Capt. James E. Davidson (1841-1929)
Maritime biography and death notice.
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 JAMES E. DAVIDSON
Captain James E. Davidson is possessed of great determination, energy and self-
reliance, and is thrifty and industrious. He was born in Buffalo, N. Y., in 1841,
a son of Joseph and Elizabeth (Smith) Davidson, natives of Scotland, who came to
the United States in 1828, locating at Buffalo. The father was a stone contractor
and was awarded the contract by the Government to build the first piers at the
harbor in Buffalo, in which city he continued in active business for upward of
twenty years. Both he and his wife departed this life in 1852, leaving three
children:James, Elizabeth, who married John Bell, a merchant of Victoria, New
South Wales, and Ellen, who became the wife of William Starkey, a well-known
vessel owner of Ashtabula, Ohio.
James E. Davidson was only eleven years old when his parents died and of necessity
he became self-supporting. He always had a desire to become a sailor, and when but a
small lad established a ferry across the river at Buffalo, a year later commencing
sailing on the lakes and soon becoming a thorough and reliable seaman. At the age of
seventeen he became second mate and two years later was appointed master, meanwhile
continuing his studies in the Buffalo public schools in winter, and taking a course
at Bryant & Stratton's Business College. About the year 1862, Captain Davidson left
the lakes and went to the Atlantic ocean for further experience in seamanship. He
shipped before the mast in some of the largest packets plying between New York,
Liverpool and Calcutta, after two years returning to the lakes, and that winter
resumed his studies in a commercial college. He shipped on the lakes again in the
spring of 1865, and from master he soon became owner of the vessels he sailed. After
spending a winter in Buffalo shipyards learning construction, he went to Toledo,
where he was appointed superintendent of a shipyard, and then to East Saginaw, where
he started a yard and commenced to build vessels. This venture prospered, as he
exercised great care in his work, and he practically gave up sailing and devoted
his entire time to shipbuilding, his new vessels being added to his own fleet or
sold as occasion offered. In 1873 he disposed of his yard at West Bay City, since
which time, a period covering a quarter of a century, Captain Davidson has
constructed and launched many of the finest wooden vessels and steamers on the lakes,
and this volume is an appropriate one in which to name them:
Venezuela, Rappahannock, Sacramento, Shanandoah, Thomas Cranage, City of Venice,
City of Genoa, City of Naples, City of Berlin, City of Paris, City of London, City
of Glasgow, Bermuda, John Harper, Alex Nimick, Majestic, George G. Hadley, Nicaragua,
Madagascar, Britannic, Germanic, Roumania, Bulgaria, Australasia, Siberia, James
Davidson, Oceanica, George T. Hope, W. P. Ketcham, S. S. Wilhelm, Walter Vail, Panther
schoonersCrete, Athens, Armenia, Abyssinia, Algeria, Granada, Grampian,
H. A. Darr, William D. Becker, Aberdeen, Dundee, Paisley, George B. Owen, Tokio,
Adriatic, Baltic, Mary B. Mitchell, Celtic, Polynesia, Mary Woolson, Harold, Atlanta,
Nirvana, John Shaw, E. M. Davidson, Kate Winslow and Laura Belle;
89 and 90, builder's number), Wisconsin & Michigan railway No. 1 and Wisconsin &
Michigan railway No. 2;
tugsProdigy, Industry, G. A. Tomlinson, Rita McDonald, Temple Emery, Perfection, C. B.
Strohn, Washburn and Andrew A. McLean;
fishing tug Maxwell A.;
ice bargesAndrew T.
Gray Co., Nos. 1 and 2.
Capt. James Davidson's name in connection with the great shipbuilding industry is
therefore well and favorably known throughout the great chain of lakes. The large
barge Wahnipitae, which carried more than 2,000,000 feet of lumber, was built by him
and was by far the largest on the lakes. It must be a matter of just and honorable
pride as well as a great satisfaction to Captain Davidson to contrast the early years
of his life as a sailor with the present, remembering that the first vessel he sailed
was the little schooner Sea Gull, of about 150 tons register, and that he now builds,
owns and sails the magnificent steamers of the present day. He has gone quietly and
steadily about his life work, always industrious but making no display, seemingly
impressed with the maxim that the value of life consists in being faithful in the
work undertaken and to the trust imposed. His shipbuilding interests are extensive,
and at this writing he owns and operates a fleet of twenty-seven large-sized vessels,
besides four new ships launched in 1898. He has been ever since its organization a
member of the board of managers of the Lake Carriers Association. Captain Davidson
does not devote all his time to his shipbuilding industry and the management of his
large fleet, much of that devolving upon his son, James E., who, like his father, has
a clear comprehensive mind, is quick and accurate in his judgment, and prompt in
acting on his decisions. The Captain is financially interested in the Frontier
Elevator Company, at Buffalo, and is vice-president and director of the Frontier
Iron & brass Works, at Detroit; he is also a stockholder in the Hane Electric Company,
and has an interest with Romer, Lovell & Co., in Bay City; is a director of the First
State Bank, in Hillsdale, Mich., and president of the Michigan Log Towing Company,
of Bay City.
On January 22, 1863, Captain Davidson was wedded to Miss Ellen M., daughter of
John Rogers, of Buffalo, and they have had seven children, five of whom are now living.
The eldest, James E., who so capably manages the large shipbuilding industry during
the absence of his father, became associated in business with him some years ago.
The family homestead in Bay City is situated in Center street; they have also a
handsome residence in Buffalo, New York.
Contributed by Jim Petrimoulx.
Transcribed (Feb. 2007)
Saginaw Daily News - February 3, 1929 (Page 2)
DAVIDSON, BAY CITY CAPITALIST, PASSES.
Built Kate Winslow at Saginaw in 1870 -- Worked Way Up From Ranks. ----------
(By Associated Press)
Bay City, Mich., Feb. 3 --
Capt. James Davidson, millionaire capitalist and shipbuilder and one the first men in the United States to employ a saw mill in cutting timber in the building of ships, died at his home here, this morning, after an illness of eight weeks. He was 87 years old.
Stricken with pneumonia two months ago, when he was forced to give up business, he recovered nicely, the the infirmities of age left him so weakened death ensued.
James E. Davidson, Republican national committeeman for Michigan, is a son.
Mr. Davidson was born in Buffalo August 12, 1841, of Scotch parents. After sailing on the lakes summers and working in a shipyard and attending business college in the winters, he secured his own barge and became a captain, hauling wood along the canals. The he came to the Saginaw valley and in 1870 built at Saginaw the Kate Winslow, then the largest ship on the Great Lakes. In 1887, he removed with his family to Bay City where he has since resided.
He was heavily interested in Bay City banks and in the Davidson and Tomlinson fleets of lake boats.
Elizabeth (Smith) (mother)
Ellen (Rogers, wife)
Bay City, MI
Bryant & Stratton Bus. Col.
Center St., Bay City
East Saginaw, MI
First State Natl. Bank
Frontier Elevator Co.
Hane Electric Co.
Iron & Brass Works
Lake Carriers Assoc.
Michigan Log Towing Co.
Romer, Lovell & Co.
West Bay City, MI
Vessels Built: Car Transfers: Bldrs. Nos. 89 & 90
Wisc. & Mich. Rwy. #1
Wisc. & Mich. Rwy. #2
Log Boats: Bldrs. Nos. 87 & 88
Fire Tugs: Geyser
Large Lighters: Hurley Bros. & Anchor Line
Fuel Lighter: Cuddy-Mullen Coal Co.
Light Draught Barges: Mikado
Tugs: Andrew A. McLean
Ice Barges: Andrew T. Gary Co. #1 & #2
George B. Owen
Mary B. Mitchell
Wm. D. Becker
Steamers: Alex Nimick
City of Berlin
City of Genoa
City of Glasgow
City of London
City of Naples
City of Paris
City of Venice
George G. Hadley
George T. Hope
Victoria, New S. Wales
Links to the Past Online book, "History of the Great Lakes," Vols. 1 & 2, by J.B. Mansfield.