Captain Fowler J. Preston
Captain Fowler J. Preston [deceased], late of St. Joseph, Mich. The death of Capt. Fowler Preston, at Chicago, February 4, 1896, closes the career of a lake captain whose name is a household word in every port on the Great Lakes as he was favorably known to every man who sailed in any capacity on the great inland seas for the past thirty years.
Fowler Preston was born April 30, 1844 in St. Joseph, Mich. His father, for whom he was named, died six months before Fowler, Jr., was born, consequently his trials began at an early age, and while other boys of his age were growing up in the lap of luxury, this youth cast about him to make a path for himself. As the tastes of our subject lay in the direction of water, he shipped at the age of thirteen years, first on the Jupiter, a small trading vessel out of St. Joseph. He was cabin boy on the schooner Freemason, the vessel being engaged in the fishing trade along the St. Joseph shore. After sailing two seasons on the Freemason, he bought an interest in the schooner Blackhawk, and sailed on her for a time, and in 1859 he went to Cleveland and bought the schooner Cousin Mary and as captain sailed her between St. Joseph and Chicago, until the year 1862, when the roll of the drum and the flashing of the sword and bayonet proved too much for the patriotic blood of young Fowler Preston, and he enlisted as a naval seaman in the service of his country. He was consigned to the United States steamship Stars and Stripes, which was stationed off Cape Hatteras, watching and giving battle to blockade runners. While engaged in this service with shipmates, of whom Capt. James Paxton and John Goodal, of St. Joseph, were two, the stars and Stripes succeeded in capturing a schooner loaded with arms, which had undertaken to run the blockade and deliver her cargo to the Rebels and he was among the number of his shipmates who were put aboard the vessel to take her to New York City as a prize. Before reaching that port, however, a great storm arose on the Atlantic, and the vessel was cast upon the uninhabited island and became a total wreck. Seaman Preston endured great hardships and privations on that island before being rescued, and many times climbed the spars of their broken vessel in order to see if help was at hand, which finally came and all were taken to New York City.
At New York, Seaman Preston was, among others quartered upon the mailship Columbia, plying between New York City and Havana, in order to defend the ship should she be attacked by Rebel privateers in Southern waters. On this ship Capt. Edw. Napier, well known at St. Joseph was one of his shipmates. He was employed on this ship until the expiration of his term of service in 1864. He returned to St. Joseph and became inter- ested in the schooner Fish Hawk, which traded between St. Joseph, Chicago and Milwaukee, engaged in the wood-carrying traffic. In 1872 he purchased the propeller Skylark, which he cut down and fitted out as a barge, and went into the lumber trade from Manistee to Michigan City, and was engaged on that vessel for about five years. He then sold a half-interest in the Skylark to Robert Ricaby, and the following year a quarter-interest to Capt. H. W. Williams, and they fitted her out with an upper cabin, and put her in the passenger traffic between that port and Chicago. After this first season, however, he sold his remaining interest to Captain Williams. His next marine venture was to purchase the hull of a barge at Saginaw, which he had towed to St. Joseph, leaving Saginaw just a few days after the great Alpena storm. He fitted this hull with the machinery, and named the boat the A. H. Morrison, in honor of one of St. Joseph's most prominent men, and ran her in lumber business between Grand Haven and Chicago, for two seasons, and then sold her to Welland Bros. He next built the tug Jennie King at New Richmond, and ran her one season in the St. Joseph port as a ferry and towing steamer, and then sold her to local parties.
In 1886 he built the well-known lumber carrier Maud Preston, at W. A. Preston's yards, and named her in honor of his only niece, the daughter of his only brother. He owned that steamer about three years, and carried lumber between Ludington, Manistee and St. Joseph. It was during his ownership of the Maud Preston, and in an endeavor to increase her speed by substituting a larger wheel, that the chains of the lifts parted, pinning him to the earth between two of the buckets, and severing his right thumb so that amputation was necessary. He sold her to Captain Bradley, of Muskegon, and then bought the steamer Seymour in 1892, carrying lumber about the different lake ports, and much of it for the Graves Lumber Company, of Benton Harbor, selling her after an ownership of about two years, and before completing an overhauling of her at South Haven, to the Sheboygan, Wis., Chair Company. The steamer Imperial was his next purchase, which he sold after one season to Manitowoc parties, and then started his pride at Ludington, the steamer Visitor, which he completed at Heath's shipyards, intending her for the lake front excursion business at Chicago. He also owned an interest in the tug Sanford at the time of his death. But the Visitor he considered the best boat he had ever owned, and it proved to be the last one he was ever interested in.
On August 20, 1883, at Milwaukee, Captain Preston was married to Miss May Talmage, of New Richmond, who survives him.
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.