Captain John Kuhn
Captain John Kuhn has been unusually successful in his maritime life, having succeeded by good business qualifications, practical seamanship and industry, in acquiring an interest in several profitable cargo carriers. He was born in Detroit, Mich., April 19, 1843, a son of Christopher and Abbie (Nobledt) Kuhn, both of Alsace, France, now a province of Germany.
As Alsace has from time immemorial been a bone of contention between France and Germany, and has been ceded back and forth by these powers several times, it was incumbent upon the inhabitants to learn both the German and French languages. Thus it transpired that Captain Kuhn's parents were masters of both, though they preferred to owe allegiance to France, and to use that vivacious tongue. They came to the United States in 1835, locating Detroit, Mich. Here they met for the first time in the old "Michigan Exchange Hotel," and soon afterward, were married. The father was a shoemaker by trade, and it was not long after their marriage that they removed to Newport, now Marine City, Mich., as pioneers, and where he started in business, conducting the same with fair success until his death, which occurred in 1873. The mother, who is still living in Marine City, makes her home with her son-in-law, Capt. M. Sicken, a large vessel owner, who married her daughter, Mary Louisa. The other children of the family were George M., a well-known lake master who died in 1883; Charles, a merchant tailor, doing business in Cheboygan, Mich., and Augusta, who married John Drawe, also a merchant tailor of Marine City.
Capt. John Kuhn, the subject of this sketch, was about eight months old when his parents removed to Marine City, and it was there that he acquired his rudimentary education. It was in the spring of 1858 that he first took to the lakes, going as cabin boy on the passenger steamer Comet, on which he met a companion of about his own age named Howard Towl. Towl, for some misdemeanor, was put on the dock at Chicago, and, boy-like, young Kuhn quit and joined him. They both got passes from Capt. P. Clark, of the Marquette,and were taken to Detroit. This was Captain Kuhn's first visit to that city, and here he shipped on the side-wheel steamer Planet as third porter, and the next season became first porter on the propeller Montgomery. The next eight years were passed on various vessels, beginning as cabin boy on the steamer Dart, plying on the St. Clair river; then rising to watchman on the Ruby; and later on acting as wheelsman on the tugs Dart, Kate Williams, and Michigan, which was afterward converted into a man-of-war; and was on the steamer Reindeer on the St. Clair river. At the time of the uprising between the North and South he entered the navy, where he remained thirteen months and five days, serving on the gunboat Tomah, then on the Cincinnati, which he laid up at Algiers, a port opposite New Orleans; then brought the schooner Kitty Tince to New York and laid her up at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and was discharged. In the spring of 1867 he became wheelsman on the steamer Salina, and the next year filled the same office on the Sanilac with Captain Fish. In the spring of 1869 he shipped as watchman on the passenger steamer Lac la Belle, plying between Cleveland and Lake Superior ports, and was at the wheel when she was sunk in a collision with the steamer Milwaukee at South East Bend, St. Clair Flats, three lives being lost.
In the spring of 1870 Captain Kuhn was appointed mate of the steamer Trader, holding that position two seasons, being promoted to first mate the next year. That winter he worked in Langall's shipyard in Marine City. In the spring of 1873 he came out as mate of the steamer D. F. Rose. The next year he purchased an interest in the schooner C. L. Young, assumed command and sailed her ten seasons with good business success, and then sold her to Capt. Joseph Shackett. During the winter of 1883-84 he superintended the construction of the steamer M. Sicken, in which he owned an interest, brought her out new in the spring, and sailed her for fourteen consecutive seasons. In the meantime he purchased interests in the towbarges Charles Spademan, E. J. McVeigh, and the schooners Melvina and Levi Rawson, selling his share in the last named, however. With the M. Sicken he tows the two barges in the lumber trade and is doing a fair business. During his experience as master he has been instrumental in saving the crews of the Norman and Jack, sunk during a collision in Lake Huron. Socially, he is a member of the C. M. B. A. and Arbiters.
In January, 1879, Captain Kuhn wedded Miss Mary A. Kobel, daughter of Henry Kobel, of Marine City, Mich. The children born to this union are: John, who died young; Henry, now wheelsman in the steamer M. Sicken; Gertrude, Frank and Fred, who are attending school. Captain Kuhn and his family make their home in Marine City, Michigan.
Mrs. Kuhn's father was also a lake master, his last boats being the Gardner and William Brake; the other members of her family were Susan, who became the wife of Captain Moneghan, hull inspector of the Duluth district; Charles, mate on the steamer M. Sicken; James, master of the schooner Levi Rawson; and George, who has sailed as master of tugs in St. Louis bay, but is now conducting a meat market.
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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.