Captain Barton Atkins
Captain Barton Atkins, one of the oldest lake men both in length of years and service now residing in Buffalo, was born in that city December 6th, 1826. His father, Samuel R. Atkins, died in 1839, up to which time young Barton attended the public schools quite regularly; but after that it was difficult for him to be satisfied in school. Every evening in the summer season, as soon as the children were dismissed, they were all in the habit of going down to the lake to watch the vessels going out of and coming into the harbor. Looking out over Lake Erie to the westward, there was a limit to the vision, and young Atkins was exceedingly anxious to see what lay beyond.
At length, in 1842, he went aboard the Chesapeake, Capt. D. Howe, master. Elisha Boyington, mate, Harry Watts and James Hathaway, wheelmen, and Albert Harris, engineer, Mr. Atkins being third engineer. Remaining on the Chesapeake that season and part of the next, he learned the compass and took great interest in the management of boats. While on this vessel he was placed at the wheel by mate Boyington, and felt very proud of this advancement. In 1844 he went on board the steamer Rochester as wheelsman, the Rochester being commanded by Capt. Thomas P. Folger. In 1845 he was on the Bunker Hill. In 1846 he went to Mackinaw on the steamer Superior, and then shipped as wheelsman on the steamer General Scott, running from Mackinaw to the Sault, carrying passengers and freight. Soon afterward he went on the Independence on Lake Superior, the captain of this boat being J. M. Averill, the mate James Moody. About the time of the last trip of 1846 he met a gentleman from New York named Cutting, the owner of a mine in the Lake Superior region, and made a bargain with him to go up to his mine and keep the time of the men working there, and an account of the provisions used. Remaining there until June 6, 1847, he went down to the mouth of Eagle River, where lay the schooner Algonquin, commanded by Capt. John Halloran, and Captain Atkins was on board of her the rest of the season. In 1848 he was on the steamboat Baltic, Capt. L. H. Cotton.
In 1849 he came out on the steamer Empire as second mate, Capt. Henry Randall, which steamer, on her first trip, grounded at Cheboygan light, lying there a week before she could be taken off. He then went on board the steamer Lexington, which had been chartered by the government to build a lighthouse in the Straits of Mackinac, five or six miles off St. Helena Island, at Point Waugoshance. Captain Canfield was the army officer in charge of the work. He had a small boat, in which Captain Atkins went out one day with a couple of men and caught an enormous trout, about five feet long, which he handed up to Captain Fred. Wheeler, of the steamer St. Louis, as that vessel passed. In 1850 Captain Atkins went ashore and remained on land until 1863, following various employments. In the year last named he built three tugs at Buffalo, the Red Jacket, the J. B. Dudley and the J. C. Morse, the latter a large river tug which he worked exclusively in the Sault River during 1867, 1868 and 1869. In 1865 he went to Marquette, Mich., and was there engaged in the towing business until 1869, in that year embarking on the Arctic, Captain Turner, on which he remained until she was laid up at the close of the season. In 1870 he went to Duluth as agent of the Union Steamboat line for S. D. Caldwell, and shipped the first bushel of wheat and first barrel of flour ever shipped from that port. In 1871, while engaged there as agent, he wrote a letter to the Buffalo Courier, which attracted a great deal of attention among business men, and which led to the establishment or extension of the Union Steamboat line between Duluth and Buffalo, and as a result a commerce was established which has since become immense in its proportions.
Captain Atkins continued at Duluth as agent until 1873, when he became a master of the steamboat Metropolis, which ran on what was known as the South Shore route, and which Captain Atkins was the means of establishing. The Metropolis was a sister boat of the Manistee, and he was on her during the seasons of 1873-74. In 1875-76 he was engaged as pilot for various vessels, a line of Canadian vessels running in connection with the Allan line, and carrying railroad iron from the lower lakes to Lake Superior ports for the Canadian Pacific railroad. While thus acting he had the following experience, which will be of interest to all lake men, as it was in reality a race between his vessel and the Europe, destined for the same port with a similar cargo. Captain Atkins shipped on board the California at Detroit (with a crew not one member of which had ever been to the great lake), being engaged as pilot to take her to Fort William, and thence to Duluth for a cargo of wheat, and return. The master of the California was an elderly, fat and jolly Nova Scotia "salty," very anxious to get under way and to overtake and pass the propeller Europe, which had passed up four hours before. The first boat to reach Fort William would of course be the first discharged, while the other would have to wait three or four days. But how was the California, her master admitting her to be the slower boat, to gain upon and pass the Europe? The old "salty" suggested that something might happen to detain the Europe, and he wanted to be in place to make the most of any such opportunity that might arise, promising Captain Atkins $50, in addition to his regular wages, if he should beat the Europe to Fort William. The California maintained a uniform speed of nine miles an hour Lake Huron, and it was about 7 P. M. when she entered Detour passage, where by hailing a down-bound boat Captain Atkins learned that it was an even chance if the Europe had succeeded in getting above the lock before dark; and as it was a clear, starlight night he determined to keep the California under way as long as it was safe to do so. Arriving at the Neebish rapids about dark, she went safely through by getting hold of the lower buoys. At the flats in Lake George the stakes could not be seen even with the glasses, but to overcome this difficulty a boat was lowered, and its crew instructed to pull in line of the windward stakes, holding a light in view, and in this manner the California passed through all right. Then Captain Atkins, being familiar with the river, felt assured that he could go through Lake Superior without a lay-over, and upon arriving at the Sault about 2 o'clock A. M., he learned that the Europe was tied up in the canal basin above the lock. The tenders being in bed he went to the superintendent, Mr. Carlton, who aroused them, and they, inspired with the promise of a ten-dollar note, silently and quickly locked the California up into the level of Lake Superior. Before three o'clock she slowly passed the Europe, and by daylight was abreast of Point Iroquois, with the Europe not in sight in her wake.
Taking bearings from the run from Iroquois to White Fish Point, Captain Atkins figured a course for the California from the latter light to the passage between the easterly end of Isle Royal and Passage Island. After rounding Point Iroquois she penetrated a dense fog, which did not lift for twenty-four hours, but she kept on her course at her best speed for about twenty hours, when she was stopped, still in the fog. The lead finding the bottom under deep water she was headed northerly and proceeded as slowly as possible, with steerage way, trusting to find shallow water or the loom of the land. Making her way thus for more than an hour, and not finding either land or a close bottom, Captain Atkins became anxious lest he was lost in the wilderness of waters and vapor; but his anxiety was soon dispelled by the sudden lifting of the fog, when it was found that the boat was on her way to Thunder Cape, fully two miles north of the narrow passage sought, having passed the two islands, about two miles apart, unawares. The California was then given her steam, and, being first to pass up the Kaministique River, was soon at her berth at Fort William, having her cargo whipped out by horsepower. Next morning the Europe came and moored at her stern, where she lay three days awaiting her turn to unload. The California went on up to Duluth, took on a cargo of wheat, and passed Detroit bound down, three days in advance of the Europe.
In 1876 Captain Atkins retired from the lakes for good. In 1877 he was appointed northwestern agent of the Wisconsin Central railroad, stationed variously at Ashland, Duluth and Houghton, Mich., retaining this position until 1879, and was then appointed contracting agent for the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul. Railroad at St. Paul, and remained there until 1883. From 1883 to July, 1885, he was general agent for the Elmira, Cortland & Northern railroad at Elmira, N. Y., at the end of this time being appointed, by President Cleveland, United States marshal for Alaska, with headquarters at Sitka, and he held this position until 1889. Returning to Buffalo, he became agent there for the Reading system, having charge of the freight department, and occupied this position from 1890 until 1893, since which time he has lived at his home, No. 330 Linwood avenue, Buffalo, N. Y. Captain Atkins, although past seventy years of age, is wonderfully well preserved, has a remarkable memory in regard to all things pertaining to the lakes, and has written for the periodicals of the day many articles of interest to which this history is largely indebted. While in Alaska he made a valuable collection of Indian relics, which he presented to the Buffalo Historical Society, where they may be viewed by the public.
In 1852 Captain Atkins was married to Miss Eliza Russell, daughter of Washington Adams Russell, a farmer of Buffalo, whose former farm is now The Meadows, in Lake Park. She was born October 16, 1827, within eighty rods of where she now (1897) lives. Captain and Mrs. Atkins have had four children, as follows: Elizabeth, born in 1853, now the wife of Archibald Angus McLeod, formerly president of the Philadelphia & Reading railroad, and well known throughout the country; Russell B. Atkins, who was drowned at Marquette, Mich., July 21, 1866, when ten years of age, falling overboard from one of his father's tugs; Nellie, the third child who died of scarlet fever in February 1870; and Arthur R. Atkins, born in 1866, now a member of the Great Lakes Steamship Company, a partner with John Gordon, one of the ablest and most experienced men connected with lake shipping.
Captain Atkins belongs to a family of early lake navigators, his father having been supercargo of the Walk-in-the-Water in 1818 and 1819; his uncle, Guy J. Atkins, who was master of the Nautilus in 1819 and 1820, besides being an early lake navigator, was a valiant defender of the Niagara frontier during the war of 1812. He was one of Dr. Cyrenius Chapin's picked men for hazardous expeditions, and was at the side of that valorous citizen in the defense of the fated village of Buffalo on the memorable 30th of December, 1813. He died at his home, about twenty miles from Buffalo, in 1871, at the age of eighty-five years. Capt. A. R. Atkins, formerly of Cleveland and Chicago, but now deceased, was a relative of the subject of this sketch.
John Atkins, the great-great-grandfather of Capt. Barton Atkins, emigrated from Cheshire, a maritime county in the west of England, to Waterbury, Conn., in 1724. His son John was born at Waterbury in 1736. About 1750 John Atkins with fifty-nine others purchased a township in the "New Hampshire grant," a county was organized named Cheshire, a town established named Claremont, and there Samuel Atkins was born in 1761. Samuel Atkins' three elder brothers, David, Amos and Chauncey, joined the Continental army and were at the battle of Bunker Hill, serving throughout the war. At the battle of Saratoga they were joined by Samuel Atkins, then sixteen years old, and he served through the remainder of the war, being at Brandywine and Yorktown with LaFayette. After the war the three elder brothers settled at Cabot, Vt., while Samuel went to New Hampshire, where about 1782 he married Lucy Cady, who died within a year. In 1784 he married Anna Jones, a native of Colchester, Conn., whose mother's maiden name was Gardner, the last named family being closely connected with that of Oliver Hazard Perry, the hero of Lake Erie, whose mother's maiden name was also Gardner, and she and the mother of Anna Jones were either first cousins or sisters. In 1795 Samuel Atkins removed from New Hampshire to Fort Stanwix (now Rome), New York State, where Samuel Rodolph Atkins was born August 29, 1797. In 1801 he removed to Scipio, Cayuga Co., N. Y., living there until 1807, when he removed to Buffalo, where he died December 6, 1812; his widow carried on his farm and hotel until Samuel R. Atkins became of age in 1818, when she removed to a frame house in which she passed the remainder of her days, her death occurring in December, 1822. Samuel R. Atkins married Wealthy Drake, daughter of Elijah Drake, of Aurora, Cayuga Co., N. Y. Mr. Atkins died July 24, 1839. He and his wife were the parents of the following named children: Abby, born in December, 1820; Helen L., born in 1822; Mary L., born in 1824; Barton, born in 1826; and Eliza, born in 1833. The only ones now (1898) living are Barton and Eliza.
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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.