Captain Samuel Gillman Langley
Captain Samuel Gillman Langley (deceased), late of St. Joseph, Mich. Within fifteen walk from the business center of St. Joseph, there stands the commodious and inviting old homestead of the Langleys, a name that is a household word in the cities and villages along the shores of the Great Lakes; a family noted for its many and efficient sea and lake commanders. Here on this site, on the bluff of the St. Joseph river, commanding a grand view of that beautiful stream. And the lowlands, and of the city of Benton Harbor in the distance, and on historical ground, Captain Langley chose a home, and here now resides his widow.
He was born at Lee, New Hampshire, August 11, 1813, the son of Captain Samuel G. and Sarah A. (Hilton) Langley. Our subject early imbibed the taste for a seafaring life, and when a lad of thirteen or fourteen years began sailing the seas, first as boy royal, and then rose step by step upward, until he reached the topmost round of the ladder, and there stood the peer of any of the great commanders of the seas and lakes.
The Hiltons and Langleys settled in New Hampshire in Colonial days, and some four generations were born and raised on lands still in possession of their descendants, and on which the old graveyards are still kept in orderly condition, and in which are tombstones bearing inscriptions back to 1623.
The Langleys were of Scotch, and the Hiltons of the Irish extraction. Mrs. Samuel G. Langley was the eldest daughter of Gov. John Hilton, one of the early governors of Massachusetts. Captain Langley sailed the seas until grown, was on several whaling voyages, and touched many foreign shores. At one time he met with a terrible accident, and was taken to Buenos Ayres, South America, where an operation was performed, and where he was left for a year, the vessel returning for him, and he sailed her as captain to Boston. In about 1839 or 1840, he came west and located at St. Joseph, purchasing upward of 300 acres of land on the St. Joseph river above referred to, which he improved and beautified, and where his children grew up, and to which he retired on leaving the lakes. Near the old homestead is the site of the old trading-post of William Burnett and his son James, which was established there about 1775, and was continued until 1825. Among the early vessels he sailed on the lakes were the Indiana, the Frances Mills, which he owned, the Napoleon, of which he was a part owner, and at the time was associated in the elevator business with John. F. Porter, R.C. Payne, Colonel Fitzgerald, and Hiram F. Wheeler (the great elevator man of Chicago), and Judge Fish. The boats mentioned were run principally in the grain trade between St. Joseph, Buffalo and Chicago. Later he sailed and commanded the Earl Cathcart, the first propeller on the lakes, and which was engaged in the Chicago and Buffalo trade. Subsequent boats he sailed were the Fintry, which was blown up on Lake Erie, the Falcon, the Mississippi, the May Flower, and the Tonawanda, from which he retired in 1863 for a time to his farm at St. Joseph. He again resumed sailing in 1870, then commanding the propeller Favorite, of which he was part owner, and on which his death occurred suddenly of heart disease while she was at the dock in Chicago, June 4, of that year.
Captain Langley has always seemed to us the very beau ideal of a thorough sailor and commander - one born to the profession. Ever since we knew him in command of the propeller Fintry, we have thus esteemed him. There he had but a limited scope in which his true qualities could be developed. Yet even there they were tested under circumstances of severe trial. Well do we remember him when he fell in with the burning E.K. Collins, * * * We can easily recall the superior judgment, coolness and presence of mind which he then displayed. And most of those who escaped from the fiery seas of flame that enveloped the boat and the treacherous waves that waited to devour them, around, owed their preservation to the quick and ready hand that Captain Langley extended to their relief. His exertions knew no bounds. No sacrifice was too great to make - no gift was too much freely to bestow upon the unfortunate sufferers by calamity. With a practical wisdom worth everything at that juncture, the drowned were resuscitated and the wounded carefully tended. With the mind of a man to direct and the heart of a woman to prompt, his efforts could not be otherwise than successful.
The recent disaster that befell the Northern Indian brought these same qualities into full exercise, and he proved just the man for the terrible emergency. His prudence, good management and superior skill were extolled in every quarter. Survivors saved through his timely exertions expressed their gratitude in many letters in the public print, while many more testimonials that could scarcely contain words enough to express the sentiments of their writers' overflowing heart, found their way to him in a more private manner, and doubtless were preserved by him as next precious to the thoughts of having done his whole duty, with which he is cheered and blessed. Most worthy indeed is he to occupy his high position of responsibility and trust. Years and years hence may we be permitted to grasp the hand of as true a man and sailor as lives, and find both in the person of Samuel G. Langley.
It was Captain Langley who, with the propeller Fintry, went to the rescue of the passengers and crew of the steamer E. K. Collins, which was burned just below Malden last fall. Upward of sixty lives were saved by his noble efforts. For his kind and noble conduct on that occasion, he was presented by some of the survivors with a rich service of silver.
Last September he picked up the boats containing the saved passenger and crew of the propeller Forest City, which was sunk by being run into by a vessel near Grand Traverse. These were only a few of the many testimonials tendered to him for many and brave efforts in rescuing lives during his long and noble service on the lakes.
On February 2, 1843, occurred the marriage of Captain Langley to Miss Sarah Ann Fitzgerald, of Detroit, and a daughter of Edmund A. Fitzgerald, of Sea View, Ireland, who came to New York City and married Miss Sarah A. Hilliard, of Albany, Sarah Ann Fitzgerald was born in Albany, N. Y., April 2, 1823. The children of this union are John H., Samuel E., Franklin F. and Emma A., the wife of J. J. McLeod, of Detroit. All the sons, as the mother expresses it, "took to the water like ducks," and early went on the lakes, and each became a master of a vessel.
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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.