William Cowan was born at Corning, Ontario, in 1861, a son of Thomas and Fannie (Locke) Cowan, who had a family of four children; James G. is electrician for the Calumet & Hecla Mining Co., on Keweenaw Point, Lake Superior; Alice, Mrs. Goodell, lives in Sarnia; Thomas M. is a farmer in Canada. The father was a farmer by occupation, living near Corning.
William Cowan attended school at his native place and shipped first out of Marine City in 1875, as watchman on the steamer Tempest, remaining on her two seasons. In 1877-78 he was before the mast and cook in the schooner Jupiter, consort of the steambarge Nelson Mills. During the latter season Captain Willson, of the Yankee, also consort of the Mills, was drowned off Rondeau Point, Lake Erie. In 1879 Mr. Cowan was wheelsman on the steambarge George King and also on the Fountain City, and in 1880 on the Ira Chaffee. The next season, having obtained his papers, he was second mate of the steamer J.H. Outhwaite. In 1882 he was first wheelsman and then second mate of the steamer Selah Chamberlin, continuing on her until October 13, when she was lost about two miles north of Sheboygan, Wis., and the same distance from shore, coming in collision with the steamer John Pridgeon, Jr. Five men were drowned off the Chamberlin. Mr. Cowan finished that season as wheelsman of the Grand Traverse. During the seasons 1883-84 he was second mate of the J.S. Fay and in 1885 became mate of the R.P. Ranney. On the first trip the Ranney made that season she was dismasted off Grand Island, Lake Superior, and on her second trip she sunk the fore and aft schooner M.T. Merrick off Presque Isle, Lake Huron, bound from Port Hope to Calumet with a cargo of furnace sand. Five of the Merrick's crew were drowned and she was a total loss. Mr. Cowan closed that season as second mate of the Outhwaite. In 1886 he was mate of the Horace A. Tuttle; 1887 of the A.P. Wright and second mate of the H.J. Jewett; 1888 second mate of the Oceanica; 1889 of the Wyoming; 1890 second mate of the Aurora one trip and mate the rest of the season; 1891 second mate of the whalebacks Washburn and Pillsbury; and in 1892 held the same berth in the Wyoming. In 1893 he was out West, and returning to the lakes in 1894 he was employed during that season as second mate of the Russell Sage and St. Louis; in 1895 he was in the same berth in the City of Glasgow; in 1896 mate of the Matoa, of the Minnesota Steamship line; for the season of 1897 he filled the berth of mate on the steambarge Birckhead, in the Tonawanda lumber trade, with Capt. George Smith, of Bay City.
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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.