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Capt. John N. Stewart (1837-?)
Maritime Biography -- Born in Buffalo, N.Y. & lived in Saginaw, MI.
Courtesy of "Links to the Past" website.

Note: Some paragraphs have been shortened for easier viewing.

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



Captain John N. Stewart, who has been a resident of Saginaw, Mich., for about thirty-six years, and has sailed out of that port since 1862, will be remembered by the old-time lake mariners as a pleasant and companionable man, and a thorough seaman.

He was born in Buffalo, N.Y., February 2, 1837, a son of Noridon and Mary (Lloyd) Stewart, the former of whom, a native of Pennsylvania, was a captain and owner of Lake vessels, and a wrecker and diver. He owned and sailed the schooner Sandusky, in which he carried the cobblestones for the first street paving in Buffalo; he was mate of the steamer Ellen Strong when she was destroyed by fire off Monroe, Mich.; he assisted in wrecking the steamer Erie, which was burned and sunk. Among the relics which he secured from the Erie were seven Mexican silver dollars which had been smelted and joined together by the heat; these passed into the hands of his son. Noridon Stewart had a ship repair yard in Detroit, where the Michigan Central depot now stands, and there repaired the schooner Dale (which he hauled out) and many others of that class of vessels; he also assisted in hauling over the Lake Superior portage the first steamer that passed into those waters before the canal was built. He died in 1840 at Hamburg, near Buffalo, N. Y. His wife, who was also well connected, died about a year previous. She was a native of New York City. They left two sons, Charles H., who is a marble cutter and dealerL; and John N., whose name introduces this article.

After the death of the father the two boys were taken to Detroit, where they lived with their mother's sister, Mrs. Campbell, whose son is now in charge of the Detroit & Windsor ferry boats.

It was in the spring of 1849 that Capt. John N. Stewart began sailing, as cook in the scow Brandywine, and following this service with two seasons in the schooner Dolphin, in the same capacity. In 1852 he shipped as wheelsman in the passenger steamer Telegraph, with Captain Pidgeon; the next season he was decksweep in the side-wheel passenger steamer Baltic, with Captain Lundy; in 1854 chief decksweep in the passenger steamer Southern Michigan, plying between Buffalo and Toledo; in 1855, mate in the fine side-wheel passenger steamer Bay City, Capt. James M. Lundy, plying between Detroit and Sandusky. During the two years he was in this steamer he was connected with what was known as the underground railway, whereby escaping slaves reached Canada, the Bay City touching at Amherstburg at night, and at different times he thus helped fourteen slaves to freedom, they occupying his room on the passage. On one occasion they had both a master and his slave aboard. The master recognized the runaway, but he slid down the sideguard and got away. On reaching Detroit the Southerner had both Captain Lundy and Mr. Stewart arrested, but he found public opinion against him and he did not prosecute.

During the seasons of 1857-58 Captain Stewart was mate with Captain Lundy in the passenger steamer City of Cleveland, plying between Cleveland and Superior City. The next spring he was appointed master of the side-wheel steamer Olive Branch, owned by his uncle, William P. Campbell, and opened the route between Detroit and Trenton, holding this berth three seasons. During the fall of the last season he purchased a half-interest in the steamer Star, which he sailed two seasons, and on July 4, 1862, he went on her to Saginaw and located in that city.

In 1864 he built the tug S. R. Kirby, of which he made a passenger boat, sailing her on the Saginaw river. He then built the tug Star No. 2, which he sailed two seasons, and after selling her he bought the side-wheel steamer Excelsior, which he soon disposed of.

In 1869 he built and brought out the passenger propeller John N. Stewart, a fine boat, which he sailed three seasons between Saginaw and Sebewaing, she being the first steamer ever run into the latter port. She paid for herself the first season, but was destroyed by fire at Sebewaing on her last trip. Captain Stewart then built the tug W.S. Quinby, which he sailed in the passenger trade between Saginaw, Asheville and Port Austin for five seasons, the last two seasons working on a government contract at Port Austin reef, in the construction of a lighthouse. In 1877 he sold her and bought an interest in the barge Mary Birckhead, which he sailed four seasons; she was lost on the Lime Kiln Crossing the next year.

During 1881-82 Captain Stewart sailed the schooner Norway, and the next season stopped ashore as secretary for Capt. Harry Shaw. In the spring of 1884 he purchased an interest in the steamer H. C. Thatcher with Captain Shaw, and sailed her between Painesville and Cleveland, carrying brick for six seasons. He then took her to Toledo, out of which port he sailed her two seasons, until the hull was condemned by the government; the Captain took out the engines and boilers, which he still possesses. Proceeding to Buffalo he took command of the excursion steamer Periwinkle, sailing her in the excursion business out of Saginaw and Toledo for two seasons, and in the spring of 1896 he was appointed to his present position - master of the fine pleasure steam yacht Fannie H., owned by L. C. Quinnin. During his long career as a sailor Captain Stewart has saved many lies

- a man who fell overboard from the steamer Bay City; two men from a capsized boat in Saginaw bay; three men from the bottom of a capsized schooner yacht off Sebewaing; and a man he picked out of the Saginaw river, who abused him because he did not rescue his hat also.

Captain Stewart and his wife have had four children, only one of whom is now living, Frankie M., the wife of Walter Bliss. Arthur J. died February 22, 1898, aged twenty-one years; Charles H. died in infancy; Nellie died in Saginaw at the age eight years. The Captain has two grandchildren, Harold and Lena Bliss. The family residence is on Thompson street, Saginaw, Michigan.

Related Notes & Pages

1867 Great Lakes Map
(click to enlarge)
Related Bay-Journal Pages
None at this time.
People Referenced
Bliss, Harold (gson)
Bliss, Lena (gdau.)
Bliss, Walter
Bliss (Stewart), Frankie M. (dau.)
Campbell, Mrs.
Campbell, Wm. P. (uncle)
Lundy, James M. Capt.
Pidgeon, Capt.
Quinnin, L.C.
Shaw, Harry Capt.
Stewart, Arthur J. (son)
Stewart, Charles H. (son)
Stewart, Nellie (dau.)
Stewart, Noridon (father)
Stewart (Lloyd), Mary (mother)
Subjects Referenced
Amherstburg, Can.
Bay City, MI
Buffalo, NY
Cleveland, OH
Detroit, MI
Hamburg, NY
Lake Superior
Lighthouse construction
Lime Kiln Crossing
Mich. Central depot (Det.)
Monroe, MI
New York, NY
Port Austin reef, MI
Saginaw, MI
Saginaw river
Sebewaing, MI
Ship repair yard
Superior City, MI
Thompson st. (Sag.)
Trenton, OH
Toledo, OH
Underground railway

Bay City
City of Cleveland
Detroit-Windsor ferry
Ellen Strong
Fannie H.
H.C. Thatcher
John N. Stewart
Mary Birckhead
Olive Branch
So. Michigan
S.R. Kirby
Star No. 2
W.S. Quinby
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.