Captain Robert L. Byers
Our subject commenced sailing when fourteen years of age, after a brief attendance at the common schools at Buffalo. His first marine experience was on the various tugs out of Buffalo Harbor, and having much mechanical skill he soon attained the position of engineer on the Tug Eagle, afterward taking out pilot's papers and sailing her as master. He also sailed the Jennison and the Samuel Whalen. He then purchased the tug Brooks, and in 1861, at the breaking out of the civil war, he took her down to the coast by way of the Welland canal, thence to the James river. The Northern army being at that time deficient in light craft steamers, and the Brooks being quite a powerful tug, with two eighteens, the general in command realized what a valuable acquisition she would be to the army operating on the James, and suggested to Captain Byers that he make an effort to run past the batteries on the Virginia side of the river, which the Captain agreed to. After making all necessary preparations by protecting the boilers and engines with sand-bags, the boat was started up the river one dark night, but she was discovered, and the batteries opened fire upon her, seriously wounding the Captain. However, she made good the passage, and Captain Byers had the satisfaction of knowing that he had done a courageous and meritorious act, which was appreciated by the commanding general. He served his country with his tug as a dispatch boat until the close of the war.
In the summer of 1865 he returned to his home in Buffalo, and after sailing the tug Franklin for Williams & Co., who had contract work on the flats, he with his brother James and Mr. James Ash bought out the line and went into the tug business, Captain Byers taking the tug Sarah E. Bryant, and sailing her for many years. This organization formed the nucleus of the present tug line of Hand & Johnson. Captain Byers also sailed excursion steamers out of Buffalo to Chippewa, Sour Spring Grove and Niagara Hills, and the Falls. He held both master's and engineer's papers.
Capt. Robert L. Byers was united in marriage, in 1860, to Miss Nellie Hines, of Buffalo. Their children are James T., a sketch of whom follows; Robert L.; Rosa M., now Mrs. H. C. Peter; Helen K., William D. and Mary F. The family residence is on School Street at the corner of Fargo Avenue, Buffalo, N. Y. Capt. Robert L. Byers died in September, 1885. He and his brother James were among the best known men of Buffalo harbor.
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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.