Capt. John M. Twitchell
Capt. John M. Twitchell is one of the most prominent masters of passenger steamers sailing out of Chicago, and it is exceedingly rare to find a master mariner who has been shipmate with so few vessels. He has had twenty-six years' experience and is now, and has been for the last ten years, master of the second steamer in which he ever sailed. He is acknowledged to be one of the best Lake Superior pilots, and has universally met with good results in all of his passages between Duluth and Chicago. He is thoroughly conversant with the operation and product of the Lake Superior copper mines, the working of which he describes in an entertaining manner. He has carried thousands of tons of this copper in barrels, billets, ingots, pigs, and in bulk from Hancock and Portage Lake to Chicago; also manufactured copper in fine wire, plate copper, boiler bottoms, etc. Last season when the remains of the steamer Pewaubic were discovered, he got a piece of pure copper taken from the wreck which he preserves as a relic.
Captain Twitchell was born in Pulaski, Oswego Co., N.Y., October 17, 1850, a son of Horace and Elmira (Balsley) Twitchell, also natives of Pulaski. His paternal grandparents, Luther and Persis (Percey) Twitchell, were both natives of Vermont, while his maternal grandparents, Nicholas and Randy Balsley, were natives of that county, but of German and Scotch descent respectively. Our subject's father was a lake pilot, for many years in the employ of the old Northern Transportation Company, as mate on the steamer Maine, recently burned at Tonawanda, N.Y., and on the Oswegatchie, with Captain Chipman. The last vessel on which he sailed was the steamer J.L. Hurd, with Capt. Thomas Lloyd. In 1882 he met an accidental death on that steamer by falling into the hold, just as she was entering Duluth harbor. The mother died in Pulaski, N.Y., in 1863.
Captain Twitchell, of this sketch, acquired a liberal education in his native town, attending the public schools until he reached the age of eighteen years, after which he worked on a farm for four years. It was in 1872 that he went to Chicago and shipped with Capt. Thomas Lloyd in the steamer J.L. Hurd, as watchman, and remained on her sixteen years, advancing rapidly to wheelsman, second mate, filling the office of mate five years, and finally becoming master, and as such he sailed her two seasons. In the spring of 1888 he was appointed master of the City of Traverse, and has sailed her ten consecutive seasons without serious mishap of any nature. It was the Captain's good fortune to assist the life-saving crew at St. Joseph in rescuing the crew of the steamer City of Duluth, sunk off that harbor. He has nothing but words of praise for the gallantry of the life savers at St. Joseph, who worked from 10 o'clock at night to 5 the next morning in bitter cold weather, and succeeded in saving forty people. The Captain is one of the earliest members of the Ship Masters Association in Chicago.
On February 6, 1878, Captain Twitchell married Miss Lottie, daughter of Samuel and Margaret Emery, of Mexico City, N.Y., and the children born to this union are: Earl, Lester, and Milton J., deceased. The family homestead is at No. 3811 Michigan avenue, Chicago, Illinois.
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.