Captain R.A. Davis
Captain R.A. Davis, who has been a mariner for over sixty years, in one capacity or another, and for the past twenty-six years has made his home in Chicago, is a native of New York State, born in November, 1827, in Jefferson County.
William Davis, father of our subject, was born in Canada, a son of Richard Davis, who along with two of his sons (our subject being one of them) participated in the battle of Lundy's Lane, during the war of 1812-15. During that struggle Grandmother Davis carried a message from Sacket's Harbor to Oswego in a wooden shoe, and was captured twice, but release each time. Our subject's parents lived for some time in Jefferson County, N.Y., but later settled on the Canadian side of the St. Lawrence River, where they both died. The father was a sailor on the St. Lawrence, and was one of the first boatmen on that river. The mother, whose maiden name was Sarah McDonald, was also a Canadian by birth, and was a half-sister of the late Sir John A. McDonald, who for many years was Premier of Canada, and was the greatest statesman this continent ever saw. To William and Sarah (McDonald) Davis were born five children, as follows: Sarah, who died young; Anna, also deceased; R.A. our subject; William, a farmer in Canada, where he now resides; and Thomas, a sailor from Oswego, N.Y., and who was killed at Cape Vincent about the year 1867.
Capt. R. A. Davis left home at the early age of nine years, and commenced his long experience as a sailor in the humble capacity of assistant cook on a wood schooner. In May, 1839, he began sailing before the mast from New York City, on the Anderson, a small sailing craft engaged in the wood trade in Little Bend and Great Egg harbor, on the Jersey coast, continuing in that work some four years. He then returned home, and shipped from French Creek (on the St. Lawrence River) on the William Penn, a vessel engaged in the timber trade from Kingston, Canada, and sailed with her one year.
In 1844 he fitted out the tug Seminole, and traded on her two years, then shipped on the schooner Connelly, sailing from Oswego, N. Y., being with her one season; then sailed the schooner Fairfield, also from Oswego, after which he was on the schooner Zilph during the seasons of 1848-49, and the seasons of 1850-51 was on the G. A. Weeks. Captain Davis then returned to the Seminole, and in 1852 shipped on he brig Hampton; going in 1853, to the schooner Eclipse, running from Milan, Ohio, remaining with her three years; then on the steamer Ogdensburg, from Ogdensburg, N. Y., one season, when he joined the passenger and freight steamer Young America, belonging to the Rome & Watertown Railroad Company, and was on her two seasons; it was on this vessel that he first filled the office of master. In 1857 he was on the schooner Live Yankee, and in 1858-59 shipped on the schooner Wild Rover, when, in 1860, he transferred to the schooner Nonpareil, from Milan, Ohio, remaining with her part of two seasons. He then built the schooner William Shupe, at Milan, and sailed her a season and a half. During the seasons of 1862 and 1863 he sailed from New York for Graham & Stafford; in 1864 commenced to sail for the Northern Transportation Company, of Ogdensburg, N. Y., and was in their employ some fifteen years. His next engagement was with the Anchor line from Sandusky, Ohio, sailing on the Yosemite. In 1872 the Captain built the steamer Charles Reitz, which was rebuilt in 1876, and is now in commission from Chicago. In 1877 he built the steamer George T. Burroughs, a passenger boat, which he ran two months and twelve days, when she was burned, the crew and passengers being saved. During the interval between the burning of the Burroughs and the building of the steamer Josie Davidson, which was completed in 1879, and afterward sold to Capt. F. R. McGregor, of Chicago, he purchased the little passenger steamer Barney, and ran her several seasons. In 1891 he built the Claribel, a passenger steamer, which he afterward sold, and she is now in commission from New Orleans in the interest of the Gulf of Mexico trade. In 1897 he purchased the passenger boat Lena Knoblock, built that year, and which is now employed as an excursion steamer at Chicago. In all this long experience our subject has no less than forty issues of shipmaster's commission, and he was the first master of the Young America in 1858 - in fact, he is the possessor of the oldest license on the Great Lakes.
On December 23, 1852, at Oswego, N. Y., Captain Davis was married to Miss Susan Sinclair, who was born in New York City, a daughter of Lawrence Sinclair, a merchant and bookbinder of New York City. Two children have been born to this union: James Henry, married and residing in Woodlawn, Chicago; and Margaret, now the wife of Capt. F. R. McGregor, of Chicago. Socially, Captain Davis is a member of Pleiades Lodge No. 478, F. & A. M. In 1872 he took up his residence in Chicago, and has made that city his home ever since.
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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.