Captain William C. Burnett
Captain William C. Burnett, a well-known master of the lake craft, the principal part of whose marine life has been spent in the difficult task of handling tugs successfully, has many of the characteristics of his sturdy Scotch ancestors. He was born on the island of St. Vincent, one of the British West Indies, a son of John and Jeannette (Jackson) Burnett, the former a native of Aberdeenshire, Scotland, the latter born in St. Vincent and a descendant of the Jacksons, of Bristol, England. The parents became acquainted and were married, however, on St. Vincent, the father being overseer of an extensive sugar plantation there. Six years after that marriage, and when our subject was but six months of age, they removed to Bradford, Ontario, Canada, where they resided about twenty years, and where the father became station master for the Northern railroad, and it was here that the son, William C., acquired his public-school education.
When he was but ten years of age he ran away from home, and being a sturdy well-grown lad, he found employment as a ferry boy on Buffalo creek, his boat plying between the foot of Main street and the Richmond elevator, the scene of the earlier efforts of many of the lake captains. During the entire season of 1867 he was engaged as lineman on the tug Bryant. That winter he returned home and entered the employ of Thompson Smith & Sons, lumber dealers, and during the next seven years was engaged in different capacities on various tugs owned by that firm, towing and rafting on Lake Simcoe. During this period he acted as master or engineer, as occasion required, on the tugs S.H. Hathaway, Simcoe, Isabella and Victoria, all Canadian bottoms.
In the spring of 1877 Captain Burnett came to the United States, located at Cheboygan, Mich., and being still in the employ of Thompson Smith & Sons, accepted an engineer's berth on the tug Charles L. Decunick, a light-draft boat of peculiar construction, somewhat after the style of river steamers, but a good rafting boat. On receiving his American license he assumed command of the Decunick, and sailed her seven consecutive seasons. In the spring of 1885 he was appointed master of the tug George W. Wood, doing harbor tugging. During the winter of 1882-83 he superintended the construction of the tug Duncan City, brought her out new in the spring and sailed her seven years, doing a profitable business, and in the fall of 1890 he went to Cleveland, having been appointed mate on the schooner Wadena, on which he closed the season.
In the spring of 1891 Captain Burnett was made chief engineer of the lake tug Constitution, owned and sailed by Capt. John Lundy, passing two years towing on the Sault river. It was in the spring of 1893 that the Captain went to Duluth, where he entered the employ of Commodore B.B. Inman, as master of the tug Pearl Campbell, which, it will be remembered, was lost some time later, with all hands, off Keweenaw Point, Lake Superior. In 1894 he was transferred to the tug Joe Dudley as master, and sailed her two years. He then sailed the tug M.D. Carrington two seasons, and in the spring of 1898 was appointed master of the tug L.L. Lyon, remaining on her the entire season. He has seventeen issues of master's license, and fourteen of engineer's.
Fraternally, Captain Burnett is a Master Mason, belonging to the Blue Lodge, No. 283, Cheboygan, Mich.: a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and the Independent Order of Foresters. He makes his home when off duty at Cheboygan.
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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.