Heritage \ Writings \

James Speir (1846 - ??)
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.



    James Speir, who has a strong personality, evidences in a remarkable degree his sturdy Scotch ancestry, and has brought into his business, as a marine engineer, many of the peculiar qualities of that nation. He is a son of William T. and Agnes (Caranchael) Speir, and was born December 16, 1846, at Kilburnie, Scotland. His parents being natives of that country, came to the United States in the fall of 1850, locating in Detroit. His father was a licensed engineer who, after working in the Michigan Central railroad shops, shipped on lake steamers, his first boat being the Whitney, followed by the Elliott, Dart, Arrow, Forest Queen, and the boats of the Ward line, in which employ he remained a number of years as chief engineer, his last boat being the H.P. Clinton. Later in life he removed to Bay City and retired from active life on shipboard.

    James Speir, the subject of this sketch, received his public-school education in the old Eighth ward of Detroit, attending school until he reached the age of fourteen years. After the family removed to Bay City he went to work in the McDowel machine shop, afterward working for the McGregors. After working at his trade as a machinist a number of years he became second engineer of the John Ely, Annie Young, new at that time, and tugged some on the Detroit and St. Clair rivers on the Seeley, Ark, E.K. Collins, Despatch and Dart; after which he went to Cleveland and entered the employ of the Smith line as engineer of the tugs Belle King and Old Jack, and was also second engineer of the new steamer George W. Bissell. He then became chief engineer of the new barge Trader and the City of Madison, and was in charge of the tug Houghton at the time the government was cutting the Portage lake canal. At the close of his contract he stopped ashore as engineer of the Huron mines at the Portage. He then became engineer of the tug Alpena, this service being followed by two seasons in the steamer Ontonagon. In the spring of 1881 Mr. Speir was appointed chief engineer of the steamer Mayflower, a position he held three years. He then succeeded to the A.A. Turner, for two years, and was on the steamer D.W. Powers two years, which was followed by two seasons on the Schoolcraft, one on the Kittie M. Forbes, one on the Elfinmere; and in 1891 was appointed chief engineer of the steamer John Spry, an office he has held seven consecutive seasons, laying her up at the close of navigation in 1898.

    On December 11, 1871, Mr. Speir was united in marriage to Miss Charlotte Crossey, of Bay City, her family being formerly of Seaforth, Ont. The children born to this union are William, Edward, Mabel, Fred, Burtran and Albert. His first wife died May 10, 1892, and on November 30, 1897, Mr. Speir chose for his second wife Mrs. Mary (Tobin) Neely, of Bay City, Mich. Fraternally he is a member of the Odd Fellows and of the Ancient Order of United Workmen.

    Related Pages/Notes

    1867 Great Lakes Map
    (click to enlarge)
    Related Bay-Journal Pages
    Maps Library/
    {1867 Great Lakes Map}
    People Referenced
    Caranchael, Agnes
    Crossey, Charlotte Miss
    Neeley (Tobin), Mary Mrs.
    Speir, Albert
    Speir, Burtran
    Speir, Edward
    Speir, Fred
    Speir, Mabel
    Speir, William
    Speir, William T.
    Subjects Referenced
    Bay City, MI
    Cleveland, OH
    Detroit, MI
    Huron mines
    Kilburnie, Scotland
    Marine engineer
    McDowell machine shop
    McGregors shop
    Michigan Central RR
    Portage, MI
    Portage lake canal
    Smith line
    A.A. Turner, steamer
    Alpena, tug
    Ancient Order of United Workmen
    Annie Young, steamer
    Ark, tug
    Arrow, steamer
    Belle King, tug
    City of Madison, tug
    Dart, tug
    Dispatch, tug
    D.W. Powers, steamer
    Elfinmere, steamer
    E.K. Collins, tug
    Elliott, steamer
    Forest Queen, steamer
    George W. Bissel, steamer
    Houghton, tug
    H.P. Clinton, steamer
    John Ely, steamer
    Joh Spry, steamer
    Kittie M. Forbes, steamer
    Mayflower, steamer
    Odd Fellows
    Old Jack, tug
    Ontonagon, steamer
    Schoolcraft, steamer
    Seeley, tug
    Trader, barge
    Whitney, steamer

    Ward line
    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.