Bartley O'Brien, one of the old-time engineers, and for a number of years identified with the lakes, but now filling the position of chief engineer of the St. Paul Elevator Company, of Chicago, is an Eastern man by birth, having been born in Troy. N.Y., in 1849, a son of Henry and Honora (Condon) O'Brien. The father, a ship carpenter by trade, was a native of Ireland, and on coming to this country took up his residence in Troy, N.Y., where he and his wife both died.
There our subject was reared and educated like most boys of his day, and during early life engaged in steamboating on the Hudson river, from Troy to New York City. Coming to Chicago in May, 1856, he began sailing on the lakes, entering the employ of J.S. Dunham, as fireman on the tug A.B. Ward, where he transferred, as engineer, to the tug A.C. Gunnison. In 1858 he was engineer of the tug C.A. Mosher, of the same line, and in the fall of the latter year took her and the A.C. Gunnison south to New Orleans, these being the first screw boats to go down the Mississippi river. In June, 1859, he returned to Chicago, but the following September again went to New Orleans, on the tug Union, out of Philadelphia, remaining on her until she was sold to the Confederacy at the outbreak of the Civil war. In 1861 he was at the mouth of the Mississippi as engineer on the tug Watson, where the ram Manassas struck the sloop-of-war Richmond. He then refitted the tug Mosher, but before she could get away he was forced into the Confederate service as assistant engineer on the steamship Gov. Moore, formerly the Charles Morgan, which was lost in the Mississippi river April 24, 1862. Mr. O'Brien jumped overboard and swam ashore with the rest of the crew, and proceeded to New Orleans, and then to Vicksburg with Farragut's fleet. In February, 1863, he came north from New Orleans to Chicago, by way of New York City, and again entered the employ of Capt. J.S. Dunham as engineer of the tug A. Mosher, remaining on her during the season of 1863. In 1864 he went as engineer on the tug Crawford, where he remained two years, and in 1866 took the engines of the steamer Lucretia south, fitted them up at New Albany, Ind., and remained there one year, after which he returned to Chicago and brought out the tug Miller. After four years spent as engineer on the tug Crawford, he took command of her as captain for five more years, and in 1880 was engineer of the Albert Soper, which was engaged in the lumber trade. He then brought out the A.R. Colburn, which was also running in the lumber trade, and on her he remained for seven years. The following two years he was engineer on the Isabella Boyce; and for four years was engineer of the John Otis, rounding out over forty years on lakes and rivers.
In 1863 Mr. O'Brien was shipwrecked off the Narrows, New York City; in 1883 was on the Colburn when she burned off South Haven, Mich.; and the following year was wrecked at St. Joseph, Mich. The citizens of Michigan City, Ind., presented him with a gold medal for assisting in saving the lives of the crew of the schooner Early Bird, and he numbers it among his most cherished possessions. He is an honored member of the M. E. B. A., and has the respect and confidence of all who know him.
In 1868 Mr. O'Brien was married to Miss Mary O'Connor, a native of Troy, N. Y., and a daughter of Thomas O'Connor, who was a dry-goods merchant of that place. To them have been born eight children, namely: James, a steamboat engineer at New York City; Henry T.; Susan B.; Ellen F.; Elizabeth M.; John C.; Thomas J.; and Alice E. The family residence is at No. 5542 LaSalle street, Chicago, Illinois.
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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.