Captain Rosel Downer
Captain Rosel Downer, who has had an adventurous life as a mariner, is best known, perhaps, by his work beneath the surface of the water on the northern lakes and rivers. He is equally proficient as master or engineer of steam vessels, and few know the character of the channels from one end of the lakes to the other better than he. During his sailing career he has commanded many tug boats, has been engineer of a much greater number, and as wrecker and diver has had to do with hundreds of vessels. He has the reputation of having been the most fearless deep-water diver on the lakes, but the demands of such an arduous life have been too severe for his health, which is now in a greatly impaired condition.
Captain Downer was born in Franklin county, N. Y., January 5, 1849, a son of Henry L. Downer, who has been mentioned elsewhere. His first sailing was as fireman on the rivertug Niagara, out of Cleveland, in 1863, after which he served in a similar capacity on the tug Levi Johnson and the excursion steamer J. K. White. He spent the seasons of 1872-73-74-75 in the employ of the Northern Transportation line as second engineer on the City of Toledo and the Maine. About this time he commenced following the occupation of diver, going to the Mississippi river each winter to take charge of submarine work of various descriptions, and he worked on many of the river boats, picking up anchors, wrecking, etc. During the sailing season on the lakes he was usually connected with tug boats, and he has commanded the tugs D. F. Edwards, Shoo Fly, Fannie Tuttle, Maggie Sanborn, James Amadeus and Satisfaction (of Chicago), the excursion steamers Charm and Favorite, the schooner Island Maid and others, and has been engineer of the tugs E.P. Dorr, Shoo Fly, Peter Smith, Black Ball, S.S. Coe, W.B. Scott, Levi Johnson, J.L. Miner, H.N. Martin, Old Jack, P.S. Bemis, Monitor, Ewing, D.L. Babcock, O.B. Green, Rebel, Union and Texan.
Captain Downer has been a diver for eighteen years, and during this period he has taken some very important contracts. He did the submarine work on the bridge across the Yazoo river near Vicksburg, in 1882, this being one of the largest undertakings with which he has been connected. He laid mains under the water for the waterworks system of Aurora, Ill., and Beloit, Wis., sinking a well thirty-five feet across and forty feet deep at each of these places; he also sunk a well of the same size at Taylorville, Ill. He took the tug Protection off the beach at Saugatuck, Mich., when she had been given up: raised the tugs Peter Smith and Patrick Henry, of Vermilion; raised the barge Imperial, off Chicago; raised a government survey boat, the steamer Patrol, which was sunk in the Mississippi river forty miles below Memphis; raised the tug Dime, which was buried in the sand in the Mississippi river; and raised the steamer Favorite, at Chicago. He has also raised a number of lighters and coal barges, and he spent three weeks in 1895 searching on Lake Michigan for the lost steamer Chicora, using two tugs and a sweep a mile long. In his work on the Mississippi river he built a number of inclines for railway companies at the levees. Captain Downer has been the proprietor of several sailing and steam craft, among them the schooner Hero, the schooner Island Maid, the tug Kittie O' Neil, and the excursion steamer Favorite. The last named vessel plied between Erie street and Edgewater Park during the summer of 1896.
Captain Downer has been twice married. His first wife was Mary Jane Buskirk, whom he wedded in Cleveland in 1877, and to this union were born five children, all of whom have passed away. In 1892 the Captain married Miss Ada May Canfield, of St. Joseph, Mich., and they have one child, Edwin Willie.
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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.