Captain James Lawless
Captain James Lawless, who has been before the marine public for fifty years, during the last forty of which he has been prominent as shipbuilder, owner and master, is still in prime vigor, owing in great measure, doubtless, to his freedom from all ills that flesh is heir to, and to the temperate life which he has chosen to adopt.
Captain Lawless was born in Old Niagara, November 2, 1839, and is the son of John and Mary (Graley) Lawless, natives of Ireland. They came to America in 1842, locating in Old Niagara, Canada, where the father, who was a stationary engineer, followed his business. He lost his life while endeavoring to save life and property at the time the steamer Zimmerman was destroyed by fire at the dock in 1861. The deck gave way under him and he fell into the fierce flames, and was burned to death. The steamer plied between Toronto and Old Niagara in the passenger and freight business. Mr. Lawless was mourned by his fellow-townsmen because of his sterling integrity and humanity to man. The wife and mother was laid to rest in 1870 at Alton, Illinois.
Young James acquired his education in Old Niagara, for which his father paid the usual fee of twenty-five cents per month, but according to the legend the tax on the resources of the paternal strong box did not continue many months, as James, not liking enforced confinement any more than he did his teacher, ran away from home when he was but ten years of age and went to St. Catharines, where he engaged in delivering for a butcher for the handsome stipend of $2.00 per month. One fine day he concluded to throw up his job as not worthy of a lad of his genius, and applied for and obtained employment in the shipyard of Lewis Shickluna, where he thoroughly learned all branches of the shipbuilding trade. The Captain remained in the shipyard until 1855, when he went to Vermilion, Ohio, the home of a great number of old-time owners and skippers, and shipped on the schooner Exchange, owned by Capt. A. Bradley, and commanded by Capt. Joseph Grover. The next spring he shipped as seaman on the schooner F.T. Barney. In 1857 he again joined the schooner Exchange as mate, closing the season and all of that of 1858 on the steamer Queen City, commanded by Capt. George Stone, and he insists that it is owing to his association with Captain Stone and to his advice and good judgment that his success in life is greatly due. In 1859 Captain Lawless shipped on the schooner Berlin (the first three-and after on the lakes) with Capt. William Wadsworth, closing on the Miami Belle with Captain Parks. The next season he joined the schooner Philip Minch as seaman, but was soon promoted to the office of second mate. In the spring of 1861 he shipped on the schooner Queen City, closing the season on the R.J. Bemis. The next spring he was appointed mate on the schooner Exchange, Capt. C. Rewell, master, and held that berth two seasons. During the season of 1864 he was mate, Capt. James Stone, on the schooner S.J. Kimball, and on the Escanaba with Capt. George Stone, and the next year was again under Capt. C. Rewell as mate on the schooner Negaunee, followed by a season as mate of the Exchange with Capt. M. Thompson.
He was made master of the schooner S.H. Kimball in 1868, and sailed her two seasons and in the spring of 1870 was appointed to the command of the schooner George Worthington, and for thirty-one years his success as a shipmaster was uninterrupted, having also acquired a money interest in many vessels during these years. 1871-72 he sailed the schooner Escanaba; the Negaunee five seasons; the S.J. Tilden in 1878; and the next two seasons the Thomas Quayle. He then turned his attention to steam vessels, and in the spring of 1881 was appointed master of the Henry Chisholm, sailing her two seasons, followed by three in a like position on the steamer Selah Chamberlain, and one on the E.B. Hale. In the spring of 1887 he took command of the steamer City of Cleveland, and sailed her three seasons. In the spring of 1890 the Captain entered the employ of Hurley Brothers, of Detroit, as master of the steamer Majestic, and sailed her successfully five seasons, after which he took command of the steamer Superior, which office he held two seasons. His next boat was the E.B. Hale, which foundered with him in Saginaw bay, without involving loss of life, however, and was the only boat lost during the Captain's sailing life. In the spring of 1898 he assumed command of the schooner John Martin. Being an industrious man he has spent many of his winter months in the shipyard, laying down and superintending the construction of vessels.
On February 22, 1863, Capt. James Lawless was united in marriage to Miss Eliza, daughter of R.S. and Laura (Brooks) Harris. Five children have been born to this union, four of them still living: Fred S., who became a sailor and was master of the Oregon, but is now engaged in the plumbing business in Cleveland under the firm name of Patterson, Lawless & Co.; Cora, the wife of E.L. Coen, a banker in Vermilion; Miles, cashier of the Erie County Bank in Vermilion; Bertie, who died at the age of four years; and Olive, a graduate of the Vermilion high school. The Captain's only grandchild is Edward Coen. The family homestead is pleasantly situated in Vermilion, Ohio.
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.