Walter O. Ashley
Walter O. Ashley, of the firm of Ashley & Dustin, vessel owners and agents, was born in Claremont, N. H. , October 26, 1835, and whatever educational advantages he enjoyed in his boyhood were those afforded by the New England schools of the period. He came of good old Puritan stock, his great-great-grandfather, Samuel Ashley, being a colonel of New Hampshire volunteers in the Revolutionary war, and a member of the personal staff of Gen. Horatio Gates. Colonel Ashley raised the regiment which he commanded, and furnished the money to men until such time as the State could reimburse him. Colonel Ashley's son Oliver was a captain of a volunteer company, and two sons, Samuel and Daniel, were lieutenants of volunteers at the same time.
Young Walter O. Ashley started for the west at the age of twenty-one, and after a brief stop in Detroit he went to Port Huron, where he secured a position as clerk in a general store, remaining in this employ for a year. He then came back to Detroit and went aboard the steamer Dart, owned by Capt. Selah Dustin, running on the Port Huron route. When the Philo Parsons began running to Sandusky in 1863, he became clerk of the boat, having purchased a small interest in the enterprise, and it was while thus employed that he passed through one of the most exciting experiences of his life, the boat being seized by Confederate refugees, with the hope of releasing the Rebel prisoners confined on Johnson's island in Lake Erie. The Parsons left Detroit on her usual morning run, September 19, 1864, and at Sandwich, Amherstburg and Kelley's island took on detachments of rough-looking men until the total number was thirty-five. These men had no baggage except a rusty-looking trunk tied together with ropes over which they seemed to exercise very careful supervision. At five o'clock in the afternoon, while the boat was near Kelley's island, the men opened the trunk, which was filled with hatchets and revolvers, and took possession. Mr. Ashley and his passengers were put ashore at Middle Bass island, Ohio. The gang also seized the Island Queen at Middle Bass island when she came in from Sanduky, towing her out into the lake and scuttling her. She drifted about ten miles and went on a reef nearly full of water, but was afterward recovered. It was their intention to capture the United States steamer Michigan, but after steaming around the lake for a few hours they decided not to make the attempt. The Parsons was finally headed for the Detroit river, and was abandoned at Sandwich after being badly damaged, much of the interior work of the boat having been wantonly destroyed.
About this time, or shortly afterward, Mr. Ashley became interested with John P. Clark, when the Jay Cooke was built, owned by Mr. Clark and Mr. Ashley, and was placed on route in 1868, which was about the beginning of the line between Detroit and Put-in-Bay island, the latter place having just begun to attract attention as a summer resort. The Cooke was a very fast boat, with very comfortable accommodations. She was succeeded by the Alaska in 1882. In 1889 she caught fire in Detroit and burned. The Pearl and Gazelle were then placed on route, alternating with each other. In June, 1890, the Frank E. Kirby came out new, owned by Ashley & Dustin and others, began daily trips and has proved a great success. The Kirby is a very fast boat, and in August, 1894, made a trip from Detroit to Put-in-Bay, a distance of about sixty-five miles, in two hours and fifty-four and three-quarters minutes. Shortly after the Jay Cooke was placed on route, Mr. Ashley associated himself with John Lewis and Horace Mitchell, forming the firm of Ashley, Lewis & Co., and engaged in the vessel agency and forwarding business now carried on at the foot of First street. In 1872 Mr. Lewis retired and the firm became Ashley & Mitchell. Mr. Mitchell died April 23, 1887, and Edward A. Dustin, who had been in the office for several years, was then associated with Mr. Ashley, the firm taking its present name of Ashley & Dustin.
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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.