Captain William Packer
Captain William Packer, one of the younger masters on lake crafts, is a son of M. L. and Ellen Packer, and was born in 1865, in Cleveland, Ohio, the public schools of which city he attended until he was fifteen years of age. In the spring of 1880 he shipped on the schooner C. H. Johnson, as boy, and was in the same tow with the schooner Wabash when she struck and went to pieces on the Pictured Rocks, Lake Superior; the entire crew of the Wabash, eight men, was in the cabin up to their necks in water, which was ice-cold, all night. The following season he spent in the John Tibbets, and he subsequently saw service in various boats as seaman until 1884, when he became mate of the A. C. Maxwell. It will be remembered that this vessel went ashore on the Ontario coast, near Goderich, that fall, and that the crew were taken off by Captain Babb, with a volunteer life-saving crew, after they had suffered much hardship from the weather, drifting helplessly without rudder or masts four days and nights.
In 1885 Mr. Packer was appointed mate of the schooner M. R. Warner, remaining in this position two seasons. On one occasion, while he was lying in Ashtabula harbor, the schooner J. F. Joy appeared, displaying signals of distress, and soon went to the bottom of the lake. Captain Packer launched his yawlboat and put out to the distressed vessel, the tugs being unable to reach her on account of so much floating rigging, and he brought off the captain, mate and cook in his first boat load, and returning, took off the crew, consisting of seven men. In 1887 he shipped as second mate on the steamer Henry Johnson, and in the spring of 1888 he was granted master's papers and sailed the schooner M. R. Warner, in 1889 commanding the schooner C. G. King. In 1890 he became master of the schooner Helvetia, in which he remained three seasons. His next boat was the schooner Minnehaha, on which he remained two seasons. On July 2, 1893, while his vessel was lying at dock in Toledo harbor, the Captain went up the river in a small steamer, and seeing three men struggling in the water he buckled on a life-preserver, jumped overboard and swam to them, saving two after a heroic effort; the other was drowned. He reached and succeeded in supporting the two until a small boat picked them up. All three had been leaning against a frail railing on a boat, and it had given way with them.
In the fall of 1895 Captain Packer lost the Minnehaha in a driving snowstorm, the schooner shipping a heavy sea which battered in the hatches, and she filled rapidly, the crew taking to the rigging. Captain Packer took the wheel and beached the schooner near Starkeyville, on the east shore of Lake Michigan. He was cut off from the mizzen-mast when she struck and got on the jigger. When the mast went by the board he jumped, cleared the decks and got hold of a piece of deck plank which assisted him to swim ashore. The vessel soon went to pieces, and the rest of the crew, consisting of six men and a woman cook, were lost. Captain Rafferty was mate and his son a seaman. The body of the cook, Mary Keefe, was picked up next day nineteen miles to the southward. Not withstanding the loss of this boat Captain Packer has retained the confidence of the owners of that class of vessels, and in 1896 he was appointed master of the schooner Nellie Redington, which he laid up in Cleveland harbor at the close of navigation that season.
Return to Home Port
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.