George F. Williams
George F. Williams, a well-known shipbuilder whose experience extends over forty years of active mechanical work, and who may be termed the mechanical father of many of the young shipbuilders of the day, is a son of Joseph and Mary (Tripp) Williams, natives of Cazenovia, N. Y., of Welsh descent, numbering among their ancestors Roger Williams, of pioneer fame. He was born in Cazenovia, Madison Co., N. Y., in September, 1835, and had but very limited educational advantages on account of being left an orphan at an early age. In November, 1851, he commenced work as an apprentice in Buffalo, N. Y., for F. N. Jones, whose shipyard was located in Ohio street, on the property now owned and occupied by the New York, Lake Erie and Western R. R. Company, more familiarly known as the Erie. The first craft he was employed on was the steamer Iowa, a side-wheeler which was afterward converted into a screw, or, as that description of vessel is more commonly called, a propeller. After serving an apprenticeship for four years, he was employed in other yards until the spring of 1860, when he went to Cincinnati and was engaged in building river steamers until the fall of that year, when he shipped on the steamer Queen of the West as carpenter, which position he occupied until the following May, when the breaking out of the civil war put an end to his steamboating career. The steamer Queen of the West was purchased by the government and converted into a ram, one of the most famous of the Mississippi fleet. About the middle of May, 1861, he returned to Buffalo, N. Y., bringing with him what he believes to be the first Rebel flag brought north. The story of the flag is a short one. On her last trip up the Mississippi river the steamer Queen of the West was seized at Helena, Ark.; the soldiers, on boarding her, hoisted the stars and bars on her flagstaff; she was released about two o'clock in the morning, but in the meantime, Mr. Williams, being a young man of patriotic principles, had hauled down the flag and neglected to return it to the Confederates. After arriving in Buffalo he entered into business with his brother, H. J. Williams, then building canalboats and vessels. Their yard was located at the foot of Virginia street, on the Erie canal. He remained in that business until the fall of 1862, when he went to New York City on the large tug Governor, via the river and Gulf of St. Lawrence. On his arrival at New York the tug was purchased by the government and added to the United States navy. He then went at his trade again, and assisted in building several ships and steamers, among them the famous little steamer Chauncey Vibard, still (1898) in commission, he believes. Among the ships for the government he assisted in building were the large monitors Dictator and Puritan; the former was built by the Delamater, and the latter by the Continental Iron Works.
Mr. Williams was in New York at the time of the great draft riots (so called) in 1863, and for half an hour (very much against his will) was in a mob on Eighth avenue, but made a very hasty retreat at the very first opportunity. In 1864 he returned to Buffalo, and in the spring of 1865 was employed by his brother to draft and oversee the building of the revenue cutter Andrew Jackson. In September, 1867, he was employed by F. N. Jones as general foreman in his shipyaerd in Tonawanda, N. Y., where he had charge of the building of the schooners Mockingbird, W. D. Sawyer, F. L. Danforth, Helvetia, George S. Hazard, Red Wing and F. A. Georger. In the fall of 1878 he entered the employ of the Union Dry Dock Company, and in 1879 was appointed assistant superintendent, having charge of the construction and repairs for the company until November, 1885. In January, 1886, went to West Bay City, and took charge of the shipyard of F. W. Wheeler, as general superintendent, and remained in that capacity until the formation of the stock company of F. W. Wheeler & Co., of which he became vice-president and general superintendent. He remained with that company until January, 1892, when overwork had so undermined his constitution that he was compelled to resign his position, and in the following May he sold his stock and retired from active business life. In conclusion he says that in American shipbuilding there are grand possibilities, but that he would advise young men of talent to work more for their own advancement in the great science, and less for the reputation, and the accumulation of wealth for men with no mechanical genius. Should such a course be adopted, we may again see, in the front ranks of the shipbuilders of the world, men like George Steers, William H. Webb. Henry Steers, Westervelt, and Foulks, of the seaboard, and, for the Great Lakes, men like Jacob Banty, F. N. Jones, and many other famous men of their day; men noted for building the fastest and stanchest ships that sailed the ocean and the Great Lakes, men who, if a great problem presented itself, went to work and accomplished its solution instead of sending abroad to secure the services of men educated in foreign schools with un-American ideas.
Fraternally, Mr. Williams is a Master Mason of DeMolay Lodge, Buffalo; and was master of Tonawanda Lodge No. 247, two years. In November, 1863, he was united in marriage to Miss Jane Tripp, of Rochester, N. Y., a distant kinswoman of his mother. One son, George F., Jr., was born of this union, who is engaged in the bicycle business at Watertown, N. Y., and prospering. The family homestead is at No. 291 Swanstreet, Buffalo, New York.
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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.