J. E. Lewis
J.E. Lewis, whose papers as marine engineer date back to 1867, is one of the best known and most universally esteemed men on the lakes. He carried on an engineers, supply store in Detroit for many years and had the reputation of being honorable and upright in all his dealings.
Mr. Lewis is a son of Daniel and Mary (Barker) Lewis, and was born June 6, 1848, in Utica, N.Y. His parents were born in the northern part of Wales and came to the United States in the year 1835, locating in Utica, in which city the father opened a wagon shop. In the course of time he gained a large patronage and became fairly prosperous, continuing the business until the fall of 1855, when he sold out and removed to Detroit. In 1861 he constructed the little steamer Star on Hog Island (now Belle Isle), and took her to the Saginaw river, where he used her as a ferry between the two cities of that name. He was prompted to become a shipbuilder one day while in the wood on the Island, chancing upon a tree that was bent after the fashion of the bow of a boat, and cutting the tree he at once went to work on the little steamer. He reached Saginaw with her on the Fourth of July, his son James being with him, and commenced business, the receipts the first day amounting to over one hundred dollars, and he continued ferrying on the Saginaw river until 1867. In 1863 Mr. Lewis built the side-wheel steamer Excelsior at Saginaw, and in 1864 the steamer S.R. Kirby, the work being done under the supervision of Mr. Kirby, father of Frank Kirby, of the Detroit Dry Dock Company. He also owned the tug May Belle, but did not keep her long.
J.E. Lewis received his primary education in the public schools of Utica, and graduated from the high school in Detroit. He served his apprenticeship to the machinist's trade with the Wickes Brothers, of East Saginaw. Mr. Lewis' first marine experience was gained in 1861-62, as wheelsman in his father's boat Star, and he went as engineer on the Excelsior the next two years. He passed the succeeding seasons in the tug May Belle and steamer S.R. Kirby (taking out engineer's license in 1867) up to the year 1869, when he left Saginaw and went to Detroit, shipping in the steamer Gem, then plying in the ferry between Windsor and Detroit. He remained in that employ eight years, being transferred as chief engineer into the steamers Argyle and Hope. In the spring of 1877 he entered the employ of the old Northern Transportation Company as chief engineer of the City of Toledo, following with a season in the steamer Clara. In 1879 he stopped ashore in Detroit and took charge of the machinery in Clee's mill, retaining that position three years. In 1882 Mr. Lewis was appointed assistant United States boiler inspector for the Detroit district, William J. Wray being the chief, but he resigned this office to accept a position with the Brush Electric Light Company, for whom he ran the first tower that ever gave forth electric light in Detroit. In the spring of 1884 he opened an engineer's supply store, dealing also in lubricating oils, at No. 36 Jefferson avenue, and carried on profitable business until the Standard Oil Company interfered with him in the fall of 1887, when after a struggle he discontinued the trade. Mr. Lewis then went to West Bay City and put the machinery into the steamers F.W. Wheeler and W.H. Gratwick, built at Mr. Wheeler's yard. In the spring of 1888 he returned to Detroit and shipped as chief engineer with Capt. J.M. Mitchell in the steamer Saginaw. The next year he opened a produce and commission store in Detroit, which he conducted successfully until his retirement from business in June, 1895. On the 19th of that month he again entered the Government employ as engineer of the steamer Florence B., the first mail boat on the Detroit river engaged in delivering mail to passing vessels, remaining in this service until May 14, 1898, when he was appointed chief engineer of the passenger steamer City of Holland, plying between Holland and Chicago under command of Capt. J.M. Mitchell.
On January 3, 1873, in Chicago, Mr. Lewis wedded Miss Margaret Flood, of Detroit, the marriage ceremony being performed by the Rev. Dr. Daniels. The children born of this union are: James E., Jr. (who has pilot's papers and has held that office on the passenger steamers Flora, State of Michigan and Atlantic, of the Grummond line), Fred W., William B., Frank and Mary A. Mr. Lewis recently established his sons in the produce and commission business in Detroit, in which they have met with encouraging success. The family home is at No. 16 South street, Detroit, Michigan.
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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.