studding sail and jib-boom, new supplies, and resumed their voyage to Hong Kong. About the last of January of the following year, when about one hundred miles to the southward of their port of destination, and forty miles from land, two Malay proas (pirates) attempted to board the Jefferson about three o'clock in the morning. With a four-pound gun, muskets and cutlasses the crew of the Jefferson sunk one of the proas, and the other was driven off with a loss of about five or six men. None of the crew of the Jefferson was killed, but Captain Clarke wears the scars from one of the scimiters to this day. The second day after this event the Jefferson put into Hong Kong in safety.
In 1861, while master of the Perseverance, Captain Clarke first discovered what has since been called St. Martin's Shoal. It is located between Louse or Rock and St. Martin's islands at one of the entrances to Green Bay, about sixty miles from the city. Captain Clarke marked a chart and sent it to the topographical engineers at Detroit, Mich. During the season of 1869, while master of the Erastus Corning, Captain Clarke was the means of arousing sufficient interest in the establishment of a life-saving station at Evanston, and lighthouse at Grosse Point, Lake Michigan, to result in making them permanent fixtures. On November 16, the Arrow was wrecked in that locality, and after two unsuccessful attempts at a rescue Captain Clarke with others boarded the tug Woods from Chicago and proceeded to the scene of the disaster. One boat and the occupants, which embraced all of the Arrow's crew, were lost. After a stay of twelve hours at the wreck Captain Freer, of the steamer Bay City, and his wheelsman were taken off. Captain Clarke subsequently communicated all the facts above alluded to, but much more in detail, to the Secretary of the Treasury, with an endorsement by the Collector of Customs at Chicago, the result of which was the establishment of the life-saving station and lighthouse above mentioned. Later, while on the Corning, in 1872, she struck a rock at Barpoint, Lake Erie, and had her forefoot knocked off. This fact was conveyed to E.P. Dorr, insurance agent at Buffalo, who handled the government charts at that time, resulting in the establishment of a lightship at that point.
In the fall of 1860, Captain Clarke experienced the coldest bath he ever remembers. The schooner Comet was wrecked off the Tifft farm in a gale and snowstorm, endeavoring to make Buffalo harbor, and while in command of Capt. John Eastwick. When the news reached the tug offices Captain Clarke and five other stalwart fellows went to the wreck with a Francis metallic lifeboat, and got the crew off. They were in the water when the rescuers arrived, and on the way to the land the boat was capsized, but all reached shore in safety. Ten of the party were taken to the city in a wagon, but Captain Clarke went on foot, and when he reached home he was so exhausted that he could not have gone a step farther. However, he was finally revived by the use of Perry Davis' Pain Killer and some vigorous manipulating, his various articles of clothing being so stiff with ice that he had to stand them up in a corner instead of hanging them.
The fiercest gale the Captain ever experienced on the lakes was in 1872. It was in Saginaw bay, and while he was on the Corning. He discovered a steamer in distress and hard aground on North Point reef, and she proved to be the propeller Galena, of which J.C. Gilchrist was the clerk. He went to her relief, but failed to furnish any, as his services were refused by the crew of the Galena on account of the heavy sea, and getting away again he was compelled to slip his anchor. One enormous sea which boarded the Corning completely filled the deck of the vessel. Her rail was five feet four inches high, and it was estimated that about one hundred tons of water came aboard. In 1878 he went to the rescue of the J.R. Bently, which was in distress about twenty miles from the Straits of Mackinac, and about twelve miles from shore. She sunk when the Corning was about four miles away, but the crew were picked off by a small boat after the water had been partly stilled by the use of oil. The Captain made a pretty good job of setting the mate's arm, which had been broken, at least so said a physician who examined it on their arrival at Buffalo. Besides his other qualifications Captain Clarke is a good tailor, having picked up the trade on salt water. Among his store of relics of his sea-faring life he has a small pair of trousers made by him for his two-year-old son, the first pair the lad owned. They were made at odd times while the Captain was on the Perseverance, but could have been made easily in a day. The boy was drowned off the docks at Erie, Penn., when about eleven years old.
In March, 1865, while a resident of the First ward of Buffalo, Captain Clarke was chosen to be blindfolded and perform the duty of drafting soldiers for the Civil war. The first name drawn was that of a lighthouse tender at Buffalo Harbor, who had been dead two years. Later he brought forth the name of a man who had been cook with him on a vessel, and who had been shot in the war two years previously, and also that of a sailor who was then confined in Andersonville prison. Capt. George H. Clarke is a member of the Hugh de Payens Commandery, and is a thirty-second degree Mason; is also a member of the Buffalo Consistory, in which work he has taken a great interest.
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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.