Captain James E. Davidson
Captain James E. Davidson is possessed of great determination, energy and self- reliance, and is thrifty and industrious. He was born in Buffalo, N. Y., in 1841, a son of Joseph and Elizabeth (Smith) Davidson, natives of Scotland, who came to the United States in 1828, locating at Buffalo. The father was a stone contractor and was awarded the contract by the Government to build the first piers at the harbor in Buffalo, in which city he continued in active business for upward of twenty years. Both he and his wife departed this life in 1852, leaving three children: James, Elizabeth, who married John Bell, a merchant of Victoria, New South Wales, and Ellen, who became the wife of William Starkey, a well-known vessel owner of Ashtabula, Ohio.
James E. Davidson was only eleven years old when his parents died and of necessity he became self-supporting. He always had a desire to become a sailor, and when but a small lad established a ferry across the river at Buffalo, a year later commencing sailing on the lakes and soon becoming a thorough and reliable seaman. At the age of seventeen he became second mate and two years later was appointed master, meanwhile continuing his studies in the Buffalo public schools in winter, and taking a course at Bryant & Stratton's Business College. About the year 1862, Captain Davidson left the lakes and went to the Atlantic ocean for further experience in seamanship. He shipped before the mast in some of the largest packets plying between New York, Liverpool and Calcutta, after two years returning to the lakes, and that winter resumed his studies in a commercial college. He shipped on the lakes again in the spring of 1865, and from master he soon became owner of the vessels he sailed. After spending a winter in Buffalo shipyards learning construction, he went to Toledo, where he was appointed superintendent of a shipyard, and then to East Saginaw, where he started a yard and commenced to build vessels. This venture prospered, as he exercised great care in his work, and he practically gave up sailing and devoted his entire time to shipbuilding, his new vessels being added to his own fleet or sold as occasion offered. In 1873 he disposed of his yard at West Bay City, since which time, a period covering a quarter of a century, Captain Davidson has constructed and launched many of the finest wooden vessels and steamers on the lakes, and this volume is an appropriate one in which to name them: Steamers Appomattox, Venezuela, Rappahannock, Sacramento, Shanandoah, Thomas Cranage, City of Venice, City of Genoa, City of Naples, City of Berlin, City of Paris, City of London, City of Glasgow, Bermuda, John Harper, Alex Nimick, Majestic, George G. Hadley, Nicaragua, Madagascar, Britannic, Germanic, Roumania, Bulgaria, Australasia, Siberia, James Davidson, Oceanica, George T. Hope, W. P. Ketcham, S. S. Wilhelm, Walter Vail, Panther and Phenix; schooners Crete, Athens, Armenia, Abyssinia, Algeria, Granada, Grampian, H. A. Darr, William D. Becker, Aberdeen, Dundee, Paisley, George B. Owen, Tokio, Adriatic, Baltic, Mary B. Mitchell, Celtic, Polynesia, Mary Woolson, Harold, Atlanta, Nirvana, John Shaw, E. M. Davidson, Kate Winslow and Laura Belle; car transfers (Nos. 89 and 90, builder's number), Wisconsin & Michigan railway No. 1 and Wisconsin & Michigan railway No. 2; log boats (Nos. 87, 88, builder's number), Wahnipitae; fire tugs W. H. Alley and Geyser; large lighters Hurley Bros. and Anchor Line; fuel lighter Cuddy-Mullen Coal Company; light draught barges, Mikado and Tycoon; tugs Prodigy, Industry, G. A. Tomlinson, Rita McDonald, Temple Emery, Perfection, C. B. Strohn, Washburn and Andrew A. McLean; fishing tug Maxwell A.; ice barges Andrew T. Gray Co., Nos. 1 and 2.
Capt. James Davidson's name in connection with the great shipbuilding industry is therefore well and favorably known throughout the great chain of lakes. The large barge Wahnipitae, which carried more than 2,000,000 feet of lumber, was built by him and was by far the largest on the lakes. It must be a matter of just and honorable pride as well as a great satisfaction to Captain Davidson to contrast the early years of his life as a sailor with the present, remembering that the first vessel he sailed was the little schooner Sea Gull, of about 150 tons register, and that he now builds, owns and sails the magnificent steamers of the present day. He has gone quietly and steadily about his life work, always industrious but making no display, seemingly impressed with the maxim that the value of life consists in being faithful in the work undertaken and to the trust imposed. His shipbuilding interests are extensive, and at this writing he owns and operates a fleet of twenty-seven large-sized vessels, besides four new ships launched in 1898. He has been ever since its organization a member of the board of managers of the Lake Carriers Association. Captain Davidson does not devote all his time to his shipbuilding industry and the management of his large fleet, much of that devolving upon his son, James E., who, like his father, has a clear comprehensive mind, is quick and accurate in his judgment, and prompt in acting on his decisions. The Captain is financially interested in the Frontier Elevator Company, at Buffalo, and is vice-president and director of the Frontier Iron & brass Works, at Detroit; he is also a stockholder in the Hane Electric Company, and has an interest with Romer, Lovell & Co., in Bay City; is a director of the First State Bank, in Hillsdale, Mich., and president of the Michigan Log Towing Company, of Bay City.
On January 22, 1863, Captain Davidson was wedded to Miss Ellen M., daughter of John Rogers, of Buffalo, and they have had seven children, five of whom are now living. The eldest, James E., who so capably manages the large shipbuilding industry during the absence of his father, became associated in business with him some years ago. The family homestead in Bay City is situated in Center street; they have also a handsome residence in Buffalo, New York.
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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.