John Donaldson was born in County Armagh in North Ireland, June 3, 1826, of Scotch- Irish descent, and in his native place lived until his seventeenth year. At that time he came to America and located at Detroit, where he entered Blair's shipsmithy and served one year's apprenticeship to the trade. The following season was spent in the Michigan Central railroad shops at Detroit, after which he came to Buffalo, where he has since resided. The first eighteen months in that city were spent in the employ of Malden Wright, a smithship, after which he worked two years at the same business with C. T. Rand. Following this he was employed in the boatyards of Van Vleek & Norter two years.
In 1850, with his brothers, William and David Donaldson, he then opened a shop, and continued in the business thirty-seven years. About 1865 a boiler and machine shop was added to the smithy, and for several years following a brisk trade was carried on. Many engines were built and sent to the oil regions, and twelve tugs were built, among the number being the Brothers, Old Jack and Eustaphieve. In 1866 the schooner Donaldson was built and put into commission. Donaldson Bros. et al. then bought the steamer Colorado, and later the steamer Cuba. In connection with Mills & Co. they built the propeller Wyoming, which they still own; the steamer Robert Mills, and built the steamer Florida, which was lost on Lake Huron May 20, 1897, by a collision with the steamer Roby. Operating these boats, Donaldson Bros. carry on an extensive freight and grain business, and at the port of Buffalo they are known as a prominent and enterprising firm.
The partnership which was commenced in 1850 by three brothers, John, William and David, continued during the life of David, who died in 1888. The two brothers, John and William, are still interested together in many vessels on the lake, though the shop interests have been closed. This is a long partnership, and the Donaldson brothers, as a whole, had a long and successful career and were among the self-made men of Buffalo Harbor.
On November 14, 1850, John Donaldson was married to Miss Susan Summerville, a native of Ireland, To them four children have been born: Robert S., who is secretary and treasurer of the Erie County Savings Bank at the present time, was married to Miss Carrie Dodsworth, of Buffalo; John A., who is in the insurance and real-estate business, was married to Miss Belle Brett, of Cleveland; George S., a grain broker at Buffalo, was married to Miss Effie Udell, of New York City; and William E., unmarried, who is in the Erie County Savings Bank. Mr. John Donaldson is a member of Buffalo Chapter and DeMolay Lodge No. 498, F. & A. M. His family residence is located in Buffalo, and there in the "jingle of household operations" he finds rest from the cares of the day.
Mr. Donaldson is member of a family of ten children born to William and Susan (Hendren) Donaldson. His parents came to America three years after he arrived in this country, and are both deceased, the father having died three days after his arrival, while Mrs. Donaldson died in 1851.
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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.