Henry D. Coffinberry
Henry D. Coffinberry was born in Maumee City, Ohio, October 14, 1841. He is the only surviving son of the late Judge James M. Coffinberry, of Cleveland, a jurist of much renown, and Anna M. Coffinberry, who is of lineal descent of Thomas Fitch, colonial governor of Rhode Island, and allied to John Fitch, the inventor and the first to apply steam to navigation. Other members of the family were ship owners and masters of vessels. Mr. Coffinberry's father, the Judge, was a descendant of Andrew Coffinberry, a lawyer and geologist of some fame, and a patriot of distinction, having served in the Federal navy under Bainbridge and Hull in the war of 1812.
Henry D. Coffinberry is a graduate of the west high school of Cleveland, Ohio. At the opening of the Civil war he was desirous of entering the service as a volunteer, and in his eighteenth year he obtained a reluctant consent from his parents to go into the navy. During the years of his school-boy days he had many opportunities to learn the art of handling yachts and other small boats, which gave him a predilection for the navy, which was very favorable to him when applied to his duties as an officer in the navy. He shipped as ordinary seaman at Erie, Penn.; he was then sent to the receiving ship Clara Dolson, at Cairo, where he was promoted on the recommendation of Commanders Pennock and Phelps, to master's mate, and reported to Lieut. Commander Richard Mead, on the ironclad gunboat Louisville. She was one of the six original ironclad steamers constructed by General Fremont on the Mississippi river at the breaking out of the war, and known as the "Fremont Turtles." The first engagement in which he participated was that of Haines Bluff, where the fleet under command of Rear Admiral D.D. Porter was obliged to retire after a stubborn fight. His next experience in war was at the capture of Fort Hindman, after a hard battle of nine hours at short range. Immediately after this victory he was promoted, on recom- mendation of Admiral Porter, to the rank of acting ensign. He participated in the exciting episode of the running of the batteries at Vicksburg, the two engagements at Grand Gulf on the Mississippi, those of the second Yazoo Pass and the Red River expeditions under General Banks, in which the troops and gunboats acted in conjunction. Soon after the return of the fleet from the last Red River expedition, Mr. Coffinberry was examined and promoted to the rank of acting master and executive officer of the Louisville, and finally commanding officer of that gunboat. She was 160 feet long, 52 feet beam and drew 5 1/2 feet of water. She was propelled by a recessed stern wheel, and was rated as a second or third class sloop of war. Her battery consisted of a 100-pound Parrott rifle, four nine- inch Dahlgren guns, six thirty-two-pound smooth-bores, two thirty-pound Parrott rifles and a twenty-four-pound howitzer. She carried 160 men and twenty-five officers. At the close of the war he put the Louisville out of commission, and was appointed to the command of the United States steamer Fairy, which position he held until the reconstruction of the South had assumed some definite shape, when he returned home. Admiral Porter tendered him support and influence in case he desired to continue his career in the navy, so well begun. Preferring civil life in the years of peace, he declined, and was honorably discharged, with the thanks of the navy department.
Shortly after receiving his discharge from the service of the United States Government, he engaged in mercantile business as a partner of Messrs. Leavitt & Crane in founding a carriage and wagon axle manufactory in Cleveland, Ohio. After a time he sold out his interest in this firm and bought a fourth-interest in a small machine shop, doing business under the firm name of Robert Wallace & Co., John F. Pankhurst and Arthur Sawtel being the company. Mr. Sawtel soon sold his interest to the company, who carried on the business for three years with a good measure of success. In 1869 they purchased the interests of William Bowler, Robert Cartwright and Robert Sanderson in the Globe Iron Works, Mr. John B. Cowles retaining his interest and joining the new firm. Mr. Coffinberry was chosen financial manager of this firm as he had been of the firm of Robert Wallace & Co. This new business proving an assured success, the firm was soon enabled to purchase a half- interest in the Cleveland Dry Dock Company, Mr. George Presley, owner of the other half- interest, remaining manager and Mr. Coffinberry taking charge of the financial end of the business. The firm as thus constituted engaged in the construction of wooden ships. Mr. Coffinberry next became impressed with the utility of building iron and steel vessels, and outlined, with a judicial mind, which he had no doubt inherited from his father, Judge J. M. Coffinberry, the type of future vessel for service on the lakes, by putting in a plant and laying the keel of the iron steamer Onoko, after a through investigation of the subject, taking into his counsel such veteran owners of lake craft as Capt. William Pringle, George W. Jones, J. W. Nicholas, Philip Minch and C. E. King. These gentlemen imparted their conclusions to Gen. O. M. Poe, United States engineer, that he might intelligently construct the new locks at the Sault Ste. Marie so that they would pass vessels of 300 to 600 feet keels. Thus it was that Mr. Coffinberry, and these gentlemen of his council, outlined the present magnificent size of the lake carriers, and they became the pioneers of the modern lake vessel. After founding the plant and laying the keel of the iron steamer Onoko, the firm was incorporated under the name of the Globe Ship Building Company, of which Mr. Coffinberry was chosen president and financial manager. After continuing business under these papers of incorporation, and building many iron and steel vessels, a difference arose between the old partners, and Messrs. Coffinberry, Wallace and Cowles sought to purchase the interest of Mr. Pankhurst. Failing in this, they sold their interests severally to Mr. M. A. Hanna.
In the summer of 1886 Messrs. H. D. Coffinberry and Robert Wallace, with the assistance of a few of the enterprising vessel owners of Cleveland, purchased the plant of the old Cuyahoga Furnace Company, adding largely to the realty, greatly increasing its capacity for general machine and foundry work, by building a large brick machine shop, the top story fronting on the viaduct, which contains the offices, and a brick boiler shop and putting in an extensive shipbuilding plant on the river front, capable of building four of the largest vessels per annum. They then announced themselves as ready for the construction of modern lake vessels. This company was incorporated as the Cleveland Ship Building Company, with a paid up capital of $350,000. Mr. Coffinberry was chosen president and financial manager; Mr. Wallace, vice-president and general superintendent; William M. Fitch, secretary, and James Wallace, designing engineer. Orders soon encouraged this new enterprise, and the company then conceived the purpose of building a large dry dock, which was done and incorporated as the Ship Owners Dry Dock. This dock is large enough to receive the largest hulls on the lakes; but it proved inadequate to accommodate the extensive demands made upon it, and another, a trifle smaller, was sunk along side of it. Mr. George Quayle is manager of these docks. This company also purchased the wooden shipyards of William Radcliffe, and are prepared to construct wooden vessels. After seeing these great results grow from small beginnings, and being content with the profits accruing, Mr. Coffinberry retired from active service in 1893, still holding stock in the company, and has taken up his abode at Clifton Park, in a beautiful home he erected of late years, surrounded by a natural growth of forest trees, and overlooking the lake.
He was a member of the first board of five commissioners of Cleveland, is a director of the State Bank and a member of the Board of Industry of Cleveland. He owns large interests in several of the best vessels on the lakes and much valuable suburban real estate, and considerable mineral land in the West. He was chosen a delegate to the National Democratic Convention on the gold platform in 1896. He is one of three citizen members appointed by the common pleas judges to assist county commissioners in building new county buildings.
On April 7, 1875, Mr. H. D. Coffinberry was wedded to Miss Harriet Duane Morgan, daughter of General George W. Morgan, of Mt. Vernon, Ohio. Three daughters have been born to them, two of whom are living; Nadine Morgan and Maria Duane. Mrs. Coffinberry is a descendant of the Duane and Morgan families of Revolutionary times - the friends and fellow patriots of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Return to Home Port
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.