Captain Jacob Imson
Captain Jacob Imson is undoubtedly the oldest navigator on the Great Lakes now residing in Buffalo, and beyond peradventure the oldest lake master now living. He is a man of marked characteristics. In his prime he possessed the courage and stamina to command a vessel in any emergency, and also had a thorough appreciation of the commercial value of any craft his attention might be called to. He was as quick to decide upon the price he would pay for a vessel as upon what course to pursue when he was confronted by a sudden change of wind, and his judgment as as sound as his decision was prompt. Furthermore, his conclusions were always sustained by practical results in dollars and cents.
Captain Imson was born at Sempronious, Cayuga Co., N. Y., September 16, 1814, and when he was ten years old, his father sold the farm upon which the family lived, and moved to Chautauqua county. Elias Imson, father of Jacob, and a farmer, was born in Orange county, N.Y.; and Sarah Honsicker was his mother's maiden name. Captain Imson's maternal grandfather lived to a great age. At ninety-three he still worked at his trade, that of shoemaker, and made the Captain's shoes, which were sewed-pegged shoes being unknown at that time. A Bible originally owned by this old gentleman is still in the possession of Captain Imson, and is now one hundred and seventy years old.
The subject of this sketch obtained his education at Sempronious and in Chautauqua county, N.Y. At the age of seventeen he began the first practical work of his life, chopping timber at Dunkirk for the building of the breakwater at that harbor. He was occupied at that work in its season and attended school in winter, during which time he boarded with Gilbert Traverse. In the spring of 1833 he did his first sailing, going before the mast in a fore-and-aft schooner, making only a few trips, however. Returning to Dunkirk he entered the employ of John Beggs, remaining with him for two years, handling cordwood on the docks, as well as the goods that were landed at and shipped off the dock, for which he received $20 per month and obliged to board himself, and when he worked Sundays got an extra dollar. His next sailing was before the mast on the John Grant, and then on the Stephen Girard. After that he was on the schooner James G. King, owned by Augustus Todd and Smith & Hopkins, receiving from this firm $30 per month wages as mate, and $10 extra for handling finances. His next experience was a couple of seasons' service on the schooner William G. Buckner, owned by Smith & Hopkins, who also kept a general store at Dunkirk, and she was laid up at that port at the end of the second season of 1842. In 1843 he was master of the schooner Albany, and in 1844-45 of the brig Empire, which was built ten miles east of Cleveland, Ohio. In 1846 he became master and part owner of the propeller St. Joseph, which was built by Biddle & Banty, and had a carrying capacity of 20,000 bushels or 4,000 barrels of flour, and originally cost $28,000. For three months of the season of 1847 Captain Imson was master of the side-wheel steamer Diamond, during which time a half-interest in the old steamer Hendrick Hudson, owned by Capt. Washington Jones and Richmond & Kinney, each having a half-interest in her, was purchased by him for $27,000. He was master of the Hudson the latter part of that season and also the full seasons of 1848-49-50-51, plying between Buffalo and Chicago.
In the fall of 1851 he and A. R. Cobb purchased the steamer Buckeye State, the purchase price being $80,000. Captain Imson became her master the following season, sailing her between Buffalo and Cleveland in the passenger and freight trade, and in 1853-54 between Detroit and Buffalo. She was a financial success, and was subsequently sold to Solomon Gardner at Detroit. Her engine, which cost $60,000, was the largest on the lakes at that time, and was built at the Delamater Works in New York. The piston had a stroke of eleven feet and the cylinder was so large that a man could pass through it.
During the time between the years 1854 and 1859 Captain Imson was engaged in farming about sixteen miles from Buffalo, and the spring of the latter year became master and owner of the propeller Sun. At the expiration of eighteen months he had her paid for, and in two years sold her for $30,000 which was $8,000 above her purchase price. From 1861 to 1880 he remained on shore, engaged in business. During the winter of 1880-81 he built the steamyacht Huntress, an excursion boat out of Buffalo harbor, which he kept for his own private use, acting himself as her master, and he and his wife lived on board her and enjoyed many cruises around the Great Lakes. In 1885 she was sold to S. S. Staley, and about that time Captain Imson re-retired permanently from the lakes, but retains his interest in lake matters, however, and always reads the marine columns of the newspapers. Among the relics of his lake career he has a picture of Buffalo harbor taken seventy years ago. Among other things represented in it is the side-wheel steamer William Penn, the first boat the Captain ever saw; she was built very much in the shape of a duck, the prevailing idea at that time being that a vessel would ride the water more readily if built in that way.
Forest Lawn cemetery, at Buffalo, contains a magnificent granite vault, built by Captain Imson, within the walls of which rest the remains of his late wife, Abbie Jordan, who was his companion in life forty-seven years two months and twelve days. The vault is a work of art and very costly; the roof is one solid piece, and at one end is a picture of the steamer St. Joseph, the vessel once sailed by the Captain. He was first married on November 6, 1833 at Dunkirk, to Miss Hepsibeth Traverse, who lived nine years and six days and was the mother of one child who lived but three months. His second marriage took place at Buffalo in 1847, when he wedded Miss Abbie Jordan, who died childless. She was a descendant in the seventh generation on her mother's side from the Kingsleys, who emigrated to America in the Mayflower. The Captain's third marriage took place at Buffalo, April 17, 1895, when he wedded Miss Clarissa E. Staley, daughter of Sutliff Staley, a farmer residing on Grand island. The residence of Captain Imson is at 67 Highland avenue, Buffalo.
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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.