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Capt. Benjamin Boutell (17 Aug. 1844 - 26 Aug. 1912)
Prominent person in Great Lakes maritime history.
  • Courtesy of "Links to the Past" website.
  • Maritime Biography - Courtesy of "Links to the Past" website.

    History of the Great Lakes, Vol. 2 by J.B. Mansfield
    Published Chicago: J.H. Beers & Co. 1899.



    Captain Benjamin Boutell stands as a just and upright man, and has ever lived and walked as such. He has hosts of friends, and is acknowledged to be one of the most deservedly popular citizens of Bay City, Mich. By good business methods, united with untiring industry, he has acquired an abundance of this world's goods, but does not set his heart upon them, as his courtesy and humanity to man are wide, though unostentatious.

    The Captain is a son of Daniel and Betsey (Adams) Boutell, his mother being grand-niece of John Q. Adams. She was born in Syracuse, N.Y., in 1808, a daughter of Benjamin Adams, while her husband was a native of New Hampshire, born in 1800, and a son of Henry Boutell. When quite a small boy Daniel Boutell removed with his parents to Syracuse, N.Y., where he met and married Miss Betsey Adams, in 1824, after which they lived for some years in that city, Mr. Boutell being engaged in building and selling canal boats. Then, anticipating Horace Greeley's advice to "go West," he went to Deerfield township, Livingston Co., Mich., making the entire journey in his own conveyance - a covered emigrant wagon - being seven weeks upon the way. He purchased a large farm, redeemed it from the virgin forest, and erected upon it a residence. It was here that Benjamin Boutell, the subject of this article, was born August 17, 1844. The family remained on this farm and worked it to the best advantage until 1857, when they removed to Birch Run, Mich., where the father erected a hotel which he designated "The Half-Way House," it being equi-distant between the towns of Flint and Saginaw. After conducting this hostelry successfully for two years he removed to Bay City where he purchased the old "Sherman House," which stood on the southeast corner of Water and Third streets, and rebuilt it, changing the name to "Boutell House." He again established himself in the hotel business which he carried on until June, 1865, when the structure was destroyed by fire. During the progress of the conflagration Mr. Boutell contracted a severe cold, which settled on his lungs, and he died from the effects of the same in the spring of 1866. He had lived a busy and useful life, and had made friends in every quarter. The wife and mother was laid to rest in 1880, aged seventy-two years.

    Capt. Ben Boutell, as he is familiarly known, has also lived a busy and useful life. In his boyhood he helped his father on the farm and in the hotel, attending the public schools as he had opportunity until the spring of 1865, when he adopted the life of a sailor, shipping as wheelsman on the steam tug Wave. The next year he was promoted to the position of mate in the same boat. In the spring of 1867 he took out his first government papers, and was appointed master of the steamer Ajax, the amount of his salary to be governed by the net cash he cleared. The Ajax was a small side-wheel tug, and was owned by a Bay City bank, but she was tied up for debt, the creditors having a keeper aboard. It devolved upon the Captain to free his boat from the clutches of the law before he could sail her. Preliminary to this act he shipped an engineer, Samuel Jones, whose salary, like the Captain's, was conditional; and a colored cook, known as Aunt Kittie, who weighed about 240 pounds. They formed a combination for strategy to rid themselves of the keeper. The heavy line by which the steamer was attached to the dock was replaced by one half an inch thick, and the Captain had a sharp knife. The engineer got up plenty of steam, and when all was ready Captain Boutell advised the keeper, who was a big man, to get off the boat as he was going to sail. The man demurred, and the Captain, who had not yet gained the fine physical proportions which he has since developed, was somewhat afraid to tackle him; but finally, when the man was not observing he stepped up and after some mysterious moves the big keeper was overboard into the river. The Captain then cut the slight line that held the Ajax and she steamed away. The keeper swam to the dock and crawled out of the water. Captain Boutell, the engineer and the cook ran the tug that fall, sawing the wood she burned, and performing all the other work, clearing for the owners $6,000.

    In the spring of 1868 he took command of the side-wheel steamer Runnels, sailing her until June in the passenger trade between Bay City and Oscoda. This steamer he left on account of illness, but closed the season as mate with Capt. William Mitchell in the tug Union. In 1869 he entered into partnership with Mr. Mitchell, under the firm name of Mitchell & Boutell, doing general towing business. They started with the Union, and purchased the tug Annie Moiles, Captain Boutell sailing the former, Captain Mitchell the latter. These conditions existed until December, 1870, when the Union was destroyed by fire on Saginaw bay the crew escaping in the yawl boat. The next spring the Captain took charge of the Annie Moiles, and sailed her until the fall of 1876. They then built the steamer Westover, and Captain Boutell sailed her five seasons. In the meantime the firm had purchased the tugs Laketon and Music. It was in 1875 that they commenced to buy barges, and when the firm dissolved in 1887 they owned quite a fleet, consisting of the Nelson, Favorite, Emma L. Mayes, Roscius, Seminole and others, besides the tugs. In the division Captain Boutell took the tugs and raft-towing business, and Captain Mitchell the lake barges. During that winter the steamer Folsom was built to the order of Captain Boutell.

    In the spring of 1888 the Captain associated with P.C. Smith in the raft-towing business under the firm name of Boutell & Smith, which continues in force at this writing, and during the past ten years the industry of raft-towing under his management has been revolutionized to so great a degree as to keep pace with any other branch of traffic on the Great Lakes. The first year the Captain confined himself to towing on the rivers tributary to the Saginaw, but since then his field of operations has been greatly enlarged. The firm has steadily added to their fleet of large tugs, which now consists of the powerful tugs Traveler, Niagara, Boscobel, Winslow, Sweepstakes, Charlton, Peter Smith, Ella M. Smith, Charlie O. Smith, Annie Moiles, R.H. Weidemann, Robert Emmet, Luther Westover, Sea Gull, Lulu Eddy, Mary E. Pierce, Sarah Smith and Florence. This business is conducted by Captain Boutell under the title of the Saginaw Bay Towing Company, and the fleet is the finest afloat for towing and wrecking purposes, many of the tugs being built especially for the business. It is difficult to realize the magnitude of this enterprise in log-towing, but an idea may be gained from the statement that the average business of the company has been 150,000,000 feet in big rafts and timber during the last ten years, two seasons it being as high as 300,000,000 feet. In addition to the above vessel property, Captain Boutell owns, individually, the steamers Charles A. Eddy, whose registered tonnage is 2,075, and Hiram W. Sibley, of 1,418 tons, and also the schooner Twin Sisters.

    Captain Boutell founded the Marine Iron Works in Bay City in 1892, and five years later bought the coal business of C.H. Clump, in which he established his two sons, Frederick E. and William H., under the firm name of Boutell Brothers & Co., a nephew of the Captain representing the company. In 1897 he also organized the Excelsior Foundry Company, which makes all the heavy casting used in F.W. Wheeler's shipyard. Among the other branches of business with which he is identified is the Commercial Bank of Bay City, in which he is a stockholder and director; is president of the Boutell Transportation Company; president of the Hampton Transportation Company; president of the Marine Iron Company; president of the Excelsior Iron Company; president of the Saginaw Bay Towing Company; and vice-president of the Business Men's Association. He is also a heavy owner and dealer in real estate in and around Bay City. Every enterprise with which he is connected evidences in some degree the vigor and force of his character.

    On December 22, 1869, Captain Boutell was united in marriage with Miss Amelia C. Dudtlenger, of Arenac, Mich., and three sons - Frederick E., William H. and Benny - were born of this union; the last named died when four years old. The family residence, which is in accord with the excellent taste of the wife and mother, is situated at the corner of Madison and Fifth streets, Bay City, Michigan.

    Death of Capt. Boutell. - Contributed by Jim Petrimoulx.

  • Transcribed Feb. 2007.
    Saginaw Courier Herald - October 27, 1912 (Page 12)



    Bay City, Mich., Oct. 26. -- Capt. Benjamin Boutell, prominent Bay City capitalist, died early this morning after an illness of several months.

    Capt. Boutell was born in Deerfield, Mich., in 1844, and had lived in Bay City since 1859. He was for years engaged in the lake traffic, first as a sailor and vessel captain, and then as owner of a large fleet of lake tugs and freighters. He was one of the pioneers in the beet sugar industry of the country, assisting in establishing factories in Michigan and the west.

    His business interests extended from the Atlantic to the Pacific at various times, he having owned a fleet of lake vessels which was sent to the coast, having been interested in cement plants and sugar factories in California, as well as having extensive mining interests in the west.

    He was married in December, 1869, to Miss Amelia Butlinger, of Pine River, Mich. She died in 1902. A few years later he married his first wife's twin sister. Two sons by the first wife survive him.

    Additional Notes.

      1894 - Census: Bay City, Bay, Mich.

    • Boutell, Benjamin - b. 1845
    • Amelia, wife - b.1855
    • Fred E., son - b. 1872
    • William H., son - b. 1875
    • Duttinger, Comelia, sister
    • Lorenzo, nephew - b. 1868
  • Related Pages/Notes

    Capt. Benjamin Boutell

    Son, Wm. H. Boutell
    Employed at Valley Sugar Co.

    1867 Gleat Lakes Map

    Related Pages:
    Elliot, Dorin Capt.
    Elliot, Frank Capt.
    Sagatoo, Mary
    Smith, Peter C.
    Burrington, Riley M.
    {Great Lakes Map, 1867}
    People Referenced
    Adams, Benjamin (g-father)
    Adams, Betsey (mother)
    Adams, John Q.
    Boutell, Benjamin (subject)
    Boutell, Benny (son)
    Boutell, Comelia (sister)
    Boutell, Daniel (father)
    Boutell, Frederick E.(son)
    Boutell, Henry (g-father)
    Boutell, Lorenzo (nephew)
    Boutell, Wm. H. (son)
    Butlenger, Amelia C. (wife)
    Clump, C.H.
    Greeley, Horace
    Jones, Samuel
    Mitchell, Wm. (Capt.)
    Smith, Peter C.
    Wheeler, Frank W.
    ?, Aunt Kitty (cook)
    Subjects Referenced
    Bay City, MI
    Birch Run, MI
    Boutell Bros. & Co.
    Boutell House, hotel
    Boutell & Smith Co.
    Boutell Transportation Co.
    Business Men's Assoc.
    Coal business
    Cement plants
    Commerical Bank of Bay City
    Deerfield Twsp., MI
    Excelser Foundry Co.
    Excelser Iron Co.
    Flint, MI
    F.W. Wheeler shipyard
    Great Lakes
    Half-Way House, hotel
    Hampton Transportation Co.
    Livingston County, MI
    Marine Iron Co.
    Marine Iron Works Co.
    Mitchell & Boutell Co.
    New Hampshire, CT
    Oscoda, MI
    Pine River, MI
    Restate dealer
    Saginaw, MI
    Saginaw River
    Sherman House, hotel
    Sugar beet industry
    Syracuse, NY
    Charles A. Eddy, steamer
    Hiram W. Sibley, steamer
    Twin Sisters, schooner
    Emma L. Mayes
    Ajax, steamer sidewheel
    Annie Moiles
    Charles O. Smith
    Ella M. Smith
    Folsom, steamer
    Lulu Eddy
    Luther Westover
    Mary E. Pierce
    Peter Smith
    R.H. Weidemann
    Robert Emmet
    Runnels, steamer sidewheel
    Sarah Smith
    Sea Gull
    Wave, steamer
    Westover, steamer
    Saginaw Bay
    Saginaw Bay Towing Co.
    Internet References
    Links to the Past
    Online book, "History of the Great Lakes," Vols. 1 & 2, by J.B. Mansfield.
    WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.