Captain William Armstrong
Captain William Armstrong takes rank among the oldest of the active steamboat masters on the lakes, and possesses many of the qualifications acquired only by long experience. A portion of his marine life was passed on the ocean, and it was during that time that he learned navigation.
Captain Armstrong was born in Palermo, Sicily, one of the Italian possessions, in 1833, the son of Anthony and Mary (White) Armstrong, the former of Irish extraction, the latter a native of Sicily. The father was a master of ocean vessels of the merchant marine and commander of a gunboat in the Italian navy, in which he served with distinction. The family removed to the United States in 1846, locating in New York City, where the parents died, leaving William an orphan while very young, to the care of an elder brother. As he grew up his regard for the life of a sailor developed, and in 1847 he shipped as decksweep on the steamer Bay State, plying on Long Island Sound between New York, Newport and Fall River, Captain Comstock being in command. He passed the season of 1848 on the lakes, shipping out of Buffalo in the new schooner C. B. Blair, returning to New York that winter. The next year he went to Baltimore and joined the full-rigged ship Atlas, a Baltimore packet, and made the voyage around Cape Horn to San Francisco, remaining on the Pacific coast about five years, serving on various vessels. In 1854 he purchased a small schooner, the Gray Eagle, and sailed her in the bay, becoming a good pilot. This was followed for a time on the full-rigged ship Neptune's Favorite, of Boston, in which he made the passage to Shanghai, thence to London, the voyage lasting about six months. He then went to Liverpool and shipped on the Wild Cat for Belfast, Maine, going thence to New Orleans on the ship Mary, and returning to New York, where he joined a bark bound for San Fuegos, Cuba, and return.
When Captain Armstrong again came on the lakes he shipped out of Chicago in the schooner W. B. Herburt with Captain Wilson, and after three months joined the brig Globe, with Capt. C. McGrew, as second mate. In 1858 he acted as second mate on the schooner Nightingale, followed by three seasons as mate on the schooner Palmetto, with Capt. Harry Brown. The next five seasons the Captain sailed as second mate on the schooners J. W. Oates, Lookout, Mary Brown, Robert Fulton, brig Pilgrim, bark John Sweeney and Reciprocity, and in 1866 he was appointed master of the last-named vessel, and sailed her three seasons. In the spring of 1869 he was appointed master of the barge Newhouse, and after sailing her one season was transferred to the schooner Contest, owned by the same company, and sailed her two seasons. In 1871 he sailed the schooner Willet. After the great Chicago fire he moved his family into the country. The next season he was master of the schooner Medbury; from 1873 to 1878, inclusive, he sailed as master and mate on various schooners, and then took out license and was appointed master of the steamer M. E. Thompson. In 1880 he became master of the schooner John Minor.
Captain Armstrong passed the next twelve years as master on the steamers Dunbar, New York, Milwaukee, two seasons, J. W. Westcott, and served as mate on the steamer Joys. In 1893, during the World's Fair in Chicago, he had command of the steamlaunch Richmond, with which he carried passengers to and from the grounds. The next season he passed ashore, it being the first for forty-six years. In the spring of 1897 he was appointed master of the steamer Joys, and during the season of 1898 he sailed the passenger steamer Mabel Bradshaw. Many of the winters, during this long career on the lakes, Captain Armstrong went to New York or New Orleans, and shipped on vessels trading to Liverpool, London or Havre, thus lengthening his period of service and rounding out more than half a century on the water. He is still hale and hearty, and in appearance and activity is much younger than his age implies.
On October 12, 1867, Captain Armstrong wedded Miss Margaret, daughter of William and Margaret Henry, of Roscommon, Ireland, and the children born to this union are Mary, a graduate of the Chicago high school, and for seven years a teacher, and who married Frank Blum, a custom house inspector; William A., who graduated from the bookkeeping department of the Metropolitan Business College, Chicago, is a first-class stenographer, and operates a private wire in a telegraph office; Margery N. is the next of the family; Arthur A. J., a student in the Chicago high school; and Harry R., the youngest. The family residence is situated at No. 756 Mozart 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.