Captain James N. Prior
Captain James N. Prior is a descendant from an old English family of shipbuilders and masters of ocean-going vessels, and had many years' experience on both salt and fresh water, finally retiring to accept the office of light keeper on Stannard Rock. He is a man of genial temperament, and an entertaining companion. He was born at Bembridge, in the east end of the Isle of Wight, England, October 1, 1851, his parents being George and Esther Grace (Bingen) Prior. His father was a native of Poole, England, and his mother of Cherbourg, France, where they were married. The parents removed to Portsmouth, England, where the father became a shipbilder under the government at the dock yard, and after remaining in that employe the requisite length of time he became a pensioner for duties well and faithfully performed. He removed with part of his family to the United States in 1869, first locating in Ishpeming, Mich., where he ereccted the first residence that was put up on Strawberry Hill. After a residence of some years the family removed to Marquette, Mich., where the father built a boat house and several boats, and opened business in that line. He still resides at Marquette. The other sons are William H., a salt-water sailor, who came to the lakes in 1876, and is now keeper of the lighthouse at Big Bay Point, and George, who keeps the East Channel light at Grand Island. Grandfather Prior was originally from Hastings, England, but removed to Poole, where he engaged in shipbuilding and constructed several revenue carriers for the British Government.
Captain James N. Prior, the subject of this sketch, acquired his education in the common schools of Portsmouth, and after working with his father in the shipyard about four months he put off to sea, shipping in the Star of Jersey, a fishing boat commanded by Capt. Edmund Trotter. After a year passed in fishing off the coast he joined the schooner Andy Love as boy. This was followed by another year in the Star of Jersey, at this time plying between Portsmouth and Cherbourg and Honfleur, France, and had the good fortune to witness the naval battle between the United States steamer Kearsage and the Confederate privateer Alabama, in which the latter was destroyed. Upon returning to his home port Captain Prior joined as apprentice the brig Star of the Ocean, trading between Cardiff and Hong Kong, China, with coal. He remained with that vessel about a year and a half, then ran away and shipped as seaman in the brig Fearful, transferring to the little coaster Champion, and had the honor of sailing her about a month while the captain went off on a vacation, closing the year in the yacht Blue Bell. The 3,000 ton ship Eagle of Bristol was his next vessel, in which he sailed as seaman out of Rhodes to Cardiff, thence to Valparaiso and return to Hamburg. In the schooner Jessie of Truro he visited parts of the Canary Islands, Spain, the West Indies, and South America. He left the Jessie at London and joined the new bark Derbyshire at Port Talbot, bound for San Francisco, touching at ports in the Isthmus of Panama to distribute supplies for the railroad then under construction. On returning to London he shipped as mate in the yacht Nina. In 1872, Captain Prior took passage on the steamer city of Richmond and came to the United States, going direct to Marquette, Mich., and the following spring shipped in the tug Joseph Dudley with Capt. A. Robinson. In the spring of 1874 he was appointed second mate of the Ira Chaffee with Captain Frink, soon being advanced to the office of mate. The next season he was appointed master of the tug W. J. Gordon, whose name was changed to Selma, transferred to the tug J. C. Morris and Fisherman and closed the season as master of the tug City of Marquette, which was built by his father. In 1882 he was appointed by the United States light house board as keeper of the Passage Island light, but did not accept the place. On June 9, 1883, he was appointed to the Stannard Rock lighthouse, which position he retained until 1888, when he was transferred to the Duluth lighthouse, his youngest brother taking his place at Stannard Rock. In 1895, in addition to his other duties, he was made inspector of lights and buoys in St. Louis bay and river, and is assisted by two subordinates. He is a charter member of the Masters and Pilots Association No. 44, of Duluth, a Master Mason, and a charter member of the order of Good Samaritans.
On July 30, 1882, Captain Prior was wedded to Miss Jessie, daughter of Richard and Anna Sparrow, of Marquette, formerly of Tavistock, England. The family residence is on Lake avenue, Duluth, Minnesota.
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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.