Captain James S. Dunham
Captain Dunham is a son of James and Rebecca (Sears) Dunham, and was born at Balston Spa, Saratoga Co., N.Y., January 31, 1837. After attending school until he reached the age of fourteen years, he began his marine career in the humble capacity of cook on a Hudson river sloop, for which services he received the modest compensation of three dollars per month, and during the next three years he gained further experience in the mysteries of marine life in various capacities on different vessels.
In the year 1854 Captain Dunham decided to go west, locating in Chicago. The succeeding three years he engaged in the towing business, and before he reached the age of twenty was considered fully confident to take master's berth on steam tugs. In the spring of 1857 he was part owner and master of the tug A.C. Gunnison, and he took that boat and the tug G. Mosher from Chicago to New Orleans, La., by way of the Illinois and Michigan canal and Illinois river, and down the Mississippi, these being the first craft of that kind which had ever made the passage from lake to gulf. He operated the two tugs in the vicinity of New Orleans until 1861. When the war of the Rebellion became an assured fact the Confederates confiscated the tug G. Mosher, which afterward was instrumental in causing the man-of-war Hartford, Admiral Farragut's flagship, considerable trouble by towing a fire raft up to that ship and setting her on fire shortly after she had passed the forts below New Orleans. Soon after the confiscation of the Mosher, Capt. Dunham left New Orleans with the tug A.C. Gunnison, for Mobile, Ala., where he was constrained to transport a battery of Confederate artillery to Fort Morgan, at the entrance of Mobile bay, to occupy that fortification. Thence he went to Pensecola [sic], Fla., and was there arrested under the charge of being a Northern man (notwithstanding the aid and comfort he had been forced to render to the Southern cause), and his remaining tug was confiscated. He was sent north and arrived in Troy, N.Y., in May, 1861, after an absence of four years.
Sometime after Captain Dunham took passage for Philadelphia, and during the winter of 1851-62 he built a tug boat, which he named the Little Giant (after Stephen A. Douglas), and sailed her to Chicago by way of Delaware and Raritan canal to New York harbor, thence by the Hudson river and New York and Erie canal to Buffalo, and by the lakes to his port of destination, thus encircling a course that to our knowledge has not yet been repeated. Arriving at Chicago, he again took up the lines of his marine life, and from that time commenced to acquire the large property interests of which he is now possessed. His business broadened rapidly, and, besides the steamboats, schooners and lighters in which he is interested, he owns twenty tugs, sixteen of which are stationed at Chicago and four at South Chicago. Several of these tugs are operated in connection with the Dunham Towing and Wrecking Company, of which he has been president since its organization. He is also president and general manager of the Chicago Steamship Company, and of the Chicago Transit Company. He has always taken an active part in the municipal affairs of Chicago, and while he was alderman made it his special care to look after the marine interests as necessity demanded. He was instrumental in introducing and bringing to its passage the harbor ordinance, whereby the powers of the harbor masters were increased and the bridges put under the direct supervision of the vessel dispatcher. It was also through his wisdom and foresight that the fire-tug system was conceived and adopted for service on the Chicago river (and it may be said that this was the first introduction of the fire-tug service at any harbor on the lakes). The value of the assistance rendered by these boats was soon apparent, and the system was adopted by all of the larger lake ports.
As president of the Chicago River Improvement Association Captain Dunham has been unremitting in his efforts to secure the deepening and the widening of the channel of the Chicago river in order that it may become adequate to the commercial requirements demanded of it. He has persistently worked with the object in view of securing a uniform depth of twenty feet of water and the removal of obstructions to navigation. It is due to his incessant labor and representation that the general government consented to assume jurisdiction over the Chicago river in the matter of dredging and other improvements, and the city and the commerce in general are now enjoying some of the good results accruing from an appropriation of $750,000 made by Congress to be applied to dredging the river. Not content with the action on the part of the government, he is endeavoring to prevail upon the municipality of further sinking the crown of the tunnels under the river, as there is now but sixteen feet of water over them.
Captain Dunham does not limit his business qualifications to the interests of his own city, but applies them to the good of commerce generally. He has been an active member of the International Deep Waterways Association, and performs the duties of treasurer. He has always been prominently identified with the Lake Carriers Association since its inception under the present constitution, and was honored by that body at its last annual convention by being chosen its president for the term of 1898, doubtless in recognition of his activity and success in obtaining concessions from the government in forwarding necessary aids to navigation.
Captain Dunham was wedded to Miss Mary Ellen Brown, of Ashtabule, Ohio, on January 8, 1867. The children born to this union are: Robert J., and Ella M., Anna M., and Walter (now deceased). The family homestead is situated in Chicago at No. 29 Bellevue Place.
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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.