James Spears, whose death occurred March 5, 1898, was one of the well-known engineers sailing out of the port of Cleveland. He was a son of Adam and Marion (Sommerville) Spears, both of Scotch birth, and who came to the United States in their youth, locating in Niagara county, N. Y., where they were married. Their children are Robert, James, John, Oliver, Rachel, and Euphemia. Adam Spears, the father, died at the age of eighty years, but the mother, who is seventy-seven years of age, is still living.
James Spears, the subject of this biography, was born near Lewiston, Niagara Co., N. Y., May 24, 1848. During the summer months he worked on the farm with his father, and in the winter attended the district schools until 1860, when he went to Detroit and entered the locomotive works to learn the machinist's trade. In the spring of 1861 he shipped as oiler on the steamer Forest Queen, of the Ward line, and early in 1862 he fired a locomotive on the Flint & Pere Marquette railroad, but finished the year at Saginaw loading vessels. In 1863 he shipped with Engineer James Reed, as oiler, on the steamer Reindeer, which berth he held two seasons, thereby gaining a strong foothold for his engineering knowledge - which served him to such good purpose in later life - under the eyes of that accomplished officer, who so long engineered the fine side-wheel passenger steamers of the Detroit & Cleveland Steam Navigation Co. In 1865 he then shipped on the river tug Stranger, remaining to the close of the season. In the spring of 1866 he took out an engineer's license in Chicago, and was appointed to the tug Oriole, of the Brown-Prindiville line. He began the following season by firing on the Oriole, but finished the year as machinist in the shop of Murphy & Tarrant. In the spring of 1867 he entered the employ of Prindiville & Harmon, with whom he remained for six years.
In the spring of 1874 Mr. Speers went to Muskegon, Mich., as division master of Chicago & West Michigan railroad, and in 1875 entered the employ of Hackley & McGordon, and engineered the tugs Charles Hackley and James McGordon, alternately for five years. In 1880 he went to Fort Howard, Wis., and worked for McDonald & Billings as chief engineer on their tugs, the James McGordon, which he brought out new, and two others, also had charge of the machinery of their sawmill. In the spring of 1881 he went to South Chicago, and was appointed chief engineer of the steamer Massachusetts, of the Inter Ocan Transportation Company, remaining on her two years. In 1883 he went to Cleveland and worked one year in the Globe Iron Works. In 1884 he was appointed chief engineer of the propeller Progress, after which he worked eighteen months in the machine shops of the Cleveland Ship Building Company. In 1888 he was appointed chief engineer of the steamer Maurice B. Grover, and the following season was transferred to the Superior, then, in the spring of 1890, joined the steamer John B. Glidden, as chief engineer, remaining through the season. He passed the next four years in shop work in the Cleveland & Chase machine shops. In the spring of 1894 he was appointed chief engineer of the steamer Olympia. During that fall he contracted sciatic rheumatism, and was compelled to remain ashore the following season. In 1896 he was again appointed chief engineer of the steamer John N. Glidden, which he laid up at the close of navigation. He was the possessor of twenty-nine issues of marine engineer's license, and held a membership in the Marine Engineer's Beneficial Association.
In 1880 Mr. Spears was united in marriage to Miss Jennie De Witt, of Muskegon, Mich. Three children have been born to this union: Marian Rachel, Hazel Euphemia and Ethel Alberta. The family residence is in Cleveland, Ohio.
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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.