Captain Henry S. Downer
Captain Henry S. Downer, of Cleveland, as engineer, pilot, captain and wrecker, has won a name for faithfulness and ability in many lines of usefulness in the lake marine. He has sailed the Great Lakes for thirty-five years, but has yet to experience the sensation of going ashore shipwrecked, as well as of being in serious accident.
Captain Downer was born in Westville, N. Y., in 1847, a son of Henry L. Downer, who was a carpenter by tade, and served as a musician in the United States army during the war with Mexico. The Captain's grandfather, Grafton Downer, was a musician in the war of 1812, and the fife that was used by him was played by his son in the later conflict. The instrument is now in possession of the grandson. Captain Downer's parents removed to Milford, Ohio, in 1853, and eight years later to Cleveland, taking up their residence in that part of the city now known as Whisky island, and at the old homestead another son, Capt. Rosel Downer, has lived for some time.
The subject of this sketch commenced sailing in 1862 as fireman on the Niagara, the first tug on the Cuyahoga river. Later in the year he joined the tug P.S. Bemis, and during the remainder of that season was employed on various crafts. In 1863 he became engineer of the Bemis, retaining that position for several seasons. In 1865 he was fireman on the tug Natter, which was the first out of the harbor of Buffalo that season, towing the brig Paragon. Later he was employed as engineer of the tug Ajax, the steamscow General Sherman, the tug Belle King and the Levi Johnson; in 1868 taking the brig Angela from Philadelphia to Bermuda, and back to Salem, Mass. Then he returned to the lakes, and was master of the Levi Johnson two seasons, of the tug W. B. Scott one season, and of the tug D. S. Coe, which he took to Milwaukee, for six years. He sailed the tug Starke Brothers two seasons, and the tug E. D. Holton until 1887, when he built the scow Alma at Milwaukee, and sailed her one season. Disposing of the Alma, he assumed command of the tug J. B. Merrill, and then he brought out new the tug Simpson at Milwaukee, sailing her two years. After this he brought out the new steamer John Duncan, as engineer, and remained with her the greater part of the season, sailing out of Green Bay. During 1891 he was pilot of the fireboat Cataract at Milwaukee and the following season he was engineer of the steamer E. A. Shores. He served as second engineer on the steamer Mesaba, and as engineer on the tug C. D. Thompson during 1893, and as second engineer on the George F. Williams and the M. B. Grover during the following season. Then he was chief of the Grover for a season, and during 1896 was chief engineer of the J. W. Averill's fleet of fishing boats.
Captain Downer had the unique experience of reading his obituary in a daily newspaper. While he was sailing the scow Alma, he made two trips past the port of Milwaukee without going in, and his absence in some manner, gave rise to the rumor that the Alma had been lost. No denial being forthcoming, the rumor was accepted as truth, and one newspaper published an extensive obituary notice of Captain Downer's career, a copy of which he has carefully preserved. When the Alma next sailed into Milwaukee, with everybody well on board, her appearnce caused the upmost astonishment, and her master was greeted as one returned from the dead. Captain Downer has spent some time in the business of wrecking with unqualified success, and on more than one occasion he has saved a human life from drowning.
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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.