Captain William Andrew Thompson
Captain William Andrew Thompson, one of the best and most vigorous of those hardy Norsemen, the ancestors of whom Frithiof speaks in his saga as being ever victorious in their enterprises on both land and sea, and many of whom have found their way to the Great Lakes, has ever demonstrated the fine qualities of mind and the indomitable spirit of his northland teaching. He was born in the city of Drammen, Norway, January 9, 1833, and was reared among the traditions of the Vikings, his memory being unusually accurate as regards details, which made indelible impressions upon his young mind, owing in a great measure, to the fidelity with which he profited by his opportunities to obtain a public-school education. His father, Anthony Thompson, was an executive officer of full-rigged ocean ships, and died of cholera in London, England, while mate on the Shufna, at the age of forty-eight years. The mother, who bore the maiden name of Mary Anderson, is still living in the city of Drammen, at the advanced age of ninety- three years, having been born in 1805.
Captain Thompson, the subject of this sketch, and apparently a born sailor, shipped at his home port on the brig Jylm when he was fourteen years of age, and sailed for Newcastle, England, as cabin boy, the brig being engaged in the deal trade, and touching at Sunderland, Liverpool, Newcastle and Hartlepool, his several voyages on her occupying about eighteen months. The year 1849, which he passed as boy on the brig Holsterminde, was an erratic one. His brig was laden with ice from his home port for London, going thence to Cronstadt, Russia, where she loaded hemp consigned to London. She then touched at Norwegian ports for passengers bound for New York, whence she went to Richibucto, where she loaded deals for Hull, England, and carried merchandise back to the Norwegian ports of departure. In 1850 he shipped on the brig Mazeppa, bound for Bordeaux, France, where wine was taken for delivery at Philadelphia, thence to Charleston, S. C., where Mr. Thompson left his ship, and found employment in the "St. Charles Hotel" as waiter. While in this humble position, W. H. Sanford, a planter from the valley of the Ashapoo river, was attracted by his quick comprehension and took the boy to his home, but after six months of rural life his love for the ocean wave determined him to again seek ship, and in Charleston he found the full-rigged ship Harwood bound for Havre, France, with a cargo of cotton, on which he became a seaman. She returned to New York with Huguenot passengers eager to colonize in America. In 1851 he shipped for London on the Black Ball line steamer New York, returning on the steamer Isaac Wright, of the same line. He then shipped in the English brig Two Brothers, out of Quebec for Conway, Wales. She waterlogged off the banks of Newfoundland; the sea carried away her deckload and caboose, and left the crew without food except salt biscuit, and no shelter except a canvas house, which was rigged upon deck, and without water except that caught from the clouds as it fell in rain. This hardship prevailed from Tuesday until the following Sunday, when the crew was picked up by the steamer London, which towed the brig to the Cove of Cork, Ireland, where she went into dry dock and repaired, ultimately reaching Conway with part of her cargo, going thence to Liverpool.
In 1853 Captain Thompson shipped on the three-mast schooner Clara, bound for Wilmington, N. C., and New York, transferred to a fore-and-after for Boston, thence through Long Island Sound and up the Hudson river to Albany for lumber. The next year was passed as seaman on the full-rigged ship Johnson, between Baltimore, New Orleans, London and Belfast, and return to Boston, where he left the vessel, and went to work in Mr. McDonald's shipyard. His next move was to Chicago by rail, landing in that city in March, 1856, and shipping on the schooner Japan with Capt. Ezra Osier, who afterward lost his life in a tug explosion. He remained on the Japan two seasons, becoming second mate and mate the last year.
In the spring of 1858 Captain Thompson was appointed master of the schooner Honest John, which he sailed two seasons. In 1860 he was made master of the Chicago-built steamer C. Mears, owned by the same company, and sailed her two seasons. The next two seasons was master of the schooner Utica, owned by Thomas Simms. In the spring of 1864 he went to Milwaukee and purchased the schooner Erie, formerly one of Commodore Perry's gunboats, and put in the grain trade between Chicago, Manitowoc, and Milwaukee, carrying wheat at five cents per bushel, and loading off bridge piers. He sold the Erie that fall, and the next spring, in company with Captain Ryerson, bought the schooner Seneca Chief and sailed her. In 1866 he added the schooner William Sawyer to his vessel property, and sailed her. The next year he associated himself with Capt. S. P. Gunderson, and purchased the schooner Norway, sailing her two seasons. In 1869 he bought a half interest in the schooner John H. Drake with Gabriel Gunderson, and after two years he went ashore with her in Grand Traverse bay, where she was destroyed by fire. He then sold his vessel property, and in 1871 went to Duluth, Minn., where he entered the merchantile business, as a dealer in all materials entering into the marine trade; he was also owner of a stone quarry, which furnished material for the construction of the Lake Superior entry to the finest harbor on the lakes. He was generally held as an enterprising citizen. During the season of 1874 he received all the freight of the Ward line of streamers discharged at Duluth, and distributed it to the consignees throughout the city. In 1879 he became a victim of the Jay Cooke failure, and in October returned to Chicago, and with commendable courage began life anew. He took command of the steamer Norman, sailed her to Sheboygan, Wis., put her in dry dock and rebuilt her, adding thirty feet to her length, after which he sailed her. In 1881 he assumed command of the schooner J. L. Higgie and sailed her two seasons. His next command was the schooner Ida Keith, and after two seasons of succesful traffic he was appointed master of the schooner Walkenburg, which was sunk in a collision with the steamer Lehigh in Lake Huron.
Captain Thompson was then appointed by the vessel interests to superintend the weighing of grain into vessels, holding that position until September, 1885, when he entered the employ of the Northwestern Fuel Company as superintendent of Dock No. 1, which responsible position he has held for thirteen years, is a man exceedingly popular among all classes of marine men. Socially, he is a Master Mason, belonging to Palestine Lodge, Duluth, and a charter member of the Ancient Order of United Workmen, Council No. 10.
On February 7, 1869, Captain Thompson wedded Miss Caroline M. Anderson, daughter of Nathan Anderson of Chicago. Seven children were born to this union: Conrad Orlando, a freight agent of the Western Union Transit Company; William A., Jr., bookkeeper for the American Steel Barge Company; Frank E., a law student and who enlisted in Company G, Fourteenth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, at the breaking out of the war with Spain; went into Camp Chicakamauga, was promoted to the rank of corporal, and had the satisfaction of knowing that he was a component of the army that humbled the so-called haughty Dons; Jennie M. is the wife of Frank L. Gazzola, agent for the Pabst Brewing Company at Louisville, Ky.; Annie is the wife of Daniel Kain, chief clerk to the president of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, stationed at Topeka, Kans.; Minnie is the wife of George F. Sherrar, assistant salesman of Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co., wholesale dry-goods merchants of Chicago; and Nellie is the wife of J. R. Johnson, secretary of the Hartford City (Ind.) Glass Works. The Captain, with the pride of his own children, lives again in his grandchildren, who number nine, all in good health. The family residence is a spacious modern structure situated on West Third street, Duluth, Minnesota.
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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.