CAPT. WILLIAM H. DOBSON

Source: Album of Genealogy and Biography, Cook County, Illinois with Portraits 3rd ed. revised and extended (Chicago: Calumet Book & Engraving Co., 1895), pp. 84-85

CAPT. WILLIAM HENRY DOBSON, one of the most popular and worthy of the old-time lake captains, died at his home in Chicago on the 24th of May, 1894, and his remains were deposited in Rose Hill Cemetery.   But little is known of his parentage or early life, although it is certain his ancestors were English.  He was born in Bangor, Maine, July 11, 1819.  This was but a short time after the arrival of his parents from England, and no relative save his two daughters is known to exist in this country.

At twelve years of age, against the wish of his parents, and, in fact, without their knowledge, he left home to go to sea, sailing as a cabin-boy.  He continued for some years upon the ocean, and came West about 1840, making his home at Chicago, and sailing for many years upon the Great Lakes.  He acted as mate on several vessels, and served in that capacity with Capt. Samuel Langley, of St. Joseph, Michigan, on the brigantine “Frances Mills.” He was subsequently the commander of one of the finest vessels on the Lakes at that time.  This was owned by ex-Mayor Thomas Dyer, of Chicago, was built about 1851, at Michigan City, Indiana, and called the “C. P. Williams.”

On his retirement from the Lakes, Captain Dobson engaged in business as a ship-chandler on South Water Street in Chicago for many years.  He was a partner at one time with Capt. Nelson Napier, under the title of Napier & Dobson.  Subsequently the house was known as Bruce & Dobson.  Later he was employed by Harding & Hall, to whom the business had been sold, and retired from business about 1863.  Subsequently he built houses, which yielded him a comfortable income.   He was hampered by no extravagant habits and was a successful business man, becoming possessed of considerable valuable real estate in Chicago.

Captain Dobson was of a peculiarly reticent disposition, but had a very even temper and was never known to show anger or other violent emotion.  He always exercised a marvelous self-control, and throughout his long career, and even while upon the water, he was never known to speak above an ordinary tone of voice.  Although his early education was extremely limited, he was a keen observer of men and things; he was an extensive reader, and became a very well-informed man.   He was especially fond of the study of history, and was an interesting conversationalist when he could be drawn out, surprising his listeners by the beauties of his mind and character.

In religious faith Captain Dobson adhered to the church of his fathers, the Protestant Episcopal, and he was an enthusiastic and unswerving adherent and advocate of the political principles of the Republican party. He was much interested in the work of the Masonic fraternity, in which he attained the thirty-second degree, and was active in organizing lodges in Chicago.  He was affiliated with Cleveland Lodge, Washington Chapter, Oriental Consistory and the Chicago Commandery of that order.  He was a generous contributor to charitable objects, although little of this was known previous to the examination of his papers by his executors.  Captain Dobson’s contemporaries, among whom may be mentioned Capt. John Prindiville (whose biography appears in this work), speak of him only in the warmest terms of friendship and commendation.

On the 18th of January, 1854, Captain Dobson was married, at Chicago, to Miss Jane Backus, a native of Harbor Creek, Erie County, Pennsylvania, whom he met while she was on a visit to friends in this city.   She died only six years after their marriage, at the age of thirty years, leaving two daughters, Emma J. and Mary A.  The former is the wife of James I. Cusack, and the latter is Mrs. G. F. Tieman, all residing in Chicago.

                                -- Submitted on 11/23/99 by Sherri Hessick ( slhessick@crosswinds.net )