James Speir, who has a strong personality, evidences in a remarkable degree his sturdy Scotch ancestry, and has brought into his business, as a marine engineer, many of the peculiar qualities of that nation. He is a son of William T. and Agnes (Caranchael) Speir, and was born December 16, 1846, at Kilburnie, Scotland. His parents being natives of that country, came to the United States in the fall of 1850, locating in Detroit. His father was a licensed engineer who, after working in the Michigan Central railroad shops, shipped on lake steamers, his first boat being the Whitney, followed by the Elliott, Dart, Arrow, Forest Queen, and the boats of the Ward line, in which employ he remained a number of years as chief engineer, his last boat being the H.P. Clinton. Later in life he removed to Bay City and retired from active life on shipboard.
James Speir, the subject of this sketch, received his public-school education in the old Eighth ward of Detroit, attending school until he reached the age of fourteen years. After the family removed to Bay City he went to work in the McDowel machine shop, after- ward working for the McGregors. After working at his trade as a machinist a number of years he became second engineer of the John Ely, Annie Young, new at that time, and tugged some on the Detroit and St. Clair rivers on the Seeley, Ark, E.K. Collins, Despatch and Dart; after which he went to Cleveland and entered the employ of the Smith line as engineer of the tugs Belle King and Old Jack, and was also second engineer of the new steamer George W. Bissell. He then became chief engineer of the new barge Trader and the City of Madison, and was in charge of the tug Houghton at the time the government was cutting the Portage lake canal. At the close of his contract he stopped ashore as engineer of the Huron mines at the Portage. He then became engineer of the tug Alpena, this service being followed by two seasons in the steamer Ontonagon. In the spring of 1881 Mr. Speir was appointed chief engineer of the steamer Mayflower, a position he held three years. He then succeeded to the A.A. Turner, for two years, and was on the steamer D.W. Powers two years, which was followed by two seasons on the Schoolcraft, one on the Kittie M. Forbes, one on the Elfinmere; and in 1891 was appointed chief engineer of the steamer John Spry, an office he has held seven consecutive seasons, laying her up at the close of navigation in 1898.
On December 11, 1871, Mr. Speir was united in marriage to Miss Charlotte Crossey, of Bay City, her family being formerly of Seaforth, Ont. The children born to this union are William, Edward, Mabel, Fred, Burtran and Albert. His first wife died May 10, 1892, and on November 30, 1897, Mr. Speir chose for his second wife Mrs. Mary (Tobin) Neely, of Bay City, Mich. Fraternally he is a member of the Odd Fellows and of the Ancient Order of United Workmen.
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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.